Archive for July, 2011

Winter dinners: Bunless burgers

July 31, 2011

Of course, burgers are not season-discriminatory – you can get your burger fix at any time of the year. But there is something about scarfing down a juicy burger in winter to quell those hunger pangs. I promise that you will not miss the bun if you put together your fave ingredients in an almighty stack and then serve with homemade tomato ketchup.

Here are the ingredients I used:

Burger patties:

1kg Lamb mince
1 large egg
1 small white onion or spring onions
2 tbsp chopped rosemary

(this is enough to easily feed 5 or 6 people or can be used for plenty of leftovers for easy lunches)

Lamb burger patties

Lamb burger patties

Filling for each burger:

Free range bacon
1 large egg
Sliced unsweetened canned beetroot
Mixed green leaves
Large mushroom, peeled and stalks removed

Now, I’m far too lazy tonight to go into any detail about how to cook the burgers because they’re so easy…I’m just going to whet your appetite with a picture jumping out at you from the screen 🙂

For the paleo-purists, I do eat potatoes occasionally. I actually used to have a god-awful intolerance to them (so bad that I felt like I’d been hit by a truck which lasted three days) but now that my leaky gut seems to be a lot better, that food intolerance is history!

Bunless burger

Bunless lamb burger

Advertisements

Yer crazy in the coconuts: Coconut bread

July 27, 2011

Coconut must be one of the most versatile foods on the planet – it provides oil, milk, butter, cream, water, aminos (seasoning), flakes, flour…you get the drift. In Paleo and Primal circles, it’s a real staple and some are known to take their addiction to extremes – hey Nom Nom Paleo, I’m talking about you! Hang on, I just realised I own ALL of the coconut products I just mentioned…which means I’M CRAZY IN DER COCONUTS.

The lady and the coconut.

The lady and the coconut.

After one successful and one not-so-successful attempt at Elana Amsterdam’s almond butter/flour bread recipes, I decided to try out a coconut flour bread recipe to see if it will make the grade as my go-to bread staple. And the verdict is in…YES, coconut flour bread is a far better bread option than the almond. Why? Because it doesn’t need almond butter which is either expensive or tedious to make and it only takes about 5-10 minutes to prep.  You can’t beat easy and cheap (ish). Well, folks, it’s not as cheap as that $1 bread advertised as food these days by Woolworths. But I don’t consider that food, no one should. Call me elitist, but that stuff does more harm than good, no matter how much you need to watch your $.

Ok, enough with the radical health rant…here’s the recipe and some pretty pix.

Ingredients

6 eggs
1/2 cups coconut oil (or ghee, or butter depending on your dairy tolerance)
1/2 juiced lemon
1-2 tbsp honey or rice syrup, depending on taste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup coconut flour
chia and sesame seeds for the crust

Method

Preheat oven to 165C or 350F.

Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and mix the wet ingredients in another bowl.  Then combine the two lots of ingredients together and mix well until there are no lumps in the mix.

Line a bread tin with baking paper or grease well. Pour bread mix into the tin and smooth the top down, making sure the height is even across the tin. Then spread the top of the bread loaf with chia and sesame seeds.

Bake for 40-45 mins and check the bread is ready by inserting a skewer in the middle of the loaf to make sure the bread is cooked throughout (nothing should be on the skewer when you remove it).

Once ready, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for an hour. Once cool, slice carefully with a sharp bread knife. I think this bread is best kept in the freezer and toasted lightly when you want to eat it.

Coconut bread fresh outta the oven.

Coconut bread fresh outta the oven.

Coconut bread - check the gorgeous brown and golden hues.

Coconut bread - check the gorgeous brown and golden hues.

Condiments: The best down home ketchup yer ever gawna taste!

July 27, 2011

Ketchup is surely one of life’s greatest pleasures. But, you’ve never tasted ketchup ’til you’ve tried this one. It’s honest to god the bees knees. Make it and you’ll never douse your hot chips with Heinz ever again. This is another Mark Sisson recipe that I’ve adapted slightly, using less apple cider vinegar than the original recipe calls for. It does still need that vinegar though, to give it a real bite.

Condiments are well worth time investing in, because they help jazz up lots of different meals even when you’ve got no motivation to make anything special.  Depending on the ingredients, they can also last quite a while in the fridge – the apple cider vinegar in this ketchup means it will keep for weeks.

