Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why Didn't I Think of This?

One of my favorite books on food is Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Why. Nina was raised by a mother who had studied and taken to heart the work of Adelle Davis. Adelle Davis showed that if you provide children healthy options and let them eat as much or as little as they want, they will be properly nourished. The key there is healthy options - she wasn't providing any refined grains or sugars, just real, whole, unprocessed foods.

One of the best things I learned from the book is that Nina often eats multiple vegetable sides at a meal. Why this was a revelation for me, I don't know, but it was. I love vegetables yet I had never considered making more than one at a meal. Having two different vegetables makes it really easy to fill 3/4 of your plate with veggies. Add a small pile of peas to a pile of broccoli and you're there.

This also relates back to getting your children, or reluctant spouses, to eat their vegetables. Aaron has a lot of favorites, and since I want him to get enough vegetables every night, it would be tempting to only make those. But if I make a new vegetable (or a new method of preparation) along with a favorite, he is sure to get enough veggies even if he only takes a little bit of the "weird" one. Plus, his exposure to the new vegetable or dish will make it less "new" over time. It can take 8 times of serving something before your family accepts it enough to objectively evaluate it. Having an alternative gives you the freedom to keep introducing things without making a whole dinner your kids or partner won't eat.

So put the Brussels sprouts puree on the table, and let your kids decide if they want to try it without any word of encouragement or discouragement from you, and you may be surprised at how many vegetables your kids really like.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gary Taubes

Gary Taubes gave a lecture entitled "Truth and Lies About Fats and Obesity" at Berkely and then repeated the lecture at a few other venues. Food Renegade embedded the video from Severins in this post:

His book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, is excellent, but some people don't have the inclination to read a 400 page book with 200 pages of references and footnotes. I admit, it's intimidating.

It's also THOROUGH. When you are trying to reverse a nation-wide dogma 50 years in the making, it's good to have basically all the evidence on your side. But most people who read this book already have an open mind about it, or they'd put it down after the introduction, so sometimes there is such a thing as TOO MUCH evidence.

So for those intimidated or uninterested in a 640 page tome, he's managed to condense most of it into an hour long presentation (with pictures!). He addresses the diet-cholesterol-heart hypothesis which is the subject of his book, and he also addresses the energy balance (calories in, calories out) hypothesis. It's a great lecture, but then again, I'm a sucker for a well-presented, clear, logical argument.

Set aside some time to watch it and let me know what you think.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Our favorite meals

Our favorite dishes, most of them are entire meals. We use dinners, lunches, and breakfasts interchangeably. Vegetable soup makes a nice warm breakfast.

Honestly, many nights we simply cook up a meat and a vegetable and make enough extra for lunch the next day. Obviously there is no recipe for this.

When I write out our meal plan and grocery list, I try to include one beef meal, one chicken meal, one fish meal, one veggie meal, and at least one stew / chili. This is good for variety / balance, but also just makes thinking of things easier. We tend to need four or five meals for seven days. We always have nachos at least once a week. We usually eat out once a week. And some meals will have enough leftovers for a couple days.

It's always best to portion out the night's dishes and the next days at the same time.

For more labor intensive recipes, we try to double them and freeze half to eat when we'll be busy later.

When we can, we like to chop up anything necessary for the next night's meals while dinner is cooking or while we are cleaning up, because we like to be able to eat dinner as soon as we get home.

The hyperlinked items have recipes. The starred (*) recipes are links to another site.

Great for leftovers:
Tortilla soup (more accurately chicken vegetable soup with mexican spices)
Mega Salad
Slow cooked roast or chicken with Barbecue Sauce
Pesto Chicken
*Chicken curry Scroll down for the recipe - we use coconut milk instead of yogurt and cayenne pepper instead of chile de arbol
*Caveman Chili - We like 1 lb stew meat or steak and 1 lb ground, also we use canned chipotles en adobo (sp?) sauce instead of dried and we add a cup of homemade stock
Turkey Enchiladas
Meatloaf (we use almond flour in place of bread crumbs)
Sloppy Joes (serve on Oopsie rolls or just eat like a casserole, we add finely diced carrots and bell peppers), very good cold.
Moroccan Chicken & Lentils (one of Aaron's absolute favorites for leftovers)
*Chicken Tikka Masala (another of his favorites, I almost always double this)
Tuna cakes (the only fish dish I am willing to take as leftovers)
*Low carb california rolls
Roasted turkey (if brined, delicious plain, otherwise I like mustard on it)
*Huevos rancheros

