Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chef Hallie Roasts Bell Pepper

Think Like a Cook Series

Roasted bell peppers are a favorite flavor, but are they worth the extra effort?  The answer is an undeniable YES, especially if you roast them in bulk.

Summer Bell Peppers at the Tahoe City Farmer's Market
Here's how you can make the project easy.  When bell peppers are plentiful at your farmers market, or whenever your supermarket discounts them, be sure to snatch up a big bunch,  maybe a dozen.  Put them on a baking tray and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, turn the oven off and let the peppers sit inside the cooling oven for an hour or two.  Immediately after you remove them from the oven peel, core and slice them.

Now simply add them to a freezer bag, pour in a little olive oil to cover and shake the bag around to distribute the oil.  Freeze the peppers.

It's quick and easy to pull a few peppers out of the freezer to add to sandwiches and wraps, egg dishes, soups, stews and pastas.  A few peppers will defrost rather quickly, especially in summer, but you can also use your microwave if you need them right away.  .

In the video below, our very own Chef Hallie demonstrates how to roast and peel bell peppers.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Harry's Pasta Salad (gluten-free)

I used to love the pasta salad at Harry's Bar and American Grill in Century City, L.A. (no longer in existence).  Here's an approximation of the recipe.  It's packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant veggies.  Using gluten-free pasta is a choice against inflammation and now that the gluten-free pastas taste so good, why not?

Harry's Pasta Salad

1 large tomato chopped medium fine
1/2 cucumber chopped medium fine
1 red bell pepper chopped medium fine
1 green bell pepper chopped medium fine
1 c celery chopped medium fine
4 radishes sliced thin
8 mushrooms sliced thin
4 T capers
30 black nicoise olives
4 cups cooked gluten-free rotello pasta  (I used brown rice pasta)
4 T chopped fresh basil (or more as desired)
4 T chopped fresh parsley (or more as desired)

4 T balsamic vinegar
6 T olive oil
2 T Dijon mustard
2 T fine chopped shallot or freeze dried red onion
Generous freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Put all the veggies in a bowl with the pasta and mix.  Make the dressing  by whisking together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, shallots, salt and pepper.  Pour over the pasta and mix.  Adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve on a bed of lettuce--  Even gluten-free pasta has a high carbohydrate count and will quickly convert to sugar in your blood stream.  When this happens your insulin can spike.  This is not a good thing for two reasons.  One, spiking blood sugar tells your body to start storing calories as fat.  Two, it also creates inflammation.

Try not to make a large pile of pasta the focus of your meal.  Serve the pasta salad on a big bed of lettuces or mixed greens and make sure that you treat it as a side dish by adding a protein and some healthy fats to your meal.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Carrot Soup with Coconut and Lemongrass

It's February and carrots are in season.  Look for them at your local farmer's market.

Here's a twist on the usual carrot soup.  Kids like this healthy, rich, coconut-creamy version.  In fact, they ask for more.  At my house, if kids will eat it, it's on the menu!

Carrot Soup with Coconut and Lemongrass

2 T organic red palm oil
1 onion chopped medium fine
3 c carrots sliced medium fine
1 c celery medium fine
1/2-1 t freshly grated ginger
1/2 t dried lemon grass
2 c chicken broth
1 c thick canned coconut milk
Freshly grated sea salt and black pepper

Melt the palm oil in a soup pot and add the onion, carrots, celery and ginger.  Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally for about twenty minutes or until onions are translucent and veggies are softening. Add the ginger, lemongrass and broth and simmer over low heat for at least twenty minutes but up to an hour is best, if you have the time available (for kids use 1/2 t ginger, for adults, add to taste).  Just before serving, add the coconut milk and cook a few minutes until soup is hot, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe inspired by Diane!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chicken Mole..Slow Cooking for a Winter Evening

In staying with our winter slow cook theme, here's a recipe for Chicken Mole that has a rich, hearty, delicious flavor.  It's just the sort of thing you want when the temperature drops low and you're in your warmest sweaters.

