Tag Archives: whole foods

The Quarantine Continues: Day 3 :ALL ABOUT HUMMUS

The news gets worse by the day and my heart aches for my hometown of NYC which is reeling from this pandemic and it looks like things are bound to get worse before they get better.  That said I hope everyone is staying put and only venturing out to exercise.  Now my vegan daughter eats a lot of hummus and it is no surprise that the large container, pint sized, I purchased on my last venture to the store which was Friday March 20th, was completely gone by Tuesday afternoon.  I have decided I will wait until Sunday, so I can also pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times which I am dying to read,  before I venture to my small locally owned grocery, which I have heard has the best cleaning policies around. So we are stuck eating whats on hand.

Lucky for her I did have a bag of dried chickpeas, which I had set out to soak in cool water overnight. The next morning I rinsed them in cool water and then placed them in a stock pot and covered them with water, added a bit of himalayan salt, a 1/4 tsp baking soda and cranked the heat.  Let them boil away for 20 mins or so and be sure to skim any of the foam that gets produced.  Once they are soft remove from heat, drain in a colander and  rinse with cool water.

Now for those of you that don’t normally soak and cook your beans you will be amazed at the amount that $1.00 1lb bag of garbanzo beans turned into. So I took half the beans and placed them on a cookie sheet where I tossed them in oil and sprinkled them with my family’s  favorite new seasoning from Trader Joe’s and roasted them at 350 for 30 to 40 mins until crispy.

Now take the rest of the beans and using a food processor, blender, or even an immersion blender which is what I used since my large food processor is at my work kitchen, blend the remaining beans, a few garlic cloves, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbs. of peanut butter or tahini, 2 tbs of olive oil.  Keep blending and drizzle warm salt water into the mixture until you reach your perfect creamy consistency.  The best part is this makes about a quart of hummus and a pint of delicious roasted chickpeas which I hope will tide us over until I decide to make my next venture out in public.

A Guide to Surviving Week # 2 in Quarantine

Many of us are starting week #2 of quarantine and trying our best to establish an actual routine.  So many of us thrive on routine, knowing what to expect and executing those tasks as needed.  This idleness, loss of purpose for those of us who are supposed to be at work or school is rough.  Sure we do some work remotely, but let’s not kid ourselves, it isn’t the same and we are all grieving our fundamental loss, our sense of purpose.

In the past we have heard retirees complain they are bored  and we say to ourselves, “are you crazy?” what I would give to have some time.  Well your wish has been granted because all of a sudden so many of us have more time than we know what to do with. For some of us this extra time will be a gift.  Time to finish projects long put off, maybe start a new hobby we have been wanting to try but simply didn’t have time, maybe you just love to read and now is your chance.

That said even these diversions can only hold us so long and finding a routine is the only way we will all survive this.  Feeding ourselves is one of  our most basic routines and I keep hearing from parents during this time that they feel like all they do is feed their families.  While this is probably true, I am grateful to at least have that purpose and am trying to make the best of it.  So I am sharing some recipes that we made yesterday.  Empanadas, which were essentially filled with the turkey meat from Saturday night’s tacos and for the plant based folks we filled them with the black bean and hominy filling from the same taco night.  Use whatever you have on hand for filling, this is a time to be sure to use everything you have on hand and WASTE NOTHING!!!!!!!!!! Empanadas are fun for the whole family to make, in fact once you make the dough, let everyone fill them themselves and don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy press to make them.  Simply cut the dough into circles and fill one side, fold over into the shape of a half-moon and press the edges with a fork.

So let’s try and make the best of all this and may this recipe bring your family some happiness through small acts such as this.

EMPANADAS

DOUGH

2 ½ tsp. Active dry yeast

1 ½ tsp. Sugar

½ cup milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup sour cream

5 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 ½ cup All-purpose flour

1 ¼ cup Cornmeal

¾ tsp Salt

  1. In a large mixing bowl place yeast with sugar and ¼ cup of milk and let rest of 5 min to activate the yeast
  2. Once it appears foamy go ahead and add the remaining milk, eggs and sour cream and butter
  3. In another bowl stir together flour, cornmeal and salt and using an electric mixer beat flour mixture into egg and milk mixture until the dough is smooth and elastic
  4. Form the dough into a large ball and place in an oil bowl and turn to coat with oil
  5. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and the ounch down the dough

FILLING

Traditionally empanada filling is made with beef or pork but to give a bit of a healthier twist we are making our empanadas with ground turkey. Like most fillings you can swap out and change some ingredients just be sure to keep the balance of flavors and textures the same. It is important to make sure the filling is moist but not wet or you will end up with some soggy empanadas.

