Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spinach Stuffed Chicken

I'm starting to think about Valentine's Day.  It's about two weeks away, and it can't be here soon enough.

So I'm trying out main dish recipes.  I don't mind experimenting with an appetizer or sometimes even a dessert on the night of a special dinner, but I want the main dish to be to DIE for.  Last year I did a Julia Child rendition of Tarragon Chicken (back in the pre-Paleo days), and it was amazing.  I'm pretty sure I can adapt that one for Paleo.  I promise, I'll get to that.

Tonight, I'm testing a Paleo adaptation of Spinach Stuffed Chicken.  If you do a quick google search, you'll find that most stuffed chicken recipes include a good amount of cheese or sour cream or mayonnaise.  (I haven't mastered the art of homemade mayo yet.)  I found a recipe that looked easily adaptable here, and dug in to the fun.

First, instead of pounding the chicken breasts, this recipe recommends simply cutting them horizontally, and then "stuffing" and assembling them, sort of sandwich-style.  I wanted the look of a stuffed roll, so I took my amazingly sharp knives that Superman bought me for Christmas and carefully cut the chicken breast without going all the way through, like this:

The stuffing is a sauteed mixture of onion, garlic, and spinach.

Divide the stuffing and distribute on the chicken breast, rolling from the wider end to the narrower end.

Drizzle with melted fat of your choice, and sprinkle with almond meal and dried rosemary.  Bake as directed.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
sprinkle of ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 big handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and split horizontally
1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 375º.

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, salt, red pepper, and black pepper; cook and stir until onion is soft, then add chopped spinach. Remove from heat and set  aside.

Pour white wine in the bottom of a 9x11 glass baking dish.

Cut the chicken breasts almost all the way in half horizontally using a very sharp knife.  Divide spinach filling evenly among breasts and roll up from wide end to narrow end.  Place rolls in the baking dish.

Drizzle each chicken roll with butter or coconut oil; sprinkle with almond meal, and sprinkle with dried rosemary.  Bake for 60 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked.

Remove chicken from oven; let rest for 5 minutes before serving. To serve, cut each breast into 3 or 4 slices on the diagonal to expose the stuffing, or simply leave each portion whole.

Excellent teamed with Pecan Cilantro Quinoa and Romaine-Blueberry salad.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rosemary Fig Crackers

Elana's Pantry comes up with a lot of winners.  I've enjoyed several of her recipes.  This one was absolutely divine.  I see you saying to yourself, "But I can't make crackers!  Don't they use special machinery for that?"  Ah, but you can -- and you don't need special equipment.  In fact, it's pretty easy.  Here's what you'll need:

A mixing bowl (or a food processor)
A spatula
A baking sheet
Parchment paper
A rolling pin (I found it worked well to use a traditional rolling pin initially, then to switch to my single-hand rolling pin -- it looks like this:

...but you can make the crackers without one of those.)

Now, because I needed to make my own almond flour, I threw some raw almonds in the food processor and whirred them until they were as fine as I could get them (this is a noisy process.  Don't do it while you're on the phone with your fiancé, or while your daughter is attempting to do her homework at the kitchen table).  Then I dropped the rest of the ingredients in and mixed them together in the food processor as well.  Rolling it out was easy, although it was tricky to get a uniform thickness.  The crackers around the outside got a little extra-toasted, since they were thinner there.  The rolling and cutting of the crackers is easier to do on the counter first, then move the entire thing to a baking sheet before putting in the oven.

p.s. The house smells delicious while they're baking.

close up of uncooked cracker dough

pre-baked, uncut crackers

baked crackers

mmmmm.... rosemary fig crackers

little stack o' crackers and ham

Rosemary Fig Crackers
1 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
3-4 dried figs, chopped
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, stir together almond flour, salt, rosemary and figs.
Mix in egg and oil until well combined.
Roll out dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper until ⅛ inch thick.
Remove the top layer of parchment paper.
Cut dough with a knife or pizza cutter into 2 inch squares.
Place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Cool and serve.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cafe Rio Style Pork Salad (Paleo!)

I absolutely love the Cafe Rio Pork Salad.  Yes, even the huge white flour tortilla.   Is there a way to enjoy the flavors without cheating on my healthy lifestyle?  Why, yes.  Yes there is.

Start off with Lime and Chile "Rice".  Top it with Amazing Pulled Pork.  Throw some shredded lettuce on that and liberally dollop with Perfect Guacamole.  Squeeze a lime wedge over the whole thing.  ENJOY.