As you may know, Mole is a Mexican slow cook sauce that has chocolate in it.  A traditional mole can have as many as 25 ingredients.  This is an abbreviated version and it is also a very mild version. And yet, it still packs plenty of flavor.  Frankly, I could not stop licking the spoon.  If you like spicy, add in more chili pepper to taste.

Although this recipe requires several hours of slow cook time, once the prep is over, you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful aroma while everything simmers slowly on the stovetop.

Chicken Mole
1 organic chicken
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
1/2 c sesame seeds
5 cloves
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t coriander
1/2 t fennel
2 T palm oil
1/2 c raisins or dried mixed berries and cranberries
1/4 c almonds
1/4 c pepitas
3 T unsweetened cocoa
1 pinch chipotle chili pepper
2 c organic chicken broth
1 diced bell pepper
1 T Coconut Nectar
1 can mild roasted green chiles

Put the chicken in a soup pot and cover with water.  Add in salt and pepper and put the pot over the lowest heat setting.  Bring the pot to a slow simmer and let the chicken cook until done, about 45 minutes or so, depending on how low your stove simmers.

In a frying pan over medium-high heat, roast the sesame seeds, cloves cinnamon, coriander and fennel, stirring or shaking the pan.  Watch closely.  Add the toasted spices to the bed of a food processor and add in the palm oil, dried fruits, almonds, pepitas, cocoa, and chili pepper.

Pour the processed mixture out into a soup pot and add in the broth, bell pepper, coconut nectar and green chiles.  Simmer over low heat for an hour or two until the mixture is rich and thick. If additional cooking liquid is needed, occasionally add some of the broth from the simmered chicken.  When thoroughly cooked, process one more time.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve the sauce over the simmered chicken.  You can top with chopped cilantro and toasted sesame seeds.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stew Week

Last week was stew week.  I experimented with different stew flavors and cooking styles and here's what I've decided.  I'm not done yet!

Those three stew meals were some of the tastiest I've made in a long time.  They were hearty, delicious and best of all...there were leftovers.

Modern living has taken us away from our slow cooking traditions.  Most of us are not even home enough hours in a day to prepare and slow cook a stew.  Of course, there is always the crock pot or slow cooker.  But I'm finding that there is so much more flavor in a slowly roasted casserole or a stew simmered for hours over the stovetop.

It may be that the flavor secrets are in the mirepoix or the soffritto, that slowly sauteed mix of onions, celery carrots and garlic.  It may also be in the browning of the meat.  The sauteing and browning simply can't be done in a crock pot.  Who knows?  What I do know is that last week's slow cook meals were fantastic and I want more.

Whole Roasted Chicken Stew with Apricots Fennel and Leeks

3 T olive oil
3 leeks sliced
2 small fennel bulbs sliced including stems and fronds
3 small carrots sliced
1 cup sliced celery
3 small garlic cloves
sea salt and lemon pepper to taste
1 whole chicken, organic
1 c dried apricots
1 c chicken stock
1 c champagne
1/4 t cinnamon
2 pinches cloves
1/4 t turmeric
juice from 1/2 lemon

Put the olive oil,  in a large saute pan, bring to medium heat, and add the leeks, fennel, carrots, celery and garlic.  Saute slowly, stirring occasionally for about 1/2 hour while the vegetables soften.  Season with the salt and pepper and put the vegetables in the bottom of a large lidded casserole dish.  Place the chicken on top and add the apricots, stock, champagne, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and lemon. Allow the top of the chicken to be above the vegetables and liquids so that it will brown.  Put in a 300 degree oven and bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until chicken is done.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Moroccan Inspired Saffron Lamb with Dates

I've been working on slow cooked stews this week.  My husband is very happy about this.  He loves a meaty, melty, saucy dish.  And I have to confess, so do I.  

This one has lamb with chopped dates and saffron.  The dates disappear in the cooking and, along with the saffron, leave the stew with a delicious sweet flavor.  
I used inexpensive lamb cuts with bones.  This photo was taken before the lamb was removed, cut off the bones and returned to the pot.  
I cooked up some new potatoes and tossed them with butter.  We served these up in bowls and ladled the stew in on top.  

