How to Make and Use Date Paste

Date Paste

Date paste may be the best alternative sweetener you’re not using. Dates are naturally moist and sticky with hints of carmel, brown sugar and often vanilla flavor. These qualities make blended date paste an excellent alternative to processed sugar in smoothies baked goods, such as breads, cookies and bars or as a spread. Date paste also has more than a few health advantages over the white stuff.

Adding sweetness with dates means adding nutrition without refined sugar’s roller coaster ride. The natural sugar in dates, invert sugar, is easily absorbed and assimilated by the body. Yet, their high fiber content makes them a low-glycemic index food. So, dates or date paste, not only support healthy blood sugar levels and elimination, but also helps you stay full longer. Dates are also high in iron, calcium, are even richer in potassium than bananas. Dates are also a rich source of minerals, such as chlorine, copper, magnesium, sulphur and phosphorus. Continue reading

How to Make and Use Chia Gel

Chia Gel

Have chia seeds been massively over-hyped as a ‘superfood’ by marketers? It seemed that way to me. As a result, I was a bit slow to warm up to them. But, learning that the word “chia” means strength created intrigue in these seeds.

Grown in Mexico since the era of the Mayans and Aztecs, chia seeds have been known for centuries for their energizing and hydrophilic properties. Chia seeds are able to absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. As such, these sponge-like seeds became a favorite among ancient, and now modern athletes, for their hydrating as well as endurance properties. This absorbent quality also makes chia-containing liquids very filling, creating a following among dieters. However, researching the culinary uses for chia seeds, they seemed little more than a substitute for ground flax seeds.

So, how do chia and flax seeds compare nutritionally? Both chia and flax seeds are high in fiber, calcium, phosphorous, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Of note, chia seeds score bonus points for being a complete protein, of which flax seeds are not. Also, unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don’t require grinding to render the nutrients bioavailable and they are less prone to rancidity. Hmmm.

The next question, naturally, was how do chia seeds taste compared to flax seeds? My informal taste test involved topping a salad with chia seeds instead of my usual ground flax seeds. Instead of flax seed’s nutty flavor, the chia seeds tasted …almost tasteless. Boring? Perhaps. But, their neutral taste is what I now love about Chia seeds, in particular when made into a gel.

Chia and Water

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 cup filtered water

Chia seeds, water, a mason jar and about 15 minutes are all it takes to make a chia gel. Simply add the chia seeds to water and stir well. If using a mason jar, secure the lid and shake intermittently to make sure the seeds don’t clump together into a gelatinous mass. Or, stir with a fork. After about 15 minutes the gel will be thick enough to hold a spoon upright (if using the ratio for an egg replacement). Chia gel will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. See how to make it in this 45-second How to Make Chia Gel video.

WAYS TO USE CHIA GEL

  • Use as an egg-substitute in baking.
    1 egg = 1 tablespoon chia seeds + 3 tablespoons water = about 1/4 cup gel
  • Add to smoothies. Yes, you can add the seeds directly into smoothies, without creating a gel. But, the little seeds tend to stick to the sides of the blender. Clean-up is easier when you add the seeds in gel form.
  • Make your own boutique juice beverages. You’ve seen them at the grocery store, now make them at home. Simply add some gel to your freshly juiced beverage to make it even healthier and more festive.

Shown below: Ginger Beet Juice with Chia.

Chia Beet Juice

NOTES & MORE CHIA IDEAS:

 What are your favorite ways to use chia seeds and chia gel?

 

How to Make Whipped Coconut Cream

Whipped Coconut CreamBelieve it or not, there is something more irresistible than coconut milk. That would be whipped coconut milk. Airy, light and slightly tropical, coconut whipped cream is about to become your topping of choice for desserts, fresh fruit or licked straight off the beaters. Isn’t that the best way to eat any kind of whipped cream?

The process is as simple as whipping regular heavy cream with just a few tips to consider. The main ingredient is full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight. Do not use light coconut milk. I repeat, do not use light coconut milk. Not ever. Not for anything. Use full fat coconut milk.

I prefer organic, GMO-free coconut milk, ideally in a BPA-free can. But, my buying preferences and full fat requirement aside, the brand you select does matter. But, more about that later.

Whipped Coconut Cream Ingredients

INGREDIENTS:

1 13.5 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or agave or sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

1. Place your can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight so that the thick coconut cream will separate from the liquid. Chilling the beaters or whisk and mixing bowls is also helpful.

2. Turn the chilled can of coconut milk upside down, so that the liquid is at the top. Open the can (removing the bottom) and pour off the liquid. Set it aside for other use. This is prime liquid for smoothies and can also be used in baking or cooking. Note: If the solids have not separated from the liquid, use the coconut milk for something else as it will not whip up.

If you removed the top of the can, simply scoop out the solids on the top and place them in the bowl you will use for whipping.

Coconut Milk Separated

3. Using a mixer or immersion blender, mix on high-speed until the cream is fluffy and forms soft peaks, about 4 or 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it. It may not become as light and airy as whipped heavy cream. But, like heavy cream, you can whip it too much.

