Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Curry paste!

Wow, here's a total holy grail for me. You know those curry "simmer sauces" that go for ridiculous prices in the supermarket? The ones with weird junky preservatives, added sugar and upwards of 400mg of sodium per serving?

Jamie Oliver has got your back. Yup. Homemade curry pastes, FIVE different variations, no weird additives. I'll be replacing the groundnut (peanut) oil with coconut oil, and cutting the salt in half. 1/4 teaspoon of salt has about 600mg of sodium, so if I divide a recipe into 3-4 servings that's less than 200mg per serving.

I assume that, like thai curry paste, these can be mixed into coconut milk to make a simmer sauce. I'll report back when I try it.


I found it! A piece of the artificial sweetener puzzle, that starts to explain where I think I went really wrong with my Diet Coke habit. It's from an article on slate.com about the power of habits.

You should read the whole thing, but the critical part for me is in the discussion of a lab monkey named Julio who got some yummy blackberry juice whenever he played a computer game correctly. The interesting part is right here:

"Previously, Julio had received juice as soon as he touched the lever. Now, sometimes, the juice didn’t arrive at all, even if Julio performed correctly. Or it would arrive after a slight delay. Or it would be watered down until it was only half as sweet.

When that happened, Julio would get angry or become mopey. And within Julio’s brain, Schultz watched a new pattern emerge: craving. When Julio anticipated juice but didn’t receive it, a neurological pattern associated with desire and frustration erupted. When Julio saw the cue, he started anticipating a juice-fueled joy. But if the juice didn’t arrive, that joy became a craving that, if unsatisfied, drove Julio to anger or depression."

Ok, now imagine that your body is Julio. Your body is trained that when it tastes sweet, there is a quick rush of calories coming. "Trained" may not even be the right word, this is the law of your genes, the law of your biochemistry, the law that governs the biochemistry of our primate kin. Sweet = calorie rush. When you're growing up as a kid this law makes sense, you have a piece of fruit, or some milk, or a slice of birthday cake and the sweetness tells your body to expect some calories.

In my case, at 14, I became the lab experimenter. I started varying the input. Sometimes when I fed myself something sweet, it meant calories: fruit, juice, cake, ice cream. But sometimes, when I fed myself something sweet, it was diet soda and no calories. And sometimes, there was a mix. My taste buds would get LOT of sweet (blueberry pancakes with splenda sweetened coffee), but the actual calorie load was more moderate than the sweetness would indicate (just like the watered down blackberry juice). As I got older and started having binge eating issues the messages would get REALLY mixed up... a "meal" would be artificially sweetened yogurt and a diet red bull, but a few hours later my body would get fed 3 doughnuts. And just like Julio, my body got confused and angry by all this mixed up stimulus.

I honestly think it's going to take a lot longer than the 60ish days I've been off artificial sweeteners to truly heal my biochemistry on this. But deep down, I know it's right. Even eating some real sugar now and then is better than habitually and repeatedly teasing (bullying?) my poor body with fake sweets.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Food blogging vs. other blogging

I keep meaning to post a Whole30 wrap up with some more "deep thoughts" about what I gained. And a Meniere's Disease update. But I just do not have the time to sit down and pull it together. You other working moms know what it's like.

And that's pretty much how this turned into a full time recipe blog. Because whatever else I do, I always cook. Having the cleanest laundry on the block may not ever be a priority for me, but putting good food on the table ALWAYS is. And it takes far less time and energy for me to jot down a few notes about what I just threw in the crockpot, than it does to organize all those amazing insights I had on my drive to work 14 hours ago. :-P So hey... I'm glad y'all are here for the food, because that's the only thing I can blog about consistently.

I'm starting my round 2 of the Whole30 today. I learned a lot last time, but I had a couple of speedbumps... namely eggs and that awful food poisoning I got right at the end. I didn't eat ALL that different in the meantime, the biggest inclusion was full fat dairy. But I did have a few excursions into wine and chocolate. None of those seemed to really bother me, but a few corn chips wrecked my stomach for a few days. Apparently corn doesn't agree with me, who knew? This time I'm going to try the whole thing without eggs and be much more methodical about reintroducing things. I'll let you guys know how it goes. Or maybe I'll just post more food!

