DIY Fermented Green Salsa

With all the hard work (and love) that goes into gardening, it’s always a shame to see “summer plants” loaded with unripe fruits and vegis in the fall.  Unlike Kale, or Brussel sprouts, which can actually get sweeter with a little frost, tomato plants tend to shrivel up, stall out, or just plain rot away.  Rather than wait, and hope, for my green tomatoes to turn red before winter sets in, I decided to combine two of my favorite things: salsa and fermented foods.  As mentioned in a previous post(sauerkraut), not only is fermentation an excellent preservation method, it is also an affordable way of getting probiotics into your diet.

Probiotics are the good bacteria in the stomach that have been shown to boost the immune system, decrease inflammation, and regulate hormone production (hence the stomach’s nickname “the second brain”).  In fact, poor gut flora has been linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia, GERD (reflux), and clinical depression.  While almost any vegetable can be fermented, I am a big proponent of using what is local, in-season, and in-stock.  To try your hand at making fermented salsa, check out the recipe below:

*** Note: Red tomatoes can also be used (I actually used a combination of both).

The Harvest
                   The Harvest

Fermented Green Salsa (HOT):

> 6-7 Medium Tomatoes, chopped

> 4-6 Jalapeno or Fresno Peppers, chopped (less based on heat preference)

> 2 Hungarian Peppers, chopped

> 1 Small Onion, diced

> Juice of 1 Lemon

> 6 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and minced

> Handful of Cilantro, rinsed and chopped

> 2-3 T. Unrefined Sea Salt (no additives)

> 1 oz. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

1). Hand chop, or pulse in a food processor, everything except vinegar, salt, and lemon juice.

2). Place all chopped ingredients into large bowl.

3). Add remaining 3 ingredients, and stir to incorporate.

4). Funnel salsa into wide mouth jars, making sure to leave at least 1-inch of head space.

5). Using a wooden spoon, or similar object, lightly smash down the salsa to further release its liquid. (This is more important when hand chopping ingredients).

6). If “smooshed” correctly, there should be a slight layer of liquid across the top of the ingredients; this helps to keep mold from forming on the salsa itself.

7). Close jar with traditional canning band/seal to a loose finger tightness.

8). Cover jars with tea-towel and leave them to sit, at room temperature, for 3-7 days.  Make sure to “burp” the jars periodically to avoid excess pressure build up (the seals will begin to bulge/swell upward as CO2 is created).  The number of days is dependent on the general temperature of the room and your personal taste preference.  Occasionally a small layer of white mold will form on the salsa (remember the important liquid layer from smashing the salsa in step 6); if done correctly, you can usually scrape the top layer off with a spoon and continue on with the process.

9). Once the salsa is to your liking, cap firmly, refrigerate and enjoy!

Note: Fermented foods typically have a shelf-life of nearly six months.  This does vary item to item.  If you are concerned about spoilage, it is best to heed on the side of caution, and discard the product accordingly.

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Simple Vanilla Coffee Creamer

Now a days it seems like everyone is debating what is, and is not, healthy.  Are eggs good or bad for you (good – they are a great source of bioavailable protein and nutrients), margarine or butter (butter – when made from organically grass-fed cattle it is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and beneficial saturated fats; margarine on the other hand is chemically similar to certain plastics and was originally created to fatten up pigs), and should we drink coffee?  Fortunately, for us, grandmother’s old adage of “everything in moderation” has never been more appropriate.

Those opposed to drinking coffee often argue that, once metabolized, coffee becomes very acidic to our bodies.  This is true!  Our bodies are designed to maintain an average blood pH of 7.4.  When we consume foods that make our bodies more acidic (less than 7.4), our body is forced to compensate by pulling alkylating minerals from other tissues in the body.  This includes our bones, and it is this chronic balancing act that can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis (very few people are clinically calcium deficient).  Research also shows us that cancer cells thrive in an environment that is acidic (they also feed on sugar, which further promotes acidity in the body), and can often be reduced by eating foods that are alkaline in nature (such as fresh greens).

