Archive | In the Kitchen RSS feed for this section

Do you use these four fats?

Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, being blamed for the increase in our waistlines, cardiovascular diseases and blood pressures. However, healthy fats are essential to our health! Our brains are about 75% fat so fat is a critical for proper repair and function. Healthy fats support our immune system and keep bones strong by aiding in calcium absorption. Fat also makes foods more satisfying and filling preventing overeating and cravings.

While olive oil has long topped the charts as a healthy fat that should be found in every pantry. While the mostly monounsaturated fat certainly has proven itself as a heart healthy option there are a few other healthy fats you should include.

Here are 4 fats to know and start using in your daily cooking regiment:

Butter: Yes, I said butter! Be sure to choose an organic, grass fed butter so it is free from chemical, antibiotics and hormones. Butter contains important Vitamins A and E, which help with tissue repair and healing, ensure healthy eyesight and keep our immune system strong.

How to use it: Use butter at a very low heat as it does burn easily. Melt some butter on your broccoli, carrots, cauliflower or any other veggies. You can mix it with some salt, garlic and parsley to make a delicious herbed butter for fish and meats.

Ghee:
Ghee is clarified butter, and is very popular in Indian cooking. In ghee the milk solids have been removed, so it is very low in lactose making it a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant or avoiding dairy. This also means it can be used at a slightly higher heat than butter.

How to use it: You can use ghee to brown meats, sauté onions and garlic when making soups and stews or scramble eggs in it.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a saturated fat and solid at room temperature. This makes it feared by many but in reality it is very misunderstood. Coconut oil is a type of saturated fat called medium chain triglyceride (MCT). MCT’s do not require bile acids for digestion. This means they are easily absorbed and utilized easily for energy. Plus, it is rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid found in mother’s milk that has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

How to use it: Coconut oil can be used at a medium to medium-high heat for browning meats, onions and vegetables. It may sound strange, but it is delicious for scrambling eggs!

Avocado Oil: Avocado oil is a bit new on the cooking oil scene. It is reported to have the same cardiovascular health benefits as olive oil with more than 50% monounsaturated fat. Plus, it contains Vitamin E and an anti-inflammatory agent called beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol that can help block cholesterol absorption in the intestines.

How to use it: Avocado oil has a very mild flavor and a less oily feel compared to olive oil. This makes it excellent for salads dressings, roasting vegetables and browning meats and vegetables for soups and stews. Avocado oil has a much higher smoke point than olive so it can be used in higher heat cooking.

Article originally published in The Sentinel and on Cumberlink.com.

Comments { 2 } · Posted on January 20, 2015 in In the Kitchen

What’s in your salt?

Once considered a precious commodity, salt has been labeled a “bad food” for many years prompting food manufacturers to create a slew of “low sodium” and “sodium free products.” But is salt really that bad for us?

Salt, an edible crystal, has been treated historically as a precious luxury. The word salary comes from the root sal because Romans were paid in salt and African and European explorers traded salt for gold. Salt was literally worth its weight in gold.

Salt is essential for life and health.

Salt gives the oceans their character and our tears their salty flavor. According to trace-mineral expert Henry Schroeder, “life began in salinity, and cannot free itself therefrom.” Unrefined salt is essential for many of our bodily processed, including:

  • Salt is a major component of our blood, lymphatic fluid and even amniotic fluid
  • Salt is responsible for carrying nutrients in and out of our cells
  • The components of salt assist in the firing of neurons in our nervous system
  • Salt plays a key role in digestion. It is our major source of chloride, an important component of hydrochloric acid, which is needed for proper protein digestion.
  • Adequate salt intake helps our adrenal glands produce the hormones needed to keep our metabolism running smoothly.

What is salt?

Salt is often thought to be synonymous with sodium. However, there is more to salt than just this one ingredient. Salt is mostly made up mostly of sodium and chloride. Most commercial table salt is land-mined, whereas sea salt is obtained through the evaporation of seawater.

