Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We All Need a Little Color

Since different colors indicate different nutrients, I try to make my lunches as colorful as possible!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Italian Scones?

Have you ever met an Italian lady making English scones?  Neither had I....until I met Yvette from Ivéta Gourmet.

As I wandered through the Home & Gift Show at the Las Vegas World Market this past July, I happened to walk by a booth promoting a familiar looking product.  I stopped to take a closer look at the Ivéta scone mixes displayed on the table, and realized they were the very same scone mixes I purchase from my favorite little store in downtown Glendora, CA -- The Village Kitchen Shoppe.

Samples were available at the Ivéta booth for their gluten-free scone mixes, which I naturally had to try!  The scones were so moist and flavorful, that it's hard to believe how simple the ingredients are.  Listed on the packaging, the gluten-free scone mix consists of gluten-free flour, organic crystallized cane juice, dried fruit (apricot, blueberry, or cranberry), baking powder, vanilla powder, and salt.  They also have a vanilla or chocolate chip mix available as gluten-free.

The easiest part?  Add 3/4 to 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or cashew cream), and bake.  That's it!

In addition to the gluten-free scone mixes, Ivéta also offers a large variety of regular scone mixes including golden raisin, cranberry orange, ginger, pumpkin spice, and lavender white chocolate...just to name a few.  Other easy baking mixes are muffins, cupcakes, and biscuits.  And to go along with everything else, Ivéta makes their own clotted cream, lemon or key lime curd, and several fruit jams.

The name "Ivéta" is a variation on Yvette, who owns the company along with her husband John.  Yvette is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet, with an energetic personality and an infectious laugh.  As I sampled her delicious scones, Yvette shared with me the unconventional story of how an Italian lady began making English scones.

Yvette and John used to live in Chicago, where they owned and operated an espresso bar.  After someone suggested they add scones to their menu, Yvette went to the gourmet food show to see what she could find.  There happened to be some graduate students who created a unique scone recipe that did not require eggs or butter, just cream.  This was perfect for the espresso bar, because they could whip up the scones quickly and easily.  After several years, the owners of the scone company went their separate ways, leaving Yvette and John the opportunity to purchase the company and create Ivéta Gourmet!  For the complete story, click here.

Since then, Yvette has added many mixes and developed new flavors to build the company.  Not bad for a biscotti chef, right?  But don't worry, you can still taste Yvette's espresso and biscotti (as well as breakfast and lunch) at the Ivéta Café in Santa Cruz, CA!

Yes, the Ivéta scone mixes are light, moist, and flavorful.  But I think the most important thing is that they use the best ingredients.  There are never any artificial preservatives, food coloring, or hydrogenated vegetable oil...yuck!  Just simple, regular, natural ingredients.  And it is oh so tasty!

Check out the Ivéta Shop for more info.  And if you want my personal opinion...go for the Gluten-free Vanilla Scone Mix with Organic Pear Ginger Jam.  Mmmm!

At the Gift Show with owners of Ivéta, Yvette and John

Saturday, August 4, 2012

You Say Tomato

Ever since I was a girl, my mom has had a cookbook called "You Say Tomato."  There are recipes for anything and everything you can think of to do with a tomato, even desserts!  What I appreciate about the book is that each page has a brief history of where the recipe came from and how it has been modified over the years.

In the summer season especially, my mom's house is bursting with tomatoes from her garden.  So naturally, we turned to the "You Say Tomato" cookbook a couple weeks ago when I was visiting.  We decided on the traditional Spanish cold soup of gazpacho.  But with our own twist!

