Sunday, February 28, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 26 - Fish and Seafood

The Philippines is an archipelago comprising of 7, 107 islands and I am blessed to have access to abundant fish and seafood. With so many varieties, I am still confused with the their names and their appearance. I am also concerned about the environment and pollution that has a huge impact on our islands. Since I live within the polluted and congested Metro Manila, choosing a right fishmonger and developing a good business relationship is still important.

Here's Day 26 - Fish and Seafood from Nourished Kitchen.

We're wrapping up the last week of the Real Food Challenge by discussing the value of seafood including oily fish, shellfish and roe. Dense in minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, fish and shellfish number among some of the healthiest foods available; however, they're not without their problems.

Prior to the advent of industrial agriculture, people thrived on local foods, properly prepared through traditional methods that maximized nutrient density incidentally, if not purposefully. While almost all of the food people traditionally consumed agriculture was grown or raised locally, landlocked tribes and communities often went to very great lengths to acquire mineral-rich seafood, such as dried fish roe.

The Good. Seafoods, particularly fatty fish, mollusks and even sea vegetables number among the most nutrient-dense foods available. They are remarkably rich sources of vitamins, minerals and of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which are known to support cardiovascular, reproductive and cognitive health.

Eaten raw, foods such as oysters, herring and roe offer present an excellent source of vitamin D. Raw fish roe is a superb source of vitamin E, a nutrient that is otherwise hard to come by outside of nut and olive oils. Clams number among the best sources of iron, while oysters are among the best sources of zinc. Salmon and other fish offer myriad vitamins and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. No wonder traditional land-locked peoples went to such great lengths to acquire these nourishing, powerful foods.

The Bad. Our seas are polluted; fish is farmed intensively and there is an island of plastic containing over 100 million tons of garbage floating in the pacific ocean. As we've addressed earlier in the challenge, if animals are poorly nourished or subject to polluted environments, so then is their flesh.

The challenge, then, is not only to nourish our bodies well, but to do so ethically. Consuming fish and shellfish from polluted waters is increasingly risky; moreover, overfishing threatens wild populations and fish farming, in many (but not all) cases, is an environmental disaster.

A muddled solution. Fish, shellfish and roe, in particular, are rich sources of nutrients and vital foods that offer variety and enjoyment as well as simple sustenance. In our home, we rely largely on foods local to our community: beef, lamb and pork; however, we also enjoy sustainably caught fish as well, relying largely on Seafood Watch a comprehensive consumer's guide to choosing fish and seafood by the Monterrey Bay Acquarium.

Wild-caught salmon, troll-caught skipjack, wild-caught clams, wild-caught spot prawns and wild-caught Alaskan salmon roe all represent nourishing, but sustainable sources of seafood that can be cherished with moderation and pleasure.

Today's assignment is to source some high quality, but sustainable fish or seafood and prepare it well.

Day #26 Check List:
Prepare a nutrient-dense meal featuring wholesome, sustainably caught seafood. Further Reading: Follow up on the value of seafood: Do you love seafood?

Love and light,

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gnocchi Party: Braised Beef Short Ribs Adobo on Potato Gnocchi

I can’t remember who initiated the International Gnocchi Party but teaming up with Penny and Christine while inviting more food bloggers to join this "get-together" is such a great idea. Penny did a survey about the theme of the party: flavor, color or words. Flavor received half of the percentage and Penny chose umami flavor as the theme for this party.

Here’s the guest list with Penny as your host the gnocchi party and check out their other gnocchi creations.
The first time I made gnocchi was in college and although I was able to form, shape and cook the gnocchi correctly, I think my family was only forced to eat it. Today, I’m not forcing them to eat anymore but gnocchi is still not one of their favorite foods to eat.

If you don't have a potato ricer, you can pass the potatoes through a fine strainer with a wooden spoon. Just make sure the potatoes are hot.

I usually add egg yolk to my cooked potatoes, but for this post, I didn’t add any. Although egg yolks act as a binding agent, it also leaves the gnocchi a different bouncy quality. Making gnocchi without egg yolks can be very tricky and sometimes frustrating. The dough is quite delicate to handle and the worst part is, your gnocchi could break apart while they’re cooking. It takes a lot of practice and persistence. But it’s an optional step. With or without egg yolks, this gnocchi dish is still fantastic with my umami adobo.

While thinking for an umami ingredient to go with it, I was planning to add ground dried mushroom to my cooked potatoes. But since most of the dried mushrooms at home are huge and my spice grinder is not apt for that challenge, I decided to keep my potato gnocchi plain. Another umami idea is to pair it with a beef ragu cooked with tomato sauce and beef stock. But that day, I was having beef adobo for lunch and I just have this wonderful feeling that they would go well together.

Adobo as you all know is a quintessential Filipino comfort food and is considered as a national dish of the Philippines. Every home in the Philippines has their own adobo version and would claim that it’s the best adobo in the country or even the world. Adobo’s main flavors are soy sauce, vinegar and garlic and thousands of variations exist and it can be applied to seafood, meats or vegetables but the most common adobo are made with chicken, pork and kangkong (water spinach).

This beef adobo is definitely better with beef short ribs. Hands down!

This adobo is made with beef and while you can use any kind of stewing beef, beef short ribs is the best cut of meat to use. You can also play around with what kind of vinegar to use but I will stick with apple cider vinegar, cane vinegar or coconut vinegar for now. The first time I made this, I used about 1 cup of coconut vinegar which was too strong for my family. So, I halved the vinegar amount. If the vinegar is still too strong, just decrease the amount. The soy sauce could be any kind of soy sauce but there’s nothing like Filipino soy sauce for an adobo recipe. Don't be surprised if the adobo is quite salty. Some adobos are meant to be salty and they could last for a week and the flavor gets better and better every single day.

