Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm Not As Random As You Think I Salad

If I were ever to design a personal coat of arms (you know, the kind that knights of old had on their shields) I think it would have to have a hummingbird in flight on a blue and pink checkerboard field with a KitchenAid mixer on the left and a Bernina sewing machine on the right. That would encompass my favorite colors, my favorite activities, and my mascot.

I love hummingbirds. They are breathtaking little miracles that quicken my heart whenever I see one, hovering over a flower or zooming across the yard. But that is not the only reason I'd choose one as my personal mascot. I see a bit of the hummingbird in me. Not that I toil from sun up to sun down to take in enough calories to sustain my meager body weight. (that, cough cough, is not an issue for me)

I am like a hummingbird in that I flitter. I flit from project to project, staying with one only long enough to generate a substantial amount of mess, then abandoning it as I find something new to try on a blog, in a catalog, in a store, or on Pinterest.  I love the giddy, fizzy feeling of dreaming up a new project, planning for it, purchasing supplies, all the while envisioning how wonderful the finished project will be. I can just picture how smoothly and neatly it will all come together. Then when the inevitable snag or hiccup arrises, I'm irritated (sometimes to the point of wadding it up and throwing it across the room) and quickly move the project from the active work space over to the tottering "to finish up later" pile, replacing it with whatever seems the most pressing or interesting at the moment.

For the last 3 years I've made it my New Year's goal to finish up projects before starting anything new. Specifically I have vowed to finish up the 4 quilt tops that lie in folded and forgotten ignominy beneath my work table in various states of "so close but not quite done." And how have those goals worked out for me? I think the fact that I can transfer the same goals onto the next year's Goals page in my journal without changing a word shows that something's not working.

Perhaps I've just taken on tasks that are too big and my interest wanes before I complete the project. More likely, though, the problem lies in my attention span. I can only focus on one thing for so long before I'm distracted (Squirrel!) by something else (Oooooh, shiny!) and want to turn my attention (what's for lunch?) to the next thing.

Hence the hummingbird.

The other thing I have in common with hummingbirds is my love for sugar. I know it's not awesome for me and usually I try to avoid it. But every once in a while I have to give in to the craving and bake something sweet. And hopefully I'm not distracted while I'm (there's a new Castle on this week?) reading the recipe so I don't forget something crucial. Like flour. Or salt. Or sugar. Not saying that's ever happened, just saying it's a possibility. (And those of you who can think of examples don't need to share them in the comments.)

Molasses cookies are always welcome in our house and these received an especially enthusiastic welcome. I'm sure the carb-deprivation contributed to the rave reviews, but even those friends who are still eating carbs enjoyed them and gave them big thumbs up. Soft, not too spicy, and they stayed fresh in the cookie jar for several days. I think this recipe is a keeper.

Molasses Ginger Crinkles
 - adapted from America's Best Recipes
makes about 4 dozen

1 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbsp coconut oil
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

2- In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, butter, coconut oil, and egg. Beat well with an electric mixer at medium speed. Add the molasses and beat well.

3- In a small bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon.

4- Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir to combine.

5- Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart. The cookies will spread as they bake, so leave space.

6- Bake at 350 deg. for 8-10 minutes, till the centers are just set. Cool the cookies on wire racks.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Baby Step #2

It was about 8 years ago that I first heard the words High Fructose Corn Syrup . A friend was complaining to another friend that she was sick of finding it in everything. My response was "Huh? WTF (What The France?) is HFCS?"

In case you've been in a cave and haven't heard about High Fructose Corn Syrup, here are a couple of things to know.

  1- Because the corn industry is heavily subsidized, a lot of corn is grown. Corn is the 4th cheapest ingredient in processed food after air, water, and salt. That's why it's in everything.

  2- Most of that corn is genetically modified. (If you're unsure what GMO means to your health, there's a lot of information out there about how bad GMO foods are for you .)

  3-  HFCS is made from corn syrup by an enzymatic process that changes glucose into fructose, which is sweeter. But the man-made fructose is not the same as that found in nature. In the body, the industrial fructose metabolizes into triglycerides and adipose tissue. Even though it's a sugar, it turns into fat.

  4- HFCS is the number one source of calories in the US diet.

  5- HFCS is linked to diabetes, obesity, and a host of other ailments. If you care about your health, you should not put this into your body.

This is just an overview. If you want to know exactly what HFCS does in your body, go ahead and do the research. Just be aware that when you Google it, the first hit you get is paid for by the corn industry and, not surprisingly, tells you what a vital part of a healthy diet HFCS can be.

So what do you do about it? Baby Step #2 is to start reading the label of everything you buy at the grocery store. You will be amazed. HFCS is really in just about every product out there. Breakfast cereals, yogurt, bread, canned ravioli, sausage......and on, and on, and on.

After you read the label, what then? Refuse to buy any product that has HFCS in it. And if there isn't a single brand without HFCS, either make it yourself or do without. I know this is kind of a big Baby Step. It may take you a while to get in the habit of label reading and to clear your pantry out of foods containing HFCS. I still occasionally will find a bottle of salad dressing or a can of something tucked in the back of my pantry that I sigh wistfully and pitch because it's contaminated with HFCS.

So what's the reward for taking your second baby step? A recipe! Lindsey at Northwest Backyard Veggie Patch was the first in line with her request, so here is the grain-free pizza recipe.

