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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What Mother Nature Tells Us

Apologies to anyone who read this post before it was finished- Miss Bonanza Jellybean hit publish prematurely.


I was watching a program on Veria Living yesterday (great channel!) on which Alex Jamieson, of Supersize Me fame, was discussing the health benefits of garbanzo beans.  She talked about how good they were for the heart, and how, coincidentally, they look quite similar to it.  The show host, Dr. Holly, then mentioned the resemblance of walnuts to the human brain, and how good they are for its health.  "Isn't it funny how nature does that for us?" She asked.  I found this topic so fascinating that I decided to look into it further.  Here's what I found.

Chickpeas- The Heart

Garbonzo Beans do look quite a bit like the heart, don't they?  And Alex Jamieson was right-they are full of heart healthy dietary fiber.  Fiber is only found in plant foods, and is a must in our diets. It reduces blood pressure, lowers LDL, and eases inflammation, thereby reducing risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.source

     Walnuts- The Brain
                                                                
I think we've all noticed the (somewhat eery) resemblance between walnuts and the brain.  But did you know they are one of the best plant based foods for it?  That's because they "contain alpha-lineolic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid, as well as other polyphenols that act as antioxidants and may actually block the signals produced by free radicals that can later produce compounds that would increase inflammation."(source).  Fish Oil has been in the supplement spotlight for quite a while now, but, despite what we've been told for years (and are still being told by recyclers of old information) research is now finding that the shorter chain fatty acids found in plants, such as walnuts, have similar effects to the long chain fatty acids in animal sources, even providing additional benefits due to their high levels of antioxidants.  Is there anything plants can't do?

Corn- The Pancreas

Once again- fiber, fiber, fiber, only found in plants, is absolutely essential for our health.  And the pancreas.  In fact, research has shown that people who eat high fiber diets have a 50%-60% lower risk of pancreatic cancer!(source)

Sweet Potatoes- The Liver

High in Vitamin A, sweet potatoes can actually loosen up tough fibers caused by excessive drinking or vitamin deficiencies, and eliminate free radicals that cause degeneration over time.(source)

Carrots- The Eyes

Speaking of Vitamin A, did you know deficiencies in this nutrient are the leading cause of blindness in developing countries and in the elderly?  Not something you want to mess around with.  Vitamin A removes free radicals from cells of the eyes and protects the surface of the eye, the cornea, from damage.(source)

Beets- Blood Vessels

Beets are high in nitrates, which not only open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places in the body which are lacking, but also increase blood flow to the brain, possibly reducing risk of dementia.(source)

Alfalfa Sprouts- Hair

Chia Pets aren't the only things alfalfa sprouts grow hair on.  That's because they're high in protein- one of the highest protein plants you can eat, in fact.  Protein encourages hair growth and stimulates the roots of your hair.(source)  


Suffice it to say, Mother Nature is looking out for us, and has done her best to take the guesswork out of healthy eating.  I think we'd all do well to stop taking nutrition advice from labels and start heeding her signs.  Happy eating!





Picture Sources:  Kidney Beans, Kidney, Walnut, Brain, CornPancreas, Sweet PotatoLiver, Carrot, Eye, Garbanzo BeansHeart, BeetsBlood, Alfalfa Sprouts, Hair

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cajun Pasta Aglio E Olio

Some traditionalists will call this sacrilege.  I call them boring.



Yes, Pasta Aglio E Olio is perfect in its simplicity.  But there is much to be learned from its technique.

The first time I tried the original I was flabbergasted- it was positively creamy.  And yet there was absolutely no cream, no butter and flour involved.  It was a hit with the entire family, and quickly became a staple in our home.  It still is to this day.

Since my transition to a mostly vegan diet I've been missing a lot of old favorites.  My Southwestern Pasta recipe was one of my absolute favorites, so I utilized what I learned from Pasta Aglio E Olio to veganize it.  The results are amazing.  I really don't think I notice much of a difference between the two, and this version is so much healthier as well.  Not to mention easier!  No fussing over a roux, here.  I'm looking forward to utilizing this method in so many new ways.