Apparently what makes gazpacho, well.....gazpacho, is that it contains a slice of stale bread.  So call us untraditional, but we left out the stale bread (we're German, not Spanish).  Joanne's recipe in the "You Say Tomato" book also uses croutons and a garnish, as well as heavily puréeing the soup ingredients.  My mom and I like our gazpacho to be finely chopped, almost like pico de gallo.  Hence, we used the salsa maker instead of a blender.  Here is the modified recipe:

6 large red tomatoes
1 large bell pepper (we used 2 small green ones)
1 large onion
1 large cucumber
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c plus 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
dash of salt and pepper, to taste
dash of cayenne pepper (we added that for extra spice)

Place all the ingredients in salsa maker (or blender) and chop finely until desired consistency.  Place in bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.  This recipe is supposedly for 6 servings, but it's an easy one to modify for larger groups.  If you enjoy fresh food as much as we do, this cold gazpacho will go quickly on a hot summer night!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Organic?

organic produce....homegrown
What is the #1 reason why people do not eat organic food? "It costs too much money."  People go on and on about how they don't have enough money to buy organic, and yet they somehow find enough money for a daily latte and a weekly movie night.

About 3 years ago, I made the decision to spend more money on what I put in my body than what I put on my body.  At the time, I knew next to nothing about organic food or why it is important.  I only knew that I wanted to invest in myself in order to live a healthy, ill-free, pain-free life.  And to me, spending more time at the grocery store and less time at the clothing store sounded like a good investment.

So what makes organic food, well....organic?  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, organic food means "of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides."  In other words, organically-grown crops are not compromised in any way with the use of chemicals.  There are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, so you know that your food is grown the way God intended it to be.

The United States Department of Agriculture has strict rules about whether a product is labeled "organic" or not.  According to the USDA website, "Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."  For more information as a consumer, visit their website here.  If you see the USDA Organic label on a product, you can rest assured it has gone through rigorous testing to ensure the product you purchase is, in fact, organic.

Why is it important to eat organic?  When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and instructed them to take care of the earth, I doubt synthetically-made chemicals and genetically-modified seeds were part of His plan.  The phenomenon of mass-produced crops and shipping produce to far-off distances is really something that came about in the past two centuries.  Even our grandparent's generation mostly grew their own food or purchased produce from their local farmer.

For me, the most important factor is that produce grown organically has to fend for itself, in a sense.  Because it does not have a protective layer of chemicals on it, the produce has to develop its own protective skin.  This means when we eat that protective skin, we are eating all the antioxidants that go along with it, and in turn, help protect our own bodies from disease and virus.

Today there is a growing movement of people growing their own gardens, so they know exactly where their food comes from.  But even if you are unable to keep your own garden or join a co-op, you should still strive to purchase a mostly organic diet from the supermarket.  When you purchase organic, you know that the farmer growing (or raising) your food cares about your well-being and the well-being of our environment.  You know that the food you're eating has significantly more nutrients than its conventionally-grown counterpart.  You know that no synthetic material went in or on your food.  And because we know that chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics cause the majority of diseases plaguing our society (e.g. cancer, dementia, heart disease, etc.), why would anyone choose to knowingly eat that stuff?

Why does it cost so much?  Supply and demand.  According to the USDA, organic food makes up about "3 percent of total U.S. food sales."  Honestly, I think it's easier and cheaper for farmers to just spray their crops or inject their meat with chemicals, rather than having to deal with bugs or soil issues or whatever else comes there way.  While I understand the reasoning behind this, it makes me wonder if one day our society will reach the point when we just tell the computer what we want to eat and out pops a hot dish (Star Trek, anyone?).

In the past 20 years, there has been a growing demand for organic food, and even traditional grocery stores like Safeway have a separate organic section.  Besides your local health food store (mine is Vitamin City in San Dimas, CA), you can always count on Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to have a nice organic selection.  Like I said at the beginning of this post, spending $3.99 for organic strawberries instead of $2.99 for conventional ones is worth it.

Where should I start?  If you have never purchased organic food before, I recommend starting with dairy.  You can tell the difference between conventional dairy products and organic dairy products right off the bat.  The cows and hens producing your organic dairy products are able to roam around eating grass, minerals, and proteins from the ground.  They aren't shot up with growth hormones, and they aren't fed animal by-products (yuck!).  They produce a creamier, more flavorful product, in my opinion.  (Sidenote: Many people will say that raw milk or cheese is the best for you, and I agree.  But that's a whole other blog post...)

