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Archive for December, 2012

This recipe was inspired by my friend, Laura Hahn, a gluten-free food blogger at Guilt Free Foodie Cutie and winner of NBC’s Next Local TV Chef.  She invited me to help her cook and staff the gluten-free table at the March of Dimes Chef’s Tasting Gala with 500 attendees being held at the Please Touch Museum.  With less than a week to spare, and GF baguettes and brownies from Sweet Christine’s Bakery in Kennett Square, PA coming our way, we devised a plan.  (To read more about this adventure, check out my article.)

Laura and I divided and conquered.  Being obsessed with fall foods and wanting to resurrect my Halloween pumpkin, the idea for my spread was born.   I was going to make the Winter Squash Ricotta Spread finished with pomegranate seeds, and she made the White Bean Spread finished with an Arugula Pistachio Pesto.  The choice for ricotta came about, because Laura convinced me it would make the spread go farther than cream cheese.  So I began my Google search for a mouth-watering recipe including pumpkin and ricotta, and to my dismay, came up empty-handed.  How could that be possible?!!  There seemed to be no such thing as the spread I had been turning over in my head.

And that my friends, is how the recipe was born . . . a pinch of this, a pinch of that . . . and the use of my favorite ingredient . . . MOLASSES!!  To read more about health benefits of blackstrap molasses, click here.


Gluten-Free Winter Squash Ricotta Spread Recipe

You’ll have to bear with me on this one, because I made this recipe hoping to feed 500 people.  It made 4 quarts of spread.  I played around with it using only 2 cups of squash, but it might not be totally perfect. Feel free to adjust the amounts of spices and cheese you use, and feel free to tell me what you did.  All I can say is that Laura went home that night and told me she ate a whole pint by herself, so it must have been pretty good.

Serving Size: about 1 quart

Ingredients:

– 2 cups pumpkin or winter squash (canned or roasted) (I used 1 cup pumpkin and 1 cup butternut squash)
– 1 TBSP ricotta cheese (or to taste)
– 1 TBSP black strap molasses
– 1 tsp ginger
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/8 tsp cloves
– 1/8 tsp salt
– 1 tsp vanilla extract (gf)
– 1 tsp powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Halve and seed your squash.

2. Roast squash flesh side down in the oven at around 400*F for about 1 hour.  For details on roasting squash, click here.

3.  Let roasted squash cool for about 20 minutes skin side down and then scoop out the flesh.

4.  Put 2 cups of the squash in a bowl, and using an immersion blender, puree it.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, stick it in your food processor to get it smooth and uniform – no clumps.

5.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and blend again.

6.  Spoon onto your favorite baguette, and top with pomegranate seeds or even a cranberry sauce.

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A few days ago a New York Times (NYT) staff writer by the name of Catherine Saint Louis  published an interesting article in the Dining & Wine section of the NYT called Removing ‘Sacrifice’ from ‘Gluten-Free’.

She talks all about her dining experience with her friends, always having to qualify her cooking with the statement “it’s gluten-free” as if to offer some condolence to the fact that it an imposter to its gluten counterpart.  I have said that more times than I have hands to count on, and watched people turn up their noses in refusal of the gluten-free food, all because it’s gluten-free.

However, a few weeks ago . . .

Laura & Me at Tasting Table

I got an exciting call from my friend, Laura Hahn, with Guilt Free Foodie Cutie.  She was going to have a gluten-free table (at a full of gluten event).  The table would beshow-casing Sweet Christine’s GF baguettes and brownies at the March of Dimes Chef’s Tasting Gala taking place at the Please Touch Museum three days later.  We decided it would be best to partner up and make spreads for the baguettes and a topping for the brownies.

In two days, we had everything planned and were cooking till the minute we ran out the door.  Rushing to meet Laura, I arrived at the same time as she did.  We loaded her stuff into my car, and while shoving it in the back, I notice that my car started to venture forward into the street, gaining some momentum.  In high heals, I started chasing after my car, jumped into the driver’s seat, and tried to assess the situation before the situation assessed me; luckily I didn’t have to get very far.  In all the excitement, I had forgotten to put the car in park!!!  Um, can we say, “Ding-Dong?!!”  That had never happened before.  I guess there’s always a first for everything.

