Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gluten Free Chocolate Brown Rice Crispy Treats

I've been telling you for years to lay off the sugar and I will say it again. LAY OFF THE SUGAR! "But Jamie, it tastes SOOOO good," you cry. Not to worry. Just because you forget the white stuff doesn't mean we have to give up sweetness altogether.

But first, why must we stay away from white sugar? Besides the fact that sugar is stripped of all vitamins and minerals by using bleaches and toxic chemical solvents, it also spikes blood glucose levels which can insight weight gain, diabetes, high triglyceride and cholesterol levels, poor eye sight, depression and a host
of other ailments. Exciting, huh? Americans eat over 150 pounds of sugar per person per year and yet from a biological standpoint, we do not need white sugar at all. Our bodies function perfectly without it: our taste buds, however, tend to differ.

So if we can't have white sugar, what can we have? Here are just a few of my favorite non-white-sugar sweeteners. They undergo minimal processing, contain trace vitamins and minerals, and don't spike blood sugar levels as drastically as white sugar. Granted it's important to remember that sugar is sugar is sugar. That is, we don't need a lot of it and even though there are "healthy" alternatives, these sweeteners should not be used in excess. Sweet treats should always be just that, a treat. An occasional indulgence that, because of it's infrequency, is very special.

JAMIE|LIVING's Favorite Alternative Sweeteners

Sweetener Amount = 1 cup white sugar

Barley Malt 1 1/3 cup
Brown Rice Syrup 1 1/3 cup
Organic Maple Syrup 3/4 cup
Rapadura/Sucanat (unrefined, unbleached cane sugar) 3/4 cup
Raw Organic Honey 2/3 cup

Brown Rice syrup was the first alternative sweetener I ever tried and it is still an all-time fave. Rich and smooth, this sweetener has an amazing depth of flavor that reminds me of butterscotch. Can't go wrong with that! Here is a delicious recipe that is a perfect introduction to using alternative sweeteners. I have made these for dedicated rice crispy fans who adored them and didn't even miss the marshmallow. You won't either. Promise!

Chocolate Brown Rice Crispy Treats
Serve 6

1/2 cup organic peanut butter (don't buy a "no stir" kind. It's got added sugar!)
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp. organic vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups gluten free brown rice cereal (I use Erewhon brand)
1/4 cup 70% cacao chocolate chips

In a small sauce pan, heat peanut butter and brown rice syrup until they are melted together and creamy. Add in the vanilla and the brown rice cereal. Let the mix cool for a few minutes to make sure the chocolate chips don't melt when you add them in. Throw in the chocolate chips and mix thoroughly.

Pour mixture into an 8x8 Pyrex baking dish, place into the refrigerator and let cool for an hour or two. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

7 Delicious Uses for Avocados

"I'll have a California roll please, oh, and hold the avocado," I sheepishly ordered. "You don't eat avocado?" he blurted, at a decibel level that made me a bit uncomfortable. "Ummm no," I lied. "But the flavor adds SO much to the roll. It's rich, creamy, nutty and..." "It's a texture thing," I interrupted. "Not into the mushy stuff." Finally he dropped it. I was with my dear foodie friend Asi, out to share one of our favorite meals, sushi, and catch up. It had been a while since I'd seen Asi so it made sense he didn't remember that I used to eat avocado. I used to be all about them. In fact, I grew up with an avocado tree in my back yard that graciously gifted us avocados the size of my head. Entire summer meals centered around guacamole. But not anymore. I was deep in the throws of low fat mania, desperate to be "skinny" and not about to let one fatty avocado morsel pass my lips. Asi's overt infatuation with our beautifully twiggy waitress didn't help either. "There's no way in hell I'm eating avocado now!!", I thought.

My low fat days were a crazy time of trying to attain thinness (whatever that meant) and be a good diet soldier following each new craze with obsessive zeal. Looking back, it was really pure insanity. Eating processed, sugar laden fat free foods instead an actual whole fruit??? (Quick FYI, avocado is a fruit.) Just ridiculous! The 90's fat free thinking truly took a toll on our collective psyche. I still have clients asking me, "Are avocados really ok to eat?" YES YES YES. They were always OK to eat. It was just our whacked out desire for good health or the perfect body that allowed us to listen to poorly sourced nutrition and media advice, rather than our own bodies.

Besides being fantastically yummy, avocados are quite good for us. What, you say? Creamy, fatty, indulgent and good for me?? Sign me up! They are loaded with vitamins K, B and C and rich in omega 3 fatty acids. To be honest, a nightly fight can be viewed in our dining room as Gray and I battle it out for the chunks of avocado in our salad. Needless to say, I am always the winner. The trick is knowing that avocado, being heavier than the other salad ingredients, falls to the bottom. Lift up a few lettuce leaves and there they are! Cubed, dressed, and ready to be devoured.