Really hearty, absolutely delicious and great for cold winter weather.

Saffron Lamb Stew with Dates

  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 lb. cubed lamb for stewing or use 2 lbs. of inexpensive bone-in lamb cuts
  • 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6 T olive oil
  • 1⁄4 tsp. saffron threads
  • 1 Tbs. peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 2 1⁄2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2  cup chopped dates
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 tangerine
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • New potatoes and butter
Put the flour, salt and pepper in a plastic bag and shake to mix.  Add in the lamb cubes or bone-in pieces in batches and shake to cover with flour.  Add 3 T of the olive oil to a stew or soup pot over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, drop in lamb pieces in small batches and brown, turning the meat occasionally to brown up all sides.  Remove lamb from pot and add 3 more T olive oil.  Put the onions, celery, carrots, ginger and saffron in the pot and turn the heat to low-medium and sauté slowly, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.  Spend at least 20 minutes on this or up to 1 hour if you have the time.  Put the vegetable mixture in a ceramic baking dish with a lid, or a Dutch oven.  Layer the meat into the dish.  Add in the stock, tomatoes, dates and tangerine.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is soft and tender.  If you used larger lamb pieces, remove the lamb from the casserole and cut into bite-sized portions.  the fat off the casserole if necessary.  Skim fat from the surface if necessary.  Return the meat to the pot and stir into the sauce.  Serve with boiled small potatoes and butter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February--What's in Season?

It's February.  I love this chart from Southland Farmer's Market Association (see below).  It shows what's in season this month in Southern California.

Blood oranges are something I look forward to each year.  I love them in salads, especially.

Avocados?  Yes, please...

Broccoli and Cauliflower?  Cruciferous veggies are nutritional essentials and year-round favorites at my house.

What are your favorite February fruits and veggies?





  Blood Orange,
  Navel Oranges,
Dates, Medjool
Onion, Green
Passion Fruit
Peas, Green
Brussels Sprouts
  Blood Orange,
  Navel Oranges,
Dates, Medjool
Onion, Green
Passion Fruit
Peas, Green
  Blood Oranges,
  Navel Oranges,
Dates, Medjool
Onion, Green
Passion Fruit
Peas, Green
Beans, Green
  Navel Oranges,
Dates, Medjool
Onion, Green
Passion Fruit
Peas, Green

Monday, February 9, 2015

How to Soffritto

Think Like a Cook Series

Cooking meats and veggies slowly in a pot on the stove or in the oven is a delicious way to make a meal. Especially in the winter time, these slow cooked stews are not only nourishing but comforting as well. This kind of cooking is perfect for stormy winter days .  You've got lots of time indoors and the smell of a stew cooking is a pleasure, filling the house all afternoon long.

Most stews start with a classic mirepoix or, in this case an Italian soffritto.  They are pretty much the same thing; sauteed onions, celery and carrots, but the Italian soffritto includes garlic.  Making a good mirepoix or soffritto requires a little patience, first in the chopping and then in the sauteing.  The finer the chop and the longer the saute, the greater the development of flavors.  With time, the sugars in the vegetables start to caramelize just a little bit, adding sweetness and character. And in fact, to get the kind of results where the onions and vegetables sort of melt into one beautiful, satisfying sauce, takes this kind of time.

Once you've mastered the art of a classic mirepoix or soffrito, you can apply the technique to just about any stew or soup.

To start your soffritto, pour about 3 tablespoons or so of olive oil into a stew pot and heat it over medium-low heat. Add in 2 chopped onions, about 3 inches or so chopped down from the top of a bunch of celery, 3 small carrots and 2 garlic cloves minced.  Make sure that the chopping is fairly fine on all of these.

Soffritto just starting to cook.  The chopping is fairly fine and there is enough olive oil so that all the veggies are fairly coated.  
Keep the flame on medium-low and cook the soffritto, stirring occasionally.  Let it soften and watch as the onions become translucent.  Be sure to stir regularly so that nothing sticks to the pan or becomes brown or burned.  The flame should be low enough that burning is unlikely.