4. Add the sweetener and extract of choice and whip again until blended.

5. Whipped coconut cream will keep refrigerated for at least a week. If it separates or loses its mojo, simply whip it up again.

HEALTHY USE OF WHIPPED COCONUT MILK

Whipped coconut cream lends itself to enjoyment in all the same ways you would enjoy traditional whipped cream. However, most individuals should feel free to indulge more liberally in coconut cream than in its dairy cream cousin. True, this is a high-fat item. But, coconut milk is full of healthy fats, which give us a sense of fullness and satiety. True, the fat in coconut milk is saturated fat. But, not all saturated fats are equal. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are predominately medium-chain fatty acids or MCFAs, also known as medium chain triglycerides.

MCFAs are transported directly to the liver. In the liver, they are immediately converted into energy, rather than being stored as fat. So, MCFAs may help promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels [1].

WHICH BRAND OF COCONUT MILK IS BEST?

Does it really matter? It turns out it does matter, quite a bit. I’ve been making whipped coconut cream since finding Oh She Glow’s tutorial. I loved the idea, not only for its simplicity and delicious taste, but also because I always have a can of coconut milk on hand. Now, I always keep one in the back of the refrigerator, ready for action. Doesn’t a whipped topping make any treat a little more special?

Excited to share this treat via a blog post, I was less than thrilled when my most recent attempt was a wimpy FAIL. No soft peaks here. Not so thick. Instead, it was a droopy, wet mess. What happened?

Just be sure to chill down the can overnight in the refrigerator. 

I typically buy Native Forest or Thai Kitchen Organic coconut milk. This time, I used Native Forest, but did not get the usual satisfactory results, which led me to do a little research.

Beth of Tasty Yummies to the rescue. Her comparison of different coconut brands pointed out that brand differences in stabilizers and origin of the coconuts may greatly affect their whipping potential. Check out her site to see how gorgeous your desserts can look with whipped coconut cream. She too had experienced inconsistency with trying to whip up the Native Farms brand. Native Farms – it’s you, not me.

Frustration and culinary ego-bruising behind me, I purveyed a few more cans of Thai Kitchen coconut milk and deposited them directly into the refrigerator. The result was the top photo in this post. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I’m ready for the 4th and hope you are too! 

[1] “Physiological Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity”J. Nutr. 132(3): 329–332. 1 March 2002.

15-Minute Pasta Sauce Hack

Quick Pasta Sauce HackIf you have about $5 and 15-minutes, you can have a pasta sauce which is more zesty and flavorful than what you’ll find in many restaurants. The ingredients are few and highly portable, making this recipe an excellent choice for everything from last-minute entertaining to car-camping cuisine. Trust me. Continue reading

How to Ripen Bananas for Baking in 30 Minutes

DSC_7295 Some of the best kitchen hacks make up for lack of planning. Or, shall we say, tips which allow spontaneous cooking or baking. Case in point – today I simply HAD to make a batch of vegan quinoa breakfast bars. But, my bananas were days away from achieving the squishy, mottled brown state only a baker could love. So, I was thrilled to find this tip from the Kitchn. Here’s how to quickly ripen bananas in the oven for baking. Continue reading

Refridge Madness

Washed Produce

Your refrigerator is full of produce, but you have nothing to eat. Your produce is still fastened in its zip-ties and wearing a thin layer of dirt, pesticides, herbicides and whatever else came its way via the dirt, air, truck or human hands. It is similar to having ‘a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear’ and equally frustrating. 
Continue reading

Digestion-Friendly Cooked Beans

How to Cook dried BeansRich in fiber and protein, beans are an excellent dietary choice for blood sugar and weight management. In fact, beans provide what is known in the research world as a “second meal effect”. This means that consuming beans with a meal will lower the blood sugar response to not only that meal, but the next meal as well [1]. It’s bean magic! And at around 25 cents per cup, dried beans are one of the least expensive protein options.

5 Tips for Improving Bean Digestion
Beans and your stomach do not get along? While this is common, it is easily resolved for most people with a few tips to neutralize the offending compounds.

  1. Kombu. Add a strip of kombu to the soaking and/or cooking water.

What is Kombu?
Kombu is a sea vegetable which contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase. This enzyme breaks down the oligosaccharides in beans. In my opinion, adding the kombu does not affect the flavor or texture of the beans at all, except for making them easier to digest. However, the kombu does add vitamins, minerals and trace minerals to any dish it is cooked with. I don’t cook beans without it. The kombu can be used in either the soaking or cooking stage or both. If used for both soaking and cooking, it will likely start to fall to pieces by the time the beans are cooked, which may be undesirable for certain dishes. Here I used a strip of Royal kombu, also known as sweet kombu. Kombu is available at Fairway, Whole Foods and most health food stores.