1 medium onion finely chopped

1tbs garlic minced

2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbs. Chili powder

1 tbs. Dried oregano

½ tsp. Cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground Cloves

2 tbs. Oil for cooking

1 lb ground turkey

¼ cup tomato paste

28 oz can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup raisins

½ cup pimento stuffed olives chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Over medium heat saute onions in oil until soft and add garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, clove and oregano
  2. After 3 min add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up any lumps
  3. Add tomato product, olives,raisins and salt and pepper to taste
  4. Simmer for additional 15 mins until the liquid has evaporated

PUTTING THE EMPANADAS TOGETHER

pre-heat oven to 425

take dough and seperate into 24 balls and cover with a damp cloth

on a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a flat circle, use a knife or cookie cutter for the edges

Place a small amount of filling on one side of the circle and fold over the other side to form a turnover, crimp the edges

Cook on an oiled baking sheet for 10-15 mins. Until golden brown

The Weekly Optimal Planner

Welcome to the First  Weekly Optimal Planner

After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.

Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.

Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.

Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.

Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.

Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.

The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!

Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:

Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.

Breakfast Suggestions:

AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough

EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA

SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA

2 cups fresh Spinach

1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like

1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each

1 large shallot sliced

8 eggs

¼ cup flax meal or oat bran

¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil

¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)

Oil for cooking

  1. Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs

  2. In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent

  3. Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two

  4. pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)

  5. cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.

  6. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.

Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.

Panko

Parsley

Asparagus

Tomato

Onions

Cheddar

Oat Bran

Rosemary

Broccoli

Olives

Garlic

Mozzarella

Shredded Potato

Basil

Zucchini

Spinach

Scallions

Goat Cheese

Wheat Germ

Oregano

Red Pepper

Roasted Potatos

Chives

Feta

Flax Meal

Rosemary

Mushroom

Green Beans

Leeks

Gruyere

Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.

SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.

OATMEAL

Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness

LUNCH SUGGESTIONS:

WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )

½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed

4 to 5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup basil threads

zest juice from 1 lemon

olive oil

sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

1.soak beans overnight

2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy

3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency

WHITE BEAN TOMATO AND GREENS STEW

1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)

1 lg can diced tomatoes

1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)

olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper for seasonings

  1. saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
  2. once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
  3. add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
  4. season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.

ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD

1 box of orzo

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced

several cups of fresh spinach

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup basil threads

2 cloves garlic minced (opt)

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
  2. Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature

BEANS AND GREENS

1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like

1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas

a few cups fresh spinach

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil for cooking

fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning

¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)

sliced black olives (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
  2. Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
  3. Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.

DINNER IDEAS:

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD

½ head cauliflower

2 tbs. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp capers

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
  2. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
  3. Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature

CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE

½ head caulifower

3 medium Red Potatoes

1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese opt.

  1. Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender

  2. Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender

  3. Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary

  4. Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper

RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)

3 medium sized Zucchini

3 medium sized Summer Squash

1# bag of Carrots, peeled

2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded

DRESSING

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1

¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
  2. toss in the shredded cabbage
  3. in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
  4. toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve

Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different

  1. Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
  2. If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
  3. you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera

MINESTRONE

1 quart vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free

1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 carrots diced

1 zucchini diced

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tbs. dried basil

olive oil for cooking

salt and paper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
  2. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
  3. Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked

SHOPPING LIST

This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.