Braised Beef Short Ribs Adobo on Potato Gnocchi

Make 8-10 servings

Basic Potato Gnocchi (procedure from Rouxbe Online Cooking School)

3.5 lbs potatoes (about 1.6kg)
2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
freshly grated nutmeg
unrefined sea salt
freshly ground white pepper

To start the gnocchi, preheat your oven to 400º degrees Fahrenheit. Place the potatoes onto a sheet of foil, add the salt and water, and wrap. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

Peel the potatoes while they are still hot. Cut and rice the potatoes, making sure they don’t pile up in one spot. Let the potatoes cool completely before proceeding.

To make the dough, sprinkle the potatoes with a good amount of flour. Aerate the potatoes with a bench scraper, and then add the salt, nutmeg and white pepper.

Break up the egg yolks and pour them over the potatoes. Cover the surface again with more flour. Continue to cut and gently lift the dough.

Test the dough by squeezing it gently in your hand. It shouldn’t stick. Add a bit more flour, if needed.

Once done, shape the dough into a rectangle and fold it a few times, using your fingertips to bring it together. Flatten the dough out until it is about the thickness of your finger. Sprinkle with flour and let rest about 5 to 10 minutes.

Cut strips of dough, about the width of your finger, and sprinkle with flour so they don’t stick to each other. Roll out each strip and cut the ropes into 3/4 - inch pieces. Separate them slightly, and flour them well, so they don’t stick together.

For a more rustic look, you can leave the gnocchi as is. Shaping the dough makes them look better, and also creates a little pocket to capture the sauce. This can be done with or without a gnocchi paddle.

Once done, sprinkle with flour and cover with a clean dry cloth. Fresh gnocchi can sit at room temperature for 4 to 5 hours before cooking.

You can even freeze gnocchi raw. Just place them onto a tray, making sure they aren’t touching each other. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Cook the gnocchi from frozen and serve with your favorite sauce.

Braised Beef Short Ribs Adobo

1 head garlic

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup fresh, unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup cider, coconut or cane vinegar 
½ cup soy sauce (Filipino brand)
3 bay leaves
2 red bird's chilies (optional)

3 pounds beef short ribs (2½-inch piece, bone-in)
coarse unrefined sea salt

To prepare your mise en place, separate the garlic cloves and peel, and julienne the ginger. Measure the gather the peppercorns, chicken stock, coconut milk, vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves and red chilies.

To prepare the beef, pat each piece with paper towels to remove the excess moisture. Heat large stewing pot with lid or a dutch oven to medium high heat. While the pan heats up, lay the beef and season with salt on all sides.

When the pan is properly heated, add the oil. Then sear or brown the beef on all sides. Once browned, add the garlic, peppercorns, chicken stock, coconut milk, coconut vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf and the chilies.Bring to a gentle boil without stirring, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 1 -½ to 2 hours OR until the meat is very tender. You can also cook this at a 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) preheated oven for 2-3 hours or until the meat is very tender.

When the meat is already tender, remove from the heat. Since adobo is best served the next day, place the pot over an ice bath to cool quickly. Once cool, cover and transfer to the refrigerator overnight.

To reheat the dish the dish, remove first any hardened fat from the surface of the stew. Then, reheat the adobo in the oven at 350 F (175 C) until heated through or the sauce has been reduced. Season to to taste if necessary. 

Assembling the dish

To assemble the dish, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. While the water is boiling, remove the beef adobo from the oven. With slotted spoon, transfer the beef onto a plate. Then, strain the sauce through a strainer into another pan. Cut or break the beef into smaller pieces with a knife or a fork. Add to the sauce. Bring the beef mixture to a lower simmer.

When the water is already boiling, lower the heat slightly. Gently add the gnocchi into the water, stirring to prevent them from sticking. It is advisable to cook them by batch so they have enough room to cook. When the gnocchi floats to the top, gently lift them out with a slotted spoon, allowing the excess water to drain. Transfer the cooked gnocchi into warm individual bowls. Then spoon the beef adobo on top. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if desired.

Serve immediately.

  • The sauce is usually reduced before adding the meat back but it’s not necessary unless the sauce is too thin. But reducing the adobo liquid would make it very salty. You can thicken the sauce slightly with a slurry (cornstarch/arrowroot and water) instead.
  • You may not use all of the beef adobo as a little bit goes a long way. But leftovers are great for anything such as a grilled sandwich (think of it as pulled pork sandwiches) with fontina cheese, in pastas, turnovers and many others.
  • This dish may sound time-consuming but these two components can be prepared ahead of time. The braised beef adobo only requires a few ingredients and minimal time to prepare.
  • You can remove the lemongrass and the chilies halfway through the cooking time.

You may also like these two other gnocchi dishes that are satiated with deliciousness: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce that I made the other week, and the Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Lemon-Sage Sauce (must-try) from Rouxbe Online Cooking School.


Love and light,

Print Recipe

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 25 - Not -So-Awful Offal

Liver is one of the nutrient-dense foods available but it's not one of my favorite things to eat unless it's my late-father cooking them for me. Through his cooking, I've learned how to appreciate liver.

Day 25 is Not-So-Awful Offal from Nourished Kitchen.

I've threatened, I've warned and now the time has come. Today we're going to talk about offal and why it was considered a sacred food among traditional societies and why it deserves an essential place on your menus. No ... don't close the email in disgust just yet. Hear me out.

If you cringe at the thought of liver and onions or steak and kidney pie, you're not alone. I still shudder a touch at the thought of preparing organ meats - though I fully appreciate their nutritive value. My freezer holds a bag filled with odds and ends: elk, beef, bison and chicken livers, a lamb heart and even a kidney or two. And as much as these foods still make me cringe a bit, they're really worth a good solid examination of their nutritive value.

