Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Mar 20, 2017

The Best - and Cheapest! - Produce to Buy in Spring

This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full 
 information. Thank you for supporting this site!

When I tell people about my success with the keto diet - how I reversed my diabetes, normalized my cholesterol, and have lost oodles of weight - the first thing I hear is something congratulatory. The second thing I hear is that they are shocked I can loose weight and get healthy on a high fat diet. And the third thing I hear is how expensive my grocery bill must be. I will no doubt address #2 sometime soon, but today I want to address #3, to which my normal response is: "Au contraire!"

My grocery budget has not gone up since going keto (or even since going whole foods, which is what I did for years before being diagnosed with diabetes). Good, healthy food does not have to be more expensive!

Sure, it helps that a keto diet is high in good fats. Fats, among other things, are filling, so I eat less now than I used to. But I'm also a sales watcher, a price book keeper...and I shop for produce seasonally.

There are a lot of good reasons to buy in-season fruits and vegetables: Better nutrition (some studies show that growing produce out of season reduces their nutritional value); energy saving (out of season produce is usually flown or trucked into your area from a warmer clime); and, yes, saving money (in season produce is less expensive than fresh produce that's out of season).

The problem is, Americans are so used to seeing all their fruit and veggie favorites in the grocery store all year long, most don't know which ones are naturally in season at any given time of the year.

So let me help you out.

Produce that's in Season in Spring
(March, April, May)

Throughout this post, I offer recipes to try with each vegetable or fruit. If a recipe is mentioned, but there's no link to the recipe, you'll find it in my cookbook A Vegetable for Every Season (available in both paperback and ebook format). It's only $2.99 for devices, folks!

http://amzn.to/2nAHakd

Carrots
Carrots are a veggie that take months to grow from seed to store, and the cool months are when they are usually pulled from the ground. They are high versatile - a good snack or salad fixing when raw, sweet and wonderful when roasted, and easy to toss into a savory pie, soup, or stew. And - happy dance! - they are kid-friendly.

Some of my family's favorite carrot recipes:
Fermented Pickled Carrots
Carrot Fries
Carrot Oatmeal Cookies
Carrot Chips
Glazed Carrots (pictured)


Radishes
Don't skip past this one because you hate those peppery red balls. First of all, there's more than one kind of radish, and they aren't all strongly flavored. Secondly, people are doing some creative things with radishes - including using them as a low carb potato substitute! (I haven't tried that yet myself, but here's a link.)

Some of my family's favorite radish recipes:
Radish Chips
Pickled Radishes (pictured)

Peas
These family-friendly veggies are at their sweetest and best at this time of year.
Some of my family's favorite pea recipes:
Easy Garden Snap Peas
Roasted Peas
Green Peas, Mint, and Tomatoes





Beets

As a cool season crop, beets will be out of their prime soon! Grab 'em while you can!
Some of my family's favorite beet recipes:
Easy Refrigerated Pickled Beets
Russian Borscht with Beets
Beet Cake (pictured)

Asparagus
Spring is the time to eat asparagus. The later in the year it gets, the thicker and more woody asparagus gets. (It may seem counter-intuitive, but thinner asparagus is more tender.) We eat it often roasted, but it's also wonderful a myriad of ways.

Some of my family's favorite asparagus recipes:
Cheesy Baked Asparagus
Asparagus Chicken Stir Fry (pictured)
Smokey Grilled Asparagus

Cabbage
There's a reason cabbage is connected to St. Patrick's Day; it's cheap at this time of year! It also goes a long way at the table, and lasts a long time in the fridge.
Some of my family's favorite cabbage recipes:
Bubble and Squeak (pictured)
Small Batch Fermented Sauerkraut 
Borscht (Russian cabbage stew)Braised Red Cabbage

Greens
All types of greens, including lettuce, collards, kale, beet greens, radish greens, chard...They are highly versatile. Eat baby greens fresh in salads, or stir them into stir fries, casseroles, and egg dishes, or saute them on the stove top.
Some of my family's favorite greens recipes:
Sauteed Greens (works with any type; pictured)
Kale and Roasted Garbanzo Salad