Remember, our bodies need whole foods that contain a variety of nutrients instead of foods that have been processed down into containing singular nutrients. Missing nutrients lead to imbalance leaving us prone to illness. Sea salt contains 78% sodium chloride and the remainder being made up of magnesium, calcium, potassium and other minerals and micro-minerals. USDA standards for table salt are set to be no less than 97.5% sodium chloride, the remainder being some magnesium and calcium and “approved additives.”

What about iodine?

Standard iodized salt includes potassium iodide to supplement iodine for those who may be deficient. However, when including iodine, dextrose (a type of sugar) is added to prevent the iodine from oxidizing. In turn, sodium bicarbonate is also added to keep the iodine from turning purple as well as various anti-caking agents to keep the salt from sticking.

Instead, iodine can be easily included in the diet through fish, seafood, sea vegetables like kombu and eggs.

When salt is a problem

More than 75% of the salt consumed in the U.S. comes from processed foods, mostly in the form of just sodium. Canned soups, frozen and pre-packaged meals, chips and pretzels, cereals, cheeses, condiments, dips and sauces, deli meats, breads and baked goods all contain large amounts of salt.

The problem is not the salt we add to our boiling water or pasta sauces, but the large amount of salt we consume through packaged foods and restaurant meals.

What kind of salt should I buy?

Redmond-RealSalt-Natures-First-Sea-Salt-Fine-Salt-018788102502In short, just about any sea salt is better than an iodized white salt. Nearly every well-stock grocery store now sells sea salt in its natural foods section and it can also be purchased at health food stores and online.

Look for sea salt that has some color – pink or grey are most common. Salt evaporated directly from the sea is not pure white by nature. White sea salt has most likely been processed in some way to rid it of any color.

I like Redmond Real Salt and The Original Himalayan Crystal Salt.

Comments { 0 } · Posted on January 4, 2015 in General, In the Kitchen

Is your water bottle making you sick?

Last week I shared this article on my Facebook fan page that got quite a lot of attention. The article titled “These Popular Plastic Bottles May Be Messing With Your Hormones” was published in Mother Jones on June 16th and addresses recent research that indicates some BPA free products might still be leaching dangerous hormone altering chemicals. Scary stuff!

These articles can leave you scared, confused and asking yourself “well NOW what am I supposed to do??!!!”

I wanted to take this opportunity to boil down some of this info and answer common questions and confusion about plastics, BPA and keeping chemicals out of our bodies. The information I’m providing does not include EVERYTHING there is to know on this topic (it’s a biggie!) but it will give you a solid understanding of the problem, WHY we should be concerned and some solutions to assist you on your health journey.

An informed consumer is a healthy consumer!

When you understand the WHY behind something you can read between the lines of marketing hype, become more curious about the products you use and consume and are much more likely to make positive changes (and stick with them!). That’s what my goal is with this article. If I tell you to eat a protein rich breakfast because it’s healthy you might try having eggs a few mornings but you’ll go back to your cereal. But, if I tell you that eating protein for breakfast aids in weight loss and decreases cravings you’re more likely to find a way to get that protein in the morning.

So, here we go!

What is BPA?

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences “Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.”

BPA was originally used for electrical applications but its characteristics made it popular for food applications like plastic bottles and can linings (including cans that contain infant formula). It was approved for use in food packaging by the FDA in the 1960’s.

Interesting factoid… The Toxic Substance Control Act was a law passed in 1976 to regulate the introduction of new and already existing chemicals. Here’s the kicker, any chemicals created before 1976 were considered safe and grandfathered in. No further studies were done to confirm their safety. Yes, that’s a jaw dropper.

Where is it found?

BPA is a building block of polycarbonate plastics. These types of plastics can undergo large deformations without breaking or cracking making them virtually shatterproof. They are used in computers, eyeglasses, cell phone cases, medical devices plastic bottles, baby bottles, can linings….the list goes on and on.