While muscle meat offer plenty of protein, some wholesome fat and a decent profile of micronutrients, it's the organ meats that represent the truly best sources of many vitamins and minerals. Indeed, liver in particular is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available: a 100-gram portion of lamb liver contains more than twice the amount of folate and more than two-and-half times the amount vitamin A as a 100-gram portion of raw spinach. It is a potent food that is brimming with nutrients.

Including a small amount of liver or other organ meat into your diet once or twice a week, can go a long, far way in ensuring that you maximize your intake of vitamins and minerals, particularly folate and vitamin A which are critical to reproductive function and proper fetal development. Indeed, inadequate maternal folate and vitamin A intake are linked to birth defects.

Traditionally, our ancestors practiced nose-to-tail eating; that is, no part of the animal was left unused or wasted. Bones, as we learned yesterday, became mineral- and collagen-rich broth, muscle meat was consumed, but organ meats were treasured; afterall, they're vital foods.

Preparing Organ Meats. Organ meats can always use a good soaking overnight to improve their flavor. When I prepare them in our kitchen, I soak them in milk or buttermilk in the fridge for up to one day to improve their flavor.

If eating a plate full of liver and onions is unappealing, consider blending up to 1/4 pound liver to 1 lb of ground meat in strongly flavored dishes like bolognese sauce or a well-seasoned meatloaf. Or try chicken livers first, which are small and mildly flavored compared to beef, lamb or pork liver.

When you eat liver or other organ meats, take great care to make sure they're from grass-finished or pasture-raised animals.

Today's assignment is to acquire a source of pasture-raised or grass-finished liver (or other organ meat) and prepare it at home. In time, you'll learn to love these nourishing, nutrient-dense foods.

Day #25 Check List:
Prepare some liver at home. If this is your first time preparing organ meat at home, try a mildly flavored recipe or a recipe that may disguise the flavor slightly until you become better accustomed to this wholesome, nutrient-dense food.
Further Reading:
This is some good reading. Check up on the benefits of broths, stocks and soups.
Unless I could find a really good source of grass-finished liver, I might not eat them in a long, long time.. Liver Pate, anyone?

Love and light,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 24- Mineral-Rich Stocks & Broth

If you really want to start eating healthier, then make your own homemade stock at home. I know it's easier to buy a can of chicken stock or some bouillon powder or liquid, but this challenge is non-negotiable. Homemade stocks are indispensable easy to make which are made with real ingredients. And using ready made and instant stock is so different from the real thing. First of all, they do contain a lot of Monosodium Glutamate. Monosodium glutamate tricks the brain that whatever you’re eating is the best thing that you’ve ever had, causing you to consume more and more of the product. I've written a post Bringing Back the Real Umami and sad to say, some celebrity chefs are endorsing it. Second, the mineral content of the homemade stock is absolutely superior than the powdered ones. Hands down. Third, making stocks is one of the first lessons they teach you in culinary school because stocks are the foundation of every dish you make. The result of your end product is based on the stock that you've made.

Here's day 24 on Maximizing Mineral Intake with Homemade Broth from Nourished Kitchen.

We've just four more days on the 28-day challenge! Can you believe it? It's gone by pretty quickly. At the end of the challenge, we'll have a nice Q&A, so please
email me any questions you might have.

Today we're continuing on the subject of animal foods by taking a solid look at the value of mineral-rich stocks and broths in your kitchen.

You see, a good stock is the foundation of good cooking, and, in many ways, it is also a foundation of good health. Stocks and broths provide flavor to your foods, and, when prepared optimally, they also offer trace minerals as well as glucosamine chondroitin and represent an excellent source of the amino acid glycine.

We all know that chicken soup is good for nursing a cold, and there's reason behind it: the value of the broth. Recently researchers have been able to analyze why a good chicken soup may prove so powerful for the cold-ridden noses of winter: chicken mitigates the symptoms of colds by inhibiting neutraphil migration.

A good stock is a powerful food - rich in many micronutrients. In our home, we consume it daily and prepare it at least weekly.

Stocks and broths are easy to prepare at home and extremely affordable - as the primary ingredient in stock is bone which is inexpensive to purchase. If you have a good relationship with a local butcher or rancher, you may even be able to acquire the bones for free. (It's even listed as one of my 10 Ten Nutritional Powerhouses).

When preparing a mineral-rich stock, you can improve the flavor by first roasting your bones (or by using the bones of a roasted chicken) first, prior to stewing them. Add aromatic vegetables to the mix, and take great care to avoid brassicas as they will produce a stock with a faintly bitter, and unappealing flavor. Adding a touch of vinegar to the water helps to leach minerals from the bones, ensuring that the final stock is mineral-rich. Lastly, a long cooking time - but not too long - will help to ensure that your broth gels.

When cooled, a properly prepared stock will produce a gel, and this can range from a slightly thickened gelatinous goop that quivers when moved but still pours like a liquid to a solid gelatin that you must scoop out with a spoon. If your stock fails to gel, all isn't lost: afterall, it still offers flavor and trace minerals. With time, and experience, you'll become a fine maker of nutrient-dense broths and stocks.

Remember, enjoying real food is all about maximizing nutrient-density through traditional methods of food preparation and nothing's more traditional than a beautiful pot of broth simmering away on your hearth or stovetop.

Today's assignment is to prepare a mineral-rich stock made from bones, with the ultimate (and lofty) goal of acheiving a good, solid gel. If you're a broth fanatic already, why not take it a step further and prepare a broth from chicken feet?

Day #24 Check List:

Prepare a mineral-rich, natural stock and celebrate its beauty in your kitchen.
Further Reading:

This is some good reading. Check up on the benefits of broths, stocks and soups.
To help you get started in making your own homemade stock at home, play the Basic White Chicken Stock video below (to tease your palate) from Rouxbe Online Cooking school.

Rouxbe Online Cooking School & Video Recipes

Then expand your repertoire in making stocks by checking How to Make Chicken Stock, their other cooking lessons and video techniques. And check out how many dishes you can actually make. You will definitely change your mind about making your own.

