Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hand Squeezed Cranberry Lemonade


















Now I’ll tell you straight off this recipe is going to be a little work. It’s not hard, it’s just a tad bit time consuming, but it’s worth it; because there is nothing better then fresh homemade hand squeezed lemonade. That bottled store bought stuff just can’t compare. This is also a great way to use those fresh lemons and get all those delicious phytonutrients and antioxidants I talked about in my last Spotlight Food - Lemons and Limes. So without further adieu....

Hand Squeezed Cranberry Lemonade

Juice and Zest of 3-4 Lemons
1C Frozen Cranberries
6-7C Filtered Water
6 packets Stevia

- Using a cheese grater or lemon zester, grate zest off each lemon, and set aside on a plate.

- Place thin metal sieve over a bowl. Slice each lemon in half, hold over the sieve and squeeze the juice out. (I find that with my limited kitchen equipment this is the easiest way to ensure that the seeds do not fall into the juice, if you have a better method by all means use it) If you like you can reserve some of the lemon pulp before discarding the seeds. I did.

- Place your one cup of cranberries into a highspeed blender with one cup of filtered water, and blend on high until totally smooth.

*** Note - This makes far more puree cranberry then you need for 1 pot of lemonade, but it’s so good you’ll want to have more puree cranberry on hand so you can easily make more lemonade.***

- Pour fresh squeezed lemon juice into a tea pot with tea infuser. Add roughly 1/3-1/2C puree cranberry. Then add in five to six cups filtered water (I think I did about five and a half cups) and Stevia or other sweetener to taste. I used 1 packet of Stevia per cup of water, you could use regular sugar, Agave or another sweetener of your choice. Stir to combine.

- Place infuser basket into the teapot and add a few pinches of the reserves lemon zest, and lemon pulp if desired. You don’t have to do this step, but I find it gives the lemonade an even more lemony flavor. I did not use all the zest from all four lemons however, the rest I put into an airtight container in the freezer to use either in another batch of lemonade or for baking.


















*** Note - If you are not using the lemon zest and pulp, or don’t have a tea pot with infuser basket simply omit that, and use a juice jug or other drink container instead. Also my tea pot is a bit small, only holding about 7-8 cups of liquid, if you have a larger tea pot or jug by all means double the recipe. ***

Enjoy while sitting outside in the sun, after a good workout. I find lemons particularly refreshing after biking.

The Popeye...


















I’ve been craving spinach lately, and oranges. Yesterday when doing my grocery shopping o bought several pounds of each. Then this morning when I awoke in dire need of a green smoothie fix I thought what better use for them? I’m sure you’re saying to yourself that spinach and orange is a strange combination, but trust me when I say they pair beautifully together. Not only is it delicious, and a wonderfully nutritious way to start one’s day, but the vitamin C from the oranges and lime juice help your body to absorb the full iron content of the spinach. Incase you didn’t know - for whatever reason our bodies find it difficult to fully absorb iron from certain leafy greens, spinach being at the top of that list. So by simply adding something containing vitamin C you dramatically improve your bodies ability to absorb this important nutrient. This by the way is important to note whether or not your vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Iron isn’t absorbed any easier by meat-eaters which is why anaemia effects omnivores as much (if not more so) then it does vegetarians and vegans. So if you’re going to eat your greens, as you should make sure to pair them with lemon, lime, orange, tomato or any other vitamin C containing food. My opinion is to always use a lot of vitamin C rich foods in cooking anyway, because it’s one of natures most important antioxidants. How can you go wrong?

The Popeye

3 Handfuls of baby spinach
2 Navel Oranges peeled and halved
1 C chopped pineapple
2-3 packets Stevia, or other sweetener (Optional)
2 C filtered water (or more to thin if needed)
3 Tbsp lime juice

- Place all ingredients except sweetener in high speed blender and blend on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until completely smooth.

- Taste for sweetness and adjust as necessary, and enjoy!


















Now I can’t guarantee that by drinking this smoothie your muscles are going to quadruple and bulge right out of your shirt. You’re not going to turn into the hulk or anything but I think you’ll feel a nice boost after drinking this. I did at least, by the time I’d drained my glass my energy was flowing and I was feeling pretty lively. I hope you feel the same.

Bottoms Up!

*** Note - This recipe makes enough for three good sized glasses. So if you’re not looking to drink that much, or don’t have anyone to share it with then by all means cut the recipe in half. ***

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spotlight Food - Lemons and Limes...


















I know you might not think much about lemons or limes when you’re in the grocery store or cooking dinner. In fact, if a recipe calls for lemon or lime juice more then likely you use the bottled stuff. It’s handy in a pinch I’ll give you that, and I certainly always make sure to have some on hand myself, but nothing beats fresh lemon or lime juice squeezed right out of the fruit. Both lemons and limes are tart, and sour, because of this a lot of people may find them disagreeable, but they’re absolutely indispensable in cooking. The juices from both of these fruits truly bring out the flavors of a dish in a completely unique way. I use lemon or lime juice at least once everyday in something, making it my most used but usually my most overlooked ingredient. In the past it was something I threw into my cooking because a recipe told me to, or because I needed a sort of light tart flavor, it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve truly started to embrace and appreciate both lemons and limes for their versatility and value.

History/Cultivation

Lemons - (Citrus limon) are a small oval fruit of mysterious origins, though they’re presumed to have originated in either India, Northern Burma or China where they have been cultivated for more then 2,500 years. It is thought that lemons first entered Europe through Southern Italy around the 1st century A.D. however they were not widely cultivated at that time. Around that time the lemon was also introduced into Persia, Iraq and Egypt, but it wasn’t until the Arabs brought the lemons to Spain and Northern Africa in the 11th century that they gained more popularity. The Crusaders who discovered the fruits growing in Palestine are credited with introducing the lemon into other European Countries. Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the New World in 1493 brought lemon seeds to the Americas, where lemons have been growing
in Florida since the 16th century.

Lemons are vitamin C rich foods containing close to 50% of your recommended daily value for Vitamin C in a quarter cup. They are about 5%-6% Citric Acid, which is what lends them their characteristic sour taste. During the California gold rush in the mid 1800's they were highly valued for the protection they offered minors and developers from scurvy. The demand was so high that people were willing to pay up to $1 per lemon, a price that is still considered high today. Lemon juice or oil has been used in everything from the culinary world, to aroma therapy, alternative medicine, natural insecticide, and as a household cleaning product.

The Major producers of lemons today are Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, Turkey and the United States.

Limes - Like lemons Limes have a somewhat mysterious history, though they are thought to have originated in Southeast Asia. Arab traders are credited with bringing limes back from their journeys to Asia and introducing them into Egypt and other parts of Northern Africa in the 10th century. In the 13th century the Arabian Moores brought the limes to Spain, and from there they were spread through southern Europe during the crusades. Along with Lemons, Limes made their way to the Americas on Christopher Columbus’s second journey in 1493 where they were subsequently planted in many Carribean countries, whose hot and humid climates were ideal for growing limes. Cultivation of limes in the United States began in the 16th century when Spanish explorers brought the West Indies lime to the Florida Keys, where we now have the Key Lime.

Though limes have less citric acid then lemons do, and are therefor not as effective in providing protection against scurvy, they were used frequently by the British colonists in the West Indies because of their abundant growth in the region. It’s this excessive use of limes that earned them the nickname ‘limey’ a term that is still commonly used as a colloquialism for people of British decent.
The Major producers of limes are Brazil, Mexico and the United States.



















Health Benefits

Both lemons and limes contain unique flavonoids that are known to have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. A flavonoid in limes called flavonol glycosides has been of particular interest. These flavonoids have been shown to stop cell division in many cancer cell lines, but they are perhaps more interesting for their antibiotic effects. In several villages in West Africa experiencing cholera epidemics, lime juice was included in the main meal and was determined to have been protective against the contraction of cholera. After more experimentation researchers found lime juice to have a strong protective effect against cholera.
On top of their amazing phytonutrient content lemons and limes are both excellent sources of vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants in nature. Vitamin C is the primary water soluble antioxidant in the body. It travels through the body neutralizing any free radicals which it comes into contact in the aqueous environments of the body both inside and outside cells. (Free radicals can interact with the healthy cells of the body, damaging them and their membranes)

Since free radicals can damage blood vessels and can effect cholesterol by making it more likely that it’ll build up in artery walls vitamin C can be helpful for preventing the development and progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.