What are the health risks?

Many studies have revealed that BPA is a potent estrogen mimic and endocrine disruptor and is associated with a variety of disorders of the female productive system and could put women at higher risk for infertility. BPA acts like estrogen in your body throwing your hormones out of whack. This can lead to breast and ovarian cancer, infertility, heart problems, diabetes, autism and neurological conditions. There is also concern that BPA can be transferred to a growing fetus and low-dose prenatal BPA exposure induces lasting epigenetic disruption in the brain that can have lasting effects on brain function and behavior.

Isn’t BPA free better?

We are now learning that this is not necessarily true. When study after study started revealing the serious health implications of BPA companies used that as a marketing opportunity. “BPA free” started appearing on everything from water bottles to yoga mats. It made consumers feel safer and we were thankful that these companies were looking out for our best interest. Whew! Well, not so fast. When they took out the BPA they replaced it with another chemical – BPS. A study out of the University of Texas last year showed that BPS has the same endocrine disrupting properties of BPA. Whoops!

With the rise in estrogen dominant cancers, young girls getting their periods earlier and earlier and infertility becoming a more common issue for couples you can’t help but wonder if BPA (and now BPS) isn’t playing a major role.

How does BPA get into the body?

Most BPA leaches out of the plastic bottles, baby bottles, sippy cups food containers we use and we then ingest it through our food. Heating plastics in the form of microwaving or putting hot foods into containers increases the rate at which BPA and BPS are released into the food. On a side note – you shouldn’t be microwaving anything, EVER!

It is estimated that over 90% of Americans have BPA in their bodies. Some children may even have more concentrated amounts.

Doesn’t the FDA says it’s safe?

The FDA has also done its share of research into BPA and they continue to insist that BPA is safe for human consumption and that we are really only consuming it in minimal amounts. The only problem is, the FDA is relying on two major industry funded studies that declare BPA safe. That’s right, the plastic industry paid for the research to show that BPA is totally ok and that is the ONLY research the FDA is relying on.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Even the FDA’s own Science Board voiced criticism over the handling of this research. In a 2008 report the board stated that coupling together the available qualitative and quantitative information (including application of uncertainty factors) provides a sufficient scientific basis to conclude that the Margins of Safety defined by FDA as “adequate” are, in fact, inadequate.

The FDA has agreed to reassess the research and literature of BPA’s effects on human health but has not revealed a timeline. I’m sure we’ll be kept waiting.

What should you do?

Here are ways to ditch the plastic

Water bottles: Most of us are always on the go, which means we have to take our water with us. Americans use 1500 water bottles every second. Yikes! A reusable water bottle is not only good for YOUR health but the health of our planet as well.

20140623_100813My number one choice is a Ball jar with a Cuppow lid and stainless steel straw. I have heard some hesitate at this solution because they are afraid it will break. These jars are not as fragile as you think. I’ve dropped mine and it’s still in one piece. And, IF it were to break you’re out maybe $2. These jars are cheap! Plus, the narrow jar variety fits perfectly in my cars cup holder.

The Life Factory also makes amazing glass water bottles with silicon sleeves. They started with a basic water bottle and now make baby bottles, wine glasses and food storage containers! They even have one with a straw. And yes, the straw is plastic BUT Life Factory states that their straws are BPA/BPS and phthalate-free. Phthalates are listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Learn more about phthalates here.

If you’re still skeptical about glass then opt for stainless steel. Just do a bit of research to make sure your bottle isn’t lined with any weird chemicals.

Food storage: If you have a towering pile of plastic food containers teetering in a kitchen cabinet it’s time158to say “see you later!” Ditch those toxic plastic food containers and opt for glass containers instead. I bought a great set of Snapware glass containers from Costco a few years back and use them everyday. They travel well and you can put them in the oven. Yes, the lids are plastic but you’re not eating off of the lid so I’m less concerned. I have also found them sold individually places like TJ Maxx and Ross so I’ve added to my collection that way.