There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

cider vinegar

garlic

onions

celery

dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)

capers

sea salt

pepper

nuts

dried fruit

frozen fruit

PRODUCE

cauliflower 1head

potatoes

4 -5 zucchini

4 summer squash

5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)

1 medium green cabbage

1 bunch basil

1 bunch parsley

lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)

large box of organic baby spinach

tomatoes

avocados

fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)

eggs

DRY GOODS:

2 cans diced tomatoes

white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans

1can of garbanzo beans

1 can of red beans

1 box orzo

1 box ditalini

1 box of penne

oats

2-3 quarts vegetable stock

I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Each year the holidays come and between the stress and parties it is no wonder we all end up feeling lousy and unhealthy. Statistically Americans will gain an average of 3-5 lbs from Thanksgiving to New Years and 1 of those lbs will stay with us forever. Over a period of 10 years we will have gained 10 lbs just from Holiday indulgence. However it isn’t just the weight gain, it is also the time of year, due primarily to stress and lack of sleep, we inevitably end up getting sick. Believe it or not with a few simple changes you can keep yourself fit and trim and feeling energetic and healthy.

Boosting our Immune Systems:

Between all the decorating, shopping and partying we tend not to focus on taking proper care of our bodies. Feeding our bodies the right foods will help our immune system protect us from all the bacteria and viruses we are exposed to at crowded gatherings, which are unavoidable this time of year. The most critical of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals are Vitamins A, C and E and Selenium.

Foods Rich in Anti Oxidants:

All Fruits and Vegetables , Nuts, Omega 3 Eggs and Cold Water Fish

*Winter Squashes, Leafy Green and Orange vegetables are especially high in Vitamin A

*Citrus Fruits, Berries and Cruciferous vegetables are especially high in Vitamin C

*Wheat Germ, Almonds, Sunflower seeds and Tomatoes are high in Vitamin E

* Brazil Nuts, Dried Apricots, Eggs and some Whole grains are high in Selenium

*Cold water fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which attacks inflammation

Simple ways to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet:

1-Homemade snack mixes; put together some nuts and dried fruits and keep with you at all times so when you do feel hungry you have a healthy choice on hand

2-Soups are a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your body without even noticing

3-Keep raw vegetables cut up and on hand and snack on them throughout the day

Confidently battle Over-Indulgence :

When it comes to over eating during the holidays I have discovered 3 major causes

1)Food Gifts

2)Holiday Parties and Gatherings

3)Rushed for time; we grab whatever is easy

The solutions are almost as simple as the problems are themselves.

1) When it comes to food gifts the cardinal rule if it is not homemade, re-gift the item or throw it away. At least homemade gifts tend to be made from whole foods so they aren’t loaded with preservatives and chemicals.

2) As tempting as it may be to fast all day to make up for gorging at that evening’s party there is truly no bigger mistake. Instead be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before heading out. Think Hummus and Carrots or whole wheat pita or even an egg and whole grain toast. Don’t skip meals it shuts down your metabolism and if you go to a party famished don’t be surprised if you pig out.

3) We may not always have time to sit down and have a proper meal but having whole fruits, clementines and apples are a great choice this time of year because they are easily portable and full of vitamins, nuts are another must to have on hand.

Another key to surviving holiday overindulgence is to come up with some good alternatives to family favorites. I find this critical when it comes to Thanksgiving. If you have ever cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast yourself then you are aware of how much butter is used, for those of you who don’t cook but instead just eat, how does roughly 4lbs. of butter per 8 guests sound to you! There are some simple ways to change family recipes to make them healthier and there is nothing wrong with trying some new healthier recipes that are just as delicious.

One of the best ways to control Thanksgiving indulgence is starting the meal with a delicious velvety soup which can help fill you with fiber rich goodness but can also be the main course for the vegetarian or vegan guests at your holiday table. The soup is a classic squash bisque that uses sweet potato instead of cream to give it the beautiful texture and uses the same spices as our beloved pumpkin pie.

SQUASH AND APPLE BISQUE

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces

2 lbs apples, roughly chopped

1lb sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated

1tsp cinnamon

½ tsp clove

½ tsp nutmeg

1 quart+ vegetable stock or water

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté for 5 mins or until onions are clear, add cinnamon
  2. Add apples, squash and the sweet potatoes and saute
  3. Add 1 quart + of broth and simmer until potatoes are very soft
  4. Let cool a bit and using a blender or food processor blend until smooth adding a bit more stock or water to get the tight consistency
  5. top with toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts for a bit of crunch and extra flair

Traditional Mashed Potatoes, instead try substituting chicken stock for the butter and milk and to give it some creaminess toss in a handful of parmesan cheese. Also substitute cauliflower for half the potatoes to up the fiber and lower the calories and starch. Be sure to use lots of fresh herbs like rosemary, garlic and parsley to give them great flavor without all the extra saturated fat.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: Instead opt for some roasted winter squashes which have lots more fiber and a much lower glycemic load and sweeten with a touch of blue agave or maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