Research has shown that consumption of fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

In animal studies and lab tests with human cells compounds in citrus fruits, including lemons and limes, called limonoids have shown to help fight against cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach and colon. Scientists from the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have shown that our bodies can readily absorb and utilize a very long acting limonoid called limonin that is present in citrus fruits in about the same amount as vitamin C. In the ARS study 16 volunteers were given a dose of limonin in amount ranging from those that would be found in 1-7 glasses of orange juice. Blood tests showed that the limonin was present in the plasma of all but one of the volunteers, with concentrations highest within six hours of consumption. However traces of limonin were still present in five of the volunteers 24 hours after consumption.

Limonin’s bioavailability and persistence may explain why citrus limonoids are such potent anti-carcinogens that may prevent cancerous cells from proliferating. Other natural anti-carcinogens like the phenols in green tea or chocolate for example remain active in the body for just 4 to 6 hours.
The ARS team are now studying the potential cholesterol lowering effects of limonin. Lab tests indicate that human liver cells produce less apo B when exposed to limonin. (Apo B is a protein that is part of the LDL cholesterol molecule needed for LDL production, transport and binding. Thus higher levels of apo B mean higher levels of LDL cholesterol)

Studies have shown that while high doses of supplemental vitamin C - such as vitamin c capsules - make osteoporosis worse in laboratory animals, eating vitamin C rich foods such as lemons and limes provide our bodies with protection against arthritis. The findings presented in the Annuls of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of over 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis free at the beginning of study. It was found that those who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C rich foods were more then three times more likely to develop arthritis then those who consumed the highest amounts.
So there you have it folks - eat your vitamin C don’t supplement it, and don’t forget about our good friends lemons and limes. I know that upon first glance they may not seem so appetizing, but there are plenty of ways they can be used to enrich your life.



















Preparation

I guess the most obvious way to use lemons or limes is to make homemade lemonade or limeade, and I don’t mean the kind that you pour out of a box and add water too. Cut those beauties open, squeeze out their juice and mix it with water and a bit of your favorite sweetener, and bam! You have a refreshing glass of ‘ade rich with vitamin C. I actually make a really delicious cranberry lemonade for which I’ll post the recipe later. Use the zest of lemons and limes in baking. You can put the zest in anything from muffins, to scones, to cakes to cupcake, to cookies and breads. Use the zest and the fresh juice in salad dressings. Use fresh lemon juice in red lentil soups. Mix fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest into brown basmati rice. Squeeze fresh lime juice over Pad Thai, or mix fresh lime juice with peanut butter and roasted garlic to make a nice dipping sauce for vegetables. You can squeeze the juice of lemons and limes on just about anything and if you feel so adventurous you can even slice lemons and limes sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and eat the flesh right off the rind like you might an orange. You can also use them, their juice, and their zest to make delicious pies or puddings. Lime juice it has to be said is definitely one of my favorite salad dressing components. I couldn’t live without it.

Happy and Healthy Eating to you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Island Paradise Salad with Teriyaki Chickpeas and Fresh Pineapple...


















Now that summer is here I’m craving tropical food. Carribean, South East Asian, Hawaiian, and Mediterranean inspired dishes are currently the most appealing to me. With the sun hot and burning, and the humidity increasing I’m craving salads, salads, salads, or other meals that require minimal use of my oven, and stove top. I’ve been dreaming a lot about The tropics, Puerto Rico where I spent a week in February, and Hawaii, Maui to be exact where I’ll be going in October for the umpteenth time. I’ve been dreaming of palm trees, swollen coconuts, crashing waves, and ocean breezes. Calm summer nights under clear cloudless skies, and dinner outside on the terrace of a lovely little condo. I’ve been dreaming of leisurely morning beach walks at sunrise, biking up a sleeping volcano, and long hikes through ancient forests of ridiculously tall trees. I’ve been dreaming of roadside markets selling the sweetest fresh onions you’ve ever tasted in your life. Onions you can eat like apples, where Bob Marley’s sweet voice is the ‘noise pollution’ of choice, and guava’s hang large and ripe for the picking. I dream of sea turtles, starfish, dolphins and whales. Childhood memories of geckos, shell necklaces, sand castles, sandals, fresh fruit’s and vegetables, and summer salads have me aching to be back in that tropical paradise; but for now I have to content myself with what I have here. A few days ago, in an attempt to find something to sate my far away dreams and my tropical tastebuds I threw this salad together. It was incredibly delicious, and filling and wonderfully reminiscent (for me) of another place and another time.

A little advanced preparation is required for this recipe, but it’s worth it.


















Island Paradise Salad with Teriyaki Chickpeas and Fresh Pineapple

1 15oz can chickpeas
Roughly half a head of romaine lettuce chopped
1 quarter to 1 half a small red onion diced (or to taste)
1 medium sized tomato diced
1/4 C chopped green onions
Finely chopped cilantro for garnish
1 Handful of thinly sliced red cabbage
½ red pepper broiled
1/4-1/2C Your Favorite Teriyaki sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp agave nectar (or to taste)
*** Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt to taste (See Note)
Pinch of black pepper
Dash of Garlic Powder
½-3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple (or to taste)

- Drain and rinse your chickpeas under cold water. Then place them in a small sauce pot over medium heat on the stove and pour over roughly 1/4-1/2C of your favorite Teriyaki Sauce. (I use Organic Ville brand) When you pour in the sauce you don’t want your chickpeas to be drowning in it. You want there to be enough sauce to coat all the chickpeas, but it doesn’t have to be enough sauce to cover the entire 15oz.

- Bring the chickpeas to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for roughly 10-15 minutes.

- While chickpeas are on the stove, place your red pepper half on a lightly greased broiler pan and broil on high until skin blackens. When red pepper is done place in a bowl or on a plate and put into the freezer for 5 minutes to quick chill it, so that the skin peels off easily.

- Assemble your salad. Chop your romaine, Cabbage, onion, tomato, and green onion and place into a bowl.

- Remove pepper from freezer, peel away blackened skin and discard. Chop pepper either fine or rough and toss into the salad.

- When chickpeas are done place a metal sieve over a bowl and drain the chickpeas into the sieve. Making sure that the bowl collects the excess Teriyaki marinade. Let chickpeas cool for a few minutes and then add them into the salad.

- Chop Pineapple and Cilantro and add to the salad.

- Stir lime juice, agave, Red Sea Salt, and pepper into your reserved Teriyaki marinade. Drizzle in a little water to thin, and add a dash of garlic powder. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed, the pour over your salad and enjoy!


















***Note - If you do not have Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt, and it’s not something that you can easily find, or think you would use in other recipes, you can simply use Sea Salt. The red alaea salt in my opinion dose have a stronger flavor but I don’t think using regular sea salt would make the salad any less delicious. If you do have Red Alaea sea salt and yours is very course like mine, you may want to consider grinding it to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle, which is what I did. Also if you live in the Chicagoland area and you are really interested in getting your hands on some Red Alaea sea salt, I get mine from The Spice House. http://www.thespicehouse.com/ They have a lot of great spices here, some really unique and wonderful things, and I’ll probably talk a lot more about them in the future. Definitely check them out if you live in the area, they have several locations, both in the city out of it.***

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spotlight Food - Strawberries

Strawberries - are tied with blueberries for my favorite fruit, but did you know that technically speaking strawberries aren’t berries at all? Technically speaking they’re considered ‘accessory fruits’ because the fleshy edible part of the fruit is not directly produced by the ovary but from some adjacent tissue. Crazy right? There are also 20 different species of strawberries the most common of which is the garden strawberry (Fragaria ananassa)

History/Cultivation

Though strawberries have grown wild in many regions of the world for millennia cultivation did not begin until the 18th century. The Garden Strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France around the year 1740. It’s a cross between the Fragaria virginiana species from Eastern North America, (Which was prized for It’s flavor) and the Fragaria chiloensis species from Chile and Argentina (noted for it’s size) Despite this early cultivation, due to it’s highly perishable nature the strawberry remained a luxury item enjoyed only by the wealthy until the mid 19th century. With the advent of refrigeration, the expansion of railways, and more rapid means of transportation established, strawberries were able to be shipped greater distances enabling them to be enjoyed by more people, of lesser means.


















Health Benefits

Strawberries have been found to contain a unique combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. This nutrient density has singled them out as a major interest in scientific and health research, particularly in the areas of Cardiovascular health, Regulation of Blood Sugar and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and Cancer, particularly breast, colon, and esophageal. Not only do strawberries contain an outstanding amount of vitamin C, and an excellent source of manganese, but their phytonutrient content is simply phenomenal.