Broccoli
If you love it, now's a great time to eat it. At the grocery store, be picky and choose only broccoli with tightly packed florets and beautiful color.
Some of my family's favorite broccoli recipes:
Chicken and Broccoli and Stuffing
Parmesan Roasted Broccoli (pictured)
Broccoli Tots


Cauliflower
The great cauliflower shortage seems to be over, and prices for this versatile veggie are inexpensive again. Eat it, well, like cauliflower, or use it to mimic pizza dough, garlic bread, rice...
Some of my family's favorite cauliflower recipes:
Cauliflower Chowder (pictured)
Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Cheddar Pasta Salad
Mashed CauliflowerCauliflower Tots
Healthier Cauliflower Alfredo
Better-Than-Twice-Baked-Potato Cauliflower






Avocado
Here's a fruit that is an excellent source of good-for-you fats. My kids love to eat it plain; I just cut it up into chunks for them.
Some recipes I want to try:
Avocado Greek Salad
Creamy Avocado Pesto


Brussels Sprouts
A lot of people think they hate Brussels sprouts. I think they are nuts :)  But, truly, if you hate them, try eating them fresh from the garden. Store bought Brussels sprouts, by comparison, are bitter. Our favorite ways to eat Brussels sprouts are steamed, roasted in the oven, or cut in half and cooked in a skillet.
Some of my family's favorite Brussels sprouts recipes:
Skillet Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic Parmesan Sauce
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon (pictured)

Leeks
If you've never cooked with leeks, don't be intimidated. They are basically a weird looking onion, and can be used just like one. They do, however, have a more mild flavor than the spherical onions you're probably used to.
Some of my family's favorite leek recipes:
Cock-a-Leekie Soup (a Scottish Chicken and Leek soup)
Potato Leek Soup

Mushrooms
Mushrooms sprout up when the weather is wet, so spring is their last hurrah.
One of my family's favorite mushroom recipes:
Roasted Lobster Mushrooms (pictured)

A recipe I want to try:
Creamy Garlic Parmesan Mushrooms

Parsnips
They may look like anemic carrots, but parsnips are better, in my opinion! They have a unique flavor that is excellent roasted or added to stews.
Some of my family's favorite parsnip recipes:
Parsnip Fries (pictured)
Parsnip Cupcakes

Mar 6, 2017

Why You NEED a Meat Thermometer

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 Growing up, my mother never used a meat thermometer - so I guess it's no surprise that when I grew up, I didn't either. Instead, I cooked meat the length of time the recipe stated, and then cut the meat a little bit to see if it looked cooked thoroughly. Nowadays (thanks to my superb barbecuing husband), I know there are several problems with this method:

* Different ovens and stoves cook at different rates (faster or slower), so even if you follow the recipe exactly, your cooking time may be different.

* Small changes in temperature - for example, medium temperature as opposed to medium high temperature - make a big difference in cooking times, too.
* Cutting open meat to test for doneness makes the meat more prone to drying out - even if you only do it once.

* Not using a thermometer often leads to either dry, over-done meat that no one enjoys eating, or under-done meat, which can pose a health risk.

By simply using a meat thermometer, you can avoid all that and get perfectly safe and wonderfully edible meat every single time.

What Kind of Thermometer to Use

If you're really serious about cooking, a Thermapen is considered the thermometer to have. All the pros use it because it's accurate, reliable, and gives a quick reading. However, Thermapens are pricey. So I use a less expensive model. Currently, I have a Taylor digital thermometer that cost under $9 - and I'm happy with it.

Whatever brand you choose, just be sure it's actually a meat thermometer, not a candy or oven thermometer. I also recommend choosing a digital instant-read thermometer, since it will save you time in the kitchen and do a much better job of giving an accurate temperature on thin cuts.

How to Use a Meat Thermometer

1. First, read the instructions that come with your thermometer. Every model has slightly different instructions on accurate use. (Keep the instructions, too, and refer to them now and then.)