What are oligosaccharides?
These complex carbohydrates are what give beans a bad name. Without alpha-galactosidase in our digestive tracts, these oligosaccharides reach the lower intestine largely intact, and in the presence of anaerobic bacteria ferment and produce carbon dioxide and methane gases [1]. You know the rest of the story. However, oligosaccharides are fuel for the healthy bacteria in our large intestines, such as Bifidobacteria or Lactobaccilli. Since these bacteria are helpful to our health, this loss of oligosaccharides may not be desirable from an intestinal health standpoint [2]. So, if eating beans does not cause you any intestinal discomfort, it may not make sense to intentionally reduce the oligosaccharide concentration.

2.  Use Warm, Filtered Water. Using warm water helps extract the oligosaccharides from the beans, releasing them into the water. Ideally, use filtered water, or at least avoid hard water. Hard water as well as acidic ingredients slow the cooking process. So, add ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar only after the beans have become tender.

3.  Time. Take your time with the pre-soak. Beans do not require soaking, but it reduces the cooking time and reduces digestion issues. An overnight soak is generally adequate. But, some people will enjoy their cooked beans much more if the beans are first soaked from 1 to 2 days.

4. Change the water. Change the water every eight hours when soaking (if soaking for an extended period). Always change the water before cooking the beans.

5. Season smart. Season your cooked beans. Cloves, cinnamon and garlic are the most gas reducing, as will uncooked turmeric, pepper and ginger, although to a lesser extent.

Option #1: Pre-Soak the Dried Beans

  1. Rinse dry beans, removing any pebbles, cracked or shriveled beans.
  2. Place the beans in a saucepan large enough to hold them after they have cooked. They will expand to 2-3 times their dried volume.
  3. Add warm water to cover.
  4. Let soak for at least 8 hours or several days. Or, you can quick-soak the beans, which is much faster, but does not help improve digestion.

Option #2: Quick-Soak the Dried Beans

  1. Rinse dry beans, removing any pebbles, cracked or shriveled beans.
  2. Place the beans in a saucepan large enough to hold them after they have cooked. They will expand to 2-3 times their dried volume.
  3. Add warm water to cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 2 hours.

Cooking Dried Beans for Easier DigestionBeans ready to cookCooking the Dried Beans

  1. Drain water from the pan, rinse the beans and refill with the same amount of water or more.
  2. Add to the water 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, at least 1 clove of peeled garlic per cup of dried beans, a bay leaf, and a kombu strip, if using. (Skip the garlic and bay leaf if using the cooked beans for baked goods.)
  3. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar. Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low boil for their entire cooking time. If the water level drops below the beans, add more liquid.
  4. After 45 minutes of cooking, add up to one tablespoon salt per cup of dried beans.
  5. When the beans have a creamy texture and a few skins split, the beans are done cooking. This will take at least 1 hour for most beans. Some varieties of beans may take much longer. Check for doneness at least every thirty minutes after the first hour.
  6. When the beans are done cooking, remove the kombu strip from the pot.
  7. Drain the beans well and rinse in cold water.
  8. Cooked beans can be refrigerated for at least four days and frozen for up to a year.

Adapted from Pasta & Co. ‘The Cookbook’

Health Benefits of Beans
Why You Should Eat More Beans

How to Cook and Store Dried Beans
Other Ideas for Using Kombu from ‘The Kitchn’

Roasted Garlic

Roasted Garlic in RamekinFor many cooks, roasted garlic is as much of a kitchen staple as a head of raw garlic. Roasted garlic bring an earthy sophistication to dishes. And the pungent smell of it cooking is almost reward enough for your efforts. Roasting mellows the garlic considerably. So, many people who cannot tolerate raw garlic can enjoy roasted garlic without any discomfort. One added convenience is that you can add roasted garlic when finishing a dish, allowing for last-minute adjustments without having to pull out a garlic press, a knife for mincing or a sauté pan. Just stir it in, or spread it like jam, garlic jam… Continue reading

Ginger Juice Cubes -Without A Juicer!

Ginger Juice Cubes RecipeDo you hate peeling ginger? I do. But, I use it everyday. See the dilemma?

Ginger has been used for centuries to reduce nausea and inflammation. Research shows this pungent rhizome to be as effective as over the counter medication for reducing menstrual cramps, motion sickness and inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. Yet, that tough, brownish flesh always requires more time and patience to remove than I have  to deal with it on a daily basis.

When, I started adding ginger into my juices, I noticed that the ginger fibers clogged the juicer and clean-up took longer. After I kept finding abandoned ginger corpses in my refrigerator, I started juicing ginger in bulk. It now seems a small luxury to always have this culinary and health pick-me-up ready to go. I use my ginger cubes in drinking water, smoothies, fresh juices, green tea, ginger-lemon tea and the occasional cocktail. Continue reading

10-Minute Hummus Recipe

Hummus RecipeHummus is a perfect refrigerator staple; rich in both protein and fiber and endlessly versatile. But, hummus is simply smashed up and flavored chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. So, if you can push the “on” switch of your food process or blender, you can quickly make a preservative-free hummus for about half the cost of packaged hummus. Continue reading