With the minor situation behind us, we reached the loading dock, and hauled our stuff through the underground maze like tunnels.  Once we reached the table, we began decorating it, slicing bread, cutting brownies, and adding the spreads.  Laura had made a Tuscan White Bean Dip finished with an Arugula Pistachio Pesto.  I had made a Winter Squash Ricotta Spread topped with pomegranate seeds.  I was hoping to find a recipe for my latest and greatest idea, but it appeared that a recipe didn’t exist, so I began to create my own with my latest favorite ingredient.  Can you guess?!!  MOLASSES!  (For the health benefits of molasses, click here.)  If you want to read this mouth-watering recipe, click here.

Spreads, brownies, & Ingredient Cards

We had a FANTASTIC night, meeting such fun and interesting people!  As we watched the faces of those sampling our foods, we saw faces of relaxation, delight, and euphoria.  They came back for seconds and thirds.  We waited in anticipation for them to express that it was gluten-free, and yet people could not believe their pallets or their ears.  Though some said they could texturally feel the difference, there was no taste difference at all.  The truth was that we were proud to announce that our food gluten-free, because it was AWESOME!!

Unlike Saint Louis who only had one guest say he couldn’t believe that it was gluten-free, the majority of our samplers couldn’t believe it.  With lots of practice and patience in the kitchen, I truly believe that my gluten-free food is often superior to its gluten counterpart, but maybe that’s because I’m making everything from scratch, which seems to be a lost art.  Though 20 years ago it was hard to find a gluten-free product, and 10 years ago the gluten-free products tasted like stale jail food, today’s gluten-free products are excellent; however, it does take a bit of trial and error to know which ones to use.  Saint Louis did not choose all the brands that I would have chosen, so of course my first thought to her dinner party was that I would have chosen a different flour and a different pasta.  I would have indeed made my cheesecake with a nut crust and not have used any flour.  There are also excellent gluten-free graham crackers to make a crust with, too . . . however, the more we try the more we learn.

Three Tips for Making Gluten-Free Food Better than the Original

Some people have the misconception that “gluten-free” means “taste-free.”  Here are 3 tips to make your gluten-free dishes delicious:

1. Choose the Best Tasting Brand

To read more, click here . . .

This article can also be found on the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’s Celiac Central: Bits and Bites Page

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DSC00997

Gluten-Free Renegade Latkes

Photograph taken by Brittany Sanford

At the last minute, I decided to throw a very small gathering Hannukah Party.  And of course, what’s a Hannukah party without Latkes.  I usually make sweet potato latkes, but this year I decided to get a bit more rebellious and cook with my most favorite ingredient . . . MOLASSES!  If you want to read more about the health benefits of molasses, check out the Frankenstorm Chocolate Chip Molasses Brittle Cookies Recipe.

My specialty is sweet potato latkes.  When I realized I only had two sweet potatoes in my kitchen, I knew creativity was to be born!  I decided to mix the sweet potatoes with butternut squash, but that would cut the sweetness.  I then decided to add apple to give it a sweet burst, and upon looking in the fridge, I had this burning desire to use my parsnip.  Well, then I concluded I needed it to be a bit sweeter, which gave me an excuse to use my favorite ingredient.  That’s right!  You guessed it . . . BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES!

Personally, I thought the latkes were sweet enough without the molasses, but my guests thought the molasses really hit the spot.

Gluten-Free Renegade Latkes

Serving Size: about 22 2″ in diameter latkes

Ingredients:

2 cups of grated sweet potato, skins scrubbed
2 cups of grated butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup of grated apple, skins scrubbed and core removed
1/2 cup of grated parsnip, skins scrubbed
6 scallions chopped
1/2 onion chopped
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tbsp of blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup of gluten-free flour* (see #6 below for more details)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Frying Oil – Coconut, Canola, etc.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 200*F

2. Grate the potato, squash, apple, and parsnip and put in separate containers.

20121209-221852.jpg
Grated Sweet Potato (front) and Butternut Squash (rear)
20121209-221901.jpg

Grated Apple (left) and Grated Parsnip (right)

2. Grate the potato, squash, apple, and parsnip.  The apple will need to be squeezed out.  I used a ricer to squeeze out the juices, which I caught in another cup and drank!  Then mix all the food you grated together in a large bowl.  If you decided to create your own base ingredient mix, then make sure that together it weighs about 1 lb or 16 ounces.