On the other hand, there is also a growing body of research that suggest drinking coffee can have a very positive impact on one’s health.  Not only has coffee historically been touted as a strong anti-oxidant, but has recently been proven to jump-start our metabolism when consumed prior to strenuous exercise.  When drank in moderation, the caffeine in coffee can also act as a headache suppressant.  The concern here is, that when consumed in large amounts, a person can often become addicted to caffeine.  This addiction can in turn lead to symptoms of withdraw, such as tremors and headaches.  So, as Grandmother and I said before, everything in moderation!

With that being said, it is important to point out a few points about drinking/brewing coffee:

  • Coffee is best when purchased as organic – with the coffee industry growing exponentially each year, it has become common practice to use more and more pesticides.
  • Coffee should be brewed from freshly ground whole beans –  just like any food or spice you purchase, the more processed it is by the time it reaches you the less healthy nutrients exist
  • If you are going to add sweeteners/flavorings to your coffee, try to limit the amount of sugar and artificial additives used (both of which are inflammatory to your system).  Below you will find a recipe for a vanilla creamer that is high on flavor, yet low in ingredients.

coffee

Vanilla Coffee Creamer

1 1/4 c. Almond Milk

1 T. Vanilla Extract

2 T. Local, Raw Honey (Provides anti-microbial benefits and aids digestion)

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Peppermint Mocha Variation: Replace Vanilla Extract with 1-3 T. of Dark Cocoa Powder and 1 tsp. Peppermint Extract

Homemade Sauerkraut

With Saint Patrick’s Day comes leprechauns, four-leaf clovers, corned beef, and luckily for us, half priced cabbage.  While cabbage is delicious in all its forms, ranging from pigs in a blanket to coleslaw, none is healthier than the German staple sauerkraut.  When created traditionally, sauerkraut is just that, “sour” and stinky.  These unique characteristics remind us that sauerkraut is in fact created by letting cabbage rot, in a controlled fashion, until it is jam packed with beneficial lacto-bacteria.  These bacteria are more commonly known as probiotics.

Probiotics are the good bacteria in the stomach that have been shown to boost the immune system, decrease inflammation, and regulate hormone production (hence the stomach’s nickname “the second brain”).  In fact, poor gut flora has been linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia and clinical depression.  Unfortunately, most store brand sauerkraut is heated/processed to ensure long term storage, and consistent taste, destroying any of the living probiotics present.  Luckily (perhaps because we’re all a little Irish on Saint Patty’s), making sauerkraut at home can be an easy, affordable, and fun experience!

Sauerkraut

Basic Sauerkraut Recipe:

> 2 Heads of Cabbage, Medium to Large

> 6 Carrots

> 3 Inches of Ginger, Peeled and Chopped

> 6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Chopped

1). Shred cabbage and carrots using food processor (reserve 3 or 4 leaves from each cabbage); combine with garlic and ginger

2). Place several cups of the mixture into a blender

3). Add filtered water and process until the solution resembles a thick juice (adjust water or vegetables as needed)

4). Pour juice back into remaining vegetable mixture and stir to incorporate

5). Place the mixture into large glass canning jars; using the handle of a wooden spoon, compress the mixture until only two inches of headspace remain

6). Roll up the reserved cabbage leaves into tight “logs” and place them on top of the mixture, filling the remaining two inch gap (this ensures the cabbage mixture below remains submerged in the juice at all times).

7). Close jar with traditional canning band/seal

8). Leave jars to sit, at room temperature, for 3-7 days.  Make sure to “burp” the jars periodically to avoid excess pressure build up (the seals will begin to bulge/swell upward).

9). Refrigerate and enjoy!

Note: Fermented foods typically have a shelf-life of nearly six months.  If you are concerned about spoilage, it is best to head on the side of caution, and discard the product accordingly.

Healthier (And Tastier) Potato Skins

With March Madness just around the corner, and game day snacks a must, it is important to have an option that tops the taste bracket but not the scale.  Rather than reach for the fried buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, and bacon laden potato skins, try giving these twice baked sweet potatoes a “shot.”  Sweet potatoes, as is made apparent by their rich orange color, are packed full of beta carotene (the whole foods version of Vitamin-A).  Vitamin-A is typically touted for its ability to improve night vision, while simultaneously boosting the immune response (including against measles).  Top this with fiber rich black beans, and heart healthy guacamole (think omega-9 fats from avocados, lycopene from tomatoes, and anti-viral onions) and you’ve got yourself a game-day treat that can’t be beat!