Stuffing: again try using some chicken broth to reduce the amount of butter and if you are sautéing onions and other veggies to add to your stuffing use olive oil instead of butter, keep in mind oyster stuffing is a better option than sausage because those oysters are rich in heart healthy minerals which may counteract some of the other foods we eat that day! Even better add lots of veggies to your dressing and always cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not stuffed in the bird to avoid food borne illness

Opt for a free-range turkey, when animals eat their natural diet, rather than a grain fed diet, their meet has the correct balance of essential fatty acids and is thus much healthier for us to eat, these are available for order at Friends

Make your own cranberry sauce and try using a little stevia or blue agave syrup to sweeten it rather than sugar. Also add some cinnamon which helps regulate insulin production

Green Bean Casserole: I think it is high time you encourage your family to give this one up if it still has a place on your holiday table, instead try blanching some fresh or frozen green Beans and then toss with some olive oil, lemon zest and some sliced almonds for a much healthier dish.

ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

1lb brussel sprouts

2 onions peeled and thinly sliced

olive oil for cooking

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. in a bit of oil over low heat saute the onions stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized

  2. trim brussel sprouts and cut an x in the bottom

  3. blanch brussel sprouts lightly and rinse in cool water

  4. toss brussel sprouts together with onions and a tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper

  5. place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and serve

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish try bringing a salad for a change. You’ll be amazed at how well it goes over and for a festive touch toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Pies: Here is the thing, as a food purist I have to say why mess with a good thing. Instead be sure to control your portion size and opt out of the ice cream. If you really love pumpkin pie and can’t imagine a small piece, skip the crust which has many more fat and calories than the filling. Also if you are making the pies opt for whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular bleached all-purpose flour, it is a change no one will notice but will add a bit of fiber to those pies.

During the Holiday season it is important to come up with some healthy snacks to have on hand to prevent you from over indulging on the many unhealthy foods you might find yourself surrounded by. It is far to easy to be tempted by the dishes of candies or cookies all over the place so the key to finding success is to make sure you don’t get too hungry. Hummus or bean dips are great this time of year because they are the perfect combination of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer. Eat with fresh vegetables or make into a wrap tih some lettuce and sprouts for a hearty and healthy on the go snack.

CURRIED SWEET POTATO HUMMUS
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft
1 can rinsed white beans
1 can rinsed garbanzo beans
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil and salted water** to get desired consistency

Peel Sweet Potato and place in a food processor with the next 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the oil and salted water alternating small bits of EACH to get desired consistency.
Making a salted water solution of 1/2 tsp Sea Salt per 1/4 cup water is the key to a perfect Hummus consistency without adding all the fat from oils.

If you have a sweet tooth the holidays can be a treacherous time of year. There are treats everywhere and were as the recipe above is designed to help keep you from getting hungry, this next recipe is a healthy treat that seems utterly decadent. Always use dark chocolate because once you introduce dairy to chocolate the ant-oxidant properties are wiped out.

HOLIDAY FRUIT AND NUT BARK

½ pound good quality dark chocolate, aim for at least 60% cacao

¾ cup chopped dried fruits (use what you like apricots, cherries, raisins or a combo)

½ cup walnuts

½ cup oats

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

  1. on a rimmed cookie sheet spread out the oats and walnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves

  2. toast in a 325 degree oven for 8-10 mins or until lightly brown

  3. in a microwave or double boiler melt chocolate

  4. stir in nut and oat mix and chopped fruit

  5. line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the chocolate mixture into a thin even sheet about ¼ inch thick

  6. chill in regriferator until firm, break into bite size pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks

Above all else, be smart about portions, if you eat until you feel sick, blame no one but yourself. By all means taste everything but most times a simple taste will do, and do try to load up with the veggies and turkey and go light on the stuffing and potatoes, never forget that the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, and by the way after this feast most families survived on very little in the ensuing winter months.