2. Test the meat shortly before you think it will be done. (Some digital thermometers can stay in the meat the entire time you're cooking. If you have this type, insert it as soon as the meat goes in the oven or pan.)

3. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Don't let it touch fat, gristle, or bone, or you won't get an accurate reading. (For whole poultry: Insert the thermometer in the inner thigh area, near the breast.)

4. Once you have a reading, remove the thermometer and wash the tip in hot, soapy water.



What Temperatures To Aim For

The USDA has a handy chart of the safe minimum temperatures for all meats. I printed this out and keep it in my recipe binder. Other ideas for keeping the chart handy include laminating it and taping it the inside of a kitchen cupboard; taping it to the inside cover of your favorite cookbook; or keeping the chart in a container that also holds your meat thermometer.




Oct 4, 2016

Why Organic...Isn't

Nobody wants to hear this. Perhaps that's why most in the media don't report it. And trust me, I know how frustrating it is to be a mom wanting to keep her family healthy only to discover everything she thought about healthy food is wrong. It's a bitter pill, but it's the truth: Organic produce often isn't. At least, not in the way you think it is.

I've long preached that store bought organic food isn't all that. But for some time now, I've been learning about disturbing trends in the organic world. Stuff that actually could be hurting your family's health.

Sometimes They Lie

When I was researching my ebook Grow the Dirty Dozen, I learned there have been instances of farmers being caught using synthetic chemicals on their certified organic crops. For example, in 2011, the Pesticide Action Network discovered that a group of "organic" California farmers were dousing their strawberries with synthetic fumigants. Sometimes farmer's cheat. Imagine how many times they don't get caught.

In addition, as the New York Times pointed out in 2011, many seedlings and stock plants that are purchased and grown by organic farmers are exposed to loads of man made chemicals before they reach organic farms. Farmers know they aren't purchasing organic stock, and they continue to buy conventionally grown seedlings because they think they are less likely to become diseased. Still, there you have it: Your supposedly organic food that's actually been exposed to man made chemicals.

Sometimes Natural Isn't Best

But perhaps a bigger problem among organic farmers is that their produce is sprayed with natural chemicals. That's right. One can safely say that all the organic produce in your grocery store is sprayed. It's only considered organic because those sprays are considered natural.

Here's the problem, though, Not everything that's natural is safe for human consumption.

For example, a common "organic" spray called rotenone-pyrethrin is linked to Parkinson's disease. (And it's a well known fish-killer, too.)

It gets worse.



Conventional, non-organic lettuce, for example, is sprayed once or twice during its lifetime - only when the farmer thinks it's needed, since sprays are expensive. On the other hand, organic lettuce might be sprayed 5 - 10 times with a natural, organic spray like rotenone-pyrethrin. Why? Farmers often “have to use a lot of the natural pesticides because they break down faster,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, a professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Washington State University. “One of the benefits of some of the more traditional synthetic pesticides is that they have been manufactured to be more effective at lower doses.”

The USDA has tested such lettuce and found that pesticides are 10 times (or more) prevalent on the organic lettuce than on conventionally grown lettuce. Many other studies show similar results on other types of produce.

And let's remember why farmer's use pesticides: to kill insects. Pesticides are poison, and some of the same poisons that kill insects have the potential to do harm to humans, too. And, it seems, many organic pesticides are rated with a higher level of concern by the EPA than many synthetic pesticides. (See chart here.)

They Linger

Here's another problem with organic produce. According to Science Daily, "an undergraduate chemistry student, in a...small-scale study, recently screened veggies for a number of banned pesticides and made an interesting discovery: The chemicals showed up on both conventionally grown and organic veggies—in roughly comparable amounts. In fact, organic carrots had higher amounts of some chemicals than the conventional vegetables did." Other studies support these findings.

Turns out, many banned chemicals stay in the soil. Some for many decades. Yet the USDA calls a farm organic if it's been synthetic-free for only three years. And so supposedly "organic" produce may contain synthetic chemicals.


What to Do?

