Sunday, October 28, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup (primal : grain-free : GAPS : gluten-free)

Meatballs, veggies, and yummy broth: Italian wedding soup is one of our favorite soups. The meatballs are so tasty, and lightened with the addition of grated veggies instead of the typical breadcrumbs.  The kids are always excited whenever they see me making meatball soup!

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 6 

  • 1 pound ground beef, preferably grassfed
  • 1/2 cup shredded zucchini and/or finely grated carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1&1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, preferably from pastured hens
  • 3/4 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tb butter, preferably from grassfed cows
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (it is fine if there is some fat in the stock)
  • 1/2 cup vermouth* (or just use more chicken stock)
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 big handfuls of baby spinach, washed well and trimmed 
  • Optional garnish: freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix with your hands or a spoon until well-combined.
  2. Melt the butter in a 4-qt heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and a sprinkle of salt.  Saute for about 10 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary and stirring occasionally. It is fine if the onions get a little caramelized color while cooking. Then add the chopped carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 8 more minutes.  Keep the heat just high enough to keep the water released from the veggies from accumulating in the pot. Stir occasionally.
  3. While the veggies cook, roll the meatballs.  They should be small and bite-sized.  Roll the meatballs between your palms to make them nice and round, then set them aside on a plate or cutting board.  There should be about 40 meatballs.
  4. Deglaze the pot by pouring in the vermouth.  Let it cook down a few minutes, and then add the chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam (which should be discarded).  Add the dried dill and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to keep a simmer going.
  5. Drop the meatballs into the simmering chicken stock.  If necessary, push the meatballs down into the liquid.  Cover the pot and simmer for 15-18 minutes.
  6. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Drop the spinach into the pot and cook for 1 minute, until it is just wilted.  Turn off heat.
  7. Ladle into bowls and serve! If you like, sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.  This soup would be fabulous with Cheesy Bread!
*I love to use vermouth, as it doesn't go bad like unused wine. Vermouth is shelf stable, can be used in place of dry white wine in cooking, and can be stored at room temperature indefinitely.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cheesy Bread!! (grain-free : primal : gluten-free)

My family was so excited by this Cheesy Bread that they requested another batch immediately after dinner! My husband proclaimed that I had "created something magical", and this recipe really did turn out amazingly delicious. Cheesy Bread is great by itself, served alongside soup, dipped in your favorite marinara, or even as the base for an open-faced sandwich.  It refrigerates well, too, and can be warmed up very quickly in a toaster oven.

Cheesy Bread
Makes enough for 4 people as a side dish, but don't be surprised if it gets completely gobbled up by even less people
  • 1 egg, preferably from pastured hens
  • 1/2 cup packed grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup packed shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 Tb plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot*
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Mix with a hand mixer until well-combined.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Use a silicone spatula to spread the mixture out as thin as you can make it without seeing any holes. 
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes.  The edges should be very browned, and the top should be nicely browned.
  5. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes.  Then use a pizza cutter or knife to cut the bread into wedges or pieces.  
  6. Serve!  Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container, with a piece of parchment paper between each slice of bread.  To reheat, just place the slices in a toaster oven set at 200-250 degrees for a few minutes.
*Arrowroot is not GAPS-legal.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Avoiding Halloween Candy Overload

This is an updated version of a post from October 2011.
Although we've never allowed our kids to have much candy, Halloween is still a holiday they greatly enjoy.  Pumpkin carving, costumes, and trick-or-treating! This will be our third Halloween while on a (mostly) grain-free diet, so I thought I'd share some ideas for avoiding candy overload.  With all of these options, make sure you talk to your kids in advance of Halloween so they know what to expect. 
  1. Non-edible treats: In advance of Halloween, I buy a few small items that my kids will enjoy, such as small puzzles, coloring books, animal figurines, and even Halloween socks.  I leave these items at my mother's house so that, when we arrive there and say "trick-or-treat", these items get dropped into my kids' goodie bags.   
  2. Natural sweets: Since my kids aren't often allowed to eat things like fruit leather, they serve as a great candy replacement on Halloween.  I'll drop a few natural sweet treats in their bags along with the other items they've collected while trick-or-treating.  Some ideas for natural sweet treats are: 
  3. Candy Fairy: Before bed on Halloween evening, my kids leave their bags of candy on the back porch for the Candy Fairy (they knows that the Candy Fairy is really just me, but nonetheless they enjoy the idea that it is a fairy).  In the morning, they find that their bags of candy are gone, but instead their are a couple new games or toys.  This has worked particularly well for us.  It may not work as well for older kids, but may be worth a shot. 
  4. Teach moderation: In advance of Halloween, take the time to talk to your kids about moderation.  They should know that, while tasty, candy is not good for their bodies.  This can help soften the blow when they are not allowed to gorge on candy.  
  5. Compromise: I would guess that moderating the candy intake gets more difficult with older children. A compromise may be in order, such as allowing the child to select a few pieces of candy that are favorites and then allowing the child to pick a toy or game to have in return for the rest of the candy.
  6. Trade money for candy: Where we live, there are several dentists who will pay kids for their candy.  This may be a good option for some kids.
  7. Celebrate without trick-or-treating: Having a Halloween party or going to a harvest festival at a local school or church can be a great way to enjoy Halloween without trick-or-treating. (This great idea was shared by a commenter.)
Do you have any ideas for limiting candy on Halloween?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Braised Cabbage and Sausages (grain-free : gluten-free : primal : GAPS)