Cajun Pasta Aglio E Olio

1 lb pasta noodles, any kind
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons cajun seasoning (they vary by brand- I use and love this one
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lime, a few squeezes to taste
Optional- parmesan or nutritional yeast

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook noodles according to al dente instructions on box.  Meanwhile, sautee peppers and onions over medium heat in a bit of olive oil.  Allow them to soften a bit, then add garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil.  Continue to cook, stirring often so as not to burn the garlic, then add cilantro and remove from heat.  Remember to reserve 1/2 cup of your cooked pasta water, then drain rest of pasta in a colander and return to pot.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer sauteed veggies, along with all of the oil in the pan, and add to noodles.  Add pasta water, tomato paste, and cajun seasoning.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, then finish off with fresh squeezed lime juice.  Add parmesan or nutritional yeast if desired.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chimichurri

The first time I heard the word "chimichurri" was on Bobby Flay's cooking show on Food Network.  That was back when Food Network aired cooking shows.  And the History Channel talked about history.

Get off my lawn moment.  I digress.  

Back to Bobby- he went on and on about this Argentinean sauce, throwing out really beautiful descriptive words, gesticulating wildly in his bad boy celebrity chef persona that's been played to death, then proceeded to slather it on a steak and shovel it into his mouth, groaning and rolling his eyes into the back of his head in ecstacy.  

None of that was necessary.  Because he had me at "chimichurri".  Truly, could there be a more delicious-sounding sauce?  I don't think so.



There are a million recipes out there for this simple sauce/marinade, and I've tried many.  This is an amalgam of my favorites, keeping traits that I liked from some, omitting characteristics that I found fussy/unnecessary/not pleasing.  I love it on fajitas, tacos, burritos, on corn on the cob, over rice or couscous, as a marinade for portobello burgers, or even as a dip for chips.  The possibilities are endless.


Chimichurri

1 cup cilantro 
1/2 cup parsley 
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Add ingredients to food processor or blender and blend until all ingredients are incorporated.  Enjoy on everything.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Whole Foods- Cheaper than Raley's?!!



Vs.





We've been spending a lot on groceries lately.  Unfortunately, our government doesn't subsidize fruits and veggies the way it does tobacco, and we are one produce loving household.  We also try to buy organic when possible, which comes with it's own price tag.  The two main stores we shop at are Whole Foods and Raley's.  There is a Vons nearby, but the shabby produce section and lack of bulk bins spells n-o-p-e for this family of vegetarians.

All that to say this:  my roots are 4 inches long.  Sad face.  Now, I'm not the type to frequent salons often.  I tend to wait until things are ridiculously out of hand and hair stylists I've never met are handing me their business cards (happened.  Twice.)  But when I reach my breaking point, I want to do something about it.  Pronto.  And when I can't, well, it irks me.

"Well, we'll stop shopping at Whole Paycheck," says hubs.  "Then you can get your hair done again."

Is that the problem?  Is Whole Foods really as expensive as it's made out to be?

We did a little experiment this month and saved all of our grocery receipts, something that we really should have been doing all along.  It was a bit tough to compare- sometimes we'd buy name brand items at Raley's and off brand at Whole Foods, or vice versa.  But there were a few things that could be directly compared, and these I've listed below.

                                                      Raley's       Whole Foods
Organic Lemons-                          .89 ea            .50 ea                               
Organic Carrots-                          .69/lb             .58/lb
Organic Cucumber-                      $1.49             $1.29
Organic baby spinach-                  $2.99             $2.99
Cage Free Eggs-                           $4.99             $3.29
White Corn-                                 .79 ea            .50 ea

Wow!  Who'd have thunk Whole Foods would be the winner?  By $2.69, or an average of 45 cents per item!  Of course, the cage free eggs were a huge deciding factor here, but with the amount that my kids are eating these days, that really adds up.   Still, if you're counting only produce, you've got a savings of 99 cents on only 5 items, or an average of 20 cents saved on each item.  Not bad!

This experiment is far from over.  I'll be posting more direct comparisons as they come.  Stay tuned!



Still here?  Have time for a quick conspiracy theory?  Here goes.  One week into this experiment, our Raley's location rolled out their new rewards program.  It sounds really great- but.  After seeing how outrageously high their prices are, it made me think- what if they raised their prices so they could introduce this rewards program without it costing them anything?  So people think they're saving all of this money, when in reality, they're spending the same amount they were before?  Who knows!  Anyways, I'm off to attend a wedding.  With my four inch roots.  Grrrr.  Wishing you a gorgeous day.