I know; it's depressing. All you want is to feed your family food that's grown the way God intended. But the truth is, as long as we embraced mega farms and mono crops, farmers are going to have to spray our food. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I recommend avoiding grocery store produce; the produce found there is most likely sprayed with something.

In an ideal world, you would grow all your own produce. That way, you'd know exactly what's been put on it. If you don't already, I strongly recommend that you grow what you can - even if that means merely growing a few pots of lettuce on your porch.

For the produce you can't purchase, seek out local farmers at farm stands and markets. But just don't buy blindly. For one thing, a lot of local farmer's produce isn't organic. For another, you'll want to ask the farmer about his or her farming practices. Has her farm always been organic? If not, how long has it been organic? Does she use organic pesticides? How often does she use them? All this, asked in a polite way, is valuable information any decent farmer should be willing to share.

Finally, some of you are probably wondering if you should bother to buy organic at all. Sometimes I wonder this, too! But here's at least one reason to stick with organic: Only organic produce is 100% guaranteed not be GMO.


Photos courtesy of macor / 123RF Stock Photo


Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)



Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.


Ta-da! I'm done sorting!






What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

May 4, 2016

How to Make Popcorn Without a Microwave

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 At my house, popcorn is it's own food group. My picky eater will eat it every time. My always-starving boy finds it a filling, inexpensive snack. And I love that popcorn satisfies my crunchy, salty cravings without bad fats or gluten. Normally, I like to DIY air pop our popcorn in the microwave, but once we move into our tiny house motor home, I won't be able to do that. (The microwave/convection oven combo in the coach specifically comes with a warning not to. And you do know that store bought microwave popcorn not only has unhealthy fats, but the chemicals in the bag are known to cause cancer, right?) So I'll be popping our popcorn on the stove.


If you've always had microwave popcorn, you may be totally unaware that it's just as easy to make popcorn on the stove top using an ordinary pan with a lid - or, if you prefer, a whirly-popper. Some people actually prefer stove top methods, and I admit, the popcorn does seem to have more flavor when made this way.

How to Make Popcorn with an Ordinary Pot

What You'll Need:

about 3 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil, but I know people who love their popcorn made with coconut oil)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
3 qt. pan with a lid (a heavier pan works best)
Sea salt
Butter (optional)

How to do It:

1. Place the pan over medium high heat and add the oil. (If using coconut oil, allow it to melt completely.)

2. Put about 3 kernels of popcorn into the pan. Put the lid on the pan.

3. When the kernels pop, add the remaining popcorn kernels. Put the lid on the pan and remove the pan from the burner for 30 seconds.

4. Put the pan back on the stove. Once the kernels start popping, shake the pan back and forth on the burner. (This helps prevent burning.) Keep the lid ajar just a little, to allow steam to escape.

5. When the popping slows down to one pop every two or three seconds, remove the pan from the stove. Remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a bowl.

6. If desired, drizzle melted butter over the popcorn. (I don't do this.) Season with salt.


Making Popcorn with a Whirly-Popper

I grew up making popcorn in an ordinary pan, but just recently, I found a whirly-popper at a church rummage sale. It was 75 cents. It came home with me. And I have to say, we love it! I think it does a better job than the pan method, and is a bit easier, too. You don't have to shake the pan or try to keep the lid ajar. Here's how you do it:*

1. Pour about 3 tablespoons of oil into the popper. Place the pan on the stove over medium high heat. (If using coconut oil, wait until it's totally melted before proceeding to the next step.)

2. Add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels. Shut the lid.

3. Slowly rotate the handle on the popper. In about 5 seconds, the handle should make a full rotation. This stirs the kernels and prevents burning.

4. The kernels will start popping. Keep turning the handle. Once you feel resistance when turning the handle, stop and remove the popper from the stove.

5. Pour the popcorn into a bowl. If desired, drizzle with butter. (Again, I don't do this.) Season with salt.

So, so, SO good!

* Always follow the manufacturer's directions, which might vary a bit from these steps. 





