Category Archives: General

Oh Controversial Coconut Oil – Shall I Love Thee?

coconut_oil

Note: If you get to the bottom of this post, you will find a very yummy recipe!

 

 

 

 

My friend Marieke Klosse-Beeler has a wonderful company, Pamperosity, all about pampering yourself with all natural products. She asked me to share my knowledge in her blog this week about cooking with, as well as the health benefits of coconut oil. She was also kind enough to plug my blog and The Healthy Delectable Web Series, and announce the latest news, my upcoming Cookbook, that I plan to release on kindle later this Fall!

Check out Pamperosity and Marieke’s post about coconut oil HERE!

Coconut Oil went from being the “bad” oil in the 90’s to being hyped as a “cure-all” today.
So, what’s the truth about Coconut Oil?

According to a WebMD article, “Coconut oil contains an unusual blend of short and medium chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44% ) and myristic (16.8%) acids. It is this unusual composition that may offer some health benefits.”

What does this mean? Because they are smaller, they’re absorbed intact, as opposed to long-chain fats, that have to be broken down in the small intestine.  Smaller and medium-chained fatty acids are delivered directly to the liver to be used for energy.

The other good news is, medium-chain fats don’t store in fat cells to the same extent as long-chain ones. Studies show that medium-chain fats appear to increase calorie burning in the body.

The WebMD article article also states, “Coconut oil, like all saturated fats, should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines.”

From my research, coconut oil shouldn’t be replaced with other important oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and grapeseed oils, for our diet, both of which are unsaturated.

Everyone loves a virgin, and according to a 2011 NY Times article, the key to the healthiest variety of coconut oil, is extra virgin. Generally speaking, anything that hasn’t gone through a chemical process is best, and easiest for your body to break down. The “bad fats” are trans fats, which was the proudest of food labels, before gluten free showed up on the market. The lauric acid in coconut oil, (also found in breast milk, by the by) is said to increase levels of good HDL (the good cholesterol). While researchers are skeptical, lauric acid is also said to have possible antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties. While there is no scientific evidence to prove it, the natural foods community believes these properties can help weight loss, treat digestive issues, skin problems, and perhaps also viruses, like H.I.V.

As for cooking with coconut oil, it has a wonderful mellow, nutty, slightly sweet flavor, and enhances sautéed and roasted veggies, has a high smoke point, and can withstand hotter temperatures, and makes an excellent substitution for baking with animal fats, such as butter and lard. As I stated in the Pamperosity post, coconut oil lends to an excellent flaky pie crust, makes baked good moist, and makes my favorite latest treat, a magic shell for ice cream sundaes (see recipe below).

It is also an excellent moisturizer for skin and hair.

Whether you air on the side of science, or keep up with the latest in the nutritional world, it seems that coconut oil is definitely good for you, in small amounts.

Homemade Two Ingredient Magic Shell magic-shell-2-james-ransom-for-food52(Recipe adapted, and photo borrowed from Food 52)

This is a simple recipe. All you need is 2 parts oil to 3 parts chocolate. So, for 1 cup of magic shell, you will need:

  • 160 grams (about 1 cup) of good quality chocolate chips
  • 100 grams of coconut oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Directions:

  • Combine chocolate and oil into a microwave safe container. Microwave in 30 second intervals until the chocolate melts. Stir to combine all the flavors. (You can also combine ingredients and melt over low heat in a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water) Allow the mixture to cool slightly, and then pour onto your scoop (or scoops) of ice cream!

Enjoy (in moderation)!!

When An Old Reliable Friend Moves Away

When I heard the news that my local Trader Joe’s would be closing its doors at the end of August, I can honestly say, I got a pit in my stomach. TRADER-JOES-largeAnd I’m not alone, as others, like LAIST are writing about it too. Ever since I moved into my beloved condo in West Hollywood in 2005, this TJ’s has been my reliable neighborhood companion.

I know, I know, it’s just a friggin’ store, why get so dramatic?!

When I lived in NYC, I shopped everywhere by bicycle or by foot. It was great! And in a new home, in a new city, having a TJ’s walking distance away was a real comfort, and I knew that anytime I just needed one or two things (although let’s be real, you never leave a TJ’s with just one or two things), it was just a few minutes away. Not to mention, having been to the other Trader Joes’ around town, this one had the best parking.