Lime and Chile "Rice"
In a large heavy pan, saute:
2 T. fat (butter, coconut oil, etc.)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Add the following:
1 head cauliflower, finely chopped, or shredded
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. cumin
1 small can chopped green chiles
juice from 1/2 lime
1/2 c. water
salt and pepper to taste

Stir everything together.  Use enough water so the mixture doesn't dry out and stick to the pan, but not so much that it turns into a soup.  Stir occasionally until cauliflower is tender.

Perfect Guacamole
2 ripe avocados, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 slice onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
several sprigs of cilantro, chopped
juice from 1 lime
kosher salt (to taste)

Stir it all together.  Rather than mashing your avocados into a paste, enjoy the textures of the different ingredients.  Mmmmmmmm.

Fat and Cholesterol

I've been wanting to write this post for months.  After the 60-day challenge last year, I proceeded with my goal to get poked and prodded and squished.  The mammogram results came back great.  My physical and PAP both looked stellar.  (By the way, did you know that even if you've had a hysterectomy, you still need to get PAP tests?)  The bloodwork was a long list of terms and numbers that I don't really understand, but since I was in the "recommended range" for nearly everything, there was no cause for worry.  I was especially happy to see my glucose numbers within the normal category, since diabetes is a hereditary concern for me.

Now, cholesterol.  I'd been wondering how that would play out.  And I've been doing a lot of research on the topic (which is the big reason I've taken so long to sit down and write this post).  I found a very informative article here, at Mark's Daily Apple (and also here and here).  Very educational stuff.

This is what my lipid profile looks like:

Total cholesterol: 191
Triglyceride: 60
HDL cholesterol: 71
non HDL cholesterol: 120
VLDL cholesterol: 12
LDL cholesterol: 108
Total cholesterol to HDL ratio: 2.7

I asked the nurse on the phone what all those cholesterol numbers actually meant, since I had no idea.  She told me all the recommended ranges for each and was very patient while I wrote things down.  Then she told me that my LDL level was above recommended range.  What should I do about that?

"Eat a more healthy diet and exercise more," she replied.

Exercise more?  More?!?  According to my brother, my next goal is to bench press a building.  I honestly don't know very many women (especially my age) who exercise like I do.  And my diet?  How many Americans eat this quality of whole, real food?  Or are this careful about how much sugar they take in?  That's when I went on the hunt for more information about cholesterol and its role.

Just yesterday, I read a very succinct article in Men's Health (What If Bad Fat Is Actually Good For You?, by Nina Teicholz) that pulled together all the things I'd been learning.  I highly recommend it (try to ignore all the ads that are typical of a Mens magazine, though).
Supporters of the diet-heart hypothesis have argued that low-carb diets will increase the risk of heart disease. But published research doesn't show this to be the case. When people on low-carb diets have been compared head-to-head with those on low-fat diets, the low-carb dieters typically scored significantly better on markers of heart disease, including small, dense LDL cholesterol, HDL/LDL ratio, and triglycerides, which are a measure of the amount of fat circulating in your blood.

For example, in a new 12-week study, University of Connecticut scientists placed overweight men and women on either a low-carb or low-fat diet. Those who followed the low-carb diet consumed 36 grams of saturated fat per day (22 percent of total calories), which represented more than three times the amount in the low-fat diet. Yet despite this considerably greater intake of saturated fat, the low-carb dieters reduced both their number of small, dense LDL cholesterol and their HDL/LDL ratio to a greater degree than those who ate a low-fat diet. In addition, triglycerides decreased by 51 percent in the low-carb group--compared with 19 percent in the low-fat group.
So, that speaks to the whole heart-health issue.  Did you know there are different types of LDL cholesterol particles?  Small/dense = bad.  Large/fluffy = harmless.  (Unfortunately, my test results didn't include that information.)  The next couple of paragraphs summarizes much of what I learned in Gary Taubes' book "Why We Get Fat":
According to lead study author Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., two factors influence the amount of fat coursing through your veins. The first, of course, is the amount of fat you eat. But the more important factor is less obvious. Turns out, your body makes fat from carbohydrates. It works like this: The carbs you eat (particularly starches and sugar) are absorbed into your bloodstream as sugar. As your carb intake rises, so does your blood sugar. This causes your body to release the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to return your blood sugar to normal, but it also signals your body to store fat. As a result, your liver starts converting excess blood sugar to triglycerides, or fat.
All of which helps explain why the low-carb dieters in Volek's study had a greater loss of fat in their blood. Restricting carbs keeps insulin levels low, which lowers your internal production of fat and allows more of the fat you do eat to be burned for energy.
That.  That right there.  Before Paleo, I used to think that a low-carber was losing weight simply because once you cut out an entire nutrient category, naturally you'd be eating less food altogether.  I was mistaken (and thank goodness, because I really like eating). 
Based on the research of Volek and Dr. Krauss, a weight-loss or maintenance diet in which some carbohydrates are replaced with fat -- even if it's saturated -- will reduce markers of heart-disease risk more than if you followed a low-fat, high-carb diet.
I've conquered my previously discouraging battle with being overweight.  It's an ongoing process, but I have the right tools in my belt now.  And based on the research (go educate yourself), I am not worried about my cholesterol numbers.  My heart should last a good long time.  Superman and I are both excited about that.  :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Get fit!