Next, you should print this off and take it with you to the store.  I keep a copy of it in my purse, so I can always refer to it when shopping.  This list is know as the "Dirty Dozen"--the 12 most pesticide-saturated items of produce.  These are the ones that you absolutely must buy organic!  Usually produce with thick skins like onions, avocados, and cantaloupes are okay to purchase conventionally, because their skin protects them from harmful pesticides.  But the Dirty Dozen are the ones you should make sure to only buy organic:

Dirty Dozen    
1. Celery             7. Bell Peppers       
2. Peaches           8. Spinach            
3. Strawberries    9. Cherries         
4. Apples            10. Kale/Collard Greens
5. Blueberries     11. Potatoes
6. Nectarines      12. Grapes

I think the average population knows that organic food is more nutritious and delicious, but they cannot get over the extra pennies it costs.  Personally, I would rather spend a little more on food now than a lot more on medical bills later!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Green Machine

my own Green Machine
Yesterday I wanted to eat some kale.  But kale isn't the type of thing you usually chomp on by itself.  So instead, I made some deliciously sweet and nutritious juice (makes 16oz.):

1/2 bunch of fresh kale
1/2 stalk of celery
1 lb. carrots
3 small apples

When you use fresh ingredients like these, you don't have to worry about sugars, syrups, or calories!  If you're looking for a heavy-duty juicer that yields high volume, try something like this: Breville ikon 5-Speed Juicer

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spice Up Your Life!

The best outcome of making your own meals at home is that your food has so much more flavor.  You can cater to your own specific taste preferences.  The earth is full of hundreds of herbs and spices to put that extra bang into your meal.  Why not use your resources?

With more and more people discovering the rewards of cooking for themselves, many specialty spice stores have popped up across the country.  I visited one such store a few weeks back in Littleton, CO.  A native Colorado company, the Savory Spice Shop offers an assortment of not only traditional spices (e.g. cinnamon, basil, dill weed), but also blends and rubs (e.g. Cherry Creek seafood seasoning, lavender vanilla bean sugar, Renaissance Gardens seasoning).  They have everything from rum extract and rose water to celery seed and lavender.  And the Savory Shop also makes their own blends that cater to salads, poultry, steak, and seafood.

In addition to their large supply of gourmet spices, many of which are organic, they provide complimentary recipe cards both in-store and online.  The Savory Spice Shop is a great resource for the novice chef, as well as the experienced one.  With friendly, helpful workers, my experience at the Littleton shop was wonderful.  They answered my questions thoroughly and gave advice on spices based on the type of meals I cook.

Having started in 2004 in Denver, the store is now a franchise and offers locations across the country including California, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas.  If you don't live in one of those areas, you can also order their product online!

My purchases: ground nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, California basil,  cilantro, parsley, and Renaissance Gardens

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nutty for Nutella

A couple of years ago, I got into a Nutella phase.  I would buy it the supersize tubs and go through it by the barrel.  After a few months, I realized it was not a wise decision....Not only does Nutella have 200 calories per 2 Tbsp., but it has a lot of sugar.  Meaning the delicious hazelnut treat I loved was causing me to have drastic mood swings, lack of energy, and gain weight.  Hence, I have avoided purchasing it for the past two years.

But today...I had a hankering for some Nutella!  What was a girl to do?  The answer: make my own, low-sugar recipe using the resources I had in my kitchen.  Here's what I came up with:

2 c. hazelnuts
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 c. almond milk

Blend hazelnuts, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder in food processor until it resembles a fine meal consistency.  Slowly add almond milk, little by little, and continue blending until it reaches desired consistency.

I found that the 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips provided just enough sweetness to make it taste like dessert, without adding an inordinate amount of sugar.

The 8oz. mason jar pictured is about half of the recipe...my roommates and I already ate the other half!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Taste of Real Food in LA

Sometimes I wonder if restaurants even serve real food anymore.  Yes, there are many tasty places that we  all enjoy and avoid looking at the calorie count.  But how much of what we eat at a restaurant is actually fresh food prepared on location?