I adapted this recipe from Recipe Girl. Her's served 2-3 people and we love to have leftover pizza, plus often have a guest over on Saturdays, so I reworked it to make a larger pizza.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza
 - adapted from Recipe Girl
   makes 1 large pizza

1 large head cauliflower
2 large eggs
2 cups finely shredded mozzarella cheese (or for a spicier pizza, try pepperjack)
2 tsp dried oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced (more if you love garlic)
1 tsp onion salt (which I don't have, so I used sea salt and threw in some extra garlic)

Pizza sauce (Your favorite recipe, or from a jar. Read the label to be sure there's no HFCS in it!)
1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
Your favorite meat toppings (sausage, ham, bacon, etc.)
Your favorite veggie toppings (mushrooms, green peppers, olives, etc.)

1- Preheat oven to 450 deg. with a rack in the center of the oven. Spray your pizza pan with olive oil. Mine has holes in the bottom, so I covered it with aluminum foil and sprayed it with olive oil. If you'd rather avoid aluminum foil, parchment paper would probably work well, too.

2- In food processor with the grating disk with the larger grater holes, grate the cheese. (Or grate by hand.) Put the cheese into a bowl and set aside.

3- Using the grating disk with the smaller holes, grate the head of cauliflower.

4- Put the cauliflower crumbles into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 8 minutes on high, stirring once. Allow it to cool a bit. You can use this time to prep your pizza toppings.

5- Combine the cooled cauliflower crumbles with the eggs, 2 cups of shredded cheese, and spices. You can do this with a spoon or with your hands. Dump the mixture onto your prepared pizza pan. Spread and pat the mixture into a round crust. It will be thin. Don't fret if there are small cracks.

6- Spray or brush the crust with olive oil and bake for 15 minutes (or until golden). Remove the crust from the oven and turn the heat up to broil.

7- Spread the sauce on top of the baked crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the sauce and cover with your favorite toppings.

8 - Broil the pizza 3-5 minutes, until the toppings are hot and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Cut into 12 slices and serve immediately.

Because the crust isn't sturdy like a bready crust, you'll need to eat the pizza with a fork. Small price to pay for something that's so delicious and grain-free to boot!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Going Against The Grain

I've been getting some interesting feedback about our decision to go grain and sugar-free. The most often asked question is, "What do you eat??"

I understand that question. I've always been a carbaterian. A year ago I wouldn't have dreamed that it was possible to live without grains. I was one of the original Bread Baking Babes! Bread was a source of delight, comfort, and joy. So how am I doing without sandwiches, toast, pancakes, or bagels? Pretty well, actually.

In the 80's I jumped on the low-fat bandwagon. Thinking that 30% or less of the daily calories should come from fat, I attempted to shoehorn my favorite recipes into that magic formula. The results for the most part were….well, for lack of a better word, gross. My family really deserved better. Taking out the butter left cookies gummy and flavorless. Removing oil from salad dressings made them overly sweet. In fact, the secret to manipulating the magic formula was just to add more sugar. That made the carb calories a greater percentage than the fat calories, so it was good for you. Right? Actually, no, the pay off for all that nasty food was that I got fatter.

With the current weird eating plan that we're doing we are eating quite well. I often wish that I was an awesome photographer who could grab my camera and get off several mouthwatering shots before we sit down to a meal. Then I'd have something to blog. But, alas, my family devours the meals before there's a chance to even get out the camera, let alone set up a nice backdrop and pretty props. But just so you know that we're not starving, here's a sample of things that have been on the menu in the past couple of weeks.

~ Eggplant Parmesan (surprisingly delicious. I was dubious about using eggplant, but it turned out wonderfully, packed with flavor.)

~ Crepes with Ham and cheese sauce  (yes, you can make grain-free crepes)

~ Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato Salad.  (my family loves this so much they fight over the leftovers the next day.)

~ Garlic Chicken with Artichoke Hearts ( quick, easy, and tasty)

~ Pizza with Cauliflower Crust ( smelled heavenly in the oven and tasted just as good)

~ Chicken Piccata  (an adaptation of one of my favorite chicken recipes)

As you can see, we're not starving. And, in case you were wondering, we're not all getting fat. But weight loss wasn't the motivation for doing this different way of eating. Mainly, my motivation is my son. He's been a hard-core sugar addict and I want to get his blood sugar levels evened out and see if that can help his behavior and cognitive abilities. He's a bright boy, but some days I wonder what the weather is like on the planet he inhabits, because it certainly isn't the same one I'm on.

So while I'll make occasional grain and/or sugar treats for the husband and other child, I don't allow them for my son. And I don't want him to be sad or resentful that everyone else gets treats. So I make these. Chocolate, nuts, cacao nibs, coconut oil, and cranberries make it a healthy treat. They're a wonderful small indulgence that doesn't break the rules (much) and it's totally worth it to have a happy boy who still gets to have dessert. 

As you read through the recipe and look at the pictures, you might be thinking that they don't match. Well spotted. The pictures I took from my first time making the bark, just as the recipe directed. Then I tinkered with the recipe and got it just the way we like it.

Chocolate Freezer Bark

3-1/2 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao or above), coarsely chopped
1 cup coconut oil
handful of slivered almonds
handful of cacao nibs
handful of dried cranberries

1- Set a heatproof bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water. Place the chocolate in the bowl and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

2- Remove the bowl from the heat and place it on a towel. Scoop the coconut oil into the bowl and stir until the coconut oil is dissolved. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

3- Using a small cookie scoop, divide the melted chocolate between 24 mini muffin wells. Make sure there's an equitable distribution of the goodies. Place the filled tin into the freezer. Let it chill until the chocolates are solid, about 2 hours. When chilled, remove the chocolates to a zip-loc bag and store in the freezer.  (I use a non-stick mini-muffin pan and the chilled chocolate pops out super easily.)

* If you'd like a recipe for any of the menu items I listed above, leave a comment to that effect. I will post the recipe that is most requested, possibly even with pictures! But no promises.