 

Trendy Diets: The Ketogenic vs. Whole Foods Plant Based

Anyone who knows me and my work at The Optimal Kitchen, knows I am continually striving to further my education and knowledge of food and food systems. The field of nutrition, and really just about anything these days is dynamic, constantly changing and evolving, and in order to stay on top of things you need to continually educate yourself. Anyone who follows nutrition is aware there is a new fangled diet coming out every few years and there will be some scientific data to support it. But does that mean it is the best way to feed ourselves?

There is a lot of hype these days around the ketogenic diet and almost as much buzz about a whole food plant based lower fat diet. Both have various scientific studies to support their claims and even as a professional in the industry it is significantly challenging to decide what is best for our bodies. First off we are all individuals and as such, many of us have starkly different nutritional needs than friends and even members of our own family, but isn’t there some kind of common ground?

First let’s lay out exactly what these diets are and how they work.

The Ketogenic diet: there is not much difference here from the Paleo Diet , the Atkins Diet or even the South Beach Diet since they all work on the same premise. These high fat, high protein diets drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates a person eats forcing the body to use ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates. Foods that people eat on these diets consume are avocados, nuts, seeds, grass fed meats (including lard), olive oil, vegetables, fish and eggs. The ketone diet is anti-inflammatory in nature and has proven extremely successful, especially among children with Autism. By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it forces the body to convert fat to energy, resulting in an initial weight loss for so many which is great. For many suffering from chronic diseases with inflammatory origins this diet works and has profound positive affects on their illness.

Whole Food Plant Based: No animal products of any kind, meat, dairy, eggs etc and no processed foods of any kind. The diet is includes whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. The benefits of a plant based diet is an abundance of phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables and the balancing of your body’s ph. This diet has been proven to lower total cholesterol levels and starve cancer cells, as well as helping many to lose weight.

So now we know what they are and the question is which is best? Well, that is a matter of how you look at it. There are benefits to both of these diets for the human body, but when I look at the bigger picture I always find myself going back to the Whole Foods Plant Based Diet. Here are my reasons:

1)Sustainability: the reality is that our population is growing by leaps and bounds and in order for everyone to have enough food to eat; we need to stop growing crops for animal consumption and focus on growing foods for human consumption.

2)Environmental: consuming animal products, even pastured and grass fed have a significant impact on our environment. Our agricultural production is one of the biggest polluters of our water systems not to mention greenhouse gases, and even rainforest destruction due to the increased demand for pastures.

3)Cost: pastured meats are expensive, much more expensive than whole grains and legumes which makes this way of eating out of the financial reach of so many.

4)Body ph: Every now and then the nutrition conversation shifts to the body’s ph and how the acidic body, a result of a diet that is made up of animal products and processed foods, leads to a myriad of poor health outcomes. It is in the acidic state that cancer cells flourish and inflammation takes hold. The only way to reduce your body’s ph is to consume huge amounts of fresh raw fruits and vegetables which help to bring the body into a more alkaline state

5)Ethics: How we raise and slaughter animals these days is not always humane. This is not to say there are not small regional farmers doing their best to humanely raise livestock for human consumption, it is simply that this is not the norm and often out of financial reach for so many.

So I will continue along my path of trying to show everyone how easy it can be to shift to a Whole Food Plant Based Diet by offering these food from The Optimal Kitchen. Yes, we are omnivores and having a bit of meat every now and then is ok but remember there is a reason meat rhymes with treat. If you want to feed yourself and your family well, have it be affordable all while being a good steward of the planet this is the best change you can make.

To educate yourself I suggest you watch 2 documentaries, each profiles these ways of eating and decide for yourself which you think is the best choice for you and your family.

On Netflix:

Hungry For Change (Plant Based Whole Food)

The Magic Pill (Ketogenic)

 

Summer will be here soon!

Even though it may not feel quite like spring,  the calendar says we are deep into spring ,which means that bathing suit season is just around the corner.  This can be a stressful time for many of us as we start to peel off those winter sweaters and turtlenecks only to realize we are a bit squishier and a tad larger than we were last fall before winter came.  First off give yourself a break.  It is entirely human to pack on pounds for the winter to keep us warm and prevent starvation from a lack of food.  However, modern society and food systems ensure that it is no longer difficult to access food in the winter, but the evolution of our digestive systems  still likes to hold onto those calories when it gets cold because that is what nature tells us.

