The World’s Best

I have devised a recipe for the world’s best salad.  I know it is the best because I have personally taste-tested it against all other salads I have personally made, and I have personally decided that it is the best.  You can see that my system is fool-proof.

I’m not greedy, though, so I’m wiling to let you have the world’s best salad, too.  You can even pretend it’s your own if you want.  I’m not going to tell on you.

See, I’ve never loved salads.  I have always thought they were boring and bland.  They never filled me up.  I didn’t understand why there was always grated carrot and red cabbage at the bottom of the salad bowl, and why is a massive ring of red onion okay to just drop on top?  Add that confusion to the fact that I don’t like tomatoes, I can’t have croutons, and most salad dressings are either awful for you or just awful for me in particular, and I usually had a bowl of lettuce with a couple of sad cucumber slices.

After seeing a dietician recently and finding out that I don’t eat enough food — shocking news! — I realised I was going to have to make more of an effort to eat lunch.  I whined, ‘but lunchtime is the exact time of day when I least want to eat!’  Why?

Well, I used to eat sandwiches for lunch.  I thought I was doing all right by it, never eating plain white bread, typically passing up the crisps, and adding lettuce to give me a vegetable.  After I’d eat, though, I would get very tired.  I didn’t want to do anything; I wasn’t sure I could do anything. What I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t really feeding myself; I was just putting stuff in my body.  There wasn’t anything nourishing to what I was eating, and, while I don’t knock a good sandwich now and again, I just know it doesn’t function as a daily standard.

Knowing that someone else was looking over my food journal with me made me a bit more self-conscious.  Of course I wanted to look like I had it all together, but I also came to realise that I simply knew better. More fruit, Sydney, and more vegetables.  Just get over yourself and do it.

Thus, THE salad was born.  There’s crunch, there’s heft, there’s sweetness, there’s protein, and there’s also a little bit of heat.

World’s Best Lunch Salad

Ingredients:
Romaine lettuce (or favourite leaf)
Spinach
Sunflower seeds
Pomegranate seeds
Sprouted mung beans
Sprouted lentil beans
Cucumber
Broccoli
World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Your favourite hot sauce (I use Frank’s Hot Sauce for this salad!)

Hardware:
Big bowl
Hands

Directions:
Assemble as big or as small a salad as you’d like with the ingredients.  I start with the lettuce and spinach, tearing them into bite-sized pieces by hand, add broccoli and cucumber around the edges, and add the smaller ingredients in the middle.  Then, I dress it with a couple of shakes of the hot sauce and a quick drizzle of the vinaigrette.

salad

This is the little version. I may or may not have used a mixing bowl for just myself before. (I definitely have.)

World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar (may not be needed if you shell out for expensive oil and vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use pink Himalayan salt for a couple of extra minerals)
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cumin

Hardware:
Jar that will fit at least 1 cup of liquid (with lid)
measuring cups and spoons
heavy-duty shakin’ arms

Directions:
Dump everything except the sugar into the jar.  Shake, shake, shake until it is completely combined.  Taste and see if it needs the sugar for your tastebuds.  Some vinegars can be more tart than others, and some people like a more tart vinaigrette.  Add the sugar if you want and shake again.

Store in the fridge.  Remove a while before you need it, and shake it again to reintegrate the oil and vinegar, which will separate when cold.  If you forget, pop it in the microwave without the lid for 15-20 seconds — just enough to soften the oil but not “cook” it — and shake.  Oh, yes, more shaking.

Week Three Check-in — Green Smoothie Challenge

It appears that the green smoothies are having an unintended (or, at least, unexpected) consequence for both CB and me. Whenever we eat food that I haven’t made in the house, we feel sick. Have the green smoothies made us picky eaters?

My best explanation (and please let me know if you have any other information and/or theories!) is that, as our bodies are getting more good things, we are satisfying the cravings we mistake for wanting bad things. When we want sugar and are giving it full fruit sugars with the fibre with which they are meant by nature to be consumed, our bodies are sated. We give it what it wants in a more healthful form and also make it work for it. I also know that, when your body is missing or not getting enough of certain nutrients, it tells you to eat things it shouldn’t because, well, your gut is good, but it lacks a brain. This phenomenon is often cited as the main reason pregnant women crave non-edible things — a baby requires a lot of the vitamins and minerals in a woman’s body, and her body is begging her to replace them without being able to actually articulate what’s needed.