Also good but only if reheated:
Brussel sprout puree
Cauliflower couscous / faux rice

Delicious but not good for leftovers:
Almond flour pancakes
Breakfast sandwiches


Tortilla Soup
Adapted from VO2Maxxed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes or 4-5 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 can enchilada sauce (or 2-3 C homemade)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 1 can (~4 oz) chopped green jalapeno peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 C chicken stock or broth
  • 1 lb shredded, cooked chicken
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro (for garnish)
  1. Place all the vegetables and spices in a large pot and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add stock and cook until tender, add the cooked chicken and serve when warmed through.
  3. Garnish with cilantro. Traditionally served over fried tortilla strips (hence the name). Aaron puts tortilla chips in his and sometimes grates cheese on top. We both like to garnish with avocado slices and sour cream.
Mega salad
  • lettuce
  • hard boiled eggs
  • shredded chicken or turkey
  • bacon
  • tomato
  • shredded carrots
  • toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
  • dijon mustard vinaigrette (2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp vinegar (any kind, but we like apple cider), 1 Tbsp dijon mustard, salt & pepper)
Get out two bowls and two lunch containers and fill all four as you chop. Sometimes we add avocado but it will turn brown overnight, so we just add it to the ones we're having for dinner.

Primal Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Son of Grok
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste (go for the organic brands; they really do taste better - especially Muir Glen)
  • 1 to 1.5 C stock (preferably homemade beef stock)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  1. Dice onion and garlic as fine as possible. The finer the dice, the more distributed the flavor.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Add stock to preferred thickness of sauce.
  3. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
This is great on everything, but I usually use it on a slow cooked roast, like brisket, or pulled pork. Dad had some leftovers at our house, got the recipe from me, gathered the ingredients, and ate so much roast he had a stomach ache, lol. That's how good it is. When we have people over we serve it like a sandwich but it's good by itself. I'm sure it would be awesome on crock pot chicken also. The inventor of the sauce, Son of Grok, suggests using it on a bacon explosion - google that, lol.

Pesto Chicken
Our pesto recipe:
  • 1 C fresh basil, packed down
  • 1/3 C mixed nuts, pine nuts + walnuts is our standby, but pistachio and cashew are awesome too
  • 1/3 C parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 C olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic or 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
We blend the garlic and nuts with 3 Tbsp water until smooth, then add the basil, cheese, spices, and olive oil.
You can use less olive oil to make a thicker pesto. Mixed with shredded, cooked chicken, this is one of the most addictive foods we make. We either have to limit the quantity made or put it away immediately because we'll eat it all.

We eat this as a main now. The first time we made it as a pizza topping, it goes great with a greek style pizza: feta, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, minced garlic, red onions.

We use a lot of different crusts. The most delicious ever was a shredded zucchini crust with eggs & buckwheat flour, but you couldn't pick it up, so it was the least handy. Just add eggs & buckwheat flour until it makes a thick batter, then allow it to spread on a greased cookie sheet with a rim and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes before topping and baking again.

Google a meatza crust also. That one can be picked up. We haven't made one yet but we probably will soon.

It's too bad we don't use cast iron anymore because it rules at making steak. Important when cooking steak: 
  • Allow it to come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Don't salt it before cooking but pepper and other spices maybe pressed/rubbed into the surface.
  • The pan should be very hot, but don't heat an empty non-cast-iron pan, so put some sort of fat in the pan with a high smoke point.
  • Sear first side for about 3 minutes without moving before turning over, then cover and cook on medium low to desired doneness.
  • Do not pierce.
  • You can learn to judge a steak's doneness with a nudge. When you prod the steak, if it's as soft as your nostril, it's rare, if it's as soft as your cheek, it's medium / medium rare, and when it's as hard as the end of your nose, it's well done. Steaks with bones in them will be less done. We love to top them with carmelized onions and serve them with a puree to soak up the juices. If you are more worried about doneness than juiciness, a medium rare steak is 134 degrees in the center, but it will rise a couple degrees after being removed from heat. 
  • Let steak rest a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Turkey Enchiladas
  • turkey meat, cut or ground, dark or light per your preference
  • cooked pinto, black, or kidney beans
  • chopped bell pepper
  • chopped onion
  • diced tomatoes
  1. Cook desired vegetables in oil until tender, add meat and cook through.
  2. Add 1/2 your enchilada sauce & 1/2 your cheese.
  3. Layer 1/2 meat mixture in 8x8 pan, cover with a layer of tortillas, then remaining meat and another layer of tortillas.
  4. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes @ 350.
The reason we layer it instead of roll it is that it uses fewer tortillas - meaning fewer grains & fewer carbs. We like Carmen's tortillas because they only have the necessary ingredients: corn, water, & lime. Salt wouldn't hurt though.