Have fun.

Love and light,

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 23 - Pasture and Meadow

Should I say rejoice to bacon, lard and egg yolks? Read day 23's Eat your Bacon, Eggs and Lard at Nourished Kitchen.

The key is, when consuming meat and animal foods, that try your best to eat the meat of animals who have been raised as their nature intended, and for pork and poultry that means you should look for meadow-raised or pasture-raised options.

The Meaning of Meadow-raised: Hogs and poultry that are raised naturally are often referred to as pasture-raised, meadow-raised or pastured. The term implies that the animals were raised out-of-doors, under the sun, with plenty of access to clean water and natural foods.

Poultry and Eggs: For laying hens, raising them on pasture means considerably more nutrients in their eggs than in the eggs of conventionally raised, battery cage hens or even "free-range" eggs you find at the grocery store. When a hen is allowed to pick at the ground, eat fresh green sprouts, live grubs and insects, her eggs become denser in nutrients: particularly omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A. For you, it means that you will enjoy more nutrients if you consume the eggs of pasture-raised hens than the eggs of conventionally raised hens.

Don't believe me? Pick up some farm fresh, pastured eggs and crack one open. Then crack open a regular store-bought egg. You'll find that the yolk of the pastured egg is a rich orange and stands high and firm while the conventional egg's yolk will be palid by comparison and may even break easily. More color means more nutrients.

You'll also find that pasture-raised broilers, turkeys and wild ducks offer a richer flavor to their meat.

Meadow-raised Pork: One of the greatest benefits to consuming meadow- or pasture-raised pork is its vitamin D content. Much like humans, hogs synthesize vitamin D through their skin which means that their fat can be a very rich source of natural vitamin D - a substance that is critical given that recent research indicates that over 70% of US children suffer from insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels (and adults don't fare much better). If the hogs aren't given adequate access to sunlight, as is the case with most conventionally raised animals, they cannot synthesize vitamin D. (Read more about vitamin D).

Pork is also a very good source of monounsaturated fatty acids - that same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil and avocado. Indeed, monounsaturated fat constitutes a full 45% of the total fat content of lard with saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat constituting the remaining 55%. Due to the combined benefits of both vitamin D and monounsaturated fat, meadow-raised pork, lard and even bacon can bring valuable nourishment and flavor to your supper table.

Today's assignment is to track down a source of farm fresh eggs and pasture-raised poultry or pork. You can find it from online sources or check out your farmers market or even Local Harvest for a source near you. Then scramble some eggs, or roast some real pork or go a step further and learn how to render lard - one of the most potent sources of vitamin D outside of cod liver oil.

Day #22: Check List:

Eat some bacon and learn to love it, already!
Further Reading:
Read more about the benefits of pasture-raised poultry and pork:

I do have my bacon and lard once in a while and eggs almost everyday. Just because this post has given you the go signal, doesn't mean they have to become a huge part of your meal. Incorporate them into your dishes just like your grandmother would. I know, my grandmother did and she lived until she's 96 years old.

Love and light,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 22 - Why You Should Eat Red Meat

I just made beef adobo the other day with some coconut milk and chilies. I tried to avoid meat but after a few weeks, I knew there's something missing.

Read Day 22 - Meet your Meat from Nourished Kitchen

It's our very last week on the challenge, and the focus this week is on meat: why you need it, how to choose it and how to prepare it well.

Traditionally, animals were raised under natural, healthful conditions. They were fed their natural diet, given plenty of room to roam and the result of these practices meant that their meat, milk and eggs were dense in wholesome fats and vitamins.

After World War II, the face of American farms changed. In an effort to modernize, farming lost its intimacy and a critical connection to the earth. The results of concentrated animal feeding operations were disastrous - for animals, for human health and for the environment.

While some have championed the solution of veganism as an answer to the negative ramifications of industrial animal farming there is a better alternative: choose to eat ethically, sustainably and traditionally. Animal foods like meat, enjoy a rich heritage and are also rich in nutrients, some of which cannot be found in notable amounts in plant foods, namely vitamin D, vitamin B12, DHA and EPA. Meat, eggs, milk and cheese have a place.

The Meaning of Grass-fed. "Grass-fed" or "Grass-finished" are terms that apply to ruminant animals (bison, cattle, goats, sheep etc) who are fed exclusively on their natural diet: grass. Grass-feeding drastically improves the nature of the fats present in the animals meat - improving their conjugated linoleic acid content (read more about CLA, Disease and Diet) and improving the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids.

Furthermore, the incidence of e. coli (O157:H7) infection in grass-fed animals is .0004 of what it is among grain-fed, confined animals - meaning that the risk of contracting e coli from grass-fed meat is virtually nonexistent, especially when compared to conventionally raised animals. (Read more: 10 Reasons to eat red meat).

Note that most cattle begin their lives on grass and raised naturally prior to being moved from open range to confined feedlots. For this reason, unless you're purchasing directly from a source you know and trust, you should always ask your butcher if the meat was grass-finished which means it was not, in anyway, finished on grain. (Read more: Grass-finished vs. CAFO)

What if, no matter what, you want to stick to vegetarianism? When Weston Price, DDS traveled the world in the early part of the 20th century - investigating the traditional diets of native peoples who had not yet been touched by the effects of industrialization and refinement of their foods, he was unable to find a truly healthy, vegetarian society. Traditional peoples, world-wide always consumed some form of animal food and while some cultures eschew meat, they still enjoy other animal foods: eggs, milk, yogurts and cheeses.

If you are a vegetarian and the idea of eating meat is unappealing, but you're interested in making a change, please read the Vegetarian Tour of the Weston A Price Foundation's website. If you're still not convinced, simply take great care to consume wholesome, nutrient-dense fats and properly prepared plant foods. Include pastured eggs as well as the milk, yogurt and cheeses from grass-fed goats, cows or sheep.