Ingredients:

4 Large Sweet Potatoes

1 1/2 C. Black Beans, drained if using canned

1/2 C. Shredded Cheese, Mexican Blend

Guacamole:

1 1/2 Avocados

1-2 T. Lime Juice

1/4 C. diced Red Onion

1/4 C. chopped Cilantro

1 Medium Tomato, diced

1/2 to 1 Jalapeno, seeded & diced

Salt & Pepper, to taste

guac

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare guacamole by mashing avocados with remaining ingredients; stir to incorporate.

 Bake sweet potatoes until fork tender; approximately 35 minutes.  Halve and remove pulp (reserve for later occasion).

Fill hollowed out sweet potato halves with beans, top with cheese, and place back into oven for 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is melted.

Top each “potato skin” with guacamole and a dollop of sour cream (optional).

ENJOY!!!

Orange is the New Green (Smoothie)!

For those of you looking for a little variety, in your smoothie quest for health, try this sweet and delicious (yet nutritious) sweet potato smoothie.  Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin-A (hence the orange color), providing nearly 400% of your daily recommended amount.  Sweet potatoes also contain low levels of important minerals, including magnesium, potassium, iron, and manganese.  Potatoes, in general, also provide small amounts of protein and fiber (roughly 2 g. and 3 g. respectively).  Fiber is essential for blood vessel and intestinal health, and provides the body with general inflammation support.  Although sweet potatoes are high in carbohydrates, many of them are complex in nature.  Complex carbs typically breakdown slower in the body, causing a more controlled release of sugar and insulin (essentially eliminating blood sugar spikes).

As stated in my previous blog post, Drink Your Way to a Healthier New Year, one of the best, and perhaps easiest, life-style changes a person can make is to begin incorporating healthy, live foods into their daily routine.  When thinking of a food as “living” or “dead,” there are two important aspects to consider; will it nourish my body and will it expire in a reasonable time period.  Unless food is preserved in a historical manner ( e.g. fermenting or canning), it should be unable to “survive” in your pantry for years at a time.  This extended shelf life, in most processed foods, can be attributed to chemical additives and preservatives that often promote inflammation and toxic overload in our bodies.  While these processed foods can be found in most meals throughout the day, a main offender is often breakfast and/or snacks.

My proposal, to you, is that rather than reach for a granola bar, bagel, donut, or sugary strudel, make yourself an Orange SmoothieThis smoothie is quick and easy to make, provides tons of essential vitamins (including Vitamin-C), minerals (Magnesium and Potassium), and fiber (to help remove “Bad” Cholesterol and leave you feeling fuller longer).  Best of all… KIDS LOVE IT!!!

Orange Smoothie Recipe

Sweet Potato Smoothies

1  1/2  Cooked & Peeled Sweet Potatoes

1 Banana (Preferably Frozen)

1 Madjool Date (Pitted)

1 C. Almond Milk

1 C. Water

Dash of Cinnamon

A Few Ice Cubs

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until a smooth consistency is obtained.  Add additional liquid, as needed, if smoothie remains thick/unprocessed. Drink the smoothie within 20-30 minutes of blending to receive the most health benefits from your “living” food.

TIP:  It is always best to rinse the blender out immediately after use, to avoid stubborn stuck on pulp.

Drink Your Way to a Healthier New Year

With the New Year just around the corner, and the” heaviness” of holiday eating weighing us down, many of us set resolutions to exercise more, stress less, and lose weight (often by crash dieting).  Rather than going on a fad diet, or cutting your calories back to an unrealistic, un-maintainable level, try making smaller life-style changes.

One of the best, and perhaps easiest, life-style changes a person can make is to begin incorporating healthy, live foods into their daily routine.  When thinking of a food as “living” or “dead,” there are two important aspects to consider; will it nourish my body and will it expire in a reasonable time period.  Unless food is preserved in a historical manner ( e.g. fermenting or canning), it should be unable to “survive” in your pantry for years at a time.  This extended shelf life, in most processed foods, can be attributed to chemical additives and preservatives that often promote inflammation and toxic overload in our bodies.  While these processed foods can be found in most meals throughout the day, a main offender is often breakfast and/or snacks.