There has been some razzing in the family that Superman and I will be having a Crossfit Wedding, and that the family photos will be in workout attire.  And while I hope to nod to Crossfit somehow, since I want our wedding to be representative of who we are, I doubt I'll go quite that far.

Be that as it may, many members of my family have decided to use the wedding date as a fitness goal, which I think is terrific.  Any inspiration to get healthy is good in my book and I heartily approve of it.

I remember before I started Body For Life, how I would overwhelm myself with fitness programs and lists and diets.  It's no wonder I didn't have much success in those years.  That was not a fitness style that worked for me.  Body For Life was a simple well-laid-out structure that seemed realistic, and I experienced great success with it.  But I got bored with it easily, and then I would backslide.

Enter my current love affair with Crossfit and Paleo.  At first, I thought it sounded way too difficult and complex.  I now marvel at its simplicity.

Food:  Meat and Seafood, Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts and Seeds.

Exercise:  Functional Movement, Constantly Varied, performed at High Intensity. Definitely not boring.

The food, as you may notice from past blog entries, can be quite gourmet and delicious alongside its straightforward ingredients.  The exercise can be adapted to every fitness level.  Don't be scared of working out hard just because someone else can deadlift 400 lbs.  Work hard at what YOU can do and your results will be impressive.

And keep those spandex shorts handy.  You never know when you'll need to wear them to a wedding. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who wears the pants in this family?

In the spirit of challenging old ideas, today's post will deviate from our usual food and exercise format.

This morning I read a very intriguing article:  It's Okay to Be Neither.   As an educator myself, I have to applaud this woman's approach to tenderly understanding and accepting her students, and her efforts to teach them without bias.  I was particularly fascinated by her choice to avoid grouping her students by gender, but instead by a rotating set of variables (“If you like popsicles, line up here. If you like ice cream, line up here.")

The true root of feminism, I believe, is refusing to be limited by gender stereotypes.  Now, I do not believe men and women are supposed to be the same.  We are different.  I believe our differences are complementary and wonderful.  But why can't we teach all kids that being a nurturer is a valuable attribute?  Or that learning the skills to be a good provider is important for both boys and girls?
The first week of kindergarten, my younger daughter’s teacher told me that she had a heated argument with a boy while they played dress up. “She insisted that boys can wear dresses if they want to,” the teacher told me.
I'll admit, I'm not sure I'm ready to see men wearing dresses to work/church/play.*    However, there's a principle here that I can't ignore.  What if, during imaginary play, children were taught that no one need be ashamed to wear the dress?  Quite possibly, we would raise a generation in which men who spend time with their children are known as "fathers" and not "babysitters", who value their wives and the responsibilities a parent takes on.  Women who choose staying at home to raise and teach their children would not feel like second-class humans for being "just a mom".  And for those who are afraid of what this might do to a child's sexual orientation, I don't believe that allowing a boy to pretend to be a mom makes him gay any more than I believe that allowing a girl to wear pants makes her a lesbian.  Sexual orientation isn't grown in such a way.

Within the Crossfit community, blasting through nonsensical gender stereotypes is part of the package.  It's not preached, it's just the way it is.  Lifting heavy isn't just for men.  Women can be both strong and feminine.  Everyone is encouraged to work hard and to cheer each other on.

