Saturday, January 28, 2012

Garlic Hummus

I have a friend who asks me why I blog and what is so important about sharing recipes when folk can just Google recipes online and find what they are looking for. Basically it is because blogging/writing is therapeutic for me. I enjoy sharing the things I love or am passionate about - my love of food, cooking, baking, new products and the latest gadgets. But, more importantly, it tickles me when I get feedback from people who don't typically cook, experimenting with my recipes with success and getting rave reviews from their friends and guests. Or when I hear how my journey has inspired someone to change their eating habits and lead a healthier lifestyle...that is really why I do the blog.

SuperBowl weekend is approaching so I wanted to share some healthy dips and appetizers that can be made for the festivities. Hummus is a thick spread made from ground chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, and garlic, made originally in the Middle East. There are so many different varieties - pumpkin, garlic, black bean, sun dried tomato and spinach hummus, to name a few. I am making some garlic hummus for my late night snack this evening. Eat with veggies, crackers, crostini or as a spread.

Garlic Hummus

1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
4 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp powdered cumin
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika

Drain the garbanzo beans, preserving the liquid.

Blend garbanzo beans in a food processor. Add olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and blend. Add yogurt and blend into a smooth dip. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with olive oil and/or paprika.

If hummus is too thick, add some of the liquid from the chickpeas, a teaspoon at a time.

All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach Dip

It is Friday evening and I long for the days where me and 3 of my best buds would get together and meet at Cheddar's. Fridays after work meant Santa Fe Spinach Dip and mojitos! Lots of them. One of those special individuals is no longer with us and I have probably only had the dip once since his transition. I am thinking of him I am going to have our Friday after work dip my way. I had not changed my eating habits back then and we used to get 3-4 appetizers and almost lick the plates clean! And perhaps it was more the fellowship than the dip but we never found any that could match it.

Though I am no longer eating dairy, I can still enjoy one of my favorite dips without the calories and the allergy trouble afterwards. So I am using Greek yogurt instead of cheese and preparing a cold spinach dip. And because it has been a long week and I don't feel like making any tortilla chips, I am going to eat my dip with fresh veggies. This dip is best on warm pita bread, tortilla chips, vegetables, Melba toast or crackers.

Spinach Dip

10 oz fresh spinach
1 tsp butter
1/4 c sweet onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 8 oz container Greek yogurt
Dash of lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2-3 tbsp chopped red pepper

Blanch spinach for 1 minute and drain well.

In medium skillet add butter and cook onion and garlic until translucent. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve.

All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chunky Applesauce

I receive a number of emails about why (and how) I cut sugar out of my diet and why refined carbohydrates are bad for you. I have cut refined carbs, but still eat and cook foods made with natural sweeteners.

When you eliminate sugar from your diet, your body no longer craves it. Being sugar-free does not mean free from just baked goods and desserts. Sugar is in almost everything  - alcoholic beverages, soda, fruit, chips, jelly, salad dressing, fruit and sports drinks, ketchup, mayonnaise, spaghetti sauce, crackers, vegetables, yogurt...everything! In my experience, after cleansing first and then going for approximately 2-3 weeks of being completely "sugar-free" I could drink a cup of hot tea or eat a sweet potato without adding anything and not even miss the sugar.

One of the biggest problems I had from eating sugar was toxins, toxins, toxins! I was sluggish, had insomnia, eczema, frequent headaches, allergies and a bloated belly 24/7. Improper diet and antibiotics weakened my immune system until one day it landed me in the hospital. I decided then I'd had enough. I have spent the last 15 months researching and learning about the effect toxins, sugar, dairy and yeast have on the body. And that knowledge drove me to change my lifestyle.

Not to take anything away from the medical doctors out there...but doctors don't know a lot about toxins and natural medicine. They work in concert with pharmaceutical companies to prescribe your pain away. From 2003-2010, I went through a period of feeling short of breath, having ongoing chest pains and waking up feeling like my breathing had been shut off; and spent thousands of dollars going back and forth to the doctor. Eventually I was sent to a cardiologist for further testing and was told I had a cardiomyopathy, which is deterioration of the heart muscle. For years I dealt with rapid heartbeats (sometimes over 115 bpm at rest), taking prescription meds and using the heating pad for temporary relief. More recently, I was seen by some of the top cardiologists for tachycardia, a disorder of the heart rate/rhythm. I exercise regularly and was fairly healthy looking so no one could figure out how this young lady had a abnormalities with her heart. But even with the abnormal EKGs and tests, there was still no specific evidence to suggest that I had a heart condition; only that there was something going on with my body that was affecting my heart. So I was told to go back to my normal doctor to submit to further testing, which was always inconclusive.