Here the soffritto has been sauteing for about 30 minutes.  You can see the translucency and softening beginning.  
After an hour there is a slight caramelization and a melting together.  Now you are ready to add the liquids and meat. 

At this point you have your soffrito.  It's time to add the rest of the stew ingredients and then slow cook the whole lot over a low heat setting for several hours until you have tender meat and a cohesive sauce.  Try to avoid any boiling and find a perfect simmer.  Watch the pot with half an eye and stir the stew occasionally but mostly leave it alone and just let it become stew.  Enjoy the fragrance.

Beef Stew

3 T olive oil
2 onions chopped fine
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves minced
1 c red wine
2 14.5 oz cans organic stewed tomatoes 
2 empty tomato cans of water
2 lbs beef stew meat, grass fed organic, cut into one inch cubes
1 t dried Italian herbs
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, very generous to taste
1 T balsamic vinegar
Chopped flat leaf parsley

Make the soffritto as explained above with the olive oil, onions, celery, carrots and garlic, cooking it slowly and over a long period of time.  Add the wine, tomatoes. water, beef and herbs, cover the pot and allow the stew to simmer for several hours over the lowest possible flame.  The meat will toughen up and then relax.  The stew is ready to serve after the meat relaxes and softens.  You can test the meat by pushing on it with a finger to see whether it is tough or soft.  When ready, add the salt and pepper and vinegar.  Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve with brown rice and top with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Find your Crock Now so You'll be Ready for High Summer Pickling Season

Gut health is an important topic these days.  As we are learning, you can't truly be healthy if you don't have a healthy gut.

Eating fermented foods helps to restore a balance of beneficial bacteria into the gut.  

Fermenting is just about as old as cooking.  Fermenting developed as an early way for people to store and preserve foods.  Our grandparents ate fermented foods with many of their meals and those fermented foods helped to keep them healthy, lean and energetic.

Now that we've become a culture of "fast", packaged, processed and microwaved meal consumers, most of us rarely eat any fermented or cultured foods at all.   This change has put us at health risk, creating digestive systems which are out of whack.  Good health starts in the gut, which is why many of us are suffering from modern diseases.

Throughout the world, different cultures have developed different types of fermented foods.  The Japanese eat miso and tempeh, the Koreans eat kimchi, Germans sauerkraut, and so on.  Many European cultures developed yogurts, kefir and cultured cheeses.  Of course, eating homemade yogurt from raw milk cultures is one of the best sources of beneficial bacterias.  (see here for information about homemade yogurt and here for instructions on how to make it).

However, there are lots of other delicious fermented foods.  Pickles are a fermented food.  In fact, pickles are a very American source of healthy bacterial cultures.  I remember visiting my grandfather on his farm late in his life and seeing his pantry stocked floor to ceiling full of homemade pickled vegetables of every sort.  All the vegetables were home-grown in his own garden.

Today we've lost sight of these important cooking methods but there are many working to bring them back into our homes.  After all, our good health is at stake.

I've owned a wonderful book for many years called "Fancy Pantry" by Helen Witty.  It's filled with delicious recipes for homemade pickles, relishes, canning, drying etc.  Below is Helen Witty's recipe for Grapeleaf Dills.

Witty's recipe is a lot of fun to read, but if you want to make the dills, you'll probably need to collect some equipment, like a crock or large pickling jar, which is why I am publishing it now.  If you want to be ready by summer, start looking now for the perfect pickling container.

When the pickles are out at my local farmer's market, I'll be ready!  By the way, that's Lake Tahoe in the background.

Although I've made this recipe in the past, I no longer have a pickling jar.  I'm planning to spend the spring searching my favorite flea market, hunting down the perfect crock.  Then, when my farmers market is brimming with fresh pickling cukes and dill, I'll be at the ready.

Grapeleaf Dill Pickles by Helen Witty

"Seize the moment when fine, fresh pickling cucumbers and dill with young but fully formed seedheads are available and lay down a crock full of pickled bliss for eating straight from the crock or put up in jars for longer storage.  Either way, this is a project worth tackling, especially as classic crock pickling involves little labor.  Be aware, however, that the pickle crock must be skimmed daily for the 2 or 3 weeks fermentation will take, so don't plan to start dill-pickling just before you 're due to go on vacation.  The time required will depend on the ambient temperature--and who knows, maybe the temperament of your cucumbers?