This is a constant challenge for humans and their weight, and it doesn’t matter what special diet program you try or what food you decide to eliminate in a desperate attempt to have that beach ready body by Memorial Day weekend.  The simple fact is that our bodies are still designed to handle periods of starvation, which simply never come anymore.  Another example of advances by modern man which rather than making life much easier has layered on even more challenges and a whole host difficulties related to our weight and health.

However the solutions can be easy.  Get active, whatever you do, get that body moving.  Our bodies are designed to move and when we don’t, problems arise.  Eat real food.  Stop trying magic potions or powders, they may work in the short term, but it is not a realistic solution.  Focus on consuming copious amounts of fruits and vegetables balanced with a bit of meat and grains and of course those healthy fats, which are key to our health and yes even our weight management.  I won’t lie to you, most of us eat too much, simple.  And  when I say we eat too much, I am not talking about fruits and veggies, it is usually the junk, or even the food disguised as healthy, such as cereals, granola and health bars and the like, that doom us.

So  stop beating yourself up for gaining weight this winter, instead start living by this easy to follow rule “If your grandparent would not recognize it as a food product or if you can’t pronounce more than 1 ingredient, put that food back, or better yet get rid of it.”  Respect your body by feeding it what Mother Nature intended.

The Grocery Store Challenge

Grocery store aisle.

About 10 years ago just, after I finished my coursework in nutrition, I started giving classes on How to Navigate the Grocery store. Soon after you could find loads of articles on-line and in magazines on how to tackle the massive grocery stores and find only the best quality whole foods, ideal for your health. The rules were simple, shop the perimeter, that is where you will find produce, seafood and meat and dairy (though if you have read any Optimal Kitchen blogs before you know I am a bit anti-dairy). Once you have stocked up on those whole foods do a quick check of the organic section for any dry goods you may need and your ready for the check out.
We should have known that once us nutritionists starting talking about the hidden dangers lurking within those aisles, that the supermarket companies would devise some kind of plan to get us back in there. Alas one of my local grocery stores has fallen victim to this type of deceptive marketing and this past month has completely rearranged the store and removed my beloved organic/health food section. Of course I was the obnoxious customer who asked why in god’s name they thought this new layout was beneficial to anyone. Keep in mind I had just spent 20 minutes looking for my organic tamari which I buy regularly. I was told they decided to co-mingle the organics with their conventional counterparts so that shoppers could do price comparisons and be more informed shoppers. Sounds good, right. Well, if that was the case why wasn’t the tamari in the Asian section next to all the other soy sauce products? If you can believe I found it next to the barbecue sauce, the only explanation I could muster was that they thought tamari was akin to terriyaki sauce and belonged with the marinades and bbq sauces!
All I can conclude from this absurd re-organization is that customers where getting too smart, and those looking to improve their health through the foods they eat were avoiding those center aisles, chock full of all sorts of unhealthy goods. But why would the store want customers to load up on those unhealthy processed foods, what difference does it make to them if you only buy produce and other whole food products? It is quite simple really, the mark-up on those processed goods is far greater than that of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs and even dairy. It is in the store’s best economic interest to get you in those middle aisles shopping so they will do all they can to drive you there. This is not meant to demonize grocery stores, which are a big part of any community’s economy, but it is meant to inform you that you these practices exist and why they do. Ideally we would all be getting the majority of our food from local farmer’s markets or co-ops but that is simply not realistic. Instead I urge you to try and shop at smaller, locally owned grocery stores that don’t decide to re-arrange the store every year simply to keep customers wandering the aisles, eyes glazed over simply throwing things into their cart because they are unable to find the goods they really want and need.
Where we choose to spend our money will have a great impact on how stores operate. If you decide to no longer frequent those mega grocery chains, even though it might save you some money and instead shop at your local farmer’s market and specialty stores, we might just change how these stores operate. Knowing who and where your food comes from is definitely worth the extra cost. And remember when you support local stores you support your community not some corporation.

 

 

Hearth & Home

There is something about the holiday season that makes me wax a bit nostalgic.  Perhaps because we remember the holidays from our childhoods, but there is something in the air that brings me back to a simpler time.  And whoa, the older I get, the more I realize how simple the times were and I am talking the 1980’s!