I was out of town when the store closed, so I didn’t say a proper good-bye, and when I returned to LA, it was gone. At first, I felt like someone died. Where would I shop? I tried the Hollywood TJ’s on Vine, one night after the gym, and the unpleasant experience began as soon as I turned into their underground parking garage (My Trader Joe’s had an easy and convenient outdoor lot), and took my ticket from the automated ticket box, a guy on a scooter whizzed through the open gate, and it shut on me before I could follow. Now with a line of cars behind me wondering what the hold up was, I had to get out of the car, and walk back to the box to get another ticket. Once I entered the store, it was filled with people, Hollywood people. I longed for the elderly West Hollywood Russians who walked too slowly down the aisle, and would stand way too close to me in the checkout line, or the super friendly staff who knew me and were more than willing to look in the back if I couldn’t find what I wanted on the shelves, and who I could count on to recommend their favorite beer or wine. That night as I drove home from the Hollywood Joe’s, I missed my neighborhood companion. A couple of days later, I went to the local Whole Foods store, where I already shop at occasionally, but which costs me about triple what I pay at TJ’s for my regular groceries.

Then something happened. On my way home one afternoon, I remembered I needed to buy a plant as a gift, and again cursed that I couldn’t go to TJ’s to get one of their wonderful orchid plants. Then I remembered a local plant store, Moe’s. I worried that it would be more expensive, but I didn’t have time to figure something else out. To my surprise, I could find some very affordable and healthy plants on sale, and even decided to buy myself a beautiful fern as well. So, as the reality that my local reliable store has moved on is sinking in, I am beginning to open up to what my neighborhood still has to offer.

Farmers Market 2
On Monday, I shopped at my local farmers market, where I became lazy about going to on a weekly basis because I could always go to TJ’s if I missed it that week (even though the produce is far superior (and cheaper) at the farmers market). There are also plenty of local Eastern European delis and grocery stores in the neighborhood that carry the things I may need on a moments notice, like cream for my coffee.

Farmer Market 1

And actually, the small stores and the farmers market are what I love about living in a neighborhood, where the locals all go. The Trader Joe’s was an incredible convenience, but sometimes it’s good to expand one’s view to what else is out there.

 

 

 

Quinoa "Grits"

Healthy Quinoa “Grits”

Quinoa "Grits"

One of the curses and blessings of looking at and reading about food all the time, is it makes a gal hungry!

I saw a photo of cheesy grits this morning, and could not get the image out of my mind. It’s Monday. I had an ice cream sundae last night, and I try to keep my diet clean and healthy during the week. Then I got inspired to make a healthier version of the cheesy, grainy creaminess I was craving. Here’s what I did:

I cooked quinoa in salted water. When the water cooked through, I added some olive oil and closed the lid a moment to let it steam through. The olive oil added a nice layer of flavor and also kept the quinoa from sticking to the bottom of the pan. While the quinoa was still hot, I cracked an egg into the pot, and stirred vigorously to let the egg cook through. That added the creaminess I was craving. If you’re nervous about eating raw egg, you can keep the pot over a very low flame on the burner. And finally, to complete the need for a little more salt, fat and cream, I stirred in a small amount of grated Parmesan. So, while it’s not corn, with heaps of butter, cream, and cheese, which I save devouring on special occasions, it did the trick. And then to make it more healthy, I tossed the quinoa “grits” with fresh arugula, tomato and avocado. And the whole thing took me about 20 minutes to prepare, and really only about 5 minutes of active work.

I don’t know if they’re cowboy approved. But it sure made for a healthy and delicious lunch!

Ingredients:
(Serves 2)

  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • About 1/4 cup shaved or grated parmesan
  • salt and black pepper
  • big bunch of arugula
  • 1/2 – 1 whole tomato, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into chunks

Directions:

  1. Toast the quinoa dry in a pot. When it starts to smell nutty, add water and salt, lower flame and cover for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Once the water cooks through, turn off the heat, add olive oil and cover pan to steam.
  3. After a minute or two, crack an egg and stir vigorously. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you’re concerned about the raw egg, you can keep the pot over a very low flame while stirring the quinoa and egg mixture.
  4. Stir in parmesan.
  5. Place arugula, tomato and avocado into a bowl. Add quinoa and toss to coat. Taste, and season more to your liking.
Homemade Tomato Sauce

Mmmmm…marinara

Homemade Tomato SauceWanna know the secret to this homemade tomato sauce?