Ingredients

280g of tomato paste (usually 1 can or 2 small tubs)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
3 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
3 tbsp white onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp black pepper

Ketchup ingredients

Ketchup ingredients

Method

Mix all ingredients in a food processor or with a hand blender until smooth. Add a bit of water if too thick. Store in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator. Easy!

Paleo tomato ketchup

Paleo tomato ketchup

Paleo coconut flour pancakes

July 22, 2011

As I’ve written before, eating Paleo does not mean going without your favourite treats. Pancakes are really easy to make in a Paleo style, using either almond flour or coconut flour. But you still have to perfect your pancake flipping technique – there ain’t no short cuts in that regard! On that front, I’ve got a long way to go.

This recipe is from Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Cookbook which, admittedly, I have neglected for a while, possibly because the book design isn’t quite as sparky as others I’ve got. But the recipes really are great with such variety, so I really have no excuse.

Here’s the lowdown on making these easy, delicious and healthy pancakes…surely an oymoron?

Makes 5 large pancakes or 10 small.

Ingredients

3 eggs
3 tbsp melted coconut oil
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup coconut flour
t tsp baking soda
1/2 cup water

Method

Whisk together eggs, oil. coconut milk and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients, stirring until smooth. Add the water to thin the batter out until you’ve reached the desired consistency.

In a well oiled pan, cook pancakes until browned on both sides (about 3 minutes on each side).

Serve with your choice of garnishes – berries, nuts, coconut milk, cinnamon…it’s up to you!

Coconut pancakes with berries

Coconut pancakes with berries

Winter dinners: Braised chicken with ginger and star anise

July 20, 2011

Winter seems to have suddenly ramped up here in Oz, stirring an unmistakeable desire to create tasty comfort food. This dish delivers on that front and is super easy to put together. It also makes for some great leftovers to save coming up with something for lunch (or dinner as the case may be).

Chicken thighs are  a fattier cut of chicken, however they are well suited to a slow cooked dish and tastier than breast meat. Remember, don’t be afraid of animal fats in your cooking – this is how we create hormones, get flavour from meat and go away from a meal genuinely satisfied.

I think a lot of people may read this post and think “I make this sort of thing all the time, so this is Paleo?!” and the answer is a resounding “YES!” Believe it or not, a lot of meals ARE paleo-friendly. I hope that goes some way to assuring people that Paleo isn’t really all that hard if you plan ahead. A lot of your favouite dishes may already be Paleo-friendly, or may just need a minor tweak here and there.

I should note here for the Paleo purists that I do eat a little white rice – the reason being that it’s low in the phytates we avoid in grains (much lower than brown rice) and I really believe I would do my head in if I tried to avoid it. Especially eating out socially. I only eat it at night though when I eat most of my carbs. This also helps my blood sugar stay nice and happy during the daytime.

Ingredients

1 kg boneless and skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp sichuan peppercorns*
3 x 2cm piece fresh ginger, shredded
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
80mL chinese rice wine or sherry
60mL tamari** (or coconut aminos if you can source them)
1 tbsp honey
1 star anise
3 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally

Method

Cut each thigh in half. Put the chicken pieces, peppercorns, ginger, garlic rice wine/sherry, honey and star anise in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 hours, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with spring onions and serve with steamed white rice and a vegetable side dish.

Serves 4.

Braised chicken with ginger and star anise

Braised chicken with ginger and star anise

*Sichuan peppercorns are available at many Asian grocery stores.It’s well worth seeking them out to create some heat in the dish.

**Tamari is a better choice than soy sauce as it’s gluten free, however it still has soy in it. Some Paleo cooks use coconut aminos instead – I have bought these from iHerb, but they’re not quite the same. I think a little tamari, maybe mixed with the coconut aminos is acceptable, unless of course you have an issue with soy (it is known to be one of the biggest food intolerances around)

Finally, I can report a Paleo success story with my hypoglycemia!

July 10, 2011

I can’t tell you how long I have waited to write a health success story. It was especially frustrating after I started the Paleo diet/lifestyle in February this year and read many, many varied success stories from people who had been on the diet for only a short amount of time and managed to significantly improve their health in myriad ways. I was so disheartened, but knew it was how I wanted to eat since the science and evolutionary logic make sense.