Here are 7 great ways to get avocados into your diet. Just remember, go for local over Chilean and Mexican grown.

1. Salad dressing- mix mashed avocado with olive oil, lime/lemon, cumin, sea salt, fresh cilantro and thin with a little water.
2. Vegan mayonnaise- mix mashed avocado with olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, fresh dill, and sea salt and put on any sandwich.
3. A topping for everything- I put avocado over most things including lentil salad, cabbage slaw and sun dried tomato pilaf.
4. Chocolate mousse-blend avocado, honey/maple syrup, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract until smooth. Let it chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours and enjoy!
5. Cookies/Quick Bread recipes- Add 1/2 cup of mashed avocado to a favorite cookie or quick bread recipe.
6. Avocado seaweed salad- combine 1 avocado with 1/2 cup soaked arame or wakame and toss with green onion, cucumber, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and tamari.
7. Smoothie - add avocado to any smoothie for an added rich and creamy flavor.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rainy Day French Lentil Lunch

Every Sunday I make a big pot of something for my week day lunches. Yes, I work from home but I still don't have time to cook a meal in the middle of the day. I'm a busy girl, you know? Sometimes I make soup, other times I throw together a quick grain, bean, and green combo. Recently I've been really into lentils. Particularly the French green type. It's funny how our bodies can be particular about certain things and not about others. For example, my body loves French green lentils, Umbrian lentils, and red lentils. I always feel energized, full, and happy when they cross my plate. One bite of standard brown lentils however, and (without getting graphic) I require quarantining. They are all lentils though, right? Shouldn't my body act the same with each varietal? NOPE. Small changes in composition can set our sensitive systems off without much warning. The moral of the story...listen to your body. You should feel no less than amazing after you eat. If this is not the case, begin to think about those foods that make you tired, anxious, lethargic, and yes quarantinable. Your body is telling you something. Just listen.

As for my lentil lunch, I doctored it with a few trumpet mushrooms and broccoli I had in the fridge. Feel free to throw in whatever you've got: roasted sweet potato chunks, kale, avocado, shredded chicken, or a squidgy egg would all be yummy.

Lentil Salad with Trumpet Mushrooms and Broccoli
Serves 6 as a side dish

2 cup French Green lentils, picked over and washed
2 tablespoons ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery or 1 fennel bulb, diced
Sea salt to taste
1/4 fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh dill or basil, chopped (don't skimp on the fresh herbs. They make a BIG difference)

Place lentils in a medium sized pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring the lentils to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30-35 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, chop up the vegetables. When the lentils are done, drain them into a colander. In the same pot, heat up the ghee. Add in onion, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the lentils back to the vegetable mixture and toss in the fresh herbs. Season with salt to taste and a bit more ghee if you like.

***To add in trumpet mushrooms and broccoli:

In a sauce pan, saute chopped onion in a bit of olive oil. Add in mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes. Toss in the broccoli with a pinch of salt and 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and let steam until the broccoli is tender, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 a cup of the French green lentil mixture, warm through, and lunch is served!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lamb and Kabocha Squash Mole

"We don't need it", he said, straining to keep his voice low. "But I want it!", I whined, knowing my poor husband to be helpless when I enter brat-o-rama mode. "Come on, it will be SOOO good. I promise you will love it," I pleaded. Being a diva when it comes to food, I always get my way. Granted, I had just received a beautiful delivery from our meat CSA, but this was lamb, and fresh at that. I stood at the counter, eyes fixed upon my desired prize. Reluctantly he sighed and said, "OK, whatever the baby wants." SWEET!!!!

We had made this impromptu stop at Marin Sun Farms on our way to picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. (There was also a detour to Cowgirl Creamery where I went a little crazy with the raw goat's milk cheese. The entire Marshall/Point Reyes area is where foodies go to die.
What can I say, I was in rare form.)

Thankfully, I can say no to most things stereotypically female. Shoes, clothes, perfume, NOT interested. In fact, I hate shopping. It's the bane of my existence. But a cookbook, rustic olive oil, smoked salt, or in this case, lamb...I need it and can't live without it! As a child, I remember going to the market with my mom and loving the bins of fresh fruit, unshelled walnuts, the snack aisle. Food shopping is still the most coveted time I share with her. It's about bonding over a mutual love and no one else is invited. NO ONE!

Back to the lamb. I'd bought a few dry farmed tomatoes the day before with an inkling to make Heidi Swanson's vegetarian mole.