The phytonutrient’s that make up strawberries are, Anthocyanins (Cyanidins & Pelargonidins) Flavonoids (Procyanidins, Catechins, Gallocatechins, Epicatechins, Kaempferol, & Quercetin) Hydroxy-benzoic Acids (ellagic acid, gallic acid, vanillic acid, & salicylic acid) Hydroxy-cinnamic Acids (cinnamic acid, coumaric acid, caffeic acid, & ferulic acid) Tannins (ellagitannins & gallotannins) and Stilbenes (resveratrol) Now that’s a lot of nutrient content for such a small berry!

Our heart and blood vessels need everyday protection from oxidative stress and inflammatory damage, which is what makes strawberries so good in protecting us from heart disease. Research shows that strawberries phytonutrients work together in a synergetic way to provide cardiovascular benefit. They decrease oxidation of fats in the cell membranes of cells that line our blood vessels. They decrease the levels of circulating fats including total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. They also decrease the activity of angiotensin I-converting enzyme. (ACE) an enzyme that increases our risk of high blood pressure if it’s overactive. For the most benefit in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure it’s recommended that you eat 1-2 cups of strawberries per day.

Several recent studies dealing with strawberries effects on blood sugar, have found that a regular intake of strawberries has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. To see the most benefit of this it is recommended that you eat at least 3 servings of strawberries weekly. Another recent study documenting the effects of strawberries and table sugar on blood sugar levels has produced some interesting things. Of course excess intake of table sugar produced a spike in blood sugar, but the interesting thing was that simultaneous consumption of strawberries actually reduced the blood sugar spike. Roughly one cup of strawberries was found to be able to decrease blood sugar elevations when table sugar was consumed along with the strawberries. Scientists speculate that it’s strawberries polyphenol content that plays a major role in helping to regulate blood sugar response. One particular polyphenol in particular - ellagitannins - might have been especially important. Ellagitannins are known to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called alpha-amylase, because this enzyme is responsible for breaking amylose starches into simple sugars, fewer simple sugars may be released into the blood stream when activity of the enzyme is restricted.

Chronic excessive inflammation and chronic excessive oxidative stress (lack of antioxidant nutrients and unsupported oxygen metabolism) are often the primary factors in the growth and development of cancer; because strawberries have such outstanding antioxidant and ani-inflammatory properties they’re expected to also have significant cancer risk-lowering benefits. Strawberries anti-cancer benefits are best documented in instances of breast, colon, cervical and esophageal cancer. The majority of tumor inhibiting studies that have been conducted on animals have focused on strawberries phytonutrient content. Research has found the ellagic acid and ellagitannins in strawberries to be of special interest. While the properties and benefits of these and other phytonutrients aren’t yet fully understood it’s thought that their ability to lower risk for some cancers may be due to their unique ability to boost the activity of certain antioxidant enzymes, as well as lessen pro-inflammatory enzymes.

Preliminary studies conducted on aging animals have also suggested that increased intake of strawberries can help increase cognitive function, and enhanced motor function. Preliminary animal studies also suggest that intake of strawberries can help improve inflammatory bowl problems such as ulcerativ colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

By all accounts strawberries are a highly beneficial and healthful food. In a study of foods most commonly consumed in the U.S. strawberries ranked 27th best, but when just fruits were considered in the study they came out ranking as the 4th best fruit. (Coming in behind blackberries, cranberries and raspberries) so be sure to load up on your strawberries this summer, and stock pile some for winter too!

Preparation

I’m an admitted strawberry lover, I love them so much I’ll eat them right out of the carton. They’re sweet and juicy enough that they don’t need anything added to them. That being said some of my other favorite ways to eat them are in smoothies, sliced on top of pancakes, waffles, french toast, or cereal. I love them sliced in salads, or in deserts. You can use them in or on tarts, cakes, pies, cupcakes, muffins, and granola bars. You can use them in a parfait, slice them on top of pudding, or non-dairy ice cream, you can even eat them with coconut rice for a meal. They are absolutely delicious, and so damn good for you! Get creative with them and I promise both your tastebuds and your health will thank you for it.


















As always happy and healthy eating!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Black Pepper Is The Spice Of Life...

What would life be without flavor? Utterly dull I should think. It is my opinion that no kitchen in the world should be without a generous selection of fresh herbs and dried spices. My own spice cabinet is overflowing with spicy abundance from all corners of the globe, and while the extensiveness of my collection may incur a little light ribbing from friends and family from time to time, it has never yet been said that my food lacks flavor. Flavor is very important in my kitchen, as there is nothing I hate more then bland, boring, tasteless food. Eating should be enjoyable. It should be something done with pleasure. To me mealtime should be something you look forward to, a time to share good food and good conversation around a table with friends and family. Maybe that’s a bit ‘old world’ of me, but that’s how I was raised. Very rarely in my house growing up was it acceptable for us to eat anywhere but the kitchen table. When mom called for dinner you came and sat at the table, and if you weren’t hungry you usually came and sat down anyway. The t.v. was never on and while some might consider that a hardship I think of it as a blessing. There is nothing more disturbing, more distracting nor nothing kills the mood faster then a t.v. blaring in the background. Meal time to me is something that should be looked forward to with happy and excited anticipation. It shouldn’t be a chore, and it shouldn’t be a solitary activity in which you mindlessly shovel food into your face while sitting in front of the television. How can you truly appreciate what you’re eating when you’re not even paying attention to it? How can you cherish the taste, the texture, the flavor? To me food is always better when you have someone to share it with.

It’s with that passion I have for spice, combined with a request from a reader that I embark on a new series that I hope to make a weekly (or every other week) occurrence. The Spice of Life, will be similar to my Spotlight Food posts, only I’ll be featuring a different spice each week. Detailing for you that particular spices history, medicinal benefit (if any) and culinary uses. For my first post, I thought I’d choose a universally renown yet simple spice, common enough that you can find it for sale in any grocery store to which you venture.

Black Pepper

I know, you’re probably thinking black pepper? Bleh! It’s the most common spice available, and in our culture common tends to mean boring. Very often I think black pepper is overlooked. Probably the only time you yourself ever think of using it is as an afterthought, but let me assure you black pepper is the most important spice, in the history of food.

History/Cultivation

Pepper or peppercorns come from the pepper plant (Piper nigrum) which is a flowering vine in the Piperaceeae family, native to India. Peppercorns are technically considered to be a fruit, and to make what we know as pepper, the berries of the plant are picked and dried (resulting in peppercorns) and then ground into the powder we commonly use. Interestingly Black, Green, and White pepper (like bell peppers) are all the same plant. The difference in color and taste is due to different harvesting times, and drying techniques. Green peppercorns are picked while unripe, black peppercorns are picked when half ripe, and white peppercorns are picked when very ripe and then soaked in brine to remove their dark outer shell. Pink peppercorns on the other hand are from a completely different plant species (Schinus molle)

Pepper has been used in India since at least 2000 BCE, and possibly even earlier. Today India is still the top pepper producer in the world, with it’s Malabar Coast being it’s top producing region, seconded by Indonesia.

Historically pepper was a highly prized trade good, so much so that it was often referred to as ‘Black Gold’ In ancient times it was used not only as a seasoning but as currency, and a sacrificial offering to the gods. It was used to pay rent, taxes, ransoms, and given as a precious gift. It was so cherished not only for if’s flavor but also for it’s ability to mask a food’s lack of freshness. Which was especially important in a time when methods of preserving food were inadequate and inefficient.

Black Pepper believe it or not changed the course of history! It’s importance was the catalyst that started most of the spice trade, leading to the development of many major merchant towns in Europe, The Middle East and across the world. During the Middle Ages the price of pepper was exorbitant, and Italy held a monopoly over the trade, it was because of this that led the Portugese to find a new sea route to India - by sailing around Africa - during the age of discovery, consequently also leading to the Portugese colonial occupation of India as well as the subsequent European discovery and colonization of The Americas. No matter what your opinion of black pepper as a seasoning you have to admit that’s pretty amazing! Interestingly it was once these trade routes opened up, and pepper supplies began flooding Europe that the price of pepper declined. Once an item exclusively for the rich, pepper now began it’s journey to becoming an everyday seasoning, easily available to those of more common means. Today pepper accounts for one-fifth of the worlds spice trade.