Braised cabbage and sausage is so simple to prepare, yet so satisfying.  The cabbage gets cooked down nicely in broth and apple cider vinegar, and it pairs so well with sausages. My family really enjoys this dish.

Braised Cabbage and Sausages
Serves 4 
  • one medium head of green cabbage, chopped
  • 3 Tb apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tb butter, preferably from pastured cows
  • one cup (8 oz) chicken broth, preferably homemade*
  • 1/2 tsp celtic sea salt (or less if your broth is salted)
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 4 sausage links (such as bratwurst, sweet sausage, or chicken apple sausage), chopped into pieces
  1. In a 4-qt pot, combine all ingredients except the sausages.  Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the cabbage is mostly cooked. Stir occasionally.
  2. Add chopped sausages to the pot and stir to combine. If the sausages are already fully cooked, they just need to be warmed through, and will be done in about 15 minutes.  For raw sausages, cook them for at least 25-30 minutes. 
  3. For the last 10-15 minutes of the cooking time, remove the lid from the pot and increase the heat slightly. This will allow some of the liquid to evaporate. 
  4. Taste the cabbage to check for saltiness, and add more salt as needed. Serve and enjoy!
*My homemade chicken broth includes a bit of chicken fat.  If yours doesn't, you may want to add another tablespoon of butter.
**To make this GAPS-legal, make sure the sausages don't have any added sugar, MSG, or other GAPS-illegal ingredients. We eat Applegate Organics Chicken and Apple Sausages, which don't have any GAPS-illegal ingredients. Nonetheless, you should probably only consume processed meats occasionally while on the GAPS diet.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Applesauce Spice Custard Cake (GAPS : primal : grain-free : gluten-free)

With the arrival of Fall, I was craving a nicely-spiced breakfast, and this fit the bill!  Smooth and creamy, just spicy enough, and with a pleasant tang from the applesauce. This applesauce spice custard cake makes a great breakfast, and it could easily be dressed up for dessert with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Applesauce Spice Custard Cake
Serves 6 generously
  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Turn off heat, add honey, and stir a bit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sour cream, vanilla, almond extract (if using), spices, and salt.  I like to use my immersion blender to mix it all up together, but you could certainly use a whisk or mixer instead.
  3. Add melted butter and honey to wet ingredients and whisk or blend.
  4. Add almond flour OR coconut flour and blend until well-combined (or use mixer or whisk until smooth). Using the immersion blender is great because it further grinds the nut flour (which doesn't get particularly fine when I grind it in the food processor).
  5. Add the applesauce, and whisk well to combine.  I prefer to use a whisk for this step so the applesauce still remains a tiny bit chunky.
  6. Use a bit of cold butter to generously grease an 8X8 glass dish.
  7. Pour the batter into the glass dish and bake at 325° for 55-65 minutes. The custard cake is done when the edges are lightly browned and the center is no longer wet with just a bit of jiggle.
  8. Remove from oven and cool.  Don't cut into this while it is piping hot. This can be served at room temperature or cold. For a special treat, top with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 
*The coconut flour will need to be sifted if you are not using an immersion blender. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Easy Superfood Appetizer: Creamy Cukes with Beautiful Salmon Roe (grain-free : primal : gluten-free)

Roe, also known as fish eggs, are wonderfully healthy and nutritious.  They are a superfood, and loaded with vitamin D.  Salmon eggs are a lustrous orange color, with a salty, tangy taste.  They pair wonderfully with cucumbers and cream cheese! What a quick, delicious dish.

Some people in my house are not as adventurous as others, so I leave a few cucumbers without the roe on top.  Then I serve them all together and everyone can pick what they like.  My 2-year-old son, who is not very fond of raw veggies yet, likes to just eat the cream cheese and roe off the top.  (He and I particularly love roe.)  This method also gives my 5-year-old daughter the opportunity to see us enjoying the roe, and even try some herself occasionally without any pressure. 