Similar to that, from 2005-2011, I frequented specialists for allergies and recurrent ear infections. I tried every medicine, neti pot/saline rinse and nasal spray on the market but still would suffer from chronic sinusitis year round. After a point, I started to feel like they had a notation on my chart that I was a hypochondriac because they soon began to brush off my complaints about feeling poorly. I was told by one EENT specialist to, "Stop watching so much Oprah - she and Dr. Oz are telling you to use the neti pot, correct?" And a cardiologist told me, "There is nothing wrong with your heart. Do you drink? Do you have man? If not, get a glass of wine and a man and that should relieve your stress. Cause you must just be stressed out." So the docs began to listen less and less, would write me a prescription and send me out the door. Yet, I would still lie in bed at night with a racing heart, earache, headache and sinus congestion. Whether the doctors found anything wrong or not, I knew something was not right with my body.

A friend suggested that I detox, look into natural remedies and change my diet, household products and skin products. I thought she was crazy - having her children eat hummus and tofu, buying natural detergents and making her deodorant out of baking soda. But in reading about natural medicine and toxins and the effects of sugar and dairy on the body, I learned that the toxins in my bloodstream could be causing stress on my immune system and organs; and the sugar and dairy were most certainly contributing to the mucus build-up and stress with my sinuses. 

I am not a doctor. I can only share my experience. But once I eliminated the sugar, dairy and yeast I have not been to the doctor or hospital once. I have reduced my sinus and ear infections by 98% and when I feel something coming on, natural remedies help me feel better, not western medicine. I still am not 100% all the time, as there are some things I still eat that are not always the best food choices. And now that I have eliminated them, if I sneak them back in, my body lets me know it is not happy with my choice! I have not graduated to the point of changing all the things in my environment, such as household products, etc. But feeling the way I do now, compared to how I did then...eating another dessert or slice of bread is just not worth going back through those head and heartaches, literally. My skin is clearer, my mind is clearer, my sinuses are clearer, my heart rate is no longer was the best choice I ever made.

You hear me speak often about not eating anything "white", refined carbs and sugars, etc. So what are refined and natural sugars/sweeteners anyway? Dr. William Coda Martin classified refined sugar as a poison because it has been depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals. "What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. The body cannot utilize this refined starch and carbohydrate unless the depleted proteins, vitamins and minerals are present." Refined sugar is lethal when ingested by humans because it provides only that which nutritionists describe as "empty" or "naked" calories. It lacks the natural minerals which are present in the sugar beet or cane. (extracted from the book, Sugar Blues)

When you review snack and drink labels, be on the lookout for the following:
  • White sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Dextrose
  • Sucrose
  • Sorbitol
  • Turbinado
  • Amazake
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Processed Fructose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Carob Powder

Natural sweeteners are derived from plant materials or sugars naturally present in plant products. Here is a list of some natural sweeteners that you can try if you are interested in reducing the refined sugars in your diet.

Stevia - Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant can be 30 times sweeter than a little goes a long way. Stevia is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-glycemic, and anti-hypertensive properties which may help with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, fatigue, indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, weight loss, cold and flu, gingivitis, tooth decay, candidiasis, bacterial infections and skin conditions. It may also improve energy levels, strengthen the immune system, and stimulate mental activity. Stevia was my lifesaver! This is the best sugar substitute for me personally. Stevia is made in many different forms and it is sometimes challenging to find reliable measurements when looking to substitute it for granulated sugar. So it does take some experimenting to get the right one for your taste buds. Depending on the maker, some stevia products leave a very bitter aftertaste. I have found success with the Vitamin Shoppe's version of Stevia extract (powder form). And I have heard positive reviews about NuNaturals Stevia products. Negatives: Stevia crystallizes differently than granulated sugar and does not perform well when making homemade ice creams and things like caramel sauce.

My second favorite is Xylitol -  A sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. Xylitol is in many ingredients you use on a daily basis such as dental hygiene products, candy, chewing gum, and some medicines. If you choose to use xylitol, use it sparingly, and try to find a source that comes from the birch tree, rather than from Chinese corn. Negatives: Xylitol does not crystallize nor does it provide the needed food for yeast, so you cannot use it in bread baking or candy making recipes. Xylitol, when used in excess, can cause severe diarrhea. And never feed your pet any food made with xylitol as there is evidence that it is toxic to animals.

Yacon syrup - Yacon Syrup is relatively new on the market, although it's been around a while in South America. It tastes like molasses, is glucose free and the sugar is composed mainly of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that cannot be absorbed by the body. FOS is a prebiotic that helps your digestion and the intestines to eliminate waste products.

