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Archive for March, 2010

gluten-free scotch irish oat cakes

As is often the case, I’m a day (10 days?) late and a dollar (more than a dollar, but who’s counting?) short. It was my intention to post this recipe on St. Patrick’s Day, but my good intentions got blasted by real life. And snow. And spring skiing.

These tasty treats should actually be called gluten-free, Scotch-Irish, wild-west, Montana oat cakes. I know that’s a mouthful, but so are these hearty little cakes. I’m always on the lookout for bread substitutes and this recipe hit the spot.

First, let’s deal with the controversial “oats” question. Should people with gluten intolerance eat oats? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s my take on it, but remember I’m a celiac-specializing nutritionist, not a celiac-specializing lab researcher/doctor. I do have celiac, so that makes me a bit of an expert in my own little bio-world, but everyone is different. What works for me, may not work for you.

Current research shows that pure, uncontaminated oats in moderate amounts are safe for most people with celiac disease. The key word here is “most.” Some people don’t tolerate oats at all and others, not used to the high fiber load, experience digestive problems while getting used to them. Check with your health care professional first and then start with a small dose (1/4 cup before cooking). Try a bowl of gluten-free, hot oatmeal once or twice the first week and see how you do.

Oats are a high-fiber, nutrient-dense, hearty cereal grain. They contain a specific fiber called beta-glucan, which studies show helps lower cholesterol and enhance immune function. Most Americans don’t get nearly the fiber they need and oats are a great way to boost intake. They’re also high in vitamins, minerals, are packed with bioavailable antioxidants (Journal of Nutrition) and they also help maintain blood sugar levels. They’re perfect for people with diabetes or metabolic disorders and are rich in manganese, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorus, thiamin and protein. Plus, they taste good. I love oats, absolutely love them.

Blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to bog you down with geek talk, but trust me, oats can be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet (almost anyone). As I said above, proceed with caution if you’re gluten intolerant.

I found several recipes for oat cakes and most were very similar. I tested three and found this one, taken from Vegetarian Times Magazine, worked the best. I “tweaked” it just a touch.

gluten-free Scotch-Irish wild west Montana oat cakes
what you need

1 cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free oat flour (more for shaping the cakes) *
2 cups gluten-free, old-fashioned oats *
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Earth Balance “butter” or “shortening”

what you do
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a baking sheet. You can also use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (which I used).
2. Mix together oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Place oat flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut in Earth Balance and mix with fingers until crumbly.*
4. Add oat mixture and then buttermilk to the oat flour/Earth Balance combination and combine until well blended.
5. Using an ice-cream scoop (or about that amount), work the mixture into a flat patty about 1/4 inch thick. You may need to dust your work surface or your hands to shape and flatten out the “cake.” Work with them and add a tiny touch more flour if you think they’re too wet to shape properly. Be careful though, you want them moist. My pre-baked patties ended up about the size of a rice cake, but a lot thinner.
6. Place them on the prepared baking sheet about an inch or two apart. Bake on center rack for 15 minutes and then rotate the pan for even baking. Continue baking for another 5 to 15 minutes. I baked mine for almost 30 minutes, but the original recipe called for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be a nice, light golden brown.
7. Cool on a wire rack.
8. Serve with peanut butter and honey or jelly, just like you would a rice cake. YUM! They make a perfect “holder” for all kinds of good things (almond butter, cheese, etc.). Be creative!

* I use Montana Gluten-Free Processors pure and uncontaminated oat products. They’re tested and certified GF and kosher. Check here for details.

* One of the best ways to mix butter or shortening into flour is to freeze it first and shred it into the flour mix with a cheese grater. I always have butter and shortening on hand in the freezer and ready to shred. It also works great in pie crusts and crumble toppings.

Cheers and happy late St. Patrick’s Day!

organic lentil stew on a budget

My last post included a recipe and price break-down for an organic and healthy low cost meal. I compared my creation with a meal from Jack-in-the-Box. For details, please check here. I’m experimenting with high-quality, organic food on a low-income budget and legumes are a perfect ingredient.

Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils. One of my favorite things about legumes is the wide range of creative colors. I’m fascinated with food traditions, culinary nutrition, creative cooking and the cultural heritage of food. This category (legumes) fits all of the above.