Health Benefits

Medicinally black pepper has demonstrated antioxidant and antibacterial effects, but mostly it’s known to improve digestion and intestinal health. Black Pepper stimulates the tastebuds in such a way that a message is sent to the stomach to create more hydrochloric acid secretion which is important in improving digestion. When the bodies production of hydrochloric acid is insufficient food may sit in the stomach for a long time creating heartburn or indigestion or pass into the intestines where it could be used by unfriendly gut bacteria to create gas, irritation, diarrhea or constipation. Consumption of black pepper has the ability to reduce or relieve these effects.

Black pepper also promotes sweating, urination and the outer layer of the peppercorn stimulates the breakdown of fat cells in the body.

Preparation

You can literally use Pepper on almost anything, and you really should. I highly recommend good quality whole peppercorns that you can grind yourself in a pepper mill. Honestly nothing beats the freshness and the flavor, but already ground pepper has it’s time and place as well. The best thing to do with pepper is to add it at the end of cooking, as it loses much of it’s flavor and aroma if cooked for too long. Pepper is great for bringing out the flavor of simply steamed, or sauteed vegetables. It’s a wonderful way of spicing up dips and it’s wonderful in fresh homemade salads, and pasta dishes. I don’t think I’ve ever made a salad dressing without tossing in a bit of fresh cracked black pepper. However as I experiment more and more with my spice collection I have to say I really love the flavor and aroma of white pepper. It’s a bit different then black pepper and if you’ve never tried it before I highly recommend it. Subsequently even though pink peppercorns are not of the same species I do recommend them as well. They lend a beautiful fruity flavor with just a touch of spice that’s incredibley pleasing to the palate, and hard to come by otherwise.

May your life be rich in spice! Happy and health eating to you!

Note - An interesting little fact about Black Pepper, is that black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification ritual that took place shortly after his death in 1213 BCE.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cilantro Garlic Miso Sauce


















Last week I had a delicious home cooked meal at the home of my good friends J and L. It’s not very often that I get to have someone cook for me, and so I really enjoyed the experience. It didn’t hurt either that the food was phenomenal! J slathered butternut squash in pesto and roasted it in the oven, and served it alongside an Italian Bread Salad. Both were excellent and I’ve literally been dreaming of squash since. It’s strange but my palate has never really taken to squash, except for zucchini, but I never quite developed a taste for the acorns, butternuts, spaghetti’s and pumpkins. A little here and there, prepared in very specific ways was alright with me, but on the whole I could take them or leave them. That was the old me though, because after having J’s delicious roasted butternut squash I’ve become a squash loving convert. I have seen the error of my ways, and I anticipate a lot of squash dinners to come this summer.

Last night my intention was to cook something similar to what J had cooked for me, but having no recipe, and in fact no ingredients to make my own pesto, I was left to my own creative devices. I wanted to make something kind of pesto-like, but I was also in the mood for Miso, and I have several jalapenos in the fridge begging to be used, and so I threw this together. Seeing as how each Butternut squash was vigorously devoured I’d say I did okay for myself.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cilantro Garlic Miso Sauce

2 Medium sized Butternut Squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeded.

Cilantro Garlic Miso Sauce

1-2 heaping tbsp Mellow white Miso
4-8 cloves garlic
5-7 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp agave
1/4 Jalapeno seeded, membrane removed (more if you want spice)
3-6 tbsp chopped cilantro (enough to make the sauce a light green)
Water to thin as needed

Now I’ll be honest I was in a bit of a hurry while preparing dinner so I wasn’t exactly measuring everything out, so I’ve done my best guess work here on what I threw together but if you want to play around with the measurements a bit by all means do so. I know that when I’m cooking even with a recipe I generally consider each ingredient to be more or less ‘to taste’

- Preheat oven to 400'F / 200'C Place halved Butternut Squash’s into a baking dish lightly sprayed with cooking spray. (To halve Squash I used a large, sharp chef knife, then used a regular spoon to scrape out seeds)

- Place all sauce ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Taste for flavor and adjust as needed.

- Spoon sauce mixture over butternut squash, making sure to entirely cover each halve, leaving a generous spoonful inside the hallowed out section. Some sauce should be left over. Set it aside to reserve for later.

- Place sauce smothered squash in oven and roast for 45-60 minutes until flesh is easily pierced with a fork, and squash has reached desired softness. (Some people prefer a firmer texture others mushier, that’s up to you)

- When finished remove squash from oven and let cool for five minutes. During this time place remaining sauce in the microwave and heat for approximately 1 minute.

- Serve squash along side a nice salad, (I made a simple romaine salad with a lemon date dressing) and spoon over remaining sauce. Enjoy for a nice light summer meal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Protein - Facts and Fictions....

It seems that as a vegan, when encountering a non-vegan or non-vegetarian the first question they always want to ask has to do with protein. They tend to look at you with big eyes like you’re an exhibit in the zoo and ask very confusedly and somewhat concerned "But... where do you get your protein if you don’t eat animal flesh?" or another one I see increasing in popularity is "Yeah, but how do you get enough protein on this kind of diet?" Now I have to admit after having heard it so many times already the urge to roll my eyes is great, but I don’t want to be that vegan. I don’t want to discourage people from asking questions. My goal is to educate vegans and non-vegans alike in the ways of living and eating more healthfully. Besides, what’s the old adage? There are no stupid questions, just uninformed people? At least that’s how I see it, and honestly with all the misinformation floating around out there is it any wonder that people are so confused?

I wish more people would open their eyes to the truth and realize that there’s a very good reason for why we’ve been taught to believe that meat, dairy and eggs are either the only, or the most superior sources of protein. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have huge lobbies worldwide and to the best my knowledge their’s no apple or kale lobby on the other side fighting on behalf of vegetables everywhere. It’s these very industries that have been the ones convincing us from birth that we need to consume a lot of protein, and that, that protein is better and more efficient when derived from the flesh and secretions of animals.

There are two things the meat, dairy and egg industries have right and it’s in saying that Protein is an important nutrient. It is, for sure. Protein is the quintessential building block of the human body. As you go about your daily business your body is working hard at discarding old cells and creating new ones, and it’s protein that’s responsible for this production. The other thing they’re right about is in saying that animal flesh is a complete protein. The mislead there however is their implication that proteins derived from plant foods are either incomplete or inferior. This is the myth, and unfortunately it’s so widespread in our culture, and has gained so much strength, that this wrong belief has been firmly rooted in the minds of the majority. Which is why as a vegan you get asked on a daily basis, "Where do you get your protein?"

So what is protein? It’s a nutrient of course, but one that’s made up of a chain of amino acids. Amino acids are little acids which when combined make up all the protein in your body. There are 20 different amino acids that have thus far been detected by Science, and these 20 amino acids come together in trillions upon trillions of ways to create all life on earth. Which means that all food items whether it’s vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds or animal flesh contain amino acids to varying degrees. The human body produces 12 of these amino acids on it’s own, because we produce them without the aid of any outside factors (diet) they are considered non-essential. The remaining 8 amino acids are considered essential because our bodies can’t produce them alone, we need to receive these amino acids through our diet. The reason you hear that meat is a complete protein is because the flesh of animals contains all of those 8 amino acids that our bodies do not manufacture. What people often neglect to mention is that there are several plant based foods that are also complete proteins. Quinoa, Spirulina, and soy foods (soy milk, tempeh, tofu, miso, edamame) being the most notable. The other thing that’s often misunderstood or not mentioned at all is the very significant fact that you don’t need to get all 8 essential amino acids from one food, nor do you even need to get all 8 acids in the same meal! This is hugely important to understand. Our bodies are truly unique and impressive machines, and they are designed absolutely perfectly. As long as you eat a diet rich in a variety of plant foods our bodies have the incredible ability and wisdom to be able to combine the different amino acids into protein. Think about it, if our bodies didn’t have this ability we would have to be so careful in planning each of our meals. Think about it, there have been vegetarians and vegans living on this earth before modern science discovered there was such a thing as an amino acid. If it were true that we could only get proper nutritional protein from animal flesh, men like Leo Tolstoy (aged 82), Leonardo da Vinci (aged 67), Gandhi (aged 78) and many others would have died decades before they actually did. Think about it, the largest and strongest animals on the planet are herbivores. Elephants, Giraffes, Buffalo, Gorillas, Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros, Giant Panda, the Manatee they are all plant eaters, and not a single one of them worries about amino acids or complimentary proteins! The kangaroo is a magnificent and speedy creature. At full speed the kangaroo can run 70 mph, a Cheetah in comparison - the world fastest creature - has been clocked at 75 mph, only five miles faster then the kangaroo who is an herbivore. The largest creature known to have inhabited the earth in the entire history of the earth is the Dinosaur Brachiosaurus which was 85 feet long and estimated to weight somewhere between 35-45 metric tons. The brachiosaurus of course was an herbivore.