A word about ingredients:  Only fresh, not too large pickling cucumbers should be used--don't use the kinds meant for salads--and they should not have spent more than a day or two off the vine when they go into the crock.  Of course cucumbers that have been waxed are out of the question.

Try to include the grape leaves (it doesn't matter if they are from cultivated or wild vines): after shoulder-to-shoulder crock tests in several seasons, I'm satisfied that they do indeed increase the crispness of dill pickles.

If the dill you can get lacks seed heads, use it anyway and add a teaspoonful of dried dill seed from the spice shelf.  When you find dill that's just right, you can freeze the stalks for later use, too.  They keep well for several weeks."

24 very fresh pickling cucumbers 4-6 inches long
8 large fresh grape leaves, optional
Large bunch of fresh dill with seed heads (use a bunch as large as one hand can encircle)
8-12 cloves garlic, to taste, unpeeled but slightly flattened
6 quarts water
1 cup less 2 tablespoons (7/8 cup) pickling salt or other fine non-oxidized salt
3 tablespoons mixed pickling spice

     1)  Wash the cucumbers well and drain them thoroughly.  Rinse and drain the grape leaves.  Trim the roots and any wilted leaflets from the dill, rinse the sprigs well, and drain them on a towel.
     2)  Line the bottom of a 2-gallon crock or other deep wide-mouthed glass or ceramic container with 3 of the grape leaves and some of the dill.  Pack the cucumbers loosely in the crock, interspersing them with dill and grape leaves and sprinkling the garlic cloves here and there; save 2 grape leaves and a little dill for the top.   Be sure to leave at least 3 inches of room at the top of the crock; if your cucumbers are strapping specimens and the crock is too full, transfer some of the contents to another container (2-quart canning or storage jars work well).
     3)  Combine the water, salt and pickling spice in a large pot, brint it to a boil, and simmer it, covered 5 minutes.  Set the pot, uncovered, in a sink and cool the brine quickly by surrounding the pot with cold water.  (Or let it cool naturally.)
     4)  Ladle the cooled brine over the contents of the crock covering the cucumbers by at least 2 inches (more brine than that will be fine).  Add the reserved grape leaves and dill.  Set a plate on top to hold everything under the surface.  Fill a pint jar with water and weight the plate with it; the brine should cover the plate.  Cover the whole works loosely with a towel or a double layer of cheesecloth and leave it in a reasonably cool spot, one where the temperature won't go over about 70 degrees.
     5)  Every day (or even twice a day if the scum forms rapidly), uncover the crock, remove the jar and the plate and rinse them.  Carefully skim all the whitish film from the brine (this skinning is essential for proper fermentation).  Wipe the inner rim of the crock; return the plate, jar and cloth.  Let fermentation continue until the pickles are uniformly olive green throughout.  When you think they may be ready--in 2 weeks or so--halve one to check.  After a few days fermentation, you may wish to taste the brine and add more pickling spice, being careful not to overwhelm the dill and garlic, which should predominate.  If the brine depth should drop to less than 2 inches over the pickles, make more brine (1/4 cup salt to each quart of water, boiled and cooled) and add it.
     6)  When they are pickled to suit, your cucumbers, now "full sours," may be devoured straight from the crock (continue to skim the brine whenever necessary), or they may be refrigerated for longer storage.

Refrigerator storage:  Drain the pickles, reserving the brine, and pack them into jars, adding 1-2 sprigs of fresh dill, 1 or 2 cloves of fresh garlic, and 1 or 2 tiny dried red peppers to each jar, if you wish.  Strain the brine and fill the jars with it.  (Disregard any whitish sediment, it is a harmless product of fermentation, and will settle to the bottom of the jars.)  Cap the jars and refrigerate them; the pickles will keep for several months.

Pickling Crock from Williams Sonoma.  About $60.