San Marzano tomatoes. When a friend of mine shared the secret to a great tomato sauce is canned San Marzano tomatoes, I made sure to buy a few cans the next time I was at the store. And after researching basic marinara recipes, I realized that this very simple sauce is very easy to make. I bought fresh basil and parsley at my local farmers market. The fresh herbs really infuse the sauce with a lot of dimension. So here’s what I did:

 


Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 24 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 big bay leaf
  • big bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne or red pepper flakes

 

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to hot medium sauce pan. Add onions and cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes, until translucent.
  2. Lower heat, add garlic, and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, cover pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes. You can just leave it alone, or stir from time to time and check to see if the flavor is developing. Don’t be afraid to use the salt! The tomatoes love it. Go to town with all of the spices – except the cayenne or red pepper. Just a pinch will do, if you like an extra kick. The spice will continue to deepen as the sauce cooks.
  4. Remove the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Or you can leave it alone if you like a chunky sauce.
  5. Serve with your favorite pasta (Tonight, I made quinoa pasta, which is my favorite gluten-free pasta). Top with fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan. Mangia!
Homemade Coconut Milk

Look, Ma! Homemade Coconut Milk!

Ever since I was introduced to the art of making my own nut milk, I couldn’t bare to buy the boxed variety in stores. The main reason, other than the cost, is that preservatives are added to these milks, to retain freshness for much longer. The only thing I was bummed about was that I didn’t know how to make my own Coconut Milk – until now! This heavenly milk has a pretty short shelf life – 3 to 4 days, so I don’t make a lot at a time. But oh boy, it’s delicious!

Ingredients: coconut_milk

  • 4 cups warm filtered water (water should not be too hot, to retain the natural enzymes found in the coconut meat)
  • 1 cup raw unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup (or sweetener of choice, or no sweetener!)
  • Dash vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Add ingredients to your blender or vitamix. Blend for about 2-3 minutes, until milk is frothy. Keep your hand on top of the blender while blending, to avoid any messy explosions (yes, that’s what happened to me).
  2. Place a nut milk bag or cheese cloth over a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl. Pour contents in the bag or cheese cloth, and with your hands, squeeze out all the liquid from the pulp. Discard the bag with pulp (or use it for your baking or in your smoothies!), and pour the milk into a glass jar or bottle. Tightly seal and store in the refrigerator. Will keep 3-4 days.

What are the benefits of Coconut Milk, you ask?

Coconut milk is high in enzymes and vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and panthothenic acid.

It is high in Lauric Acid, a a medium-chain fatty acid that is otherwise only available in human breast milk. Lauric Acid converts into Monolaurin in the human body, which helps destroy fungus, bacteria and viruses.

And most importantly, it’s delicious, and will make you go, Mmm!
Enjoy!

 

 

Thyme Lemonade

TGI Hot Summer Friday Thyme Lemonade

thyme-lemonadeWe’re having a heat wave in Southern California, I don’t feel like cooking, and it’s finally Friday. So I thought I’d make some thyme infused lemonade to sip on until the evening hour rolls around, and then I look forward to spiking Mr. Lemonade with Ms. Gin. Here’s what I did:

squeezed_lemons

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups sugar (2 cups if you like it sweet)
  • 1 cup water
  • About 5-8 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (About 5 lemons)
  • 3.5 cups of cold water

Directions:

  1. Boil 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Add the sugar (if you prefer a sweeter lemonade, combine 2 cups sugar to 1 cup water) and the sprigs of thyme. Allow the thyme and sugar mixture come to a boil, for about 30 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow it to cool down.
  2. Squeeze juice of 5 lemons in a lemon juicer (or by hand if you’re up for the challenge – just make sure to keep the seeds out).  Combine the lemon juice and 3 1/2 cups water with the thyme-sugar water. Refrigerate.

Once the evening hour rolls around, feel free to spike your lemonade with some gin or vodka, or do as I learned from some dear Canadian friends, make beer lemonade – fill up half a glass of light beer (there are a lot of great Summer brews out right now!) and half of the lemonade. Sit back, and inhale the hot air!