I’m getting away from myself. My point is that I’m giving my body good things, and it’s starting to forget about the bad things. Why does that means that we’re not feeling well when eating outside of the house? Well, even though I carefully police everything I eat for gluten/other allergens, not everyone has the same standards for quality food as I do. When home, I try to make as much “real food” as possible. I try to balance foods without depriving us of what we want. You can have sugar, salt, and fat as long as you use the right sugar, salt, and fat in the right amounts. Assuming that every bad thing we eat does a tiny, tiny amount of damage means that we should assume that every good thing we eat does a tiny, tiny amount of repair work. I am suddenly thinking of Wreck-It Ralph. If you have more Felixes (Felii?) than Ralphs, the building is more quickly repaired. (If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, repair that now.) A building that is in good shape requires less daily repair, and I can only imagine the same must be said about our bodies. If our bodies are in constantly better shape by all the little good things we eat, the bad things have less of a chance to wear us down, make us tired, and make us want more bad things; however, you also notice a broken window in an otherwise pristine house faster than you can count the broken things in a derelict one.  When something is wrong, it will let you know right away.  It may sound bad, but wouldn’t you want to know about the problem before it has the chance to cause more damage?

In addition to having more things like magnesium and manganese, I have also realised that eating these raw fruits and veggies provides my body with more prebiotics for my probiotics, making them that much more effective. If you think I’m just talking nonsense now, let me tell you about these -biotics. I’ve talked before about probiotics, and you’ve no doubt heard about them from countless other sources. They are helpful, good bacteria that your body often depletes in poor health. They can also be killed off when you take antibiotics because the medicine can’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria. Less talked about are prebiotics, but they are just as important as their pro- friends and come in more bright and shiny flavours. While probiotics are only found in foods with live cultures like yogurt, prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates found in some fruits, most whole grains, and foods like honey, onions, and garlic. (Bonus tip: yogurt and kefir actually contain both prebiotics and probiotics and are “complete” in that sense.)

While you can’t digest prebiotics, guess who can: probiotics. Prebiotics are used as fuel for the probiotics (are you still with me?), which allows them to grow, thrive, and repopulate your gut. We tend to eat prebiotics even when our body has depleted good bacteria, which confuses our body because it can’t do anything with it. It spends a lot of energy trying to digest the indigestible, and we can get tired just from eating food. Balancing pre- and probiotics works to your advantage because you get the fuel you need to go about your day, and your helpful bacteria get the fuel they need to help you do what you need to do.

All right, I’ll take off my teacher hat. It is summer, after all, and I know you only come here for the cute animal pictures.

She sure knows how to work an angle.

She sure knows how to work an angle.

All that up there is to say that, while I might feel poorly after eating something junky or not to the same standards as I would make at home, I feel better as soon as I have my smoothie. It’s like it magically makes everything inside me better. With all the new and varied prebiotics I have had by eating whole greens and smart fruits like bananas, my probiotics seem to have kicked into high gear and worked even harder to heal my body. I may be becoming a picky eater in the meantime, but I think it’s really just listening to what my body really wants, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Slowly Simmered Dreams

I have finally achieved one of my goals in life: I have a slow cooker. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a really huge development for me as a person.

Isn't she pretty?

Isn’t she pretty?

There are some things you just can’t make without a slow cooker. You can live without those things, but your life would be devoid of joy. You may think you are happy now, but there is happiness you can’t even imagine on the other side. CB asked me last night if our slow cooker has been off since we got it, and I was able to answer ‘yes’ only because I haven’t done any overnight experiments yet.

I’m convinced that my slow cooker can time travel (it is parked next to the TARDIS) or, at least, look into the future. When I first set it on the counter on Monday, I stared for a moment, contemplating what I should first make. It reached out to me, explaining that chicken noodle soup was truly the only option. I even had leftover roasted chicken from Sunday’s dinner! How did it know that, the very next day, I would feel bad and need something comforting and wholesome to eat? It’s magic!

One of the most appealing things about a slow cooker (and the real selling point for CB) is that I can make dinner at any time during the day. I sat down to write this post at 10:30am, and tonight’s dinner is already done. It is, honestly, a matter of practicality. In my ever-growing quest to understand my body, I had to realise that I don’t always have the energy to make dinner at dinner time. When it gets to be about 5pm and I’m not sure I can roll myself off the couch to cook, it makes the option for unhealthy take-away that much more enticing. If I’m brimming with energy at about noon, why not make dinner at noon? A slow cooker gives me the flexibility to create a healthy meal without undue strain on my body. I also already have three slow cooker meals in the freezer, ready to be thawed whenever we want them. I made almost an entire week’s worth of dinners in one day. One busy afternoon — without too much pressure because they didn’t have to be on the table at any particular time — and I had one dinner for that night, one for the fridge, and three to be frozen. I was inordinately proud of myself and intend to integrate it into a weekly ordeal.