So you see, we have been conditioned to hone in on and focus our worry on certain nutrients that in the western world are a complete non issue. In fact in our culture it’s actually very difficult to develop a true protein deficiency. Of course there are ways in which someone can consume too little protein but lets face it, here in the west, and particularly in America we’re not exactly a people who could be considered guilty of consuming too little of anything. In the west we don’t have diseases caused by deficiency, we have diseases caused by excess. Ways in which people would not meet their bodies protein needs are if they’re not meeting their energy needs. Meaning they’re not eating or taking in enough calories. We’re talking about people with severe anorexia, depression, have a lack of appetite due to illness, are extreme dieters, and even people who consume extremely restrictive diets. - no, nuts no beans etc.. - Sometimes people eating a high-raw diet have difficulty meeting their protein needs. So these would be cases in which people are not getting enough total calories and thus not meeting their bodies protein requirements. Junk-Food Vegans, or people consuming an unhealthy vegan diet may also not get enough protein, or enough nutrients period.

However even in these cases true protein deficiency in the Western World is rare. True protein deficiency is what you see on those aid to Africa commercials, the images of children with distended bellies, big heads, and discolored skin. That’s real protein deficiency, and it actually has a scientific name. Kwashiorkor. Have you heard this term before? Probably not and I’m not surprised. It’s something we see in countries with extreme poverty where people don’t have enough food, where people are starving to death, we may have poverty here in the west but not to that extreme. If you’ve never heard the term Kwashiorkor before, if you don’t know the commercials I’m talking about, if you’ve never seen the images of children with distended bellies then I urge you to take a moment and Google it. Look over the pictures, and think, have you ever known or even heard of a single person vegetarian or otherwise in the United States who’s suffered from Kwashiorkor? The answer is probably no.

In fact people on average are getting far more protein then their bodies actually require, and that’s what’s causing us to develop so many problems, and diseases. Our bodies don’t store protein. The body takes what is needed and has to eliminate the rest through our urine. When our bodies contain too much protein the liver and kidneys become overworked and stressed during the elimination process, and this is a very bad thing considering that our liver and kidneys are our bodies major detoxifying organs. Consumption of animal proteins, particularly in excess have been linked to cancer, kidney problems such as kidney stones, gout, and osteoporosis (because all that excess protein is leaching the calcium out of our bones)

Our bodies only require about 5-6% of our total calorie intake to come from dietary protein. That’s enough to replace the protein we excrete throughout the day. The recommended daily allowance allotted to us by the government is about 9-10% and they say this to ensure that most people will at least consume that 5-6% So 5-6% is pretty low and certainly pretty easy to achieve day to day on any kind of diet, but how much protein are Americans actually consuming? The studies show that Americans are consuming between 11-21% protein, with an average of 15% which is higher then the government allowance, and much, much more then is required by our bodies. As stated above it’s this extreme excess of animal proteins (not to mention the high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat found in animal flesh, yet non-existent in plant foods) that are responsible for the skyrocketing numbers in cases of heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes that we’ve seen in this country.

As I bring this entry to an end I hope you’ve learned from this that for most people protein is a non-issue. If you are interested in going vegetarian or vegan and someone tries to discourage you with this age old myth continually perpetuated by the meat, dairy and egg industries then I hope you find yourself well defended with information. To veteran vegans and vegetarians I know it’s tiresome to have to explain this over and over to uninformed omnivores but please remember to keep the eye rolls to a minium. Instead treat them with compassion, and answer their questions honestly and with kindness. It’s not after all entirely their fault that they’re so misinformed. Lastly to omnivores, I hope you’ve learned something here, I hope you realize just how silly the ‘protein’ debate is and I hope it’s inspired you to at least marginally rethink where you get your protein from, and whether or not it’s truly the best source.

Lastly Every human on this planet needs to make sure that they’re getting proper, and adequate nutrition not only to live but to thrive. We really need to put an end to this idea that vegetarians are somehow malnourished while omnivores are thriving, because it’s simply not true, and the soaring rates of disease in this country are irrefutable proof of that.

As always, happy and healthy eating to you!

PS: The idea of complimentary proteins was first introduced in a book called "Diet for a Small Planet" written by Frances Moore Lappe and published in 1971. She popularized the idea that because some plant foods were higher in certain amino acids then others that we had to combine foods such as rice and beans in one meal to make a complete protein. Though she later revised her position in the 1991 edition of "Diet for a Small Planet" saying that it wasn’t necessary to combine proteins as long as we’re eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day, her revision was not widely publicized, and by then the damage was already done.

And finally if you are still concerned about protein for whatever reason here are some sources to consider.

From the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

As long as the diet contains a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables, protein needs are easily met.
Diets that are rich in protein, especially animal protein, are known to cause people to excrete more calcium than normal through their urine and increase the risk of osteoporosis.


http://www.pcrm.org/health/Info_on_Veg_Diets/protein.html

From the American Institute for Cancer Research

Basing our diets on plant foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans), which contain fiber and other nutrients, can reduce our risk of cancer.

For cancer survivors
Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits is recommended


By Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D.

Summary: It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day.

http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm

Monday, June 20, 2011

Easy Low-Fat Lima Bean Guacamole...


















I love a good guacamole, especially in the spring and summer months. I make it often, usually in small amounts - Since my husband doesn’t like avocados - by hand with my mortar and pestle. I love to use it on wraps, or burgers, it’s great on nachos or in a seven layer dip. It’s also great on it’s own with some tortilla or pita chips.

I know a lot of people tend to shy away from avocados because of the ‘fat’ content. Personally I think this is just plain silly. Avocados are filled with healthful nutritional benefits, and yes they contain fat, but healthful fat, and some fat in the diet is required. (Not much, but some) Honestly if you’re eating a relatively low-fat vegan diet of whole foods, it’s not the bowl of guacamole that’s going to get you. Which is why I don’t worry about it, I don’t even consider the fat content of a bowl of guacamole, I just eat it. Though I can understand the desire to eat lower fat, especially if say you want to eat a massive helping of guac particularly in a week where you may have fallen a little of the ‘health food’ wagon, or for whatever reason haven’t been exercising regularly. (You do exercise regularly right?) And so after being extremely impressed, and inspired by a low fat guac my good friend J brought to a party, I decided to try and develop my own.

This works great on two fronts - 1 it’s low-fat, and 2 my husband loves it because it’s not avocados! So if you have an avocado hater in your midst have them give this one a try and see if they don’t come around.

Easy Low-Fat Lima Bean Guacamole

12-16oz frozen lima beans (thawed) (I used roughly 12oz, you could use more but might have to adjust the seasonings)
1 medium Avocado
1 tbsp lime juice
1 handful chopped green onion (or to taste)
1 handful finely chopped cilantro (or to taste)
1 medium-large tomato diced (or more if desired)
½ Jalapeno (or more if you like heat)
1/4 C water (or more to thin)
2 Tbsp Non-dairy sour cream (I used Toffutti)
4-6 Garlic cloves or to taste
Black pepper, smoked paprika, and oregano to taste

- Place thawed lima beans, avocado, lime juice, jalapeno, non-dairy sour cream, and garlic cloves into a high-speed blender or food processor. Blend on high.

(Note this recipe makes a good deal of guac, so the 1 avocado is pretty insignificant fat wise. I used it along with the 2 tbsp of non-dairy sour cream to add more creaminess to the guac, but you can opt out of using either if you like, and use silken tofu instead for the same creamy effect)

- Because the mixture is so thick, your blender or food processor might give you a bit of trouble, you will likely need to scrape down the sides with a spatula. This is also where the water comes in. Use as little or as much as you need to get the blades of your blender/processor moving so that everything can combine easily. Remember you want the mixture to remain thick, you don’t want it to thin much, just enough to flow easily when the blender is on.

- Once everything is combined you can then choose to add your green onion and cilantro to the blender and pulse to combine it. Or if you prefer you can scrape the guacamole out of your blender and just fold in the green onions, and cilantro for a chunkier texture.

- Once everything is combined taste for flavor, and add salt and black pepper, oregano and smoked paprika to taste. You can add more jalapeno at this point or more garlic if you like.

- Once you are satisfied with the taste and texture of your guacamole scrape it into a bowl, mix in the diced tomato, and garnish with a little chopped green onion, cilantro, and even a bit of diced tomato and non-dairy cheddar if you like.

- Enjoy with good friends and Spanish music, on a sunny day, with a bowl of tortilla chips, or pita chips, and don’t forget to slather some onto a veggie burger.


