Something I’ve dealt with for a long time, over ten years if not more, is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. I’m not going to delve into the science of it but it basically involved unsteady blood sugar levels leading to a host of annoying and distressing symptoms such as feeling weak, dizzy, cranky, anxious, overeating, disturbed sleep and a hunger so bad I literally wanted to eat my arm one day. I’m not kidding on that last point either – auto-cannabilism was looking promising. I had to carry around small meals with me on some occasions which annoyed me no end. I was doing all the “right” things a hypoglycemic should – eating plenty of quality protein and slow-burning carbs – but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Angry Cat

This is what I felt like dealing with a blood sugar low.

Both my parents were diagnosed with hypoglycemia back in the late 1980s by an “alternative” (yep, totally ironic quotation marks) doctor here in Sydney by taking a specific test to see their response to glucose after fasting for a few hours. I was not interested in subjecting myself to such a test just to get a label that I already knew fit the bill. I tried things such as cinnamon extract and chromium to no avail.

After a particularly bad episode one day on my way home, I was so angry that I went back on to the awesome PaleoHacks site to re-read some hypoglycemia threads I had read of people that resolved their hypoglycemia by eating a high fat/moderate protein/low (LC) or very low carb (VLC) diet. It was after reading these stories that I decided I had nothing to lose by tweaking my diet’s macronutrient ratios and going from there. Well, I can honestly say that from the very first day, I felt different, really different. I had a lot more energy than what I’ve become used to, anxiety is minimal, I don’t feel like collapsing, I’m not afraid of being out of the house for hours without one of those small meals. Oh, and my moods are better too. I’m feeling really confident of taking on the world head-on.  I even had the commonly-reported “low carb euphoria” that many experience once they make this type of change. That was pretty damn cool!

Why high fat?

Fat, specifically saturated fat, has unfortunately been tainted as something to be feared and despised. A great, if heavy-going, book detailing the medical and historical context of this fat-phobia is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. The result of this fat phobia is that we are consuming much less fat than what we should be. Of course, we have only recently started to be educated in the media about “good fats” such as avocado, nuts and olive oil; and “bad fats” such as trans fats used in fast food and processed baked goods. But what about animal fat that hasn’t been processed? Vegetable oil and seed oils? Surely, vegetable oils are healthy, right? Not necessarily. Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple, lays it all out in simple, jargon-free English in identifying the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio as the issue in consuming polyunsaturated fats.

Back to the hypoglycemia, this post from Mark’s Daily Apple explains that fat, not glucose, is the superior energy fuel for the human body. And that seems to be why I am doing so well on a high fat diet – my body can now go for hours and hours between meals which is unheard of for me. A lot of the commenters on the PaleoHacks site believe that anyone with a deranged metabolism (hypogylcemics, Type 2 diabetics, the obese) have damaged their metabolism so badly that they now cannot tolerate carbs much at all. That is definitely my experience where I would have a meal of balanced protein and vegetables (which are carbs don’t forget) and literally an hour later, feel my blood sugar drop. My body just reacted badly to the carbs and did not have enough fat.

Why did this happen?

I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect a genetic predisposition (since my parents are both hypoglycemic) and my diet when I was younger. I used to skip breakfast, or maybe eat some corn chips, eat a sandwich for lunch and have fried rice for dinner. Oh, and then there were the binges on wheat biscuits and sweets! Probably from not eating right in the first place. I gather that what this has done has messed up my insulin sensitivity to the point where I don’t tolerate carbs and can’t effectively use them for fuel. So, fat is now my fuel and I feel so much better for it.

What sort of fats am I eating?

For those who are curious or may even be thinking of trying this out, here is a list of the fats I’m eating:

– avocado
– olive oil
– coconut oil
– avocado oil
– macadamia oil
– ghee
– bacon fat (I collect this on a baking tray when I bake full bacon rashers and then use it on veggies at night)
– nuts (watch the omega ratio on these though, walnuts and macadamias are superior choices from what I have read)
– eggs
– fatty meats (eg. lamb)
– coconut chips
– coconut milk
– bacon with the fat
– chicken skins
– oily fish – mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies

Avocado and nuts

Avocado and nuts

Bacon

Bacon!

What else?

I’m really careful with fruits now as they are very high in fructose –  juice is even worse. Berries and green apples are said to be lower fructose so I am happy with that. I also avoid soft drinks and coffee as that sets me on a massive blood sugar rollercoaster which is horrible to experience. I now drink mostly swiss-water-decaf coffee with coconut milk, it’s SO damn good. I still eat “sweet” foods in the form of my chocolate slice and rosemary and hazelnut cookies – both of which use minimal sweetener but are sweet enough for my adapted tastebuds.