Pickling Jar from Libby.  My last one looked something like this.  About $30.

"The fermentation doesn't just preserve the foods and make them rich in healthy microbes," says Julie O'Brien, owner of Seattle Firefly Kitchens, "it also makes the nutrients in the food more bioavailable and creates crazy-good flavors.
Our creative ancestors found a way to transform a perishable abundance of food into products such as sauerkraut and miso that could nourish through the lean times. Now, current research continues to reveal a need to return to these food practices to help heal our poorly functioning flora. Eating live, fermented foods must be the tastiest way imaginable to start trusting our gut again.
Cynthia Lair is an assistant professor at Bastyr University, author of two cookbooks and host of Cookus Interruptus 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Make a Frittata (Whatever You Have in the Veggie Drawer Works Perfectly)

Think Like a Cook Series

Let's face it.  Sometimes those veggies in your fridge drawer are starting to show a little wear and tear.

Certain forms of cooking are perfect for a fridge full of food needing to be used NOW.  Let's call this the "fridge dump" method.  You just open the door to your fridge, grab all the stuff that needs using and dump it into a soup, a stew, a spaghetti sauce, or in this case, a frittata.

Cooking like this is simply a part of good kitchen management.  Foods don't go to waste and you serve up some tasty dishes with what's on hand.  Of course, some restraint is required.  The veggies you select need to be compatible taste-wise.

A frittata is an egg casserole that usually has some vegetables, sometimes has cheese and can pretty much include anything else you think tastes nice.  For example, you can make it "Mexican" by adding roasted chilli peppers and cumin and topping it with avocados.  You can make it "Italian" by adding lots of garlic,  a can of tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, Italian herbs and olives.

If you're eating diary, adding the right flavored cheese, or topping it with sour cream or creme fraiche can make all the difference.  Pestos are also delicious on top.  If you're not eating dairy, drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

Organic kale and pasture raised eggs make a delicious and healthy frittata.  


Today's version is the "fridge dump" version.  Start with some sauteed onions.  If you have any celery, bell peppers or garlic, add them to the saute mix.  Saute this all up in olive oil over medium heat until it is translucent and softened, then layer it in the bottom of a casserole dish*.  Add whatever you have on hand in your veggie drawer that seems compatible.  I had a carton of cherry tomatoes that needed to be used up, so I layered that on top of the onion mixture along with some roasted bell peppers and some big handfuls of kale. In total you want 9-10 cups of veggies.  That may sound like a lot, but you should get about 4 alone if you simply choose a large onion and chop down into a celery bunch by several inches.

Then mix up your eggs.  Take a dozen organic pasture raised eggs or so and whisk them up with a little splash of water. Add in natural sea salt, ground pepper and either some fresh or dried herbs.  In this case, I added an Italian blend of dried herbs.  Be generous with the seasonings.  Pour the egg mixture over the veggies, add any cheese topping (I didn't use one)  and bake at 350 for twenty or thirty minutes.  

*I sometimes cook the frittata in my frying pan, first cooking the eggs on the bottom of the pan gently over the stove and then moving it to the oven where the tops of the eggs will cook. To do this, after you saute your onions, you layer the other veggies on top, pour in the eggs and allow the bottom to cook gently over the medium heat.  When the bottom has cooked, move the pan into the oven to finish it off.  If you want the top to turn golden, you can even put it under the broiler for a few minutes.  Just watch it carefully.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chocolate Fudge for Weight Loss

This recipe combines yakon and coconut oil, two ingredients that not only encourage weight loss, but between the two of them, will increase metabolism, lower cholesterol, reduce appetite, feed the friendly bacteria in the intestines and aid in controlling blood sugars.

Not only that, this recipe is for....fudge!

Have you heard of yakon yet?  Yakon syrup can help with weight loss.  Yakon is a tuber from the Andes in South America.  Yakon is high in a sugar called fructooligosaccharides.  The friendly bacteria in your gut love to feed on fructooligosaccharides.  As they digest it, they produce short-chain fatty acids that have powerful anti-obesity effects.   You may be able to find yakon syrup at your local health food store, but there are also resources online.