Honestly I think this guacamole taste best when fresh, but it will keep over night.

P.S. Because I love fun-filled facts - Guacamole originated in Mexico and was made by the Aztecs as early as the 16th century. After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in Mexico, guacamole became popular in Spain..

***Note- Soy and Gluten Free if using a Soy and/or Gluten-Free Non-Dairy Sour Cream such as Wayfair***

Happy and Healthy Eating!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blueberry Waffles With Lemon Creme....


















Though I’m not much of a morning eater - most days preferring a smoothie or a simple glass of tea or juice and a bit of fruit or a scone upon waking rather then a full meal - There are those times when I awake ravenous, and on those occasions I seem to almost always want waffles. Until January I never owned a waffle maker, I don’t know why, I’ve always liked waffles, they remind me of my childhood. My mother used to make big waffle breakfasts, usually on Sunday mornings, and her waffles were the best I’d ever eaten. Then I got married and I seemed to forget about my much beloved waffles. Pancakes I made sure, scrambled tofu yeah, toast, oatmeal, just plain ole’ boring cereal of course, but waffles? They had disappeared from my life.

It wasn’t until Christmas of last year when I was gifted an amazing book - Called Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz - that waffles re-entered the picture. The book - amazing for many reasons - is full of delicious mouth-watering waffle recipes that I wanted to try immediately. The only problem was I didn’t own a waffle iron! So in January I went out and bought myself one, and I’m telling you it was the best $50 I ever spent.

So is it any wonder that when I bought the book Vegan Yum Yum by Lauren Ulm the first recipe I wanted to make was the Blueberry Waffles with Lemon Creme? And wow are they something! For me it’s the lemon creme drizzled on top that really does it for me, because to be honest a blueberry waffle is a blueberry waffle, but with that lemon creme - mmm! I love blueberries and I love lemon and the two compliment each other so fantastically! I can’t believe It hadn’t occurred to me before! Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have any fresh blueberries on hand to place on top, but I think that sliced strawberries were a very nice improvisation.

These waffles and the lemon creme are so amazing that if you don’t own Vegan Yum Yum you need to buy a copy right now, and if you don’t own a waffle iron, you need to buy one! Like yesterday! You won’t be sorry.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Spotlight Food - Blueberries....


















Blueberries -There are few things more enjoyable then kicking back on a beautiful summer day with a bowl of fresh berries at your disposal. Berries for me are the epitome of summer and while I happen to love them all - each for their own unique intrinsic value - if I were forced to pick my favorite, that honor would undoubtably be dispersed evenly between blueberries and strawberries. To me they are the perfect summer food. Sweet, juicy and refreshing. As good to eat for breakfast as they are to eat for desert.

History/Cultivation

Blueberries (genus Vaccinium) are perennial flowering plants that belong to the same family as the Cranberry, and Bilberry, the Azalea, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron. They are one of the few fruits native to North America, and there are approximately thirty different varieties. The most commonly cultivated of which is the Northern Highbush Variety.

Highbush blueberries were first introduced to Germany and the Netherlands in the 1930's and have since spread to other European countries. Blueberries have also been introduced (more recently in some cases) into the Southern Hemisphere in counties like Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and South Africa. However despite the spread of blueberry cultivation, North America still remains the largest blueberry producer.

In Canada, in 2007 blueberries were the largest fruit crop produced nationally, occupying half of all Canadian acreage. British Columbia is the largest Canadian producer of highbush blueberries and the second top producing region world wide. With over 650 blueberry growers, and 17,000 acres of rich farmland devoted to growing approximately 80 million pounds of blueberries annually.

Nova Scotia is the largest producer of wild blueberries across Canada with a provincial production of over 40 million pounds annually. While Quebec is another large producer of wild blueberries with 27,000 tons in production in 2008 it now rivals the production of Maine in the United States. Combining the wild blueberry yields of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and the other major producing provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; Atlantic Canada contributes approximately half of the total North American annual production of wild blueberries, roughly 68,000 tons.

In the United States, Maine produces 25% of all lowbush blueberries in North America, making it the largest producer in the world. While Maine is the leader of lowbush production in the United States Michigan is the leader of highbush production in the U.S. In 1998 Michigan’s blueberry production accounted for 32% of all blueberries eaten in the United States. Significant production of highbush blueberries also occurs in the states of New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Blueberries have also played an important role in Native American/First Nations cultures for hundreds of years. Being used for everything from food, to medicine to clothing dye, but they were not widely consumed by the colonists until the mid-late 1800's, presumably because of their slightly tart flavor. Interestingly Blueberry cultivation did not begin until the beginning of the 20th century and were not commercially available until 1916, subsequently around the time that sugar became more widely available.

Health Benefits

Blueberries are an real antioxidant powerhouse. The components of this tiny little berry work to neutralize free radical damage to the bodies collagen matrix (the base ingredients that make up all body tissue) of cells and tissue that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins, the blue-red pigment in blueberries that gives them their beautiful color works to improve the integrity of the support structures in veins as well as the entire vascular system. Anthocyanins have been shown to enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and stabilize the collagen matrix. A study conducted at Oklahoma State University showed in several laboratory animal and cell studies that anthocyanins found in blueberries causes blood vessels to relax and increase production of nitric oxide which helps in maintaining normal blood pressure. Other animal studies found that blueberry consumption lowered cholesterol and total blood lipid levels.

In laboratory animal studies researchers have found that blueberries help to protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Researchers also found that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging animals, making them mentally equivalent to younger animals of their species.

In addition to Anthocyanins, blueberries also contain another antioxidant compound called ellagic acid which
blocks the metabolic pathways that can lead to cancer. Blueberries are also high in the soluble fiber pectin which has been shown to lower cholesterol, as well as to prevent bile acid from being transformed into a potentially cancer-causing form.

Laboratory studies published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry show that phenolic compounds in blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and induce programmed cell death in cancerous cells, reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Among their rich supply of phytonutrients blueberries also contain kaempferol, a flavonoid that can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Research monitoring Flavonoid intake of 66,940 woman enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study between the years 1984 and 2002 showed that woman who’s diets provided the most kaempferol had a 40% reduced risk of ovarian cancer, compared to woman eating the least amount of kaempferol-rich foods.

In addition to containing soluble and insoluble fiber which can help relieve both diarrhea and constipation blueberries also contain tannins, which act as astringents in the digestive tract to reduce inflamation. Blueberries also contain the same compounds found in their cousin the cranberry that help to prevent or eliminate urinary tract infections. These compounds reduce the ability of E. coli (The bacteria that is the most common cause of urinary tract infections) to adhere to the mucosal lining of the urethra and bladder, thus reducing the risk of urinary tract infections.

All in all there is a lot to be said for those tiny blue berries, and for something so small they sure do pack a powerful disease fighting punch! So be sure to stock up on your fresh blueberries this spring and summer season, especially if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the most fruitful growing regions. Then when winter comes around don’t be shy about stocking your freezer with bags of frozen berries so you can enjoy them all year round.

Preparation

Honestly I like blueberries in almost everything. I love them in smoothies of course, and I love them in deserts such as pies, cakes, muffins, homemade sorbet or non-dairy ice cream. I love them in tarts, muffins, granola bars, energy bars, and cookies. I love them on oatmeal or cereal in the morning. I Love them as a simple snack just by themselves. They’re great in a fruit salad, and honestly they’re great in a green salad. Not only do they taste good but they make a wonderful presentation amongst all those leafy greens. They’re great to blend to make a salad dressing, or dipping sauce or glaze for tofu or tempeh. I’ve even made blueberry ketchup which was excellent. Blueberries are extremely versatile and wonderful in a multitude of ways so don’t be afraid to get creative. Whether you’re using fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, or dried I’m sure you’ll love them!


















So stock up and healthy eating to you!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest Post #1 - Holy Veggies, Batman!

Before I’d even begun the steps necessary to create this blog - back when it was still just a thought circling through my addled brain - I’d had the idea that it might be nice to feature a guest post now and then. I thought it might be a nice change of pace, and for non-vegans or non-vegetarians I thought it might be nice to see this ‘crazy’ vegan thing from a perspective other than my own. So naturally I asked my husband (a vegetarian slowly transitioning to vegan, and a writer also!) if he would be interested in sharing his own story, as well as his thoughts, ideas and opinions with all of you good folk, and naturally he was indeed very eager to do so. The entry that follows was written by him, in his own words, as something of an introductory post if you will. Regarding the frequency of his guest spots from here on, I couldn’t say exactly, that’s really up to him, but I’m sure there will be more to come as in the past few months he’s become just as eager and passionate about his new (almost) Vegan life as I have become about mine. So I hope you enjoy, and I hope you find his words as inspiring and helpful as you do mine.