Moroccan Chicken & Lentils
Adapted from The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook by Tosca Reno 
  • 4 C water
  • 2 tsp sea salt, divided
  • 1/2 lb dried lentils, rinsed, drained, and picked over
  • 1 C plus 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 C red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp ground cumin, divided
  • 2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 lg onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 lbs chicken or turkey, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish.
  1. Cover lentils with plenty of water, add 1 tsp sea salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes until tender. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking and drain well. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. While lentils are cooking, combine 1 C olive oil, vinegar, 2 Tbsp cumin, 2 Tbsp chili powder, garlic, and 1 tsp sea salt. Pour over lentils and toss gently.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add onion and saute until slightly browned. Add 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp cumin, 2 tsp chili powder, and cinnamon. Allow to cook until aromatic. Add chicken or turkey and saute until cooked through.
  4. Serve chicken over lentils and pour remaining dressing over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.

Brussels sprouts puree

(The best way to wash Brussels sprouts is to soak in a large bowl of water for 10 minutes or so)
  1. Remove the outer leaves.
  2. Cut off the tough end and cut a criss cross in the end. 
  3. Boil in fresh water for 6-8 minutes, just until tender. 
  4. Puree in blender or food processor. 
  5. Add cream cheese or heavy cream, butter, and salt to taste. 
This is only good hot. We also like to add garlic powder or roasted garlic.

Cauliflower puree works exactly the same, but has a creamier end result. It can also be eaten cold.

Mixing Brussels sprouts with cauliflower is also REALLY good.

Cauliflower couscous / faux rice
Using a food processor or determination, chop cauliflower until it is the size of rice grains.

  • For couscous, sautee chopped onion in garlic in butter or coconut oil, add chopped cauliflower, and cook until browned. Season with salt or parmesan cheese. SUPER delicious.

  • For faux rice, heat in small saucepan with a little water until tender. Add butter and salt. Make sure all the water is cooked off. This works really well to soak up curry.
Almond Flour Pancakes
  • eggs, about one per person
  • almond flour, or coconut flour
  • baking powder, optional
  • salt
  1. Break eggs into a dish and beat lightly.
  2. Add enough almond flour or coconut flour to make a batter. A thin batter will make crepe-like pancakes. A thick batter will make denser, chewier pancakes. Water may be added to thin the batter.
  3. Optionally, add 1/4 tsp of baking powder to make the pancakes fluffier and more like traditional pancakes. Add salt to taste.
  4. Cook these smaller than usual pancakes, in a hot, buttered pan, just a couple at a time until you are satisfied with the thickness.
  5. Top with butter, raw honey, cashew butter, fruit syrup, or whatever you like.
Breakfast sandwiches
We like to use a thick pancake for the buns on a breakfast sandwich.
We generally start the bacon first - in the oven, about 20 minutes at 400 degrees on a grill over a baking pan.
The eggs should be started second, then the pancakes. I personally don't like to beat the eggs first, but I do break the yolk and add Spike seasoning.
We add a slice of cheese too.

We also like to make thin pancakes for use in primal enchiladas.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Mmm, vegetables. I mentioned that many nights we cook up a meat and a vegetable with enough for lunch leftovers. I plan ahead on the meats but only kind of plan ahead on the veggies. I think of what kind of side would go well with a particular main, then when we're at the store we get whatever looks good. My meal plan is usually on the back of my grocery list so I can consult it while we're shopping.

Aaron also stops at the produce market once or twice during the week on his way home for fresh produce. When I'm really on my game, I plan ahead for several weeks and buy all the non-perishable stuff at once, which saves us a lot of money because fewer trips to the grocery store means fewer impulse buys.