Keep in mind that grass-finished meats - due to the difference in fat compared to conventional beef - need to be prepared differently. Roasts and stews benefit from a long, slow cooking while steaks and burgers should be cooked quickly and never served well-done. Don't forget to learn how to pan-fry a great steak.

Today's assignment is to track down a source of grass-finished beef, bison or lamb. You can find it from online sources or check out your farmers market or even Local Harvest for a source near you. Then make yourself a nice, big juicy steak or pot roast or burger.

Day #22: Check List:

Eat some REAL meat! Try these recipes:
I haven't found a good source yet. While you're looking for a good source of grass-finished beef, lamb or bison, I just remembered this How to Cook Premium Steaks from Rouxbe Online Cooking School which is must-see video.

Love and light,

28 Day Real Food Challenge Day 21 – Vegetables and Salads (and another reason to eat your fat!)

I’m so glad that I’m not alone in this challenge. While we try to eat as much vegetables and salads into our daily lives, we try avoid fat. Why? I know for some people they want to reduce their calorie intake all for the reason of losing that excess weight. I don't blame you. I don't mind if you reduce your fat intake in the right manner and for the right reasons. But I do have problems when people substitute real fats with fake ones. There will be more topics on fats later on this week.

And day 21 is Vegetables and Salads from Nourished Kitchen. So far, I am doing the things listed below. I also think you’re on the right tract.

In our home, organic vegetables, leafy greens and fresh fruit make up the bulk of our meals by volume. This evening we enjoyed a small amount roast pasture-raised chicken seasoned with smoked paprika and saffron, mashed garnet yams, spinach and a sweetener-free black cherry sorbet.

Vegetables, greens and fruits provide interest, variety and micronutrients to your supper plate, but there's a few things you can do to maximize their value.

Ferment vegetables where you can. While we discussed the benefits of incorporating naturally fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi into your diet on regular basis, it's always worth reiterating. Fermentation increases the nutrient value of our foods - particularly B vitamins, and it also offers beneficial bacteria which are critical to your health as they help to produce vitamins in your intestinal tract and they support proper immune system function.

Serve your vegetables with fat. We touched on the role of nourishing, wholesome fats earlier in the challenge, but it's important to remember to always serve your vegetables with fat. Many nutrients in vegetables are fat-soluble, that is, in order for your body yo absorb the nutrients in vegetables, you must also eat them with fat. Even antioxidants such as lycopene are better absorbed when consumed with fat.

So when you serve vegetables, always make sure you add a bit of wholesome fat to the dish: butter melted in with mashed yams, hollandaise sauce served over steamed asparagus, roasted root vegetables sprinkled with a touch of olive oil just prior to serving. Your vegetables needn't swim in added fat, but a touch of fat will enable your body to maximize the nutrient value of your vegetables.

Lightly cook most greens. Just as nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes contain antinutrients which inhibit your body from fully absorbing their nutrients, so do certain vegetables. Swiss chard, beets and beet greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts, lambsquarters, collards, purslane and amaranth all contain notable amounts of oxalic acid - an antinutrient much like phytic acid which binds up calcium preventing your body from fully absorbing it. Oxalic acid, incidentally, is also implicated in the development of kidney stones.

The key then, isn't really to avoid these foods unless your health care provider indicates you should, but, rather, make sure you cook them - if only lightly. A bit of raw spinach or fresh parsley or chives here or there is not problematic for most people, but those with mineral absorption issues may wish to be especially vigilant.

Prepare your own salad dressing. Salads are refreshing and, as a raw food, provide food enzymes to your diet and are a good source of otherwise heat-sensitive vitamins. You can prepare a beautiful and simple salad dressing by combining 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup raw cider vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic and minced fresh herbs.

Today's assignment is to make sure that you stop serving your vegetables naked, and, instead, make sure to include a healthy dose of wholesome fat with your next serving of vegetables whether its butter melted over steamed carrots or olive oil served over a salad of fresh mesclun lettuce.

Day #21 Check List:

Serve your veggies with fat. Need a recipe? Try these:

Not too hard, right?

Love and light,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challenge: Week 3 Evaluation

Last week’s challenge was both a real challenge and a pleasure.

I am still in the hunt for local sources of culture but so far I couldn’t find any. While I still have my sourdough starter resting in the fridge, I really need to remember to feed it once a week and while they’re still active, I better start baking a sourdough bread.

I just made another batch of kimchi the other day but I haven’t experimented with the other cultured vegetables yet.

Making yogurt and cheese would be a great addition to my repertoire too and I would actually like to start making goat’s cheese first and pair it with my sourdough bread.

Preparing nuts and seeds, beans and legumes may take a little bit more time but as I cook more with beans and legumes, preparing them became second nature.

So far, last week gave me new knowledge and insights about real food. This week is the last week of the real food challenge but the challenge for me is far from over.

Love and light,

How to Make Proper Fish Cakes

This month's guest blogger is a good friend Penny of Jeroxie. If Penny and I were to hang out, I could imagine us trying new restaurants together all over the city whether in Metro Manila or in Melbourne. We'll eat and shop till we drop. But here's a light, refreshing dish from Penny that would tantalize and tickle your taste buds.

Have you ever wondered why some home made fish cakes or fish balls are more bouncy than others? I found this traditional method while surfing the net one day and had made many fish cakes and fish balls ever since. As all good and simple things in life, it takes a little more time and effort. I tend to curse and swear quietly as my arms will feel so sore after continuous slapping of the fish mixture. But as always, it is very rewarding and satisfying.

I was totally thrilled when Divina asked for me to be her guest blogger. I offered to do it this month as my garden was still pretty bare in January. With my very late planting, it means that my tomatoes aren't ready but delighted that the rest of my herbs are flourishing. Therefore, all the herbs used in the fish mixture is from the garden.