Mar 30, 2016

Get Dinners Out...on the Cheap! Limited Time Only Retaurant.com Deal

I received a Restaurant.com gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

I love to cook - I've written three cookbooks, after all. But sometimes cooking every. single. meal can feel like such drudgery. That's why I think the best gift you can give any mom is dinner out. Because what mom doesn't love a night off from cooking??

The only problem? Eating out can eat up your food budget quickly...something I'm frequently bummed about.

That's why I was excited to see that Restaurant.com is having a FANTASTIC deal on certificates. For just $3 you can get a certificate worth $25 at local restaurants! And not only do these certificates make mega-super gifts (Mother's Day is coming, friends), but at this price, you can do a little self care and buy a bunch for you, too.

Happily, Restaurant.com certificates can be used at more than 23,000 restaurants nationwide. I live in a very small town, yet I found several local restaurants that accept Restaurant.com certificates. Happy dance! The site is really easy to use, too; you can search for restaurants by zip code, city, state, type of cuisine, price range, etc.

All you have to do to take advantage of this deal is use PROMO CODE: SALE at Restaurant.com. All the site's other deals are on sale, too. For example, you can also get a $10 certificate for $1.20. Offer ends Thursday, March 31, 2016 at 11:59 pm CT...so grab 'em while you can!

I received a Restaurant.com gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.


Mar 8, 2016

How to Get More Vegetables in Your Diet - Easily!

When the kids recently spent a couple of weeks at their grandparents' house, I admit I slacked off when it came to cooking. I still cooked from scratch, but somehow there was a lot less cooking to do when the kids weren't around - and I found myself not always eating very healthy. The main issue? Lack of vegetables! And did you know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say ½ of every plate of food we eat should be covered with vegetables? Whoah! I was way under my quota - and probably you are way under that quota, too. That's why I wrote A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook. But even with that recipe-packed paperback, you might be wondering how to easily get more vegetables into your daily diet. Here are some ideas.

Breakfast

Pancakes, eggs and toast, cereal…The most common breakfast foods don’t contain any vegetables at all. But it's not that hard to add some to the breakfast table. For example, try making an omelet with vegetables in it. Common veggies to add include diced tomato, diced bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, chopped chives or green onions (scallions), sliced leeks, chopped spinach, and/or diced onion. (Have trouble making omelets? Try following these directions. For me, though, the key is simply to use a smaller pan; this results in a smaller omelet that's easier to flip.)
Vegetable omelet. (Courtesy Wendy.)

If you don’t like making omelets, make a scramble or hash instead; here are directions, but basically you just mix scrambled eggs with a bunch of veggies (and maybe some meat, like chopped ham or bacon). Just be sure to add vegetables that take a little while to cook (like potatoes, onions, and bell pepper) toward the beginning of cooking. More tender veggies, like greens or tomatoes, should be added toward the end of cooking.

Another idea is to add shredded zucchini to some flour-based breakfast foods, like pancakes or waffles, or muffins. You really won't taste the zucchini, but you'll get it's added nutrition. In fact, this is a great way to sneak veggies into the breakfast of a picky eater. I've not tried it myself, but many readers tell me shredded yellow summer squash works just as well as zucchini for this kind of thing.

Lettuce wrap "sandwiches." (Courtesy of
Lunch

Unless you're more ambitious than I am, sandwiches are probably your go-to lunch food. You can make them healthier several ways. One is to omit the bread entirely and substitute large leaf lettuce. Another is to keep the bread, but instead of using iceberg or other pale-colored lettuce (which doesn't pack much punch when it comes to nutrition), use dark leafed lettuce - or maybe even other greens, like cabbage or kale. Also take a look at what you're putting into your sandwiches. You can easily add things like cucumber slices, sliced tomatoes, sprouts, sliced olives, thin-sliced onion, sliced peppers, thin-sliced (or shredded) kohlrabi, shredded carrots, sauerkraut, or shredded cabbage leaves.