Peace, Love and Good Health...

06/16/11

Holy Veggies, Batman!

Hello, blogging world! I come to you today to share my experiences as a newbie to the vegan/vegetarian world. Perhaps some of you out there are contemplating becoming a vegetarian or vegan but feel you can’t give up meat. I understandable, because I was once like you. Yet, the choice to take the leap into vegetarianism/veganism isn’t as wide of a jump as you might think. This is especially true if you think of veganism/vegetarianism not as a sacrifice or a diet, but as a transition into something new.

Growing up I was fed a pretty regular helping of meat and dairy each day. It was a main staple in my diet since it was always so easily available. I remember my favorite dishes like beef stroganoff and sloppy joe casserole. I would love getting 3 burgers at a time from McDonald’s and scarfing them down. I never met a burger I didn’t like. As time wore on, however, my appetite for red meat slowly declined. I still enjoyed hamburgers and the like, but I looked less forward to steak each time it was served. I found myself going out for food more often whenever it was served at home. By the time I met my wife, I generally preferred poultry to red meat whenever we would eat out.

Once we were married, my wife did nearly all the cooking and since we were living with my family, she typically cooked for them, as well. My family members are much bigger red meat eaters than I was but my wife typically would make dishes with chicken, turkey, or shrimp. Nobody seemed to mind since my wife is a genius in the kitchen and could make even the plainest chicken dishes seem amazing. It also freed my mom up from cooking, which was a plus for her.

It went like this for the first few years of our marriage until events in my wife’s life lead her to re-examine her eating habits. (See her first blog entry on the main page to read more about her own personal journey into veganism)

When she first told me about her decision to go vegetarian (with an eye on going vegan eventually), I was a bit worried. While I was not a huge meat eater, I still enjoyed the poultry and seafood dishes that she made. I had images of small salads, raw vegetables and other dishes that wouldn’t fill me up, or taste as good as the food I was accustomed to. Just the thought of that made my stomach growl for a nice juicy burger from Steak N Shake. Of course - despite my reservations - I was supportive of her decision and totally encouraged her to make the change. Her health and well being were the important things after all, not my appetite.

I did, however, wonder how I was still going to be able to eat what I wanted when it was my wife who did most of the cooking. I could make my own food, a novel concept, but once you’ve had my wife’s cooking, you can’t go back. I could’ve eaten the food my parents made but I didn’t want to feel like a freeloader. Well, more of a freeloader than I already felt, that is.

My wife said flat out that I could eat whatever I wanted but that she wasn’t going to be making two separate dinners each night. I had to eat what she made, or fend for myself; so I just ended up eating whatever she decided to make and, to my surprise, I quite enjoyed her vegetarian meals. She had a huge supply of cook books that she’d either gotten from the libraries we visited (which, typically, had a very good selection to pick from!) or books she had purchased. Soon I found myself eating and liking foods I never before thought I’d enjoy. Asparagus, kale, collard greens, beets (well I still have a few issues with that one), and cabbage. But when she put them together with other fruits, vegetables, grains and sauces, they were impossible to resist!

Even more surprising to me was the fact that I was eating these dishes without meat and yet staying full. Staying full and not feeling deathly ill afterward, to boot! As a meat eater I sometimes found myself feeling too full/sick to move after meals. That all changed once I began phasing meat out. After meals, despite being full, I still had energy to do things. I went on walks, bike rides, and wrote instead of just laying in bed waiting for the Rapture. I even noticed that minor ailments and health issues I’d always lived with, began to go away. I’d always had a sensitive stomach but once I started doing the vegetarian thing, it hardly seemed to effect me anymore.

Now, in the early months before I was fully invested, if I was at work and needed food to eat, I would still eat the occasional chicken meal served at Chipotle or McDonald’s, for instance, but I’d given up burgers and other beef products and when I did eat chicken, it was a rare occurrence.

Then, around the beginning of January 2011, I decided to completely stop eating meat. I believe I’ve only slipped once or twice, and that was for a piece of bacon. At this point, in June, I’ve even nearly phased out all dairy products, too. I still eat the occasional pizza with cheese on it but I no longer eat cereal with cow’s milk. I’ve switched to rice milk (an amazing substitute!) and when I go to Starbuck’s, I’ve switched to soy milk. I try to avoid cow’s milk products as much as I can but milk chocolate can still be a tough addiction to break.

Looking back at all the time that’s passed since I started increasing my intake of vegetables and fruits and started phasing out meat, it doesn’t feel like I sacrificed anything or had to struggle through a long transition period. It just came naturally. I can’t stress enough how one shouldn’t view this as a diet – a thing they have to do by sacrificing a food they love to eat - If you do that, you’re bound to fail and you’ll just go back to eating meat and dairy products forever. If you slip, you slip, it happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just do your best, if you’re just starting out and stick with it. True, it didn’t hurt that my wife was making amazing meals but once my awareness of what eating meat truly entailed, my resolve to change just grew exponentially.

As I delved further into the world of veganism, the more I learned about how meat eating affects the environment, the economy, our health, and, obviously, the animals. I don’t expect people who are meat eaters and yet may be tempted by the idea of going vegetarian to do so initially out of compassion for animals, but it’s hard not to. It just ends up being a by-product of veganism, especially if you read about or hear stories describing the cruelty involved in the meat industry and what actually happens to the animals involved. My new and growing awareness of what goes on in the meat industry just helps to fortify my decision to stay vegetarian.

I think that’s what meat eaters out there should realize if they are deciding to become vegetarians or vegans – you don’t have to do it just for the animals. If you’re not an animal person, if that aspect of it doesn’t connect with you, then be content in doing it for yourself and your own health. Don’t let people place a stigma on the idea of veganism or vegetarianism by grouping all of us as "hippies" or some other ridiculous stereotype. Vegetarianism is a totally easy and viable choice to make. You don’t "need" meat in your diet to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, you’re better off without it. You can get all you need from being a vegetarian or vegan as long as you’re going about your diet in the right way. Just like you would if you were a meat eater.

The world of veganism/vegetarianism is big enough to welcome people for any reason they see fit, whether it’s animal compassion, personal health, or the environment. Just know that your decision does impact more than just you, and as a vegetarian you’ll be doing so much to improve not only yourself but the world at large. Good eating, everyone! Hope to be back soon.

~ Matthew,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sweet and Savory Stuffed Mushrooms...


















I believe I mentioned previously that I’ve never been a fan of the mushroom, and yet I’ve been working on trying to overcome this distaste. I’m always on the search for a new way to dress up and incorporate mushrooms into my food without feeling too overwhelmed by them. I’ve had a few hits and a lot of misses but, this recipe in particular I think goes a long way in helping to increase my affection for fungi. This recipe originated as a crust I used to encase large Portobelo mushrooms before baking. It works wonderfully that way, and has a texture reminiscent of breaded chicken.

But, it wasn’t until I was scrambling to find an acceptable stuffed mushroom recipe for the graduation party that I decided to try it as a stuffing instead. My thinking being that if it tasted good on the outside of a mushroom it stood to reason that it would taste great on the inside of a mushroom as well. Turns out I was right, and the mushrooms were a big hit, even with me. They’re not too mushroomey or too chewy, and they have a wonderful blend of sweet, and savory with a hint of garlic, onion, and salt. If even I, the most skeptical of mushroom eaters, enjoyed them then I’m sure you will as well.

Sweet and Savory Stuffed Mushrooms

Roughly 24-30 Baby Portobelo Mushrooms

Filling -

2 C Pecans
4 Tbsp Agave Nectar
4 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
4 Tbsp Italian Style Bread Crumbs (Whole Wheat Preferably)
4 Tbsp Earth Balance
1/2 C Chopped Green Onions
Sea Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

- Pre-heat oven to 400'F (204'C) Remove stems from mushrooms and discard.

Note - Instead of throwing them into the garbage consider putting them into a zip-lock bag or container and keeping them to chop and add to rice dishes, soups or stir-fry’s. Or freeze to use later for making your own soup stock. Or as my husband does you can simply eat them then and there.

- Run mushrooms under cold water, then very gently rub dry with paper towel or cloth to remove dirt, and grime. Set aside.

- To make filling place all ingredients into food processor and pulse until completely broken down, and combined. The mixture should resemble a paste or dough.