From the garden


Fish cake
  • 1.1kg of trevally
  • 11/2 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 4 finely chopped red chillies
  • A handful of finely chopped parsley
  • A handful of finely chopped coriander
  • A handful of finely chopped spring onions
  • Salt and white pepper

Minced fish with chopped herbs

Simple Salad
  • 2 small carrots, finely julienned
  • 2 small cucumbers, skinned, de-seeded and finely sliced
  • 4 cherry capsicums, finely diced
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 16 grapes, halved
  • Good quality olive oil

A simple salad of grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots

  • Scrape the flesh off the skin with a porcelain soup spoon. Remove any bloodline and bones if any. Use a chopped and mince it. Place the minced fish in a big metal bowl
  • Add all the ingredients for the fish cake except the fish sauce and mix it through. Start grabbing a handful of fish mixture and slap it against the side of the metal. (Watch the youtube video below) It takes awhile and be prepared for sore arms later!
  • Since the mixture becomes sticky, add the fish sauce and continue till the mixture looks like fish mash
  • Shape the fish cake and add it to the hot pan with olive oil. Bring the heat down to medium and shallow fry it till they are lightly brown on both sides or cooked
  • For the salad, mix all the ingredients together and just add olive oil
  • Serve the fish cakes and the salad together.

Fish cake with simple salad

For this post, I have especially made my first iMovieyoutube video and hopefully it illustrates how the fish slapping is done. Would love to hear your feedback.

I had so much fun making this and kicked myself for not trying to find more time to make this more often. It made a very light and refreshing Sunday brunch for Mister and myself. I guess this is the healthier and yummy option to our usual bacon and eggs menu! :)

Thanks Divina for the opportunity to guest blog.

Thanks Penny for your time and for the wonderful recipe. I will be making this really soon.

Love and light,

Print Recipe

Sunday, February 21, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 20 - Maximizing the Nutrient Value of Beans and Legumes

This is the challenge that most people are familiar with and I've done quite a few recipes on beans and legumes on this blog. Here's a post Improving Legumes Digestibility which is very helpful most especially if you have a weak digestive system.

And to further improve the nutrient uptake of beans and legumes, here's day 20 from Nourished Kitchen.

Earlier in the challenge we discussed the essential role that sprouting, souring or soaking grain offers in terms of mitigating naturally antinutrients like phytic acid which are naturally present in whole grain. Yesterday, we returned to the subject by addressing enzyme inhibitors naturally present in nuts and seeds - and what we can do to neutralize such antinutrients. Today, we'll wrap up the discussion by touching on the benefits and detriments of another popular plant food: beans and legumes.

Beans and legumes are rich sources of nutrients: folate which is critical for reproductive function and the prevention of birth defects as well as a wide array of minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and copper. Yet, without proper preparation of this wholesome and inexpensive food, your body is not fully able to absorb the nutrients.

Beans and legumes, much like grains, nuts and seeds, can offer great variety to the human diet as well as an impressive array of vitamins and minerals; however, their value is hampered by phytic acid that pesky antinutrient we discussed at length earlier this month which binds to minerals and prevents your body from full absorbing them. Nutrition researcher Amanda Rose of Rebuild from Depression indicates that properly preparing beans and legumes may increase mineral absorption by 50 - 100%. That's a worthwhile pursuit.

To properly soak beans you need three components: warmth, acicity and time. In combination, these three factors can mitigate the effects of phytic acid and enable your body to fully absorb their vital minerals. Ideally, beans should be soaked in water heated to 140 degrees fahrenheit to which you've added a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar or other acidic ingredient for a minimum of 12 hours and up to 48 hours. Fewer than twelve hours may not allow adequate time to effectively neutralize naturally present antinutrients, while a soaking period of longer than 48 hours may result in funky flavor.

An effective way of accomplishing this is to heat water on the stove until quite warm, mix in some cider vinegar and pour over your beans or legumes. Cover the pot to help the water retain its warmth and place it in a warm spot in your kitchen. Soak the beans for 12 to 48 hours, rinse, drain and prepare as you normally would, knowing that the cooking time will be decreased.

Keep in mind that you needn't be rigid in your adherence to temperature, time and acidity. Do the best you can and enjoy your time in the kitchen.

Today's assignment is to prepare a batch of beans or legumes, maximizing their nutrient-density by paying attention to warmth, acidity and time.

Day #20 Check List:

Prepare a pot of beans:

Further Reading:
Read more about properly preparing beans:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 19 - Preparing Nuts and Seeds

Here's an easy challenge that you can do: soaking nuts. They are high in beneficial fats but their fats are also fragile so I always keep mine in the fridge. And that also reminds me that I need to use those nuts before they become rancid due to long storage.

Here's day 18 on how to prepare your nuts and seeds from Nourished Kitchen.

We've wrapped up our section on naturally fermented foods which covered symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBYs), fermented vegetables, yogurts and cheeses, and before we begin Week #4 of the Real Food Challenge which will cover animal foods, vegetables and giving back to the community, we'll cover the value of nuts and seeds.

Nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense, valuable foods that can add variety and interest to your dinner table. Indeed, nuts and seeds frequently appear as one of the most nutrient-dense plant foods available (learn more about which plant and animal foods offer the greatest nutritional punch.) They offer a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, vitamin B6 and folate.

Nuts and seeds, much like grains, need to be soaked or treated first in order to improve your body's ability to fully digest them. Unlike grains, nuts and seeds are not particularly rich sources of phytic acid (the antinutrient found in grains that binds up minerals preventing your body from fully absorbing them); rather, they are a source of enzyme inhibitors - which bind to enzymes, decreasing your body's ability to fully digest your food.

Enzyme inhibtors are found in the papery skins that surround nuts, and can be effectively mitigate in three ways:
  1. removing the papery skin
  2. soaking the nuts in a slightly saline solution
  3. roasting them.