This post will focus on lentils – a short exploration and recipe. Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated legumes with seeds found at archeological sites dating back as far as 8000 years. I think they’ve survived the test of time. They’re inexpensive, nutrient-dense, power-packed with fiber and help maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Plus, they don’t need to be pre-soaked and are easy to prepare and easy to digest. These little things are user-friendly all the way around. Another thing I like about lentils is the fact that they seem to soak up the flavors of other ingredients.

low-cost and incredibly healthy organic lentil stew
what you need (all the ingredients below are organic)

4 cups chicken broth (you can also use vegetable broth for a vegan meal)
2 cups filtered water (adjust depending on how thick you want the stew)
2 cups lentils, rinsed *
1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped into 3/4 inch squares
1 can Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes (14.5 ounces) *
2/3 cup chopped onion (about half an onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Simply Organic All Purpose Seasoning *
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

what you do
Heat oil in a heavy soup pot (medium-low setting). Add chopped onions and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for another minute or so. Pour in broth, water, tomatoes and their juice, sweet potatoes and lentils. Stir well. Cover and simmer for an hour or until lentils and sweet potatoes are fully cooked. Add seasonings and cook for another 15 minutes or so until flavors are well blended. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese for a nice treat.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

* Rinse well and do a quick check for funky stuff (sometimes hard debris gets mixed in).
* I absolutely love the smokey flavor of fire roasted tomatoes, but they also contain blackened pieces from the roasting. If that bugs you, get the regular kind.
* This seasoning contains onion, black pepper, garlic, parsley, celery seed, basil, thyme, oregano, sage and coriander. Use your favorite blends. Cumin also works well with lentils.

You can make several meals out of this and it seems to get better each day. If it becomes too thick, add more water or broth when you reheat it. You can also toss in some chopped greens on day 2 or 3 to change things up. Finely chopped spinach or kale works great.

cost breakdown
organic green lentils – one 2-pound bag was 2.86, 2 cups cost 1.07
onion – .20
garlic – .14
sweet potato (I used 1 garnet yam) – .64
14.5 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes –  1.39
organic, free-range chicken broth, 32 ounces – 3.39
incidentals (seasoning and oil) – .25

Total for 6 to 8 servings of lentil stew: $7.08
That’s about $1 or less per serving and everything I used was organic and nutrient dense.
It can be done!

nutrition highlights
Check this out. I took the time to calculate and break this down into nutrition facts. It’s not a perfect evaluation because I wasn’t able to factor in the potential difference between regular and organic foods, but this is an approximation of what you’re getting with 1 bowl of my lentil stew. Not bad for one dollar’s worth of food. This is an example of low-cost, nutrient-dense food. And look at the fiber content. Plus, you can’t calculate what you’re not getting (pesticides, hormones and other icky things) with the use of organic food. That’s priceless!

Diane at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang is hosting Friday Foodie Fix. Her secret ingredient is lentils, so head over there and check out all the recipes.

Peace, love and lentils!

healthy eating food stamp challenge

Did you know that in many states, Food Stamp recipients can use their EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards at participating restaurants? An EBT card works like a debit card, with the state government reimbursing the restaurant for the purchase. The Food Stamp Restaurant Meals Program was started in 1974 for disabled and elderly people who couldn’t prepare food for themselves. It was expanded in 1992 to include homeless people without access to cooking facilities. Although the original plan was to allow only those specific groups into the Restaurant Meals Program, most states now offer this expanded option to anyone on Food Stamps. California has recently approved several fast food outlets (I can’t bring myself to use the word restaurant and Jack-in-the-Box in the same sentence) for the program.

Okay, I’m not going to launch into a political rant about this, but in light of our growing health care crisis and skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, does subsidizing places like Hong Kong Express and Jack-in-the-Box sound like a good idea to you?

Currently, more than 36 million Americans take part in the Food Stamp Program and with the current recession, an additional 20,000 people join the ranks each day. On February 24th, the White House Blog posted a video of First Lady Michelle Obama taking on food deserts as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity (see video below). Food deserts are nutritional wastelands in both urban and rural areas. They’re regions with a predominance of convenience stores and fast food and no easy or affordable access to fresh, healthy food choices. As I watched this video and listened to the First Lady’s appeal to bring nutritious options to these communities, I wondered why, at the same time, we’re setting people up for potential health problems by promoting government supported fast food. There’s also a bit of irony in the fact that the government is subsidizing some of the unhealthy ingredients found in fast food and in processed food found on the convenient store shelves. Does that mean that the government is supporting food deserts and trying to eliminate them at the same time? I don’t follow the logic, but as promised I won’t launch off on my food politics rant. Just know that I’m rolling my eyes big time.