 

Cooking In The Buff

 

Drawing by Roger Cruz

Maybe I’m impatient, or have issues with authority, but I really don’t like to follow recipes when I’m cooking. I know that’s not everyone’s thing. Some people prefer to design their delectables via measurements and procedures written out in an easy to follow format.

How did I get comfortable cooking au natural? Well, to start, I love eating! Specifically, I love to uncover and discover flavors, and decipher what ingredients are used in the dishes I love, and then try to guess how they were made. These flavors inspire my kitchen improvisation. I might start with an ingredient I’m craving or see at the farmers market, or maybe something in my fridge that needs to be consumed before it goes bad. For example, if spinach were my starting point, I think it would be lovely tossed raw in some hot fusilli with ricotta until it wilts. But wait! Some bold flavor would be nice. Since I’m not a meat eater, pancetta or everyone’s favorite, bacon isn’t an option, so perhaps rather than the subtle taste of ricotta, I could use goat cheese or parmesan, add olives, red pepper flakes and fresh herbs tossed with some olive oil to keep it summery, or make a light white wine cream sauce… There is a chance that these flavors could fail. There’s only one way to find out.

I do enjoy reading recipes, and watching cooking shows. I learn a lot, and get inspired. I saw a photo of zucchini gratin the other day, and decided to make a less heavy version in the form of a casserole. Since my casserole skills are a bit amateur, I looked up a bunch of recipes, and went with the easiest one, and then changed it to my liking. I tossed a bunch of zucchini with cheese, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, and placed the ingredients into a casserole dish. I topped it with a small amount of panko breadcrumbs, and placed the dish in the oven. Just before it looked ready with the veggies and cheese bubbling and smelling delicious, I decided to add some more breadcrumbs and freshly grated parmesan, and raised the oven temperature to broil to brown the top. Unfortunately, what I didn’t take into account was the wateriness of the zucchini. I needed to add something to thicken the dish and absorb the water from the zucchini. Next time, I’ll add more breadcrumbs or matzoh meal to that baby and my favorite ingredient, an egg, to thicken it. Cornstarch is also a great thickener, so I might toss some in with the zucchini, cheese and herbs before putting it into the oven. YUM!

A good improviser in the kitchen requires just a few skills: courage, flexibility, a basic knowledge of cooking (which you can acquire by following recipes at first), and a good flavor palette – to know what ingredients go well together. The worst thing that could happen is it won’t come out just right. It’s food! They’re ingredients you already like – so how bad could it be?

Sadly, the same doesn’t go for baking. Baking requires exact proportions, and an understanding how the flour, leavening agents, fats, eggs and sweeteners need to be properly combined and added in exact measurements and in the proper order to achieve the desired result. Once you have that understanding, you can alternate ingredients, and make adjustments – which is what I do to bring you delicious healthy baked goods!

Let me know how you’ve stripped away your cookbook attire and improvised some beautiful dishes in your kitchen!

Squash On You

Yummy, filling and low in calories, Spaghetti Squash is an excellent, and easy to prepare delight! Some people watching their carb intake like to substitute pasta with spaghetti squash, and eat it with a marinara or alfredo sauce.

I’m a fan of having it as a side dish. Here’s a recent recipe I came up with that was oh so delectable (and ahem, healthy)!

Ingredients
1 medium spaghetti squash, cut in half
1 scallion, sliced
3-4 mushrooms (I used cremini), sliced
About a cup of your favorite greens (I used kale), chopped
About a quarter cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions
Preheat oven to 375. Place cut spaghetti squash face down on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the flesh is soft. Take out of oven, and allow the squash to cool about 10 minutes. Pull out as many seeds as you can, with a fork, and set them aside – they’re great toasted! Then with a fork, begin to scrape into the meat of the squash. You will quickly see why it’s called a spaghetti squash, as you pull up the yummy squash “meat”. Place a little olive oil (or oil of choice) into a pan on a medium heat. Once pan has heated, toss in the squash and scallions, and cook over medium heat for a minute or two, then add greens and cook for about 5 minutes, until greens soften. Toss in mushrooms and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper (or my favorite combo of sea salt, cayenne and garlic powder :)). Place into a serving bowl and sprinkle crumbled feta on top. Serve warm.