Salads can also make an excellent lunch, and are filling if you make them large and include some protein, like sliced egg or chunks of ham, chicken, beef, or fish. Again, avoid light-colored lettuce and choose dark lettuces for more nutritional punch. You can also add things like cauliflower or broccoli, diced chives or green onions (scallions), sliced cucumber, sliced celery, sliced radish, shredded carrot, sliced mushrooms, sprouts, diced peppers, shredded cabbage, snow peas, sliced olives, fresh or sun dried tomatoes, sliced or shredded kohlrabi, artichoke hearts, and cooked or pickled asparagus spears.

Raw veggies, like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, radishes, and snow peas are also excellent on the side - maybe with homemade Ranch dressing, vanilla yogurt, or hummus.

Dinner

Parsnip fries (from A Vegetable for Every Season.)


I think it's easiest to find a way to use vegetables at dinner time, especially if you use them as a side dish. Right now, my favorite side dish is roasted vegetables. (Click here for the how-to.) Or, if you roast a chicken, for example, you can easy peasy toss in some chopped veggies, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), winter squash, onions, and/or asparagus. The only trick here is to chop them so they are all approximately the same size; that way, they cook evenly.

If you like to serve stews, soups, or casseroles, be sure to add tons of veggies to them. I try to double the number of veggies called for in such recipes. Just remember, more dense vegetables (like potatoes and

Snacks

I try to serve vegetables as snacks before I offer anything else. Not only are veggies a very affordable snack (compared to more common, processed snacks), but they are so much healthier, too. Raw veggies are an easy choice, of course. Or you can make veggie chips at home with a food dehydrator (or your oven). Good choices for chips include kale and dandelion leaves (picked before the weeds send up flowers and stems), zucchini and summer squash, parsnips, carrots, beets...and yes, potatoes.

You can also make "snack sandwiches" by substituting bread for slices of cucumber. (I prefer to cut them into rounds, which makes them "snack sized.") Add a little mayo, a tomato slices, and a strip or two of bacon. Delish!

A similar idea is to make snack sized pizzas, but instead of using dough or English muffins for the crust, use a sliced zucchini round or a large mushroom as the crust.

And, last but not least, an easy peasy way to add more veggies to your diet is by making smoothies. In fact, I'd go so far as to say you should avoid smoothies that are mostly fruit; they will spike your blood sugar, making you more tired and prone to snack. Instead, pack the veggies in, and then add a banana (my favorite) or a handful of berries to sweeten up the drink.


Now it's your turn. What are YOUR favorite ways to add more veggies to your diet?

Feb 16, 2016

The Truth About Salt

Recently, I had a conversation with someone that made me realize there's a lot of misunderstanding about salt out there. "The only healthy salt is pink sea salt," this person insisted. "All other salts have been bleached and the nutrients removed." I was stunned...because, well, that's not true at all.

So which salt is the healthiest? How much should we be eating? And how is sea salt really processed?


How Salt is Harvested or Processed

Harvesting salt is fairly simple process, really. First, salt water is driven into a pool. Sun and wind slowly evaporate the water. The salt crystallizes and is harvested - usually with a truck that scoops the crystallized salt into a factory. It may take five years for the salt to go from the pond to the factory. In the factory, the salt is washed to remove impurities. It may also be boiled in water  - which is the most transitional method. What's left is dried, packaged, and sent to stores.

A San Francisco salt pond. The pink color is due to organisms in the pool, not the salt itself. Courtesy Doc Searls and Wikipedia Commons.
In fact, this process is so simple, it's basically what humans have been doing for thousands of years - and what you can still do today. (In fact, it's possible for those who live near the ocean to harvest their own salt. Learn how here.)

Another way salt is harvested is through "solution mining." Here, wells are installed in natural salt beds and water is added to dissolve the salt. The resulting brine is pumped out and taken to a plant where it is evaporated. Salt can also be mined much like minerals, but this type of salt is typically made into rock salt - not the type of salt you cook with.

A mountain of salt in France. Courtesy of  Rolf Süssbrich and Wikipedia Commons.
The Healthiest Salt?