One hole-in-the-wall in LA is on the right track.  Four Café in Eagle Rock serves a fresh and seasonal menu with locally grown organic produce.  They offer a wide variety of options, including vegetarian and vegan items.  With so many delicious meals to choose from, it is hard to make a decision!  So when I visited the Four Café last Friday night, I tried a little bit of everything.

To start off with, I enjoyed an iced coconut green tea drink with my broccoli/leek/thyme soup.  It was rather hearty for being so smooth:

My main course consisted of the tuscan kale salad topped with wild salmon, kumquats, almonds, parmesan cheese, and a lemon vinaigrette.  This salad was to die for!  The unique combination of flavors excited my palate and brought satisfaction with every bite:

I concluded my meal with a vegan cheesecake made with coconut oil, agave, and lemon, on top of a date/cashew/pecan crust.  I have never tasted such a rich and flavorful cheesecake.  And trust me, I love cheesecake!  I would drive all the way back to Eagle Rock just to order this dessert again:

In addition to the absolutely amazing food, the Four Café itself is a fantastic restaurant that receives two thumbs up from me.  It has very simple and relaxing decor, mixing natural colors and wood to exude peacefulness.  I felt quite comfortable there.  All of the staff working in the restaurant were very friendly, despite my incessant questions.  They cleared our table with a smile and seemed genuine in creating a pleasant atmosphere for their customers.

My dear friend Lizzy joined me on this grand adventure to Four Café, and we agree it is a "must-return" restaurant.  She enjoyed a completely different meal than I did, but it looked just as satisfying.  Lizzy began with the coconut chicken soup:

And then had the asparagus tart with ricotta and gruyere stuffed in a puff pastry as her main course:

I was pleasantly surprised to find the pricing quite reasonable.  My salad was $11, because I chose wild salmon instead of the free range chicken or grassfed beef.  And it was significantly more satisfying than a typical $11 from a chain restaurant! Four Café is open 11am-9pm weekdays, and 9am-9pm on weekends.  For anyone in the Los Angeles area looking for a delicious organic restaurant with a comfortable atmosphere and friendly staff, I would highly recommend the Four Café!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Soggy Produce?

It's inevitable.  You head to the store and find the freshest produce possible, but it's wet.  Why is it wet?  Well, like everything else created by God on this earth, fruits and vegetables stay fresher longer with water!  But how does this translate into your refrigerator?  You guessed it....soggy produce.

So you ask me, "Valerie, how do I avoid the soggy produce?"  I'm glad you asked!  It's quite simple, really.  All you do is take a paper towel, fold it, and strategically place it in the bag of produce.  This way, the paper towel absorbs most of the moisture, while still keeping your produce fresh.  Simply replace the paper towel with a new one every couple of days.  Voila!  No more soggy produce!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

6 Uses of Coconut Milk

If you are anything like me, you have never given much thought to coconut milk.  Milk is milk, right?  And it comes from a cow.  But a few months ago, I discovered a wonderful addition to my diet in the form of coconut milk.  I was on a special diet prescribed by my doctor and could not have any dairy for 6 weeks.  Initially this seemed problematic for someone who uses milk almost on a daily basis.  However, a quick trip to Whole Foods proved that there are many milk substitutes on the market.

Option #1 was soy milk.  That was quickly eliminated not because of the taste (okay, partly because of the taste...), but because the majority of soy beans grown in the USA are genetically-modified.  And anything that has been genetically altered is not something I want to be putting in my body.

Option #2 was almond milk.  I actually really like the taste of almond milk, but I was already eating a lot of nuts on a daily basis.  And gorging yourself on nuts is not a wise decision.

Which left me Option #3....coconut milk.  I had never tried it before, but I love coconut oil, coconut butter, and just plain coconut, so it stood to reason that I would like this concoction as well.  After experimenting with the white liquid, I found it to be quite valuable in my kitchen.  Even though my non-dairy diet is over, I have continued purchasing coconut milk instead of cow's milk.