I also use Ball jars to store my trail mix, soups, leftover grains and even hearty salads. You can use these jars to freeze things as well. My freezer is packed with labeled jars of soups, stews and grains. Just be sure to leave about an inch at the top so your jar doesn’t crack.

Transitioning away from plastic can be a process. Start by clearing out the containers that have any food stains, rings or etching mostly caused by microwaving plastic. That is a big sign that chemicals are leaching into your food. Get a set of glass containers and start using those. Slowly but surely over time start ditching one or two plastic containers at a time. Before you know it you will be so used to glass you won’t remember the days of plastic.

If you do still use some plastic don’t heat it or put acidic foods in it. Both heat and acid can erode plastic and accelerate the leaching of chemicals into your food. Use any plastic only for dry goods or brief storage.

Cooking tools and utensils

silpatAfter the flurry of the article I mentioned a good friend of mine asked me what I thought about Silpat mats. If you’re not familiar, a Silpat is a non-stick baking mat to prevent cookies and other baked goods from sticking.

Silpat is made of fiberglass mesh and food grade silicone and according to their FAQ’s page the mats are safe and conform to FDA regulations. Well, we already took a peek at the FDA and how they make their regulations. This doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy. There isn’t much safety information about silicone available but I am still hesitant to heat up any form of plastic and put my food on it.

Instead, use unbleached parchment and paper muffin liners. These can be composted or burned (if you live in the boonies like we do J).

Canned Food

Most cans in the U.S. are still lined with BPA. This is especially a concern for acidic foods like tomato products which can erode the Eden-Beans3-e1322587366295lining much more quickly. There is not much information about what cans are lined with instead and if BPS has been added to the mix.

Treehugger has compiled a helpful list of companies that are not using BPA in their cans. Over the last year or so I have significantly cut back on our canned food usage. The only cans in my pantry are coconut oil from Native Forest, canned tuna and sardines from Wild Planet and 2-3 cans of beans from Eden Organic if I’m in a pinch.

Beans is a popular product to buy in a can. I agree. They are pretty darn convenient! But, in my transition away from cans I have become much more accustomed to cooking dried beans. It saves me big bucks and it’s not as hard as many think. Just soak them overnight and then cook them in boiling water. I tell my clients to pretend like they’re cooking pasta. Then, I fill them into jars and freeze them. When I’m making something with beans I pull them out the night before or the morning of. If I forgot and I’m desperate I’ll just submerge them in hot water. Voila!

I hope this was helpful and provide you some insight into the ongoing BPA saga. There is no reason to be afraid but all the more reason to be informed!

Will you be changing some of your kitchen gadgets and habits based on the new research around “BPA free?” What kind of water bottle or food containers do you use? Please share in the comments!

Comments { 4 } · Posted on June 24, 2014 in General, In the Kitchen

5 simple ways to season up your supper

I’ve heard it again and again….”healthy food doesn’t taste good.” Let me give it to you straight. If you are used to eating foods from boxes your taste buds have been attacked by a storm of flavorings, colorings, preservatives and additives leaving them totally fried and unable to taste real food. Removing those so-called “foods” will give your taste buds a chance to recuperate and soon, real, whole, unprocessed, foods (aka “healthy food”) will taste delicious! You will be craving broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Trust me!

I’m also going to be honest with you too. When cooking at home, adding the right flavors in the right way is key to making a dish totally mouthwatering. Those beans and veggies need a little love in the form of herbs, spices, salt and other seasonings to fill all your senses and make them irresistible. If your food is bland or boring chances are it needs some spices to kick it up a notch.

tumblr_mddho0jO3q1qzvmvz

Here are 5 simple ways to add fantastic flavor to your cooking:

1) Sea Salt: Yes, I said salt! The stuff that we’ve been told will give us high blood pressure. Iodized white salt has had all the minerals stripped from it leaving only sodium and chloride. These things in isolation are not good for us. Real sea salt contains upwards of 87 other minerals, all of which balance each other out and in turn keep our bodies in balance. Plus, it has less of an acidic flavor like white salt. Do a taste test! If your food is bland the first thing you should reach for is the salt-shaker. Look for a colored sea salt – this lets you know it is still rich in those important minerals. I like Redmond Real Salt – a pink sea salt mined in Redmond, Utah.