Perfect Pot Roast

Perfect Pot Roast
Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
Disclaimer time: I don't like pot roast. In fact, I don't like roasted or stewed beef much at all. I like my beef with a fire charred crust and an itty-bitty-bit rare in the middle. We're a BBQ family and that suits me just fine. Winter comes and I'd rather throw a chicken in the oven than fix up some beef.

But, I got to experimenting and I came up with a pretty darn good crockpot pot roast. "Pretty darn good pot roast" is a weak name for a recipe though, so I did a little more tweaking until I made it perfect. Here it is:

Perfect Pot Roast

2-4 pound grass-fed beef roast, suitable for slow cooking
1 leek (or substitute 1 small onion)
6 carrots
2 medium turnips
3 medium parsnips
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup very low sodium chicken or beef stock (or water)
1 6oz can tomato paste (no salt or sugar added, check label)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
Dried mushrooms, 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped (optional)

Split the leek, rinse out any sand and thinly slice. Place in the bottom of your slow cooker. Peel the turnips. If you're using large parsnips (like bigger than your average carrot), then quarter them and cut out the cores. Cut all vegetables into roughly 1/2" chunks. At this point I had about 6 cups of root vegetables.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan. Brown the roast on all sides, if your roast has a fat layer on one side, start with the fat layer, so that some of it renders out into the pan. Take your roast out and place it in the slow cooker on top of the leeks. If you don't have much oil left in the pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil, then dump all the the root vegetables into the sauce pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the root vegetables are cooking, add to the slow cooker the balsamic vinegar, chicken or beef stock, tomato paste, pepper, oregano, salt and mushrooms. When the root vegetables are done on the stovetop, dump them into the slow cooker.

Cook for 30 minutes on high, and then 5.5-6 hours on low. Take out the pot roast and slice it to serve, alongside the vegetables. If you have leftovers this makes an awesome lunch for the rest of the week, cut the remaining meat into chunks and add it back into the veggies to make a thick stew.

Note about sodium and mushrooms: If you use the smaller amount of salt (1/4 tsp), you should really get your hands on some dried mushrooms. The umami flavor from the dried mushrooms really rounds out the flavor of the dish. Serving size will vary widely by the size of your roast, but with the 2 pound roast I usually get, I estimate it at about 260mg of sodium per serving.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mushroom & goat cheese tart

We gave up on going out to dinner for Valentine's Day years ago. It's really the worst night for eating out... rivaled only by trying to find a table for brunch on Mother's Day. Not only are all the tables booked, but the wait staff and kitchen staff would really rather be spending the evening with their loved ones. And now that we have a 3 year old, we'd have to find a sitter on top of all that? Forget it. I'd much rather fix a fancy dinner at home.

Anyway, who said you have to go for chocolates and fancy desserts to be romantic? Our menu this year is going to include cedar planked wild salmon, artichokes with homemade mayo, and this amazing mushroom & goat cheese tart. I did a trial run tonight, and my husband was raving about how amazing it was.

(My son on the other hand, was super excited about having "pie for dinner", then when it appeared on his plate, he refused to eat it and instead ate his weight in roasted cauliflower. Kids are weird. )

Mushroom & goat cheese tart

1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts
1 cup almond meal
1/4 tsp ground sage
1/4-1/2 tsp table salt
2 tablespoons melted ghee
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water

In a food processor, fitted with the S blade, process the hazelnuts until they are finely ground. Add the almond meal, sage and salt, pulse to combine. Mix the ghee, olive oil and water in a small bowl, turn the food processor on, and pour into the dry ingredients. Run until it is well mixed (should be no more than 30 seconds). Press the crust into a tart or quiche pan, thinning it out in the middle and pressing it gently up a the edges of the pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes. Let cool.

8oz crimini or oyster mushrooms
1 small leek
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggs
1oz soft goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350.
Split and rinse the leek, then thinly slice the white portion crossways. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms in the olive oil; when they soften, add the leeks and saute a little longer until the leeks and mushrooms start to brown. Take the leeks and mushrooms and spread them evenly across the crust. Blend the eggs and cheese together with an immersion blender or mixer. Pour eggs over the vegetables. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve.