Here are some suggestions for how to incorporate coconut milk into your diet:

1.  Drink it out of a glass like regular milk (goes especially well with cookies!)
2.  Use as a substitute for milk in pastries (cookies, brownies, etc.)
3.  Substitute for eggs/milk in pancakes (the thick texture helps batter stick together)
4.  Add to egg mixture for omelettes (makes it a little creamy)
5.  Mix with granola and fruit for a tasty breakfast
6.  Add to smoothies for consistency

And there are so many more options!  I have found that coconut milk (unsweetened) actually helps bring out the natural flavor of whatever you mix it with.  Because it has a thicker consistency than other types of milk, it is especially useful in baking.  But drinking it by itself is also quite tasty!

In addition, coconuts come with an assortment of health benefits including: boost in immunity, wrinkle prevention, renewed energy levels, helps with weight loss and maintenance, lowers cholesterol, and the list goes on.  With all the health benefits in addition to great taste, why wouldn't you try incorporating coconut milk into your diet?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Almond-Pecan Nut Butter Recipe

On a recent visit to my parents' house, I discovered a jar of Almond-Pecan Nut Butter in the pantry.  It sounded intriguing and before I knew it, I was eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon.  The nut butter was so tasty that it didn't last long.  But as we know, purchasing almond butter at the store is expensive, and most places don't even sell a mixed nut butter.

Hence, my mission began to find out how difficult it would be to make my own nut butter.  The only dilemma was that I don't have a food processor.  But as it turns out, a woman can do wonders with a hand-blender!
A simple hand-blender works too!

Taking a few tips from friends who make almond butter on occasion, I combined and modified their recipes to make this delicious almond-pecan nut butter.

1 c. raw almonds
1/2 c. raw pecans
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

(I used grapeseed oil, because it doesn't have much flavor and therefore preserves the taste of the nuts.)

1. Place all the nuts in food processor (or hand-blender, in my case).
2. Grind nuts, occasionally stirring with a spoon.
3. Keep going!  It takes several minutes to grind the nuts completely.
4. Gradually add oil, one tablespoon at a time.  Add cinnamon and salt.
5. Continue grinding until you reach the desired consistency.  I don't like creamy nut butter, so it did not take long for it to be done after I added the oil.
6. Eat and enjoy your own homemade almond-pecan nut butter!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Voila, delicious homemade almond-pecan butter!

By the way, I found an organic website that sells an 8oz. jar of almond-pecan butter for $15.  For the same amount of money, you can make this recipe about 4 times!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Story

I don't know about you, but when I make a decision to do something, I want to do it all at the same time.  I hate waiting around for results or to see the fruit of my labor.  But over the years, I have learned that changes are not made instantaneously, especially when it comes to healthy living.  If you want to make a true lifestyle change, you have to be like the guy in "What About Bob?" and take baby steps.  One foot in front of the other at a comfortable pace.

The first step I can pinpoint in my own life is way back in high school when I eliminated soda from my diet.  My basketball coach didn't want us drinking soda during the season, because it affected our playing ability.  After going a whole season without drinking soda, it was not appealing to me anymore.  This was my first "baby step."  I focused on one tangible and achievable task.

Through the years, there have been several milestones in my life: discovering ways of fun exercising (let's be honest, dancing is my favorite), cutting back on my carbohydrate intake, realizing fruit juices have just as much (if not more) sugar than soda, discovering the benefits and better taste of organic food, etc.  But to achieve these milestones, I had to take one little step at a time.  Sometimes I didn't even realize I was moving forward, and other times I knowingly took giant leaps.  But each small step got me to where I am today.

That's why I started this blog.  I am a work in process.  As I continue to take baby steps on my own pathway to healthy living, I hope you will benefit from what I learn along the way.

We are all on a Journey

Each of us has a different path in life.  For myself personally, it has been a journey that has taken several years.  And I am still learning everyday.  Living a healthy lifestyle is not easy.  If you wanted to take the easy way out, you could eat McDonald's every night for dinner and be done with it.  Healthy living is making a conscious decision to take action and provide for your entire wellbeing: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

But we all have to start somewhere.  Maybe you have never given much thought to nutrition, or maybe you label yourself a "health nut."  Wherever you are on your pathway to healthy living, I hope this blog encourages you and provides new ideas to help you along the way.