Friday, May 3, 2013

Shiitake Fajitas

I remember hearing somewhere (where was it?) that shiitake mushrooms are medicinal, and as such, should not be consumed on a regular basis.  This could be a problem.



Yes.  I've come a long way since the days when the only way I could stomach mushrooms was to puree them to oblivion.  And beyond.



That's not to say that I'm a full-fledged convert.  I still have my issues.  But I will say this- if you are looking to overcome an aversion to mushrooms, the typical button variety is not the place to start.  And shiitakes are.



Why?  Well, first of all, they actually taste better once they've been dried.  If you've ever purchased a pound of mushrooms with good intentions, only to place them in the refrigerator where for the the next few days you see them and think, "I'm just not ready"- until you finally are, but they've become, well, overready- then you know what I'm talking about.  But most importantly, their flavor is fantastic- not overly earthy, and unlike most fungi, they're wonderfully chewy, and not at all rubbery.

Oh- and they make excellent, excellent fajitas.

The beautiful thing about using this marinade to reconstitute your mushrooms, aside from it saving you the extra step of boiling water, is that while the peppers and onions do soak up the marinade as well, the mushrooms become veritable flavor sponges, bursting with deliciousness at every bite.



Shiitake Fajitas
Inspired by this Fajita Recipe

1 oz sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
olive oil, enough to coat pan

Marinade:
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8- 1/4 tsp ground chipotle powder, depending on your spice tolerance
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp pepper, or to taste

Whisk together all marinade ingredients.  Place peppers and onions into large ziploc bag and add marinade.  Gently squeeze the bag to be sure all of your veggies are nicely coated.  Place in refrigerator for anywhere from 30 min. to 2 hours, but no longer (or mushrooms will get mushy.)
Bring large frying pan to medium heat, then add olive oil and marinated veggies.  Cover and let cook, undisturbed, for 6-8 minutes.  Remove cover and stir.  Continue to cook, stirring only when necessary, until veggies are softened.  Serve with warm corn tortillas and your favorite toppings (guacamole, pico de gallo, etc.)  Mexican Red Rice makes a lovely side.  Enjoy!



Friday, April 5, 2013

The Men Who Made Us Fat

I tend to keep it strictly recipes around here, but this was so amazing I just had to share.  It's a 3 part series that ran on the BBC and is both omni and herbie friendly.  It focuses on the chemicals and additives that are put in our foods to cause addiction and make us want more.  This is the real deal- not just a bunch of talking heads getting together to plug their latest diet books.  Worth a watch!

Part 1, 58 min

Part 2, 59 min

Part 3, 59 min

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mexican Red Rice

A restaurant nearby makes the most incredible burritos, the star of which is their fabulous red rice. Or perhaps, rather than star, I should call it the best supporting actor.  It's flavors are subtle, allowing the rest of the ingredients to shine.  It doesn't steal the show, but without it, you'd have a sure flop.  Needless to say, I had developed quite an addiction to these burritos, and was sending the hubby out to get them far more often than we could afford.  But as much as I enjoyed the taste, I always had this nagging in the back of my mind that there was chicken broth involved, and the fact that my hunger would return a mere hour after eating indicated something else- msg.  Fortunately for me, my suspicions were confirmed when a cook showed my husband their secret ingredient-chicken powder.  Ignorance is bliss.  I may have been able to quiet that nagging before, but now that I know for certain that it contained both chicken and msg (a major ingredient in chicken powder), I am free of my addiction.  But not free of burrito cravings.  So I've been busy, very busy, working to recreate this perfect backdrop of a rice.  And I think I've finally done it.



The key to creating a rice that is fluffy, not saucy, is to toast it.  This reduces its starchiness, allowing the rice to absorb the flavors.


No chicken or msg necessary.  Just pure, unadulterated deliciousness.



Mexican Red Rice
Yield: About 3 cups 

2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup long grain rice
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (optional)
1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
1 jalapeno, seeded and deveined (optional- I like the extra spice and added health benefits)
3-5 cloves garlic, minced 
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper
1 tsp salt

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat olive oil.  Add rice and heat until golden, stirring often so it doesn't burn.  Don't skip this part!  Add veggies and sautee until softened, then add rest of ingredients.  Bring to a boil and cover, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes without stirring.  Fluff with a fork and serve.