Brown rice syrup - A traditional Asian sweetener, brown rice syrup is made from rice starch converted into maltose, a complex sugar. Rice syrup contains trace amounts of B vitamins and minerals. It can be used in cooking and baking, or to sweeten hot or cold beverages and cereals.

Agave nectar - The agave plant comes from Mexico. It has a low glycemic level and is a safe alternative to table sugar.  It is useful for people who are diabetic or are simply watching their carb intake. Agave nectar comes in three grades: Light, medium and amber and is sweeter than table sugar.

Honey (Raw, unfiltered) - Raw, unfiltered honey is packed with natural enzymes, phytonutrients, and minerals. It is a natural antibiotic and antifungal. Honey is best used raw and not in baking. High heat destroys the enzymes and phytonutrients. If you can find raw honey that’s locally grown, with trace amounts of the pollens in your area, it will help to build up your immunity to allergens in your environment.

Vegetable Glycerine - Vegetable Glycerine is safe to use as a natural sweetener, and actually metabolizes slower than regular table sugar. Glycerine is commonly found in protein bars so that they stay moist and chewy. Although glycerine is a carbohydrate, it has a different metabolic effect on the body; glycerine reportedly has minimal impact on blood sugar levels.

It is important to note that all sugar, natural or otherwise, should be used in moderation. And as with any lifestyle change, if you have questions or if you have some health conditions, speak with a doctor or nutritionist first, as every person responds differently.

If you decide to cut out the refined carbs I would definitely suggest a detox first, to cleanse your system. There are a ton of products out there and I don't get paid to endorse any one of them. But I particularly liked the 7-day cleanse from Renew Life Total Body Rapid Cleanse. It is gentle on the system and the capsules are easy to swallow. With any cleanse, make sure you are eating properly, taking plenty of fiber and drinking lots of purified water to refrain from having constipation, bloating and toxic residue. Don’t be surprised if you feel worse for a couple of days before you start to feel better. This is especially likely if you are eliminating foods to which you are dependent, such got it folks, sugar. As the body detoxifies, it is not uncommon to experience flu-like symptoms including headache, joint and muscle pain, body aches, sore throat, general malaise, sweating, chills, nausea or other symptoms. This is a normal reaction that indicates that parasites, fungus, viruses, and bacteria are being effectively killed off (Herxheimer Reaction).

Clean eating is not a choice for every one and requires a great deal of discipline. But if you desire to live a healthier lifestyle, start working on your body today. This is my "dessert" for the evening. Of course I could not do this lengthy blog without posting a recipe somewhere in here. Let's eat healthy together!

Chunky Applesauce

4-5 large apples, diced
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 c water

1 dash brandy, optional
1/4 c granulated sugar (or 2 tsp xylitol)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Place the diced apples in a saucepan with the lemon juice, water and brandy. Cover the apples and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add sugar, more or less, depending on the desired sweetness of your apples, and cinnamon. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook uncovered until water evaporates and and apples are tender, about 15 additional minutes. Serve warm.

All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kale Pesto

I am on a pasta kick this week so I decided to make some pesto. I don't have any basil...don't have any pine I am going to make a kale pesto with walnuts or cashews (or whatever I have in the pantry). Some will substitute arugula or spinach for the green and if you are dairy-free you may omit the cheese.

Pesto is a simple, tasty sauce of crushed green leaves, nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, typically served with pasta (hot or cold). However, pesto is known to have many uses. Pesto can be eaten on salmon, chicken breasts, shrimp, potatoes, steak, pizza, as a marinade, as a smear on bread. Get creative! Some will even put it in their eggs at breakfast...but even I am not that creative.

Pesto can be refrigerated or frozen easily. If you intend to freeze the pesto, leave the cheese out and add it when you thaw the pesto, prior to serving. Add a layer of extra virgin olive oil on top to keep the pesto from losing its bright color.

Kale Pesto

1/2 c diced walnuts (OR pine nuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts)
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 c kale
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Dash of lemon juice (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

*Toasting the nuts will give you a more robust flavor

Add nuts to a small saucepan and toast on the stove top for approximately 2 minutes, tossing constantly. Remove from heat and cool.

Pulse garlic clove in food processor for about 30 seconds. Add kale, toasted nuts and cheese and pulse. Add olive oil into the food processor in a steady stream until you get the consistency you desire. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice. Serve over pasta or your favorite dish.

All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Spaghetti with Braised Kale

Today is National Spaghetti Day! Who comes up with this stuff anyway?