2) Cook Your Spices: Just like beans and rice, spices are meant to be cooked. This enhances their flavors and releases their health promoting properties. When you are making a soup, sauce, curry or any other cooked dish add the spices to the warm oil. Keep the heat no higher than medium and stir them so they don’t burn. After about 1-2 minutes they will become very fragrant. This is when you want to add your other ingredients like beans, veggies, meat, stock, coconut milk etc.

3) Fresh Herbs: Herbs like parsley, basil, cilantro, dill and tarragon not only add flavor, they are also leafy greens so they supply you with important vitamins and minerals. Contrary to spices, fresh herbs should be added shortly before serving to retain their flavor. This way they also stay bright green…yellow parsley in soup is not so appetizing. Adding fresh parsley to soup, basil to grain salads and cilantro to curry helps complete the dish and adds another layer of flavor. I like to chop and freeze rosemary, thyme and parsley in small jars or Ziploc baggies. When I need them, I just pull them out of the freezer sprinkle directly into my warm dish. If using jars pull the herbs out about 10 minutes before using so you can easily scrape them out of the jar. If in baggies you can crumble them up by scrunching the bag and then add them to your dish.

4) Add Fat: Julia Child said “Fat gives things flavor” and she was right! When food companies make something “low fat” or “fat free” they add sugar and other flavors back in because without the fat their food would not taste good. However, we’re not afraid of fat! We know that fat feeds our brain and nervous system, is critical for hormone production and keeps us satiated. Think about what kind of fat would be most appropriate for what you are cooking…..a light chicken dish would be best with olive oil where a rich curry needs a tasty coconut oil. Fat can also be a flavor you add on shortly before serving – toasted sesame oil, pumpkin seed oil and butter add delicious flavor and richness to vegetable, fish and stews – plus you need fat to absorb your fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K!

5) Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that is grown on molasses. Don’t let the name deter you…this flaky powder is delicious! It has a savory, cheesy, nutty taste adding the “umami” flavor sought after in MSG (without all the icky side effects of MSG!). It’s rich in B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium and zinc making it a very nutrient dense ingredient. You can add it to sauces, soups and savory dips. It’s great in mashed potatoes, polenta, pasta dishes and absolutely perfect on homemade popcorn. You can find nutritional yeast at most health food stores. If you are gluten free be sure it’s processed in a facility that doesn’t also process wheat.

So, there you have it! It’s time to say goodbye to bland soups and hello to delicious home cooked dishes!

In the comments below tell me what your biggest flavoring challenge is. Or, what is your go-to seasoning when jazzing up a dish?

Comments { 2 } · Posted on May 6, 2014 in General, In the Kitchen

5 Reasons Your Kitchen is Stressing You Out

It’s usually New Years that causes us to reflect on the past year and look forward for what is to come. For me, it’s March that has me looking back on the past year and where I was merely 12 months ago. And, when I do it totally and completely blows my mind! Never in a million years would I have expected to go from the hustle and bustle of Oakland, CA to embrace the calm, quiet (and occasional crowing rooster) in Shermans Dale, PA. It’s been quite a ride!

You see, this time last year I was doing a MAJOR overhaul of my belongings to prepare for a move from a 2 bedroom house into a cozy studio apartment (the PA move came a bit later – it’s a long story!). I was determined to not have a storage space and this called for a serious assessment of all of my stuff – from books and craft supplies to clothing and decorative items. I went through every little piece of my life and decided what to keep, what to donate and what just needed tossed. It was a tedious and exhausting process but I felt incredibly light and free after it was all over. That is, after I slept for nearly an entire week to fully recover 🙂

The hardest area for me to dig through was my kitchen. I had collected an array of kitchen gadgets large and small that I felt I absolutely NEEDED in order to be a good cook.