Today's assignment is to make the commitment to include properly prepared nuts and seeds into your diet, if you tolerate them and do not suffer from allergies.

Day #19 Check List:

Properly prepare nuts and seeds:
  • Prepare a dish with blanched almond flour (almond flour does not need soaking as the almonds' papery skins hae already been removed).
  • Submerge nuts or seeds under warm water in which you've dissolved 1 tablespoon or so of unrefined sea salt overnight, then prepare as you normally would or dehydrate until thoroughly dry and crispy.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, spread nuts over a baking sheet and sprinkle with unrefined sea salt. Roast for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from the oven, cool and serve.

Love and light,

Friday, February 19, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 18 - Making Cheese at Home

Here's another project you can do at home: making your own cheese. I made some yogurt cheese the other day and they are great as an icing for cupcakes flavored with some fresh strawberry puree. You can also mix some herbs or sun dried tomatoes and spread them on bread. This is just the beginning and I have a few more to go.

You can make your own cheese and here's day 18 from Nourished Kitchen.

One of the greatest pleasures that can be had in your kitchen is cheesemaking. I know. I know. It seems complex. It doesn't have to be.

Cheesemaking, as with lactic acid fermentation, arose out of practicality: it provided a way for people to preserve milk for times when the cows naturally went dry. Today, we don't think of dairy products as a seasonal food, but they are, or, rather, they ought to be.

You see, cream and milk is at its freshest and most nutrient-dense in the early spring when young green grasses proliferate and grow. What a cow consumes, not only flavors her milk but also provides its nutrients. When grass, a cow's natural diet, is at its best and richest point, so, then, is the milk the cow produces. For this reason, dairying peoples across the globe valued the cream and butter produced during spring more greatly than the milk produced during the rest of the milking season.

In our home, when the cows from our cow share go dry, we don't rely on grocery store milks; but, rather, we rely on homemade cheeses and yogurts.

Doubtlessly some cheeses are difficult to make, requiring years of practice and exotic starter cultures, but, it can also be made simply and well with little more than a cheesecloth and a good quality homemade yogurt.

Today's assignment is to make your own cheese. If you're new to cheesemaking, begin by making labneh - a soft, spreadable yogurt cheese similar in consistency and flavor to cream cheese or neufchatel. If labneh doesn't strike your fancy, try making homemade mozzarella or ricotta, both of which are quite easy to prepare at home.

Day #18 Check List:

Make your own cheese:

  • Try making labneh or yogurt cheese, all it requires is fresh yogurt, a cheese or butter cloth and a rubberband.
  • Try making fresh mozzarella, it requires an acidic agent, rennet, salt, a thermometer and good gloves
  • Try making Indian paneer, it requires vinegar and milk
  • Try making an easy ricotta, all you need is cream, milk, salt and and an acidifying agent like lemon juice or vinegar
  • Or, if you're looking for something a little more exotic (my favorite is homemade feta cheese), consider picking up a cheesemaking kit or the book Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carrol (see sources).
Further Reading:
Learn more about the value of natural, homemade cheese:
Have fun!

Love and light,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

28 Day Real Food Challange: Day 17 - Making Yogurt at Home

I have some plain yogurt and I have milk although not raw. I've been wanting to make my own yogurt at home the same way I want to make butter. Another challenge is to find the starter culture but I'll try it with the plain yogurt I have at the moment. By the way, if you eat fruit-flavored yogurt like I used to, continue reading, as some local products still contain a lot of sugar. You can actually make your own fruit-flavored yogurt at home.

Here's Day 17 from Nourished Kitchen.

We're continuing this week's discussion of naturally probiotic, fermented foods and their value to your health today by touching on yogurts and cultured dairy foods.

Cultured dairy foods, like all traditional foods, enjoy a long history, but it might surprise to learn that the number of cultured dairy foods far exceeds the yogurt and kefir you find in the dairy section of your supermarket. Moreover, cultured dairy foods are easy to prepare in your own kitchen.

Culturing dairy products like milk and cream helps to optimize nutrient density, indeed, not only are cultured dairy foods rich sources of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria, but they're also quite rich in B vitamins. Indeed, the longer you allow kefir, a cultured dairy food, to ferment the richer a source of folate it becomes.

Cultured dairy foods, like yogurt, can be easily divided into two categories: mesophilic or thermophilic. Mesophilic starters will culture at room temperature. An example of a mesophilic cultured dairy product is kefir - to prepare it you simply mix fresh milk with milk kefir grains (see sources) and allow it to sit at room temperature while the beneficial strains of bacteria do their work, eating up the naturally present milk sugars and converting them to lactic acid which accounts for the tangy flavor of kefir and other cultured dairy foods. Thermophilic starters will culture milk products in a slightly warm environment, the yogurt you find on super market shelves is a good example of this technique. Different bacteria strains require different environments.

Mesophilic: Mesophilic yogurts culture best at room temperature, and, for this reason, they require no expensive equipment or temperature monitoring. If you are short on time, or are looking for an easy way to prepare natural yogurts and cultured dairy products in your home, a mesophilic starter will be your best bet. Examples of mesophilic cultured dairy foods include kefir which originates in the Caucasus as well as piima, fil mjolk and viili which are room temperature yogurts of Scandinavian origin, each of which offer their own, unique characteristics. Bonny clabber, which is also a wild ferment in that it relies on the beneficial bacteria inherently found in raw milk rather than a starter culture, is also a mesophilic cultured dairy food.

To prepare a room temperature, or mesophilic yogurt, simply combine about two tablespoons of starter to one quart fresh milk or cream in a glass jar, and allow it to sit, covered, at room temperature for 1 to 3 days, or until the yogurt cleanly separates from the glass jar when tilted. Refrigerate and serve.

You can purchase room temperature yogurts online (see sources) or see if there's anything posted on the cultures and starters exchange.