Last night, I also made this apple pie risotto from our gfree life.  I added two tablespoons of flax meal to the recipe (I just can’t help myself).  It was amazing — sweet without being too sugary, dessert-y without being heavy, and filling enough that CB had some for breakfast instead of his usual porridge.

CB kept calling it "crumble" because that's what it smells like.

CB kept calling it “crumble” because that’s what it smells like.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken, pre-cooked and shredded or uncooked (It will cook along the way)*
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 big handful kale, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, in small pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro/coriander OR 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil OR 1/2 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Choice of noodles/pasta — I used 2 cups of brown rice shells; eyeball how much you need and remember they will expand when cooked

*You can use bone-in chicken if you take the weight into consideration and understand that you may get loose bones in your soup. It does add a certain richness in flavour, but I don’t like taking the chance.

Hardware:
Slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and 2 forks, if uncooked chicken is used

Directions:
Dump all ingredients EXCEPT noodles/pasta into the slow cooker. Stir together and cook on low for 6 hours.

Choose your own adventure:

A. If using precooked chicken, stir in your noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

B. If using uncooked chicken, remove it from the slow cooker at this time. Place it on the cutting board and carefully use the forks to shred the meat. Return to slow cooker with noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I was so excited for this soup.

I was so excited for this soup.

Week One Check-in – Green Smoothie Challenge

Week One of the Green Smoothie Challenge is complete! Here’s where I am:

1) I have really enjoyed all the recipes so far. I already know some things that don’t agree with me, so I leave them out to ensure I complete the challenge. There’s no sense sticking a whole knob of fresh ginger in that blender if I know I won’t be able to choke it down. As good for your body as ginger is, I think the important thing is to actually drink the smoothies you make.

2) I didn’t actually ASK my husband, CB, to participate with me. I wasn’t sure that he would do it. When I told him I was going to do a month-long green smoothie challenge, he replied, “I might have to miss a couple when I’m traveling for conferences.”

3) CB has referred to several of the smoothies as “yummy” so far, which I take as a higher compliment than, “It tastes good.” He has also requested that I balance the protein and fats in them to have nothing but green smoothies for an entire week. It also pushes me to discover and create new recipes to keep it from getting boring for our minds and mouths. I’m thinking it’s time to try things like peanut butter and GF oats . . .

4) The difference in my energy levels is incredible. I don’t get winded as easily, and, even when I’ve been stuck at a computer screen for work, I have WANTED to get up and do something.

5) My digestion has improved already. I have long wanted to find a way to incorporate more greens into my diet, but, as I have mentioned, they can be very difficult to digest when you have intestinal disorders. With the smoothies, my body has the opportunity to get all the goodness these greens have to offer without having to work so hard to process them.

6) Having what we need from fruits and veggies has leeched over into the rest of our food patterns. CB asked if we could have quinoa salad much more often. It was our dinner last night, and I loaded it down with more vegetables than usual.

Quinoa salad with chicken and extra veggies

Quinoa salad with chicken and extra veggies

7) Some of my running pants don’t fit anymore. I’m talking about the ones that fit last week. Yeah, those.

A few of the week’s smoothies (some were finished too quickly for photography):

Thanksgiving 2012 & Feeding the Stuffing Addiction

apron brooch

CB thinks it’s hilarious when I wear his apron because I can’t eat pork.

I have to admit, Thanksgiving went down better than I ever anticipated.  I made the entire meal gluten-free rather than having things I couldn’t eat after I slaved over it for two days.

Here was our menu:

Turkey (cheated and bought a Marks and Spencers ready-to-roast job)
Gravy
Cornbread and bacon stuffing
Sweet potato casserole
Green bean casserole
Pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip (with homemade creamed spinach, no less!)
Baked macaroni and cheese
Sour cream mashed potatoes
Pao de queijo (not traditional Thanksgiving by far, but I wanted rolls, and this is what I got)
Pumpkin cheesecake
Pumpkin cupcakes

I was going to make oven-roasted root vegetables but decided at the last minute that we had more than enough food already.

Clockwise from top left: Cornbread and bacon stuffing, sour cream mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin cupcakes, pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip, pao de queijo, turkey breast, green bean casserole (left), sweet potato casserole (right), and the shining sun in the center is the baked macaroni and cheese. Pumpkin cheesecake not pictured.  And, yes, we have a terrible tablecloth.  We know.