I have observed that if I eat high fat/mod protein and very minimal carbs at breakfast and lunch, I can allow some more carbs for the evening meal, though I still need to watch my intake. As long as I set my day up right with high fat intake, I’m good to go for the day!

I don’t know how long I will need to be on this regime for, possibly forever. But I can say, the benefits are worth it, there is no doubt in my mind.

Happy cat: Sooty

I'm a much happier kitty these days.

Rosemary and hazelnut cookies!

July 10, 2011

To balance my last post about the joys of organ meats, here is a more “girly” post on subtly sweet cookies. Mmm, mmm! This is easily one of my favourite Paleo things to make, even if I spent a whole half hour chopping hazelnuts last time I made them. What I love about these is that the almond flour (aka almond meal) has its own natural sweetness that wheat flour doesn’t, plus they are high in protein and good fats. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, these are far better than any store bought cookie.

As always with Elana Amsterdam recipes, I substitute out the Agave nectar and grapeseed oil for maple syrup/rice syrup and coconut oil respectively. Paleo purists may have an issue with maple syrup and rice syrup but I prefer the maple to honey and after researching, I found that rice syrup is probably preferable to anything else considering my hypoglycemia issues. I do eat a little white rice from time to time, although it is a grain and therefore forbidden on strict Paleo, it is one allowance I make so as not to send myself insane, especially when eating out and options are limited. I also had to add an egg as the mix doesn’t bind all that well. But, one very important thing is to give the dough enough time in the freezer to set well – this makes cutting the dough in to cookies easier as they break less.

Without further ado, here is the recipe along with some photos to tempt you to give them a try.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup of hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 med-large egg
3 tbsp rice syrup or maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Method

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, baking soda, hazelnuts and rosemary. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, coconut oil, vanilla and syrup. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.

Cookie ingredients

Cookie ingredients

Place the dough in a horizontal line along cling wrap (use enough cling wrap so as to be able to then cover the dough as a roll). Roll the dough in the cling wrap, tie up the ends like candy wrappers and shape into a large log about 4cm in diameter. You may need to squish the sides of the log to ensure it is wide enough and that there are no cracks in the dough.

Cookie dough prepped for rolling

Cookie dough prepped for rolling

Place on a baking tray in the freezer for an hour or until very firm  but not frozen (may take an hour and a half).

Cookie dough rolled up like candy

Cookie dough rolled up like candy

Remove the log from the freezer and preheat the oven to 350 fareinheit (180 celsius or 160 in a fan forced oven). Don’t worry that the log is not perfectly round! If it is firm enough, remove the cling wrap and use a sharp, wet knife to cut 1cm thick slices. Transfer the slices to lined baking trays leaving 2cm between each cookie.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until brown around the edges and relatively firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking trays for 30 minutes, then serve. These cookies go really well with a nice herbal tea such as Tulsi Rose tea (my current fave herbal tea). Ensure to store in an airtight container.

Cookies served with Tulsi rose tea

Cookies served with Tulsi rose tea

In defense of organ meats

July 3, 2011

As recently as a generation ago, organ and gland meats such as sheep’s brains, lambs fry (liver) or kidneys were somewhat of a standard fixture on home dining menus across Australia. But more recently, it has taken the influence of hipster chefs such as Ben Millgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, of Bodega and Porteño fame, to introduce organ and gland meats to a younger crowd of food lovers. Porteño in particular features dishes called “sweetbreads” which make use of different glands, such as thymus, in creating some genuinely unique culinary experiences. I should note here that I am a bit iffy in regards to eating veal, considering how it is produced, so I may not be lining up to try it when I get to Porteño sometime.

As  a gal raised (hur hur) on more ‘palatable’ cuts of meat – think lamb chops and rump steak – I had to get over my squeamishness at the prospect of consuming the liver of another creature. “Why would you do something so ridiculous?” you ask. Well, in my efforts to improve my health, I really needed to look at radical change to my diet. No B.S. “superfoods” such as goji berries were going to cut it. The standard western diet, in comparison to  that of the traditional Japanese diet in particular, is known to be somewhat monocultured in terms of the variety of foods eaten. Sure, we may oooh and aaah at the latest sourdough bread creation, however bread is still bread is still bread right? I don’t think we’re eating enough of a variety of foods (not to mention many are eating things that is just plain wrong for human consumption and are not even food) to maintain good health.