I've actually made her dish a number of times with fantastic results. Yet once laying my eyes on the nicely cubed stew meat Marin Sun Farms had to offer, vegetarian was out the window. Gray purchased my little lamb (he wanted to buy it as a "present" for long anniversary jewelry) and off we went to our picnic. The day ended with full bellies of oysters, goat cheese, and beer topped with a stunning sunset. As we lazily drove home that Sunday afternoon my mind wandered to the dinner that lay ahead.
"Thank you lamby", I thought. "Thank you for sacrificing your body so that I may nourish mine. I promise to make you proud." And I certainly did.

**(P.S. I promise to start taking pictures with a real camera soon. This iPhone doesn't cut it anymore!)

Lamb and Kabocha Squash Mole
Serves 4

1 pound lamb stew meat
1 1/2 cups kabocha squash (kabocha squash is a Japanese varietal that is sweet and quite starchy)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper (use more or less depending on your personal spice level)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds dry farmed tomatoes, diced (you can also use 1 14 oz can of plum tomatoes)
2 teaspoons of paprika
4 tablespoons of almond meal/flour OR grind 1 oz of roasted almonds
1/3 cup organic dark chocolate chips, like Sunspire
1/4 cup of water
Sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash into 3/4 inch chunks and toss with 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Place in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until crisp but still firm.

While the squash is roasting, cook up the lamb. Heat a medium saute pan with a teaspoon of coconut oil. Toss in the cubed lamb with a pinch of salt and saute until each side is brown, about 8 minutes. The meat should feel springy to the touch, juicy and not overly firm.

Reduce the oven to 300 degrees. In a thick bottomed casserole pot, heat the remaining coconut oil and saute up the onion and cayenne pepper. Add in the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add in the lamb, squash, almond meal, chocolate, water, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Cover the casserole dish and place in the oven for 1 1/4 hours.

Remove from the oven and serve with fresh bread or organic corn tortillas and a green salad.

**To get your in greens and make it a one pot meal, throw in sautéed kale when you add in the squash.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Coconut Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

I am all about the coconut. You might say, I'm crazy for coconut. Coconut oil, butter, milk, I use it all. For years I avoided coconut, having been persuaded that it's high levels of saturated fat would harden my arteries and leave me dead by 32. (Yes, I was a hypochondriac and easily influenced). My first bite of coconut oil came 3 years ago when I took a friend's advice to use it in a saute. I had done a good deal of research on coconut oil's healing properties (aids in digestion/absorption of vitamins and minerals, is loaded with lauric acid that prevents viral and bacterial infection) but I still couldn't let go of the fact that it might kill me. "One time," I thought. "What's cooking with coconut oil one time going to hurt?" The moment the oil hit the pan I was a goner. The amazing aroma of coconut-y goodness filled the house and I was transported to a tropical island of beautiful sand dunes and beaches. And that was just the smell, people. I hadn't even tasted it yet! The taste as you can imagine was terrific and since then coconut oil has been a staple in my cooking ever since.

Let's just quickly debunk the myth around saturated fat. Shockingly, saturated fat is essential for proper body function. Saturated fatty acids aid in hormone production, strengthen cellular membranes, and stabilize proteins to support the immune system. Now, don't get worried. I'm not talking about low quality fat from antibiotic stuffed, commercially raised animals and dairy products. But rather the good omega 3's and saturated fats prevalent in organic, pastured raised live stock, butter, and yes, coconut oil. Another reason to buy local pasture raised meat: Their fat is free of dangerous pharmaceuticals. Antibiotics and hormones are stored in the fat cells of commercially raised animals which renders their meat and fat toxic to us. It is this chemically laden fat that endangers our health and must be avoided.

So enough preaching about fat. Here is a dish I demoed for my cooking class just this week. It is a perfect fall one pot meal that has everything you need. Yummy coconut, greens, beans, and sweet potato. Doesn't get much better than that!

Coconut Sweet Potato and Kale Stew
Don't be overwhelmed by the number of ingredients. This dish comes together very quickly.
Serves 4

2 teaspoons unrefined virgin coconut oil
2 cups onion, diced
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus additional to taste
3 cups sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 can organic coconut milk
1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
squeeze of lemon
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Heat oil in a good sized pot over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add sweet potato, garbanzo beans, garlic, jalapeno, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon and saute for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, coconut milk and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes.

While the sweet potato is cooking, wash and chop the kale. You may discard the stems but I like to keep them. Chop the greens into bite size pieces. Add the kale to the pot and simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes. Greens should be tender and the sweet potato soft. Adjust the seasoning to taste and remove the cinnamon stick.

Just before serving, squeeze in lemon juice and top with fresh cilantro and toasted almonds.