Sodium: 1/4 of the tart has 230mg sodium, when made with the smaller amount of salt in the crust.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What I learned on the Whole30

My Whole30 results in a nutshell are that I lost 7 pounds with no real cravings or struggle. Which is revolutionary for me because since I was 11, losing weight has almost always been a struggle. I've been on the chunky side since I was 10 or so... just always a little overweight, only once or twice crossing over into the realm of "obese", but I've had a hard time getting down into the "normal" weight for my height. And believe me when I say I've tried everything. In high school I started running and capped my daily calories at 900, I lost some weight for a few months, but put it all right back as soon as I hit the college cafeteria (even though I was doing plenty of trail running in the gorgeous mountains of New Mexico). And since college I've run through everything. Weight Watchers. Low fat vegan. The Zone. Atkins. Body for Life. SlimFast. Stupid "fat burner" pills that just made me hungry. They had varying levels of success (and when I lose weight I can often keep it off, barring pregnancy or major injury), but one thing they all had in common were that they all took a lot of mental struggle and cravings.

The other thing they had in common? Diet coke. Splenda. Nutrasweet. Diet red bull. More diet coke. You get the picture here?

And that was my #1 biggest change with the Whole30, I gave up all sweeteners (real and artificial) for a month. Wow. That's big. I'd been drinking diet soda since I was 14! Now the coffee thing I had worked out, I'd switched to drinking black about a year ago and never looked back. But the diet soda thing was a big change. Even when I was pregnant with my son I still had splenda in my decaf coffee and the occasional diet coke. Now for the first time in 24 years, I went a full 30 days with no artificial sweetener in ANYTHING.

And what did I find? My cravings for junk food, sweet food, breads, pastries and fried food DISAPPEARED. A co-worker would pass my desk with a box of doughnuts and I would think to myself "that looks good, but I'll pass." That wasn't just what I said out loud, that was what I said in my head, to myself. Instead of struggling and debating and passing on the doughnuts in front of her, but then grabbing two out of the break room an hour later (OK, let's be honest, 10 minutes later). All the mental gymnastics just disappeared. I did have a little bit of wrestling with myself over wanting a diet coke. But that was fairly easy to resist, since I wasn't spending all my mental energy wrestling with myself over other stuff.

The most surprising thing? I did not expect this AT ALL! I expected to have a month of arguing with myself over what not to eat. Because that has been my experience for most of my life. No more. I had always glossed over arguments against diet soda thinking to myself "it's just flavored water... what can it harm?" I had no idea that it was completely messing up my relationship with real honest food.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bacon Nut-o-la

Bacon Nut-o-la
Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
Sometimes I get inspired to be very, very naughty in the kitchen. Today was one of those days, I was randomly pondering what I could do with some leftover dried coconut, and then it occurred to me, granola... well, not grain-ola per se, but maybe a nut-o-la. And then that little devil on my shoulder whispered "bacon"... Bacon? Yes bacon!

Bacon Nut-o-la

5 slices natural, nitrate free bacon
1/3 cup unsweetened dried coconut flakes
1/2 cup sliced almonds (the kind that look like thin flakes)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat
Dash of ground cardamom (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large pan, cook your bacon slowly over low heat, you want to render out a lot of the fat and pour it out a couple times while cooking, so that the bacon gets nice and crispy. When it's crisp, take the bacon out and drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely with a knife. Mix the bacon crumbles, coconut and almonds together in a small mixing bowl. Separately, mix the vanilla, maple syrup, reserved bacon fat and cardamom. Pour over the bacon/nut mixture and toss to distribute evenly. Spread the nut-o-la out evenly on a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake for 15 minutes, stir it a bit, and continue to bake checking every 5 minutes until the mixture is lightly browned. Watch it carefully for burning. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then break up (it should crumble easily). Store in the refrigerator.

The sodium content of this seems like it would be stupid high. But you're not going to eat much of it, I'm showing just about a tablespoon over yogurt in the picture. Using low sodium bacon (70mg per slice) I'm guessing it's about 50mg per tablespoon.