Nonetheless, I applaud Mrs. Obama’s passion and am very thankful we have someone in the White House who is on a mission to promote organic food, nutrition education and healthy food choices. We have to start somewhere. Hopefully she’s on a roll with this and if we support her good intentions, maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Please bear with me. I did a great deal of research on this and conducted my own little experiment. Here’s the breakdown. But first, my disclaimer. Obviously I can’t consider all the frustrations and difficulties people in need must endure to find, buy and prepare healthy meals. My heart goes out to them. I’m fortunate, blessed and grateful beyond measure not to have to figure out how to make a decent meal for my family with such limited resources. Having said that, I’m going to compare an organic, healthy, relatively “fast” meal I come up with to a meal from Jack-in-the-Box and see how they stack up. Can you feed a family healthy, organic food on a limited budget? (Gluten-free, no less.) Rather than spend EBT money on fast food?

Healthy, quick spaghetti with meat sauce and a side salad
1/2 medium sized onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3/4 lb organic, 100% grass-fed ground beef
2 jars Muir Glen organic Garden Vegetable Pasta Sauce (25.5 oz each)
1 and 1/2 packages Tinkyada gluten-free, spaghetti style, organic brown rice pasta
1 head organic leafy green lettuce
1 organic orange
1/4 cup raw toasted sunflower seeds
oil (I used olive oil)

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stock pot. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook thoroughly. Pour in pasta sauce and reduce heat, stirring often. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain well. Serve sauce over pasta. Wash and prepare lettuce. Peel and chop orange into bite sized pieces, toss into salad greens. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds. No dressing needed.
* Makes 6 hearty and healthy servings

I got all the ingredients except the meat at my local Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocer (see photo above). All their produce is organic. They have a “day old” bin with select veggies and fruit for $1 per bag. I often opt for whatever is in the sale bin. I have a professional food scale and weighed the produce and calculated the price of each item I used. You’ll have to trust me on this. (Thanks for your help, Ryan – he’s the produce manager at VCNG). The meat is from Arapaho Ranch in Wyoming. The Northern Arapaho Indian Tribe raise the 100% organic and grass-fed Angus beef on the Wind River Indian Reservation in west central Wyoming. No hormones or antibiotics are used and the animals are well cared for and humanely treated. The cattle coexist with natural predators, a diverse mix of wildlife and eat the natural grasses and forbs they’re suppose to eat. The Indians sell their products to markets in the Rocky Mountain region. It’s an interesting story, please check here for details.

* When it’s CSA season, all my organic produce comes from Grant Farms.

Cost break-down for healthy, quick spaghetti with meat sauce and a side salad
organic onion – .21 (on sale for .69 per pound)
organic garlic
.19 for 4 cloves (6.19 per pound)
100% organic, grass-fed beef – 3.08 (on sale for 3.99 per pound, I used the 85% lean beef)
organic pasta sauce – 7.00 (on sale for 3.99 per jar, with $1 off if you bought 2 jars)
organic Tinkyada pasta, 12 oz package – 5.53 (3.69 per package)
organic, green leafy lettuce, 1 head – .50 (2 heads of lettuce for 1.00 in the bargain bin)
organic Navel orange – .60 (1.09 per pound)
raw sunflower seeds – .22 (2.48 per pound)
TOTAL: $17.33 (6 hearty gluten-free servings)

I’ve never been to a Jack-in-the-Box and had to visit to get prices and see what the options were. I didn’t buy anything, I just took notes and chose a variety of items, like a family of 6 might do. If you’re interested, click here for nutrition information. It took me a few minutes to realize how misleading this information was. In general, this isn’t very healthy stuff.
Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger Combo – 5.59
Southwest Chicken Salad with corn sticks (?) and dressing – 4.99
Jack’s Spicy Chicken small combo – 5.39
Deli-trio Grilled Sandwich – 5.69
Fajita Pita small combo – 5.39
Kid’s meal Chicken Strips (comes with a toy) – 3.49
TOTAL: $30.54 (6 servings)

For almost half as much, six people can eat a highly nutritious, all organic, homemade meal. One that is lower in calories (and icky stuff) and much higher in nutrition.

Here’s wishing the First Lady good energy and lots of luck in her endeavor. (Psst! Get your husband and his buddies to support small farmers, organic farming, and EBTs for CSAs and farmer’s markets. Thanks!)
In good health,

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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