In a recent study, 40 obese women were fed yakon syrup for 120 days and asked to mildly restrict calories.  After the time period the group had lost on average 33 pounds.  A blind placebo group of 15 women were also told to mildly restrict calories and did not receive the yakon--at the end of 120 days they had gained 3 pounds.  A couple of other benefits were noted among the yakon users.  Their fasting insulin levels went down by 42%.  Their insulin resistance went down by 67% and their LDL (bad) cholesterol went down 29%.  

You may also be aware that coconut oil has been shown to reduce weight.  Coconut oil is thermogenic, which means that eating it tends to speed up metabolism.
 In one study, eating 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day sped up metabolism by 5%, totaling about 120 calories per day.

For weight loss, you need 2 T coconut oil per day and 1-1 1/2 T yakon per day. We've also added cocoa powder and walnuts to this recipe.  Cocoa powder is high in flavanoids which are antioxidants which greatly diminish inflammation.  Walnuts are high in omega-3s, also inflammation fighters.

Cocoa also has weight loss properties.  Rats fed a diet high in fat and given cocoa had significantly lower body and fatty tissue weights after three weeks.  
This recipe is enough for 4 days.  To get the weight loss quantities the research studies were based on, you should eat 1/4 of this recipe each day throughout the day.  Eat it before and between meals.

Yakon and Coconut Oil Chocolate Weight Loss Fudge   

1/2 c coconut oil
1/4 c cocoa powder
6 T yakon syrup
1/4 t vanilla
1 pinch of sea salt
1/4 c walnuts

Melt the coconut oil, let it cool a bit and stir all other ingredients into it.  Pour it into a pie tin or low dish and let it set up in the refrigerator.

By the way, I was thinking of adding green tea extract and glucomannan to this recipe.  Both are also researched and proven to reduce weight.

In one study of 60 obese individuals, the group taking green tea extract lost 7.3 lbs (3.3 kg) and burned 183 more calories per day after 3 months.

I decided against adding green tea extract to the fudge because of the strong taste.  It seems like it is just better to take the dropper full needed separately.

As for the glucomannan, it is not carried at my local health food store.  Glucomannan is a fiber from the elephant yam in Southeast Asia.  It is often used as a thickening agent in production foods, comes in powder form and it creates a gel when combined with liquids.  You take the capsules before meals and they help reduce appetite.  You need to take 1 gram 3 x per day.

Groups given glucomannan in weight loss studies lost almost twice the weight of those given placebos.    

My local health food store did not have glucomannan available.  I'm not giving up though, and when I get some I'll experiment to see if it can be added to the fudge recipe.  My fear is that it will be so thickening that we'll end up with fudge that is unappealingly dense.  Of course, we won't know until we try it.  I'll keep you posted!

Finally, don't forget your yogurt.  A study performed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, "Twelve weeks of consuming a fermented milk product containing lactobacillus strain was associated with a 4.6 per cent reduction in abdominal fat."

Chocolate Peanut Butter?--  Peanut butter cup lover?  Omit the almonds and add 4 T organic peanut butter.  You'll also want to significantly increase the sea salt to get that classic peanut butter cup taste.  Again, you'll eat 1/4 of the recipe per day.    

Monday, February 2, 2015

Six-ish-- Easy Pork Chop Scalloped Potato Casserole

Six-ish-- Quickie dishes with about six ingredients.

We're on a mission to develop some great dishes that can be tossed together quickly.  Of course, our usual criteria applies.  The dishes must taste great and they must be healing.

We've been laughing lately at the new "Dump" cuisine where you open a few cans or boxes and dump everything in a casserole dish, bake it in the oven and an hour later out pops dinner.  Of course, these meals are often based on processed and packaged foods.

As promoters of fresh, local, healing foods, "Dump" cuisine seems not only laughable but completely unappealing anyway.  But in discussing it, we started wondering if there might not be something to be learned here.  Are there some easy dishes that can still be tasty, healthy and whole?

Here's our first dish in what we hope will become a useful series.  We've decided that salt, pepper and olive oil don't count in our six-ish total.  Mainly because pretty much every dish is going to have these basic starting ingredients.  After that it's a six or so ingredient "dump".