All salt is basically the same: it's sodium chloride. And, until recently, most health experts would have told you no salt is better for you than another. But now studies show that processed salt - any salt with additions to it - is linked to autoimmune disease.

Table salt is highly processed.
The type of salt that's sold for salt shakers - table salt - is the worst offender. It's processed to remove minerals and has anti-caking agents added (actually, any salt that's finally ground may have anti-caking agents, too; read labels carefully), as well as iodine. The addition of iodine began in the 1920s, when many Americans didn't have access to iodine in their foods - or just neglected to eat foods rich in iodine. They didn't know then, as we do now, that adults need just 150 micro grams of daily iodine, which is easily obtained by eating dark leafy greens, seafood, grains, and eggs. (Dairy products are also a good source of iodine, but largely  because of the iodine feed supplements and iodophor sanitizing agents used in the dairy industry.)


However, differences in unprocessed salt are very minor.


Pink Himalayan salt.

What About Pink Salt? 

Contrary to what my acquaintance said, sea salt is not bleached, nor does it have it's nutrients removed. I can only guess she thought all sea salt was pink, and that the white stuff in the store somehow had it's pink removed. I have no idea, however, where she'd get such erroneous ideas.

Pink salt comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan, about 186 miles from the Himalayas. (Hence it's other name, "Himalayan salt.") It does have some trace minerals in it, and while I sometimes buy and enjoy pink sea salt, claims about it are usually exaggerated. The minerals in Himalayan salt are so minute in quantity that scientists say they make zero difference in our diet. Further, the only list I can find of the minerals found in pink salt (which may or may not be accurate, since nobody seems to know exactly how or where the salt was scientifically examined) has a few disturbing items in it, including arsenic, lead, plutonium, uranium, and polonium. Fluoride, too, which I know many people try to avoid.


Trying to find true Himalayan pink sea salt can also be difficult. Many manufacturers lie about the origins of the salt, or add things to it to make it look pink. Also, it's important to know that salt can be colors other than pink or white. There are gray salts, red, black, and so on - it all depends upon the minerals that naturally occur where the salt was harvested.

Perhaps some confusion comes from the fact that the pools in which sea salt are harvested are sometimes pink. But this isn't due to the color of the salt, but to algae and (sometimes) brine shrimp that are attracted to the pool. 

So, long story short, pink salt is not healthier than any other unprocessed salt.


Why Salt Isn't Bad For You

I grew up hearing that salt is terrible for your blood pressure. However, salt is something everyone needs in order to stay healthy. In fact, too little salt can be dangerous, too. Salt only becomes a problem when it's highly processed, or when we eat processed foods.

Yes, it's true. Anyone who eats processed foods (foods not made from scratch) or restaurant food is consuming huge amounts of salt - far more than is healthy, and far more than they'd be consuming if they made their own food and salted it as they cooked.


Putting it All in Perspective

If you want healthy salt, consume only pure sea salt. Read ingredient lists carefully, since salts often labeled "sea salt" may have added ingredients you should avoid.

This is a healthy daily intake of salt. That's a LOT!
If using pure sea salt, you can salt your food liberally and you will eat far less salt than if you were consuming processed food. The CDC recommends adults eat up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That's about 1 teaspoon of fine salt...in other words, a lot! I can't imagine using that much salt, even for a day's worth of food for my entire family. Another way to put this into perspective: Experts estimate that in the average person's diet, only 5% of their salt intake comes from cooking at home, with another 12% coming from natural foods. 6% comes from adding salt at the table...and a whopping 77% comes from processed/restaurant food!

Courtesy the CDC.
What I Recommend

I personally use Old Thompson's sea salt because I can buy it locally (at Walmart). It comes in coarse form and is sold in a grinder. For most cooking, this works perfectly. But if I need to measure out salt (say, for fermenting or canning) it's a bit of a pain to grind the salt, then measure it. One of these days, I may buy fine sea salt without additives, like Celtic Sea Salt or Real Salt.

Just read labels, my friends, and you'll be well on your way to outing unhealthy salt in your diet.