When I was young, I was a "girlie girl", so the prevalent gender stereotypes of the day were not a hard sell.  However, whenever I wanted to play with my brothers' Tonka trucks, I was told that girls don't play with those, and I was steered back to my dolls and dress-ups.  As a teenager, I had a great desire to play drumset, and to learn to skateboard.  My mom discouraged me from those pursuits, because they weren't "ladylike".  I didn't rebel.

What if, instead of wasting time teaching (however unwittingly) "boys do this" and "girls do that", we taught all kids to be kind and loving?  What if we taught boys and girls that bullying is not to be tolerated and differences are to be celebrated?  In reality, Ms. Melissa's article was never about sexual orientation, but about providing a safe environment for all children to learn -- not just about reading and math and art, but about how to behave and interact with so many different people in a world rich with diversity.
My job is not to judge, but to teach, and I can’t teach if the students in my class are distracted or uncomfortable. My job is also about preparing students to be a part of our society, ready to work and play with all kinds of people. 
I like her style.

*(Although, in ancient society, everyone wore "dresses".  And when trousers were invented, men quickly claimed them as male-only attire and women who attempted to wear them were scorned.  Now, women may freely wear trousers, but men's dresses have been relegated to the closets of female impersonators and transvestites.  But I digress.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tuna Sushi

If you haven't discovered nori sheets, I highly recommend finding your local international store and searching them out.   The farmer's market up the street sells them in the international aisle.  If you have Sprouts or Good Earth or Whole Foods or Sunflower Market nearby, chances are you'll be able to find them.

I was trying to come up with an interesting after-school-before-ballet snack for Ballerina when I remembered I have a package of nori sheets.  I pulled out a zucchini and a can of tuna and threw together a very satisfying unrice sushi.

First, use a vegetable peeler to make long thin slices of zucchini.

Lay zucchini slices at one end of a nori sheet and top with tuna and mustard.

Roll up and hold for a minute so it doesn't come undone.
Enjoy!  I like eating mine right away, because I like the nori crispy instead of soft.  I think one medium zucchini and one can of tuna filled four nori sheets.  Two for me, two for Ballerina.

Roasted Squash Caulotto

I've been away too long.  The blog is often on my mind, but not often in my schedule.

Tonight, I attempted to make a treat that I thought would make an excellent post.  Superman loves him some apple fritters, and I thought, "Surely, with my Paleo baking expertise, I can adapt the flour and sugar out of this recipe and create a delicious dessert for my sweetheart!"

I humbly state that I was wrong.

Almond flour, with its many virtues, does not hold together well in hot oil (turns out the glue in wheat flour that blocks up my intestines is also the glue that holds dough together -- which I knew, but kind of forgot momentarily).  What we ended up with was a deep-fried plate of crumbs and diced apples.  Tasty, but not exactly fritters.  So I attempted to fry one up with far less oil.  It looked sort of like a pancake, but it was neither pancake nor fritter.  Last ditch effort to avoid wasting delicious ingredients = mini muffins.  They didn't hold together well either (I think they needed more egg, actually).  Very yummy, sort of like little cups of almond oatmeal, but they weren't really muffins, and they definitely weren't fritters.  Alas.

However!  We did have great success with adapting another recipe tonight.  On the back of the Chicken Apple Sausage label is a recipe for Roasted Squash Risotto With Chicken Apple Sausage.  (The recipe title is way too long, by the way.  I'm not a fan of titles that include all the ingredients of a dish.  Honestly.  How well would "Harry Potter" have done if it had been titled "A neglected boy who goes to a magic private school and meets kids who will be his best mates and adults who will try to kill him"?  But I digress.)

Sorry, no photos, since we were too interested in eating it.  It was creamy and sweet and lightly savory.  Very satisfying.

Roasted Squash Caulotto
2 cups chicken broth or stock
2-4 T. coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 links Chicken Apple Sausage, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
1 head cauliflower, finely chopped
1/2 c. white wine
2 c. roasted butternut squash
1 t. thyme
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy skillet melt coconut oil over medium heat.  Stir in the onion and saute until fragrant.  Add the sausage and garlic and cook, stirring for 2 - 3 minutes, until the sausage begins to brown slightly.  Add the cauliflower and stir.  Stir in the wine and one cup of broth.  Stir and simmer 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the squash and another cup of broth.  Cook, stirring until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes (or longer, you won't hurt this recipe by letting it simmer for a while).  Add the thyme and season with salt and pepper.

To roast the squash:

Split the squash in half, brush with olive oil and roast at 350 degrees until tender, about 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  When cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop the squash out of its shell.