My love of food started way back  when I had the privilege to be born and live on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home to some of the world’s best foods.  Our family traditions were pretty much the same for the 20 some years we lived there.  For our Christmas Eve party my mom would travel 20 blocks north for all her meats from the Madison Avenue butcher, her favorite having lived in the neighborhood in the early 70’s.  She got all the fish she need just next door at the fishmonger.  Canapes and spreads came from William Poll over on Lexington Avenue in the mid 70’s, much closer to home on 72nd.  Produce  and of course the Christmas morning Panettone hailed from Grace’s Marketplace, the uptown location of Balducci’s which opened in the mid 80’s saving us from trekking down to Greenwich village to shop at the original. Last but not least, the smoked salmon and Stollen came from the  Danish specialty store Fraser Morris on 74th and Madison.

What I am getting at is, the Holidays, of which food is such and important piece, used to mean traveling all over the city to find the best  and freshest of whatever you were seeking out, made by a skilled food artisan who delighted in offering you the very best product for your holiday feast.  I loved going with my mom to these unique small shops and exchanging holiday cheer with shopkeepers and seeing all the amazing foods and smelling the incredible pungent smells of the season, even at the fishmongers!

Today since I live out in rural Cape Cod, much of which is shut down for the season, things are a bit different.  I will still head to my local fishmonger, so grateful to still have one, I think scallops might be on the menu this year and the local butcher for the filet, which I won’t eat but will be a favorite of my daughter’s on the Christmas Dinner menu.  Lucky for me my mom was in Manhattan this week and will be bringing up the Stollen and Panettone and my connections with local farmers will ensure I get the best local produce available, lucky I love those winter greens and squashes. And as far as Christmas treats, the girls and I have been baking cookies every year for as long as I can remember and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, except this year we will be adding my new Sea Salt and Caramel Pecan Bars to our baking menu!

Food is one of the best ways to steep yourself in tradition and help you and your family connect in unique ways.  Honor your family roots with traditional dishes and try going out on a limb and incorporating something new.  Food is what brings us together, lets give it the respect it deserves.

 

Tackling Obesity: Low Carb vs. Vegan

Listening to the news this morning rates of obesity in American adults has hit 40%  and 20% for children, with higher numbers for teenagers.  Ironically the report praised initiatives because the rate of obesity has actually slowed.  If as a nation we are satisfied with  almost half of our adult population being obese than read no further.  If you are horrified how we let this happen and what we can do to change it, read on.

Obesity isn’t about body image  or ego, it is about health.  Whether we want to talk about Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Arthritis, and even Cancer, we will find the root causes of these chronic degenerative diseases in the diet we fondly refer to as the American diet.  The American diet consists of a large amount of animal products, meat and cheese, refined grains and sugary drinks, a completely unhealthy and quite frankly unsustainable way of eating.

How have we as a nation tried to address these problems?  All you need to do is look at a magazine rack and you will see cover after cover touting some new diet secret or quick fix to a problem that probably had years to take hold.  The latest trend made popular is the Whole 30, a low carb trend not much different than the Atkins diet popular 30 years ago and is helping many lose weight but is this the right way?

Years of working in the food and nutrition world I have deduced some simple facts about weight loss.

#1 Eat less of  EVERYTHING but vegetables, simply put most of us eat too much, it isn’t just what we eat but the amount

#2 If you want to eat meat, drastically reduce grain consumption because you can’t have both, but remember as soon as you reintroduce carbs you will gain back some of that  weight, you can’t isolate carbohydrates out of the diet

# GO VEGAN: believe it or not this in my mind is the simplest and best way to shed pounds, improve health outcomes and protect the environment.  In relatively short amounts of time , 2 weeks, people have been able to improve health outcomes enough to be taken off many pharmaceutical drugs, simply by avoiding animal products.

Historically meat was a luxury and as a result eaten sparingly.   It was also in the early winter when most societies feasted on meats, slaughtered a pig or hunted for  deer and  cured and conserved the meat to sustain them through the winter when other foods become scarce.  This is not an issue for humans anymore and we need to recognize that the way we are feeding ourselves is killing us.

The great thing about diet and lifestyle is with some commitment and little financial investment you can make significant changes in just a short time.

Return to our Roots: How 21st Century Humans Should be Feeding Themselves

Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.

The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.

I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.

To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.

Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So whu we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.

The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.

In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.

Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.

Springtime in the garden