Note - If you have a very small food processor as I do you may need to do this in batches. Half the recipe and make it in two stages.

- Once filling has been made, gently stuff into your de-stemmed mushrooms.

- Place mushrooms on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in oven for roughly 20 minutes. Until mushrooms have softened and darkened, and filling is golden on top.


















- Enjoy as an appetizer or a side dish.

Note - If your breadcrumbs of choice contain salt, or have a distinctly salty nature you may want to omit the sea salt. Also the filling recipe makes a fair amount, so if you have extra mushrooms you can stuff them as well. If you don’t have extra mushrooms you can save the filling, buy more mushrooms and make them the next day. (As I did) or you can simply over-stuff your mushrooms. Either way I’m sure the excess filling won’t go to waste.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Berry Good Morning Smoothie....


















I know I’ve been a bit neglectful this week, and I apologize for that. It’s just been one of those weeks you know? Between work, and planning/prepping for the graduation party I threw yesterday there just wasn’t any time to write or share my recipes with you; but with the insanity that was this weekend now over and done with, my presence around here will once again increase. I promise. For now I’d like to share a simple smoothie I made this morning, but tomorrow I promise to give you a more substantial recipe.


















Berry Good Morning Smoothie

1-1/4 C. Fresh Sliced Strawberries
½-3/4 C Frozen mixed berries of your choosing. (I used blackberries, raspberries and mulberries)
2 C water
3 Dates pitted (more of less to taste, or other sweetener of choice) (Optional)

- Put everything into high-speed blender and blend on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute until everything is smooth and creamy.

- Divide amongst two tall glasses, garnish with a couple of fresh strawberries and enjoy in the sun as I did.


















- Peace, Love and Enjoyment to you on this beautiful summer day -

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spotlight Food - Bell Peppers...


















Bell Peppers - Along with Onions, Bell Peppers are probably the most commonly consumed vegetable in my home. I love their sweet and tangy flavor, love their crunch when raw, and love how the seem to so perfectly compliment every dish I toss them into. Red peppers have always been my bell pepper of choice, originally for their flavor but now also for their amazing healthful benefits. However Orange and Yellow bell peppers come as a close second, and though Green Bell Peppers aren’t my favorite I do enjoy them as well, particularly in salsa’s, chilies, pasta sauces, and creole rice dishes. As with onions there is a lot of interesting information available about this wonderful fruit/vegetable that I’m happy to share with you.

History/Cultivation

Bell Peppers, (Capsicum annuum) commonly known as Sweet Peppers, or Capsicum are Native to Mexico, Central America and Northern South America. However in 1493 Pepper seeds were brought back to Spain and from there their cultivation spread across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Despite their now widespread cultivation Mexico still remains one of the worlds largest pepper producers.

You might not know this, but the Bell Pepper was given it’s name by Christopher Columbus upon his return to Europe. It was this name he chose to bequeath his latest find because at that time in European history the peppercorn (From an entirely unrelated plant native to India) was considered to be all the rage and was a revered condiment. The name pepper was then subsequently applied to anything with either a hot or pungent flavor. Naming the capsicum after such a famed ingredient I’m sure also went a long way in generating interest and demand for the newly arrived fruit/vegetable.

Two other interesting factoids about the bell pepper is that botanically speaking peppers are fruits and yet are always considered as vegetables in culinary contexts. The bell pepper while a capsicum is also the only capsicum species to not produce capsaicin; a lipophilic chemical that’s responsible for causing that strong burning sensation whenever it comes into contact with the mucus membranes. The lack of capsaicin apparently comes from a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin (the ‘hot’ taste) that is so characteristic of the rest of the capsicum family.

Bell Peppers come in different colors, and with slightly different flavor profiles, ranging from slightly bitter to super sweet. They can range from green, red, orange, yellow, and far less commonly white, purple and rainbow. (The In-between stages of ripening) depending on the specific cultivator and at what time in the ripening process the peppers were harvested. Green peppers interestingly, are simply the fruit in it’s unripened stage. It’s because of this that green peppers are less nutrient dense then the red pepper variety, which have the highest nutrient content. One cup of raw red pepper contains over 100% of your Daily Value of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, and is also a good source of vitamin B6. 1 large red bell pepper contains 3 times as much vitamin C as an orange!

*** Just an interesting aside here but Paprika (a favorite seasoning of mine) whose name holds it’s roots in the word pepper; is made by grinding dried capsicum’s. Most commonly the bell pepper and/or the chili pepper. ***

Health Benefits

Health-wise Bell Peppers offer a wide range of nutrients and healthful benefits. Have you ever heard the phrase’s "Eat by color" or "Eat all the colors of the rainbow"? I’m sure you have, and the reason you may hear it so often and with such emphasis is because it’s those same phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables their luscious color that also helps to protect us against Free Radicals.

Peppers are great sources of phytonutrients, and are full of antioxidant protection. They are rich in both vitamin C and A, two powerful antioxidants and important nutrients that work together to combat free radicals. Free radicals incase you haven’t heard are key factors when it comes to our declining health. From building up cholesterol in our arteries which leads to heart disease, nerve and blood vessel damage seen in diabetes, cataracts, joint damage seen in arthritis, and the wheezing and airway tightening associated with asthma, free radicals can cause our bodies a boatload of damage in a small amount of time. It’s when these free radicals have uncontrolled reign to do as they please in our bodies that we become ill, and develop disease.

Peppers also contain vitamin B6 and folate which are both very important for reducing homocysteine in the body. High levels of homocysteine have been shown to cause damage to blood vessels and are associated with a largely increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to this bell peppers also contain fiber which can help lower cholesterol levels, a major risk factor in heart attack and stroke.

Red peppers are also one of the few foods that contain lycopene, a carotenoid whose consumption - or lack there of - has been linked with prostate cancer, as well as cervical, bladder and pancreatic cancer. Studies suggest that individuals whose diets are lowest in lycopene rich foods are at a greater risk for developing these types of cancers.

Consumption of fiber, vitamin c, folic acid, and beta-carotene, which are all found in bell peppers have also been associated with a significantly lowering one’s risk of colon cancer.

Consuming foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin an orange-red carotenoid found in highest amounts in red peppers, pumpkin, corn, papaya, tangerines, oranges, and peaches may significantly lower one’s risk of developing lung cancer. According to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, which reviewed dietary and lifestyle data collected from over 60,000 adults in Shanghai, China and found that those eating diets highest in cryptoxanthin rich foods had a 27% reduced risk of lung cancer.
Research conducted at Kansas State University that focused on the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflamation and emphysema has also uncovered some very interesting things. It was discovered that a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzopyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency. The interesting thing is that research conducted by Richard Baybutt associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, found that laboratory animals fed a diet deficient in vitamin A developed emphysema, but that eating a diet rich in vitamin A could combat this effect, reducing ones risk. Baybutt believes that vitamin A’s protective effects could explain why some smokers develop emphysema while others do not.

Vitamin C rich foods like peppers have also been shown to provide protection against rheumatoid arthritis. The Annals of the Rheumatic Disease published the findings of a study conducted on more then 20,000 individuals who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free at the beginning of the study. After compiling all the data, and seeing who had remained arthritis-free in the fallow up period, it was shown that those subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C rich food were three times more likely to develop arthritis then those who ate a diet rich in vitamin C.

*** Note - Keep in mind that the healthful benefits from Vitamin C come from the Vitamin C consumed within the foods that we eat. As Supplemented Vitamin C in pill form can actually make osteoarthritis worse.***

Preparation

Like most vegetables bell peppers can be eaten cooked or raw. You can enjoy them sliced thin and dipped into humus, Tzatziki, or your favorite dip or dressing. You can slice or chop them and enjoy them in any kind of salad from a traditional green salad, to a Greek salad, to a Middle Eastern couscous or bulgur salad. You can enjoy them cooked in soups, chilies, and as a main filling for fajitas. You can saute them in a stir-fry, simmer them in a curry, grill them, roast them, put them in casseroles, pasta dishes, pasta sauces, salsa, gumbo, jambalaya, and fried rice . These sweet crisp treats are very versatile and can be eaten in an almost endless amount of ways. I know I eat them virtually every day and I toss them into anything regardless of whether or not my recipe requires them. I’m never shy about adding more peppers to a dish either. Both my husband and I can never seem to get enough, my husband in fact craves them! So don’t be afraid to get creative and as always enjoy!

Happy and Healthy Eating to you! And don’t forget to load up on those peppers for optimal health!