20121209-205431.jpg

3. Chop onions and scallions and toss them into the mix.

4. Add salt and pepper and toss.

5. Add slightly beaten egg and molasses and toss to mix evenly.

6. Add 1/2 cup of your gluten-free flour blend or 1/4 cup of a gluten-free 1/4 cup of a starch.  I use my hands to mix this in really well and make sure the consistency is just right.  If not, I add about a teaspoon at a time of more flour.  For one batch I used a gf flour blend, and another batch I mixed 1/4 cup of brown rice flour with 1/4 cup of tapioca starch.  As for flours, just pick one with a milder flavor and any starch will do.  Some people like to use potato starch, since you’re cooking with potato.  Other recipes call for only starch, but I really prefer the starch/flour combo or gf flour blend.

Latke Mix

7. Add oil to your pan so that it comes up about 1/4 of an inch high.  I set the burner to right below the highest heat setting and wait about 5 minutes to make sure my oil is good and hot.

8.  While the oil is heating up, I put parchment paper on a baking sheet, and set that in the preheated oven.

9. Then, I use my hands to make about a 2″ in diameter flat pancake.  I lay that on a spatula, and gently put it in the oil.  I put about 4-5 latkes in the oil so as not to decrease the heat too much.  You want the oil to bubble when you put it in.  I cook it for about 1-2 minutes per side.  When the edges start to brown, then you know to flip it.

20121209-205442.jpg

Frying Latkes

10. When the latkes are done, I transfer them onto the baking sheet in the oven.

11.  When all the latkes are completed, I turned my broiler onto low and just finished them off in there so that they would be super crispy.

12.  You can top with applesauce, sour cream, or some other fun dip!

The latkes turned about to be  AMAZING!!!  I was so glad I made 3 batches for 7 1/2 people.  I would not have had enough!

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Roasted Root Vegetables

Roasted Root Vegetables

Food Energetics:

I like to eat what’s in season, believing that I derive lots of needed nutrients from the seasonal plants.  Remembering that winter is a time of hibernation, and the sun, too is hibernating we often times  feel seasonal depression from the shorter days or just a waning of energy.  Many root vegetables live in the ground, and though they can have stems and flowers, most of these stems and flowers have died off and also gone into hibernation, returning their energy back into the ground.  Therefore the plant’s energy has shifted from creating flowers into its root by storing nutrients and minerals.  So, if we eat the roots of these plants during the winter, we are eating them at their fullest energy potential to help us energize through the darkness days.  Check out this link if you want to read more about the health benefits of root vegetables.

_______________

This dish is one of the most simple dishes that I make, and other than chopping, there’s little prep work involved.  I usually use whatever I have on hand in my fridge especially when I’m trying to clean my fridge out.  Since I tend to use whatever I have on hand, the technical term for the vegetables is root crops, because as you’ll soon read, they are not all roots.

I am obsessed with researching and learning, which brought me to learn exactly what types of food are really going into this dish.  I will go into more detail below, but if you do not have the same passion that I am possessed by, no worries!  Just skip down to ingredients below.

Definitions:

A root crop is any edible, underground plant structure, thereby defining

The rest of the foods are all under the category geophytes, requiring a dormant period, and are a storage unit for the plant:

Root (carrot)

Root (carrot)

Roots – are the organs of the plant that absorbs water and nutrients, anchors the plant to the ground, and stores food and nutrients for the plant.

Bulb (onion)

Bulb (onion)

Bulbs – consists of layers that grow underground and store food for the developing plant.

Corm (Gladiola)

Corm (Gladiola)

Corms – resemble bulbs, but have a solid mass of tissue instead of layers that grow vertically underground.

Rhizome (ginger)

Rhizome (ginger)

Rhizomes – a shallow stem that grow horizontally underground. Off of rhizomes grow roots, and part of the plant can appear above ground.

Tuber (potato)

Tuber (potato)

Tubers – have leathery skin and eyes.  They are underground stems that grow thick instead of long.