By the way, this dish is low-gluten (ancient grain einkorn flour has a very low gluten count and the type of gluten it contains doesn't seem to bother many people who are gluten-sensitive) and it is free from cows milk, too.

Six-ish Pork Chop and Scalloped Potato Casserole

Preheat oven to 375

The Six:
4 C Almond Milk
8 T Einkorn Flour
6 pork chops
6 T Butter
7 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thinly
1 Package steak topper (mushrooms, onions, herbs)

The Usual:
1 t sea salt
½ t pepper
3 T olive oil

Blend the almond milk, einkorn flour, salt and pepper until free of lumps.  In a large oven-safe skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and cook the pork chops just until brown on both sides.  Transfer the pork chops to a plate.  Remove the skillet from the heat, melt the butter in the warm pan, and whisk in the milk mixture, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Distribute the potato slices in layers, pressing each layer into the milk before moving on to the next layer.  Distribute the steak topper mix over the potatoes and lay the pork chops on top.  Salt and pepper the pork chops.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl Sunday Turkey Chili

This is a great mild chili recipe to serve to a crowd.  There's always part of the group that doesn't eat beef or pork, and using ground turkey makes this a dish that more people can enjoy.  

In the past I've brought a big old batch of turkey chili to group events several times and get many requests for the recipe.  I often find that people say they have never had turkey chili before, but that they love it.  It's quick and easy, feeds a group easily and is a healthy recipe. too.  What more could you want?  

Oh, love chili.  Not sure why, but most of them really do.  

Try to find organic turkey meat if you can and make sure you don't buy the leanest choice.  Having a little more fat adds a great deal in flavor to the chili.

It used to be that the secret weapon in this chili recipe was the chili seasoning mix from Whole Foods called Valle del Sol Chile Powder.  Unfortunately, that is no longer available.  I am replacing it with their 365 Chili Powder (find it in the spice section).  Make sure you find a truly tasty spice blend and use it generously.  A good one will have a mixture of spices along with the chilis, including cumin, garlic, oregano and other good stuff. Although there is a little bit of heat in a good chili powder blend, it is not necessarily hot and this one is extremely mild.  Its purpose is flavor.  If you want heat, add cayenne pepper to the recipe, but add it slowly and taste as you season.  Especially if you're serving guests, remember, not everyone can do spicy, but everyone loves flavor.

This afternoon, I'll just set the chili out on my counter right in the slow cooker and stack bowls, napkins and spoons alongside.  I'll also set out some organic sour cream, chopped green onions and cheddar cheese and a big yummy salad.  For today, I'm adding blood oranges, avocados and pecans to my salad.  Guests can serve themselves.  

Simple.  Crowd pleasing.  Happy Super Bowl, everyone!

Turkey Chili

4-6 T olive oil
2 1/2 cups large sweet onions chopped
1 bunch celery chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
4 cans organic Italian stewed tomatoes
1 7 oz can diced green chilies
2.5 lbs ground turkey (buy the option with some fat content to add flavor and try to get organic or at least antibiotic and hormone free if you can)
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 t dried thyme
2 T cumin
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  (be generous--natural unprocessed sea salt is healthy for your bodies natural chemical balance --but table salt is not)
Whole Foods 365 Chile Powder to taste (this is the secret ingredient!--Use a really tasty blend.  Start with 2 T and go from there.)
Optional for added heat--cayenne pepper  (go slowly with a pinch or two and taste between additions)
1-2 cans kidney beans thoroughly rinsed  (rinsing minimizes tummy troubles)

In a large pot on the stove, add the onions, pepper and celery to a few tablespoons of olive oil and cook until translucent.

Add the tomatoes and chiles and transfer mixture to a slow cooker.  Add more olive oil to the pot and brown the turkey, then add to the slow cooker.  Add 1 tomato can of water and the rest of the seasonings to slow cooker.  Cook over slow heat for 2-4 hours (the longer, the tastier).  Half way through the cooking, add the canned kidney beans.