I think many people would be surprised at how deficient they are in absolutely essential nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and B12. Along with resolving gut health to allow for optimal nutrient absorption, a varied diet that includes a range of animal products is the key to getting these nutrient levels up and keeping them up. B12 in particular, is an essential nutrient implicated in depression and dementia, and the best version of B12 for human health can only be obtained from animal products such as liver, beef and, in smaller amounts, eggs. It’s not enough to pop a B12 pill – all nutrients are best obtained from food sources since the food contains important co-factors such as enzymes that allow the nutrient firstly to be absorbed, and secondly, to be effective once it has been absorbed. Good health after all, does not occur in a vacuum. Liver, or lamb’s fry is simply a nutritional powerhouse according to Mark Sisson of popular Primal blog Mark’s Daily Apple.

More about B12

Unfortunately, we live in a world where modern medicine places barely enough emphasis on nutrition as the cornerstone to good health. As such, most doctors will not acknowledge an obvious nutrient deficiency even when it stares them in the face. Instead,  there is too much reliance on the numbers from very basic blood tests which tend to show disease states rather than help to uncover the cause of that disease to connect the dots. With lab tests, the lab ranges are based on people that are sick, rather than healthy, so those lab ranges therefore are not representative of optimal levels of different nutrients.

B12 is a really interesting example of how misguided lab ranges, and the reliance on them, can be. In Australia and the UK, the “normal” range for B12 starts at 200 whereas in Japan – which has some of the lowest rates of Alzheimers in the developed world-  it begins at 500. This means that if you have a B12 level of 240, which can be found to correlate to dangerous symptoms indicating irreversible nerve damage, you will not be investigated for pernicious anemia (a common cause of B12 deficiency) and started on treatment if you live in a country where the range starts at 200. If you lived in Japan, however, you would likely be placed on an aggressive B12 treatment plan of regular injections. Where things get complicated for B12 testing, and the best example of how useless some blood tests can be for a doctor to order, is that if you have taken any B12 whatsoever in the past year, either as a shot, or in a multivitamin, the test will skew the result and show massively inflated levels of B12. What this means for people who need to be especially on the ball with their B12 status – vegetarians, vegans, those with family history of B12 deficiency, poor diet or digestive issues – need to use some more advanced testing options to assess their status and take action from there. Chris Kresser, of The Healthy Skeptic blog, has a great article covering all of this B12 information.

Where to from here?

Since I’m on a high-fat-consumption bender at the moment  (more on that later), I’m really tempted to try sheep’s brains as long as Mum cooks them to an old favourite recipe of Grandma’s that she guarantees me is delicious. Brains in mammals are known to have a high fat content which sounds pretty good to me! I will probably pass on the tripe (stomach lining) though, that might be taking things too far!

One thing I will always steer well clear of is foie gras, which is made in the most disgusting manner possible involving the force feeding of ducks to make their livers fattier, and therefore more tasty to the supposedly ‘refined’ tastebuds of senseless food elitists the world over. It’s good to know that some suppliers are now making humanely-produced foie gras, but of course some purist gastronomes don’t believe it is as tasty as the traditional foie gras. We can only live in hope.

Lamb’s Fry recipe

Here is a really tasty recipe for cooking lamb’s fry (liver) – calf liver can be substituted if lamb is not available.

Ingredients

1/2 kilo lamb’s fry, sliced in 2 1/2cm slices
1-2 brown onions, sliced in to wedges
1/2 red capscisum (red pepper) chopped into 1cm wide slices x 3cm high slices
1-2 tbsp oil
beef stock or stock from bone marrow (this is really tasty but needs to be prepped in advance)
2-3 tsp arrowroot powder (a Paleo-friendly thickener)
pinch of salt

Method

Soak liver for a short time (5-10 mins) in warm salted water and pat dry. Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan, add onions and cook until the onions are golden. Then add capsicum to saute.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the remainder of oil to the pan and add the sliced liver. Brown on both sides, return the onions and capsicum to the pan. Add the pinch of salt.

Add enough stock to cover and simmer until the liver is tender.

To finish, thicken with arrowroot powder and garnish with herbs.

Lamb's fry (liver) with onions, capsicum and gravy

Lamb's fry (liver) with onions, capsicum and gravy