Thermophilic: Most yogurts that you've enjoyed are likely to be thermophilic yogurts, including the yogurts you can purchase from your super market or health food store. These yogurts culture best at a temperature slightly above body temperature or around 104 degrees to 110 degrees.

To prepare thermophilic yogurt, you need to acquire a starter culture. You can purchase starter cultures online (see sources) or even head to your local supermarket and pick up a small container of plain yogurt to use as your starter. Stir two tablespoons of starter culture into 1 quart milk and pour the mixture into a yogurt maker (you can also use a slowcooker for a different method) and leave overnight or up to twelve hours. Refrigerate the yogurt after it has adequately cultured so that it will firm up a bit and solidify.

Today's assignment is to make your own homemade cultured dairy food, whether its kefir, a room temperature yogurt or classic, thermophilic yogurt.

Day #17 Check List:

Culture your own yogurt:

  • Prepare either a mesophilic yogurt or a thermophilic yogurt.
  • If your kitchen is well stocked with yogurt and kefir already, why not try preparing bonny clabber by taking a quart or so of fresh raw milk (no, pasteurized will NOT work) and setting it on your counter to clabber in a few days time. Traditionally, bonny clabber was served with nutmeg and, occasionally, a touch of molasses.
Further Reading:
Interested in learning more about the role of cultured dairy foods in traditional diets?
I must admit I am catching up on this challenge. But I've printed the past few articles and their related contents. But so far I'm enjoying it.

Love and light,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From Rosti to Gnocchi

Last week, I thought of making a recipe to be submitted for another website but sometimes things are beyond your control. Plan A was to make a cauliflower and sweet potato soup with roasted cauliflowers and stilton walnut toast. But my blender broke down. Plan B was sweet potato rosti, a walnut and gorgonzola quenelle with sprout salad. But after steaming and grating the sweet potatoes, they turned into a mash. Initially, I wanted to grate the sweet potatoes, squeeze the water out before frying them. But I usually steam my regular potatoes before grating and cooking them. But sweet potatoes and regular starchy potatoes are two different things with different texture. So, as I was grating the rest of the sweet potatoes, I decided to make some gnocchi (considered plan C). Making gnocchi is a therapeutic activity and the rolling of each piece of “pillows” is the fun and relaxing part. The last time I made gnocchi was more than a year ago. That long, eh?

I started with 600 grams of cooked mashed sweet potatoes, added 1 egg yolk and enough flour to form a dough. I didn’t measure the flour but just rely on the touch and feel of the dough. When the dough doesn’t stick to my hands anymore, also making sure that I don’t use a lot, I cook a piece in simmering water to check the consistency which is an important thing to do before shaping the rest of the gnocchi. You can also use some whole wheat pastry flour but note that the dough will be heavier with a chewier texture. But for this recipe, I went for all-purpose flour. It’s not also necessary to use a gnocchi board but my former chef instructor gave it to me and I just love using them.

Rouxbe Online Cooking School has a great video in making potato gnocchi. Once you’ve learned the basics of making a basic gnocchi, you won’t need to rely on gnocchi recipes anymore. The water content of the potatoes would vary from one place to another. And the older the potato, the less moisture they have, so the amount of flour needed in making gnocchi is not written in stone. I’ve learned to make a proper gnocchi in cooking school. But I never had the chance to make it in practical kitchen until I joined a competition. That’s when I started to love making gnocchi.

I tossed this gnocchi with some Chinese Broccoli and feta cheese but when I saw this Gnocchi al Gongonzola by Frank at Memoire di Angelina, I got to have a bowl of it. I think the sweet potato gnocchi and the blue cheese go well together but as Frank says, try to "use gorgonzola dolce which is young, creamy and quite mild in flavor as opposed to gorgonzola piccante, which is aged longer, resulting in a firmer texture and sharper taste". And I also love my gnocchi with a lot of sauce.

The first bite is just pure heaven with the umami-saltiness of the cheese and finished with the innocent sweetness of the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes do have a monotonous flavor so a sauce with a little bit of pungency is just perfect.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce

600 grams sweet potatoes (about 3 medium)
2 tsp water
1/2 tsp salt

1 egg yolk
1- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Unrefined sea salt (fine)
freshly grated nutmeg

2 tbsp butter
1 to 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (about 120 grams)
unrefined sea salt, to taste
freshly ground white pepper

To make the gnocchi, follow this text recipe and the video at Rouxbe Online Cooking School. Once you've learned how to make gnocchi, you won't need a recipe. I promise!

To cook the gnocchi, bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer and add the salt. Then, add the gnocchi and gently stir to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom of the pot. While the gnocchi is cooking, prepare the sauce.

To prepare the sauce, remove the rind from the blue cheese and cut into cubes. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter is melted add the cream and the cheese and cook until the cheese has melted and the cream has thickened slightly. Season with salt to taste.

To serve the dish, lift out the gnocchis from the water as soon as they float to the top. Allow the excess water to drain and gently add them to the sauce. Gently toss the mixture in the pan until they are coated

Spoon onto 4 individual bowls and serve immediately. Gnocchi waits for no one so dive in.

  • Sometimes I make my gnocchi first before measuring them by weight. I allow 150 to 200 grams of gnocchi per person depending on the other components of the meal. I find that it's easier that way instead of measuring how much ingredients you need to make a batch of gnocchi. But it's just my personal opinion. At the restaurant where I used to work in Vancouver, I have a colleague named Bruce who just gathers the potatoes and makes the gnocchi before weighing them per serving. You can do the same. :) So, for this dish, I used about 150 grams of gnocchi with 1/3 cup of heavy cream and about 25 grams of cheese.

  • If cream is to heavy and filling for you, substitute with whole milk. (no skim or non-fat, please).

  • You can also finish dish this with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

  • Gnocchi cools down quickly. You can place individual bowls in a preheated oven at the lowest setting to keep your bowls warm.

Love and light,

Print Recipe