So here is a little history I am certain everyone is dying to know about spaghetti. It is often claimed that Marco Polo brought spaghetti to Italy after his travels to China. However, historical references to pasta exist in Italy prior to Polo's return. References to pasta-like doughs have been found amongst the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but it is thought that it was actually the Arabs who brought this type of noodles to Italy during their conquest of Sicily. The word spaghetti derives from the Italian 'spago', meaning 'thin string' or 'twine'. Under Italian law, dried pastas must be made with 100% durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina. Outside of Italy other flours are commonly used, such as wheat flour, though this results in softer pasta which cannot be cooked al dente in the traditional Italian way.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way...

I thought I would have to abandon all of the things I loved when I cut refined sugar and all things "white" from my diet. And then I discovered whole grain pasta. It did not look very appetizing; it was brown for goodness sake. But I find that whole grain pastas are much richer and heartier in taste than your refined (white) pastas. If you don't make a fuss about it, once you add the sauce to your dish, many won't even know the difference.

Why eat whole grain pasta? Whole grain contains considerable protein, antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. High-fiber diets drive down harmful glucose, insulin, and fat levels in the blood and fiber is very kind to your mid-section. And who doesn't want a slim waistline? You will typically find Barilla and Healthy Harvest whole grain pasta varieties in your local grocery store. But if you can find it, I use Tinkyada's organic brown rice pasta.

Just because it is National Spaghetti Day does not mean we are doing your traditional spaghetti and meatballs!

Spaghetti with Braised Kale

1/2 lb whole grain spaghetti
1 handful dried porcini mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bunch of kale
1/4 c white wine
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Soak mushrooms in hot water for 15-20 minutes.

Heat approximately 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute the onion for 3-5 minutes, until golden. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Chop the kale and add to the onion and garlic mixture. Add the wine and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the spaghetti to the kale mixture. Toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese.
All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.

Pear Pancakes

It seems like forever since I have done a blog entry...perhaps because it has been! I just realized the last time I did any writing was in November. The holidays were great and very restful. But sadly, my oven (that caught ablaze a few months back) finally went to heaven. So there was not a lot of cooking and baking going on during the holidays, as would normally be the case at my house. And although it was very different, it was kind of nice to be able to go to holiday parties and dinners and just eat - without the responsibility for anything but maybe a cakes, no pies, no turkeys, no hams, no greens. It was pretty awesome actually. But I must admit, I did miss the traditional cooking smells around my house and I missed the blogging. So it's a new year and time to get back in the swing of things.

Last week marked my 1 year anniversary of being on my sugar free diet. I am still amazed at how I went from eating homemade buttermilk biscuits, cinnamon rolls or muffins with breakfast, eating cake and pie for dessert, having homemade ice cream and cookies in between (on a daily basis, I might add) to eating NO, zilch, goose egg, nada. It has been quite a ride; but one I don't regret taking.

A girlfriend of mine, who is supportive of my clean eating journey, brought me a book over the holidays called Clean, written by Alejandro Junger, M.D. It is a great read. Several of you make resolutions to get fit at the first of the year. And if that is your goal this year, read this book and think about cleansing the body, along with your workout regimen. In the very first chapter he hits on what my problem has been for years--racing to the doctor, getting prescription drugs  and antibiotics for whatever ails you, thus breaking down the immune system and filling your body with toxins. All you really need to feel great is proper rest, diet and exercise. I won't bore some of you who think you could never  live without sweets or dairy; but I am a witness to the fact that cutting out the "junk" in your diet will make you more alert and energetic, have less allergies, clearer skin, better digestion...the list goes on. If you get a chance, read the book. Knowledge is power.

It is a chilly 29 degrees outside so I am intentionally not scheduling any meetings until the end of the week when it is back in the 50s. So I thought I would have a nice breakfast before heading up to the office to work. I just hope it does not make me too sleepy, as it is hard coming off of such a long vacation and trying to be productive. Focus!

Pear Pancakes

1 pear, grated
1 c whole milk (OR substitute soy or coconut milk)

1 egg
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla or brandy flavoring
1 c all purpose flour (OR substitute 1/2 c spelt flour + 1/2 c whole wheat flour)

1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar (OR substitute 2-3 packets stevia)
Dash of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine pear, egg, milk, flavoring and melted butter. Slowly incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Preheat griddle or cast iron pan. Brush with butter. Ladle batter onto griddle or into pan. Cook on the first side until bubbles form and begin to pop. Flip the pancake and cook until golden brown. Keep cooked pancakes warm until ready to serve, in a 200 degree oven.

*If you prefer fluffier pancake you can 1) substitute buttermilk, 2) whisk the sugar into the wet ingredients. This adds some air bubbles into the mix and makes them lighter and fluffier, or 3) separate the egg and mix the yolk in with the rest of the liquid. Combine the wet and dry ingredients as usual, then beat the egg white until stiff and fold into the batter at the last minute.

All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.