Catch-All Roasted Root Vegetables Recipe

Ingredient (here’s a sample of what you throw in there, but keep reading for step-by-step instructions):

Tubers: sweet potatos, white potatos, beets, celeriac, rutabega, etc.
Winter Squash: hubbard, butternut, acorn, etc.
Roots: Parsnip, carrots, horseradish
Bulbs: onions, garlic, fennel
Corms: Celeriac
Rhizome: ginger
Herbs: thyme, rosemary, chives, parsley
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Glass Baking Dish

If you DON’T want to be creative, continue reading for step-by-step guidance below: 

If you DO want to be creative, mix and match anything from the list above and skip to the directions below:

Ingredients:

1 winter squash – peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 onion – peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic – peeled and roughly chopped
1 celeriac – peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 fennel – rinsed/dried, top part removed and bulb roughly quartered
2 sweet potatoes (or white) – scrubbed/dried and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1-2 parsnips depending on size – scrubbed/dried and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1-2 carrots depending on size – scrubbed/dried and cubed into 1 inch pieces
about 2 tbsp of fresh thyme (dried will do, but start with half the amount)
about 2 tbsp of rosemary (dried will do, but start with half the amount)
about 2 tsp of salt
about 2 tsp of pepper
extra virgin olive oil (about 1/4 cup)

You’ll want to have a glass baking dish about 9×12 on hand.

Serving size: about 6-8 portions

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Throw all ingredients above (minus the olive oil) and toss in a glass baking dish.  Drizzle olive oil over vegetables and toss again.

3. Put vegetables in the oven, tossing them every 20 minutes for about an hour.  I like mine a bit crispier, so if you like them a little al dente, then check them after about 50 minutes or so.

4. Serve hot!  It makes for great leftovers, too.

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nose mouth

Today I had to good fortune of hearing a talk about breathing by Mark Gerow, a NY City Actor, a yoga instructor, founder of Lunarhythms, and survival instructor in the U.S. Air Force.  I was not sure if this lecture was going to be for me, but I heard he was a great speaker.  And indeed he was; he was able to connect breathing to the greater health of our bodies, and I was sold.

Good Posture

Good Posture

I walked in, sat down in the front row, and there he was, body relaxed, sitting up straight in his chair, feet flat on the floor, six-pack illuminated, but not one muscle in his body was flexed.   He began talking about how and where we carry stress – it’s in our mind and it’s shown in our crunched shoulders, shorter breath, etc.  He went on to ask us if we listen to everything our mind says.  Of course some people said yes.  Mark retorted that we’d all be crazy people if we listened to our mind all the time!!  He pointed out how we’ve all been walking around complaining about food, people, traffic, and that we had not left any bagged behind, but have carried it with us.

Of course I think he’s right, not only do I need to let go, I would also be a crazy person if opened my mouth to say and do everything in my head!  I’ve even been working on training my daughter not to say everything she thinks out-loud, because some of it isn’t very nice!!  (Like the time I was telling our neighbor who was moving away how much I’d miss him, and then my daughter says, “Well, I’m NOT!”  Umm, I think that’s exactly what Mark was referring to.)

Other times, my brain gets caught up in irrational spirals of anxiety: I haven’t heard from my husband in 8 hours.  He hasn’t answered his phone, he hasn’t returned my calls, he hasn’t responded to my texts or email, and now I’m tempted to call his secretary.  The realm of possibilities of what could have happened to him overwhelms me.  I settle on the most ridiculous thought of them all . . . he was plucked off the streets of Philly, thrown into the back of the trunk of the car, while his phone gets run over by the car’s wheels, explaining why it went to immediate voicemail.  I know, ridiculous.  That’s why my husband calls me the optimistic fatalist.

I notice that we rarely let go of our stress, and if we’re holding onto it, we are not living in the moment.  We cannot fully enjoy where we are.  Mark explained this using what I call a classic “Seinfeld Example” (which I have embellished a bit):

Classic Seinfeld

Here you are, in a rush for whatever the reason, you’re running late, you have to dash through the grocery store.  You make it to the checkout line, and it’s as long as the lines at Disney World.  You wait for a few minutes, noticing another line next to you moving faster.  You’re breathing faster, your pulse is pumping, your shoulders tense up, and you make the decision to jump ship to the other line.  Oh, but wait!  Now your old line is moving and your new line has not budged.  Your blood starts to boil, you’re almost panting, the devil has begun to possess you, getting yourself into a rage . . . and just then . . . the person in front of you pulls out the coupons, then the checkbook, then there’s an item that needs pricing . . . All this building of of stress just tipped your scales right over to the point you accidentally give the person the finger.

Angry Shopper

Angry Shopper

If only there was something you could do!!

Marks answer is, “There is . . . Focus on your Breath.”

Mark gives helpful tips and research about why and how breathing removes these thoughts, and helps us to remain calmer.