Aren’t a juicer, dehydrator and ice cream maker essentials to everyone’s kitchen pantry?

My new kitchen was incredibly tiny with a 2×3 foot counter space, 3 drawers and 4 cabinets for storage and so the juicer, dehydrator and ice cream maker found new owners through Craigslist. My wine bottle openers, spatulas and other tool multiples found good homes in other kitchens. I haven’t missed them since. Are there kitchen tools or gadgets you haven’t used in months? Or, probably ever will?

I learned a big lesson when it comes to creating a successful and stress-free cooking environment. It may sound cliche but even in the kitchen “less is more.” I cooked some incredibly delicious meals for myself and my friends in that itty-bitty kitchen and I have to say…I kind of miss it sometimes! It forced me to be more creative, innovative and organized with my preparation and cooking. I couldn’t let dishes pile up in the sink or leave a trail of food scraps on multiple countertops.

5 Reasons Your Kitchen is Stressing You Out

I often hear people say that cooking is totally stressful and takes up way too much time. If that’s the case it’s because their kitchen isn’t serving them in the best way possible.

A few minor changes will turn cooking from stress inducing to stress reducing.

1) Your Sink is a Dirty Dish Parking Lot

Having a full sink of dishes at the end of the day or at the end of just one meal is a total downer! Make it a priority to take the 30 seconds to wash your dishes as you go or put them in the dishwasher right away. It also helps to create a dishwasher routine. Run the dishwasher after dinner and then empty it before bed. Being able to put breakfast dishes right in the dishwasher in the morning will totally make your day!

2) Your Trash Can (and Recycling) are in a Bad Location

If it’s not conveniently located it will feel like total pain in the behind to use it. Put your trash and recycling close to where you do most of your cooking preparation. If you have the space get it out from under the sink – opening that door every time can be annoying and you’re just getting chicken juice all over the handle, right? I like to use a compost bowl while cooking where I put all my kitchen scraps. It keeps my workspace clean and I’m not walking back and forth just to throw out an onion peel.

3) Your Cleaning Supplies Are Not Accessible (or They’re Gross!)

No matter how clean of a cook you are you will make a mess. So, if you have to get down on all fours to dig out your spray cleaner from under the sink it’s going to feel like a total bear. I keep my kitchen cleaning supplies in a basket under the fridge. This includes Barkeepers Friend for my sink, Mrs. Meyers Countertop Spray for countertops and the stove and a cleaning sponge. If your sponge tends to get stinky be sure to wring it out really well and put it where it dries quickly. A wet sponge will breed germs and smell to high heavens. You can also put it in your dishwasher every so often to give it a good cleaning.

4) Your Drawers Are a Clutter Chaos

Organize your drawers into “everyday use” and “occasional use.” Make sure your “everyday use” drawers are located where you do most of your prep and cooking. Go through all your tools and get rid of the triple wine bottle openers, 5 wooden spoons and 3 vegetable peelers. You can either donate them or put them in a box for later use. Then, buy simple drawer organizers and non-skid pads to keep everything in the right place.

5) Observe How You Work

Once you’ve de-cluttered, moved the trash and got your cleaning supplies in order pay attention to how you function in your kitchen. Are you walking back and forth multiple times to get frequently used tools? Then move them closer. Or, are you running laps just to put the dishes away? Maybe the plates and glasses should go in the cabinet above the dishwasher. Pay attention to what is frustrating you and then find a way to fix it. Cooking should be an enjoyable experience, not a total frazzle-fest!

Do you have ways to make cooking an enjoyable and stress-free experience? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Comments { 0 } · Posted on March 20, 2013 in General, In the Kitchen