Clockwise from top left: Cornbread and bacon stuffing, sour cream mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin cupcakes, pecan-crusted spinach and artichoke dip, pao de queijo, turkey breast, green bean casserole (left), sweet potato casserole (right), and the shining sun in the center is the baked macaroni and cheese. Pumpkin cheesecake not pictured. And, yes, we have a terrible tablecloth. We know.

When I was young, I became fascinated with stuffing.  It was my favourite part of Thanksgiving, and I remember being so excited when I found out you could eat it other times of the year.  I begged for it until my mother finally showed me a box and told me I could make it myself.  No, it’s not good for you, and it’s especially not good for you from a box!

When I found out I couldn’t eat gluten, stuffing was the first thing that came to mind.  Instantly, I wanted it all the time and for every meal.  Gluten-free stuffing mixes exist here (well, at least one), and, while tasty, they just don’t scratch the itch of this Stove Top purist.  I’m afraid nothing ever will.  However, last year, while visiting my parents for Christmas, I came upon a recipe that I adapted into a satisfying replacement.  Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t taste like Stove Top — but it is good enough to go back for seconds.  I used a bag of Bob’s Red Mill cornbread mix last year, but I didn’t have one for Thanksgiving.  I immediately went to the Gluten Free Goddess and located something I could make work for me with several adjustments.  So, without further ado, here is my version of what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.

Cornbread and Bacon Stuffing

Sweet Cornbread

Ingredients:
1 cup stone ground gluten-free cornmeal
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (optional — not included in dry ingredients list)
1/2 cup organic light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 cup very warm water
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
2 extra tablespoons water, if needed

Hardware:
Cast iron skillet
Oven
2 mixing bowls
2 whisks
Measuring cups and spoons
Spatula (to get the last bits out of the bowl)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C with lightly greased skillet inside.

Combine the dry ingredients — cornmeal, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder, fine sea salt, and brown sugar — in a bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together for about 1 minute.  This is where the original recipe had me confused.  I checked the comments and notes, and it seems like I’m the only person who can’t seem to figure it out.  I don’t see where the warm water and juice is meant to be added.  I choose to add it here, as I thought it might be lumpy if you tried to mix it in later.  So, add the lime juice and the warm water. Mix to combine.

Add the dry bowl to the wet bowl in three or four portions, ensuring to mix thoroughly between each portion.  You are looking for a smooth, cake-like batter; do not beat it past when it looks like cake batter.  If your batter is too thick, add in a little extra warm water, bit by bit, until you get the consistency you want.  Mine came out perfect without extra water.

Remove the skillet from the oven (carefully!) and sprinkle the coarse sea salt into it.  The salt here is optional, but I love the complexity it gives a sweet cornbread.  Pour the batter into the skillet, scraping the bowl with the spatula to make sure you have it all.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Definitely check on it at 25 minutes because mine did not need any longer.  Let the cornbread cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving (or turning it into stuffing).

Stuffing

Ingredients:
3 cups crumbled cornbread
6 slices gluten-free bread, toasted
6 slices bacon (I used 4 slices of turkey bacon [turkey bacon has bigger pieces because there is less fat])
2 eggs
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped (I didn’t bother)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Hardware:
Casserole dish with lid that can go in oven
Oven
Stove
Small bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
Frying pan or skillet
Various kitchen utensils (fork, spatula, something to help with frying)
Mixing bowl

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

Cut the toasted bread into small cubes.  Set aside.

Fry the bacon until crispy and remove from the pan.  If you are using veggie or turkey bacon, add some oil to the pan, as there is a lot less fat in them than pork bacon.  Add the onion, celery, sage, and thyme to the pan and fry until the onion is tender and translucent.  Remove from heat.  Crumble cooled bacon back into the pan.

In the small bowl, beat the eggs with the fork.  Add to the mixing bowl with the bacon and onions/celery and all seasonings — salt, black pepper, and garlic powder.  Fold together with the fork.  Add the cornbread crumbles and bread cubes and fold with the spatula.  Try to ensure that all the dry parts are covered.  Pour half of the chicken broth over the mixture and fold with the spatula.  Assess how much more broth you need (I needed the whole cup) to completely moisten the mixture and add it in.  Fold again.

Pour the mixture into the casserole dish (no need for greasing) and cover.  Bake in oven for 30 minutes.  Alternatively, it can be used to stuff a bird instead of baking.  I’m not that adventurous yet.