I do keep a list of vegetables with our favorite ways to prepare them so we don't get stuck in a veggie rut. It's a spreadsheet in google docs with all the veggies we eat in a column, and different ways to prepare them going across.

In this same document, I keep lists of recipes we want to try, our favorite recipes (grouped by type; main, side, baked goods), and meal plans. When we have a week that goes smoothly,  I try to record it so we could repeat it again next year. Eventually, I could have a whole years' worth of seasonal meal plans to consult.

I keep this in google docs so I can access it from home or work, and I have it 'shared' with Aaron so he can look it up too. He's made a couple meal plans for me when I've gotten too stressed out about making them 100% healthy, 100% favorites, 100% frugal, and started losing my sanity. Now I try to focus on making them easy, reasonably healthy, and appealing enough so Aaron isn't tempted to go out instead. When we are both working full time, 'good enough' is 100% perfect.

Here is my veggie list from A-Z:

bell pepper
Brussels sprouts
fava bean
green beans
squash, acorn
squash, butternut
sweet potato
swiss chard
wax beans

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I have given up eating gluten.

I had previously suspected myself of gluten intolerance based on many symptoms and also having an aunt who is celiac.

I ordered a lab test from Enterolab which came back negative.

I tried a diet challenge at the same time, but removing gluten for two weeks did not relieve my symptoms and adding it back in gave me no noticeable change either.

That's the problem with gluten sensitivities - there is no such thing as a true negative. By the time your body is producing antibodies, which are what the test I took looks for, a lot of damage has already been done.

The traditional intestinal biopsy requires even more damage and it must be extensive. Once you have enough intestinal damage you can get diagnosed as celiac.

The diet challenge was partly my fault. For a true diet challenge, one goes on an elimination diet until all symptoms are resolved, then challenges the suspected allergen.

I only gave up gluten and only for two weeks. This was obviously not enough for my digestion to recover.

So how is one supposed to know whether or not to eat gluten?

From what I've learned, the best test to get is actually the genetic marker test (Enterolab offers this also). If you do research, you'll read that not everyone who has the marker will develop gluten intolerance. This is  true, and our environments do affect our gene expression, but if you have the genetic marker and you have any of the symptoms, it's a pretty safe bet. The types of things that can trigger gluten intolerance in those with the genetic marker include stress, antibiotics, chlorinated tap water, and other prescription medications. I don't know anyone personally who would be able to avoid all the triggers. Gluten is also one of the most difficult proteins to digest, so in reality everyone is gluten intolerant to a certain degree.

I personally prefer to avoid grains anyway, so I would rather eat gluten free grains when I do indulge rather than risk the consequences of thyroid disorders, celiac, and colon cancer down the road.

This is easier said than done, and I have been rather lazy in the past about completely avoiding gluten. But I had a blood test recently which showed some markers consistent with gluten sensitivity. That was enough to convince me to completely avoid gluten from now on. If I am sensitive, and I keep eating it, I could develop serious health problems.

This blood test was invaluable in motivating me to stick to the diet that I know is best for me and I have been feeling much better. It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed.

On mistakes

Whenever I learn something new through an error, I start wishing I could help other people avoid making the same mistake I did. The bigger the error, the more strongly I feel this way.

In addition, I've learned a lot in my life through the mistakes of others. (Sometimes when I think about all the dumb things I've done, I think I must be better at learning objectively than I am subjectively).

So, when I learn something new, something that feels important to me, I am going to do my best to pass it on to as many people as I think will listen or benefit.

Unfortunately, to learn anything, you first have to care about it. It's not possible, and I don't have the desire, to force anyone else to change. Hopefully this blog will give me a place to share what I've learned without people feeling like they're being told what to do.

I respect everyone's ability to make their own decisions, even if sometimes I'm driven to distraction attempting to understand them.

It is definitely not my goal to force my opinions on others. No matter how sure I think I am, I know there is always room to grow and learn more, so I really, truly value the views of others.

I hope to keep learning new things my entire life, and that means always being open to ideas that contradict my own.

This blog is also an opportunity to attempt to connect with bloggers who share my interests and passions. Their blogs have helped me feel more sane for caring about the things I care about.