Creamy Cukes with Beautiful Salmon Roe
  1. Wash the cucumbers, and peel them if desired.  Slice them about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  2. Smear a bit of cream cheese onto each cucumber slice.
  3. Top each one with a salmon egg.  I like to use only only one egg per cucumber, as they have quite a strong flavor that can overwhelm the other flavors if you use more than one!
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is very easy to make at home by simply combining alcohol with vanilla beans and letting it sit for awhile.  Homemade vanilla extract is much more cost effective than buying vanilla extract from the store, so it can save you quite a bit of money if you make many baked goods or desserts. Homemade vanilla extract also makes a great Christmas present!

Ensuring a Strong Flavor
The FDA standard for vanilla extract calls for 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol.  That works out to 0.83 ounces of vanilla bean per cup of alcohol.  Some chefs use double or triple strength vanilla extract, which uses many more beans.

To make sure my vanilla extract has a strong enough flavor, I round up from the FDA standard and use a full one ounce of beans per cup of alcohol.  All vanilla beans are not exactly the same size (they are from a plant after all), but with the Bourbon vanilla beans I use, it works out to 6-8 vanilla beans per cup of alcohol.

Cost Comparison
When I buy vanilla extract, I usually buy organic since most others have added sugar. The organic vanilla extract is at least $10 for a 4-ounce bottle (that is $2.50/ounce). The price for my homemade vanilla extract is breaks down as:
  • 1.75 L vodka - $25 (I'm sure you could get this cheaper at one of the big-box stores)
  • 8 oz vanilla beans - $28 (roughly 50 beans, which is almost perfect for making 7 cups of extract)
  • Total: $53 for 56 ounces of extract, or $0.95/ounce
That's less than half the price of storebought vanilla extract!
Choice of Ingredients
Vanilla extract is traditionally made with vodka, and that is all I've ever used.  But some people prefer to use other alcohols, such as rum.  The FDA standard just calls for a minimum of 35% alcohol (which would be 70 proof).

There are also different types of vanilla beans.  So far, I've only used Bourbon vanilla beans, but there are also Tahitian beans (which I think are a little bit smaller than Bourbon beans). Feel free to experiment to see what flavor you prefer.

How Long Does it Take?
Once you combine the alcohol and vanilla beans, you need to let it sit for at least a few months before you start using it. Six months is even better. If you want to make some for the December holidays coming up, you'd better get started soon!

Recipe: Homemade Vanilla Extract
This recipe will make a LARGE amount of vanilla extract.  Why make a small amount when you could make a large amount and have enough to last a good long while?

Makes 7 cups of vanilla extract
  • 1.75 L vodka
  • half pound (8 ounces) of Bourbon vanilla beans
  • Two quart mason jars and one pint mason jar
  • A strainer and small brown bottles if you want to give some extract away once it is done
  1. Count out your beans.  You will need about 20-22 beans for each quart mason jar and 9-10 beans for the pint jar (depending on the size of the beans). If you are using some other type of vanilla beans besides Bourbon beans, you may want to weigh them to make sure you are using around an ounce of beans per cup of alcohol. 
  2. With a sharp paring knife, slice each bean in half lengthwise. Then use the flat side of the knife blade to scrape across each bean half. This will release the vanilla bean "caviar" onto the knife, as shown in the picture. To streamline this process, I find it works well to slice all the beans at once, then scrape the caviar out all at once.
  3. Put the vanilla "caviar" into the jar.  Then cut the scraped out seed pod in half or even in quarters so they will fit easily inside your jars and be fully submerged in the liquid.
  4. Once you have sliced and scraped all of the beans for each jar, simply pour in the appropriate amount of vodka.  For the quart jars, pour in 3 cups of vodka.  For the pint mason jar, pour in the remaining vodka (which is a little less than 1.5 cups).
  5. Put a tight lid on the jars and store them in a dark place.  Every so often, swirl the liquid around in the jars a bit.  I store my jars in a dark kitchen cabinet, and swish the liquid around whenever I get other items out of the cabinet.  If you don't want to store the jars in a dark place, make sure you use dark colored bottles, such as amber bottles.
  6. Let the bottles sit for at least 3 months; 6 months is even better!  Just remember to swirl the liquid around occasionally to get the most out of the vanilla beans.
  7. Once the beans/caviar have been steeping in the alcohol for about 3 months, you can start to use the vanilla extract. I like to leave the beans and caviar in the jar and just take the extract from the top. Or, you can strain some extract into small amber bottles and give it away as gifts.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is White Rice Better Than Brown Rice? (including a recipe for nutrient-dense white rice)

White Rice versus Brown Rice
Previous to our GAPS diet, my family ate grains that had been traditionally prepared, such as brown rice that had been soaked before cooking to remove anti-nutrients.  Now that we are transitioning off the GAPS diet, we have found white rice to be much easier on digestion and less problematic overall than brown rice. Brown rice seems rather hard to digest, and it can bring back some of our old complaints (like my joint pain). 