Bonus
Rinse squash seeds, and toast 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Makes an excellent snack!

  

 

Get This Warm Delight in My Belly!

Last night it was cold. Ok, not East Coast cold – but wearing my fuzzy wool socks, turning the heat up and snuggling up in my throw on the couch, cold. I was craving a brothy soup to warm up. It was dark out already, and I didn’t want to get into a huge soup project. I came up with a warming Soba Noodle and Vegetable Soup in a Miso Broth, and I made it in 15 minutes!

**Soba Noodles are buckwheat noodles commonly used in Japanese cuisine. They are reasonably easy to find in the Asian section of your grocer. They are lighter in texture and in some ways healthier than Udon Noodles (which have their own healing properties). Buckwheat has a lot of protein, is high in Vitamin B1 and B12, minerals, rutin, an essential nutrient not found in other grains, as well as the essential amino acid lysine, the micro-nutrient choline, and Vitamin P, which helps with Vitamin C absorption.

Ingredients:

  • Miso Soup (I used one of the individual packets from Trader Joe’s. You can find something similar in the Asian section of your grocer, or buy the paste, and use about a tablespoon for a big bowl of soup.)
  • Soba Noodles (1 serving is approximately 2 oz, a small handful)
  • Big handful finely chopped kale (about 3-4 leaves)
  • 3-4 Mushrooms, sliced (I had crimini in the fridge, but shitake or oyster would be delish too)
  • 1 Quarter small onion
  • 1 Garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • Small piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 Teaspoon dried Sea Vegetable (I used wakame)
  • Dash Cayenne, Sea Salt and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce to taste
  • For added flavor, dash of rice vinegar and sesame oil
  • Fresh cut scallion (optional)

Directions:
Boil water, add soba noodles. In a separate pot or kettle boil about 2 cups water for broth. In a large bowl, empty contents of miso packet (or tablespoon miso paste), teaspoon dried sea vegetable, sea salt and cayenne. Set aside. Saute garlic with a little oil (I used olive) in a skillet on a low heat, add finely chopped kale, sliced mushrooms and chopped onions and ginger. Cover and keep on a low heat. Stir occasionally until onions are translucent, but kale still retains bright color. Turn off heat. Drain noodles. Add to broth bowl, add sauteed veggies, and 2 cups boiled water. Can add dash Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and cut scallion for added flavor. Stir and eat up!

P.S. The miso packet I used had small pieces of tofu. If yours doesn’t, I recommend adding a little more protein, thinly sliced meat or diced tofu.

**”Health Benefits of Japanese Noodles.”www.mitoku.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec 2011. <http://www.mitoku.com/products/pasta/healthbenefits.html>.


url: http://www.mitoku.com/products/pasta/healthbenefits.html

Gratitude Pie

Thanksgiving is our time to give thanks, and boy have I got plenty to be grateful for. It’s been real busy around here, but I have made a promise to myself to follow Peter Bedard’s, of Create Your Health suggestion, to write a list of 50 things I am grateful for. I invite you to do that too! I am very grateful for my wonderful community – thank you for all of your lovely support. Wishing you a beautiful Thanksgiving!

Another person I am grateful for is Elana Horwich of Meal and Spiel, who posted this awesome recipe for Pumpkin Pie with a Flourless Pecan crust. I personally “cheated” and used a can of organic pumpkin puree, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to try the flourless pecan crust recipe! It’s sitting in the refrigerator now awaiting this afternoon’s festivities. Find Elana’s entire recipe here.

This pie crust was crazy easy to make.

3 Cups Pecans
10ish Dates, Pitted
7 Tablespoons Butter + 1 Tablespoon for the pie pan

Place all ingredients into food processor, butter the pan with remaining tablespoon butter, and press the delicious pecan-ey mush into the pie pan. Either fill the pan with Elana’s delicious Pumpkin Pie recipe, or follow the instructions on the back of your organic pumpkin puree can. Here’s what I did: Bake for about 15 minutes at 425, then take pie out and cover the crust edges with tin foil (see pic below), and reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the pie is firm to touch. Let it cool before serving. Can be made a day ahead. Enjoy!
 
 

And voila! The finished pie!