Here are a few key points:

  1. Breathing is part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates the functions of our internal organs such as the heart, stomach, intestines, endocrine system, etc. Most of ANS is involuntary and reflexive, meaning we can’t control those systems by thought.  For example, we can’t change the rate of our heart voluntarily or how many endorphins are released.

    autonomic-nervous-system

    autonomic-nervous-system

ANS is known to:

a. in emergency situations, cause stress to require us to flight or flight
b.  in non-emergencies it allows us to “rest” and “digest”

However, breath is one of the few things we can control.  Since breathing (respiratory) is part of ANS that controls the heart, stomach, and intestines to list a few, our breathing can also impact the health of these and other related systems.

2. Breathing in RAISES blood pressure and breathing out LOWERS blood pressure.  Solution: SLOW DOWN your
exhalation.

3. Removing Toxins – there are a few ways that our bodies remove toxins:

a. urine
b. sweat
c. exhalation

According to Mark, breathing removes 70% of our body’s toxins, so if we aren’t breathing well or taking deep breaths, we are causing a toxic backup, making our other organs work harder to remove them.

Pranayama, or disciplined breathing, can reduce stress and improves immune function, and might reduce the incidence and progression of cancer (1) as well as treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (2), and more data suggests that it can improve cognitive brain function in those with diabetes (3), and shows a tendency to improve the autonomic nervous system by slowing heart rate and reducing blood pressure (4).  CONCLUSION: Slow, deep breaths can remove toxins and thereby increase your immunity! (5)

Here are a few breathing activities to help maintain an even level of energy, reduce stress, and/or help clear your mind:

The most effective way to breath is in and out through your nose.  (If you are exersizing, you are exempt from this!)

Mechanics of Breathing

Mechanics of Breathing

1. Diaphramic Abdominal Breathing – It sounds more complicated than it is.  All you do is take a deep breath (preferably from the nose) and breath deeply so that your belly expands.  The best way to do this is lying down, place your hand on your belly, and you breath in, you will feel it rise, or you can sit up-right in a chair, with your feet on the floor, and place your hand on your belly.  The goal is to take nice, slow breaths.  Focus on the breath.

2. 3-Part Breath – Take a belly breath from your nose, then fill up your rib cage, and then your chest.  When you get to your chest,  you should have little room for more air.  Then, slowly exhale the opposite way you breathed in – chest, rib cage, then belly.

3. 2/3 Breath – Again, through your nose, belly breath 2/3rds of the way in.  Hold it for as long as you can, and then slowly release it.

4. Slow Release Breath – The most cleansing breath and the breath that calms you the most is the one where there is a slow exhale.  You can do this several different ways:

a. When breathing out through your nose, with your mouth closed, say “ah” the whole time you are exhaling.  Your breath will have the sound of the ocean, and it will help to slow it down. (This one is my personal favorite!)

b. You can breath out of your mouth by making your mouth into a small, oval shape, which again will slow your exhale.

c. You can breath out of your mouth giving a big long sigh.

So, in conclusion to my amazing class on breathing, I am trying to focus on my breathing whether I’m in bed, panicked in the grocery store line, exhibiting road-rage, or just writing my blog.  It is already helping me to change my energy and help my immune system along the way!

Mom & Me Taking Deep Breaths!

Mom & Me Taking Deep Breaths!

Works Cited and for more reading:

(1) KOCHUPILLAI, V., KUMAR, P., SINGH, D., AGGARWAL, D., BHARDWAJ, N., BHUTANI, M. and DAS, S. N. (2005), Effect of Rhythmic Breathing (Sudarshan Kriya and Pranayam) on Immune Functions and Tobacco Addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1056: 242–252. doi: 10.1196/annals.1352.039

(2) Brown, R. P. and Gerbarg, P. L. (2009), Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172: 54–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04394.x

(3) Kyizom T, Singh S, Singh KP, Tandon OP, Kumar R (2010), Effect of pranayama & yoga-asana on cognitive brain functions in type 2 diabetes-P3 event related evoked potential (ERP). The Indian Journal of Medical Research [2010, 131:636-640]

(4) Pramanik T, Sharma HO, Mishra S, Mishra A, Prajapati R, Singh S. (2009), Immediate effect of slow pace bhastrika pranayama on blood pressure and heart rate.  J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Mar;15(3):293-5.

(5) Hu Li Za Zhi. (2005), The Application of Qi-Gong Therapy to Health Care, 2005 Jun;52(3):65-70.

Autonomic System: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/auto.html

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