It took a bit of a mental adjustment for me to be willing to consume white rice.  Weren't all of the health benefits lost through the removal of the bran and germ from the rice? One conflicting opinion that I trusted was from Chris Kresser, an integrative medicine practitioner who is generally amenable to grain-free/paleo diets.  In his Personal Paleo Code, Chris writes that,
"Studies that have compared the amount of nutrients actually absorbed from eating white and brown rice have shown that humans absorb more nutrients from white rice.
Why? Because the “antinutrients” in brown rice...- like phytic acid - interfere with the absorption of the nutrients it contains. White rice doesn’t have that problem.
This is why I believe white rice is an acceptable food, and my experience with patients suggests that it is generally well-tolerated.
...White rice is safe to consume without any preparation. Whole rice is preferred, but rice noodles and other rice-based products are permissible in moderation."
With my adrenal issues, I have found that consuming white rice and potatoes in moderation really helps with my energy levels. By itself, cooked in water, I find white rice to be rather bland.  How strange that I am now having to acquire a taste for a refined food after years of eating whole foods! To make white rice taste better and even more nutritious, I like to cook it with pastured butter and homemade chicken stock.

Recipe: Nutrient-Dense White Rice
Makes 4 cups 
  1. Combine the rice, chicken broth, and salt in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil and skim off the foam.  Discard the foam.
  2. Reduce the heat and add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, stir once.  Then cover the pot and reduce the heat to very low.
  3. Allow to cook over very low heat for 20 minutes.  Then use a fork to take a tiny bit out of the pot and taste it.  If the rice is still crunchy at all, you may need to add another 1-2 Tb broth or water, and cook for a few minutes more. Do NOT stir up the rice during this step.
  4. Once the rice is nicely soft, turn off the heat.  Leave the rice covered for another 10 minutes, and then fluff the rice with a fork.
  5. Serve and enjoy!  We find it to be especially tasty with a pat of butter and plenty of salt.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mussels in Red Wine Sauce (GAPS : primal : grain-free : gluten-free)

Mussels are a relatively mild-flavored seafood.  They pair wonderfully with red wine and some of the remaining garden-fresh tomatoes and basil.  Mussels are amazing nutritionally since the whole "animal" is eaten! 

I cooked a quick lunch of these mussels in red wine sauce last week for myself and the kids.  My 5-year-old was skeptical (she's unfortunately reached the age of being suspicious of new foods, and especially anything too "chewy"), but I prepped her ahead of time not to make a big deal about it since her little brother will follow whatever he sees her do.  Her 2-year old brother and I loved this dish.  My son ate 8 mussels on his own!

I must admit that we enjoyed this with a few pieces of toasted, buttered crusty sourdough bread (which we buy from a local bakery once every few months as a treat). The juices are just so good to sop up with the toast.  But this dish would also be great without the bread, just eaten as a soup.

This recipe was based on one from Gorging Gorge, but I did make a few changes to the recipe.

Mussels in Red Wine Sauce
Serves 3-4
  • 3 Tb butter, preferably from grassfed cows
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 very large ripe tomato, or 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or substitute canned tomatoes in the winter)
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • celtic sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine, such as chianti (or substitute vermouth)
  • 1 pound precooked mussels (frozen or partially thawed are fine)*
  • 1/4 cup tightly packed chopped fresh basil leaves
  1. Melt the butter in a 4-quart pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt.  Saute for about 10 minutes, until it is nicely translucent.
  2. Add the chopped tomato and garlic to the pot.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the tomato starts to break down.
  3. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let the wine cook down for a few minutes. 
  4. Add the mussels.  Since they are pre-cooked, you only need to cook them for a few minutes to fully warm them.  I nestled them down into the sauce and cooked them for about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the fresh basil, stir it in, and turn off the heat.  Put a lid on the pot to let the basil wilt for about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Ladle into bowls and enjoy! Don't forget to discard any mussels that are not opened up.
*I don't have access to fresh mussels where I live. If you can get fresh mussels, feel free to use them!  You'll just need to increase the cooking time by about 5-7 minutes.