My proposal, to you, is that rather than reach for a granola bar, bagel, donut, or sugary strudel, make yourself a Green Smoothie!  Packed full of fruits, and vegetables (hence the green part), this smoothie is quick and easy to make, provides tons of essential vitamins (including Vitamin-C), minerals (Magnesium and Potassium), healthy fats (Omega-9’s), and fiber (to help remove “Bad” Cholesterol and leave you feeling fuller longer).

Green Smoothie Recipe

Green Smoothie

1/2 Apple

1/2 Banana

1 Handful of Frozen Mixed Berries or Tropical Fruit

1 Handful of Spinach

1 Handful of Kale (Stems Removed)

Dash of Cinnamon

1/2 Avocado (optional – makes smoothie creamier)

1 C. Water

Loosely combine all ingredients in a blender and process until a smooth consistency is obtained.  Add additional water, as needed, if smoothie remains chunky/thick.  Substituting additional spinach for equal parts kale may also help to resolve any texture issues, as kale can be a bit more fibrous.  Drink the smoothie within 20-30 minutes of blending to receive the most health benefits from your “living” food.

TIP:  It is always best to rinse the blender out immediately after use, to avoid stubborn stuck on pulp.

The Tropical Life

It was 1972 when Harry Edward Nilsson III told listeners to “put de lime in de coconut, you drink ‘em bot’ togedder, put de lime in de coconut and you’ll feel better, put de lime in de coconut, drink ‘em bot’ up, put de lime in de coconut and call me in the morning.” What Nilsson didn’t know was that not only was he writing a catchy song, which will stick with you forever, but that he was giving you some of the best nutritional advice around.

Limes

Although many people think of limes as the lemons unwanted cousin, there truly is an inherent value in incorporating more limes into your daily diet. Like most citrus fruits, the lime is a significant source of Vitamin-C, providing nearly 32 percent of your recommended dietary allowance. Vitamin C is considered the “grandfather” of antioxidants, helping to boost immunity and limit inflammatory causing free-radicals in the body. Vitamin C is also essential to the development and repair of soft tissues such as muscle and cartilage. Other antioxidants provided by limes include Vitamin A and Vitamin E.

Limes also provide vitamins and minerals that are essential in supporting, and developing, healthy and strong bones. These include low levels of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin K. In addition to helping with bone support, Magnesium plays a vital role in metabolism (ATP production), inflammation control, DNA repair, regulation of muscle spasms (including the gastrointestinal tract), and repairing connective tissue. Recent research has even shown that magnesium deficiency has a high correlation to artery plaqueing, and is a much greater risk factor than having elevated cholesterol levels.

coconut

When people think of coconuts they typically think of shredded sweetened flakes, macaroons, and pina coladas. However, as research continues to amass on the many benefits of coconuts (both health and non-health related), numerous products are starting to emerge and become easily accessible on the market. These products range from unsweetened coconut flakes to coconut water, oil, milk, sugar, and flour. Each of these products is very different, and can be utilized in its own unique and varying application. Coconut oil is a very stable, saturated fat, which makes it an ideal option for cooking. Due to its increased stability, coconut is the only oil that will not oxidize under heat, meaning no free-radicals are formed. Contrary to popular belief, traditional forms of saturated fat are actually heart healthy, and are an essential component of cell walls. The inflammation associated with omega-6 rich “vegetable oils” is much more detrimental to our everyday health than saturated fats. Due to its ability to combat free-radicals, coconut oil is also highly valuable in combating skin damage when applied as a lotion.

People that are actively “dieting” may also like to know that coconut oil, and coconut water, consumption has been linked to improved weight loss. Not only is coconut oil rich in electrolytes, without the added sweeteners and artificial ingredients of many sports drinks, but it is an excellent source of medium chain fatty acids. MCFAs are typically smaller than long chain fatty acids, found in many common vegetable and seed oils, which makes them easier to absorb by our cells. MCFAs are typically easier to digest and are shunted directly to the liver where than can be instantly converted to energy. This conversion process gives your body the fuel it needs to function without causing a spike in insulin that is often associated with grains and sugar. Lastly, coconut oil has been found to be abundant in lauric acid, a form of MCFA that is present in breast milk and thought to be one of the main sources of its immune boosting ability. The list of benefits go on and on.

margarita

On a side note, while it is widely known that excess alcohol consumption is detrimental to your health, research suggests that individuals who consume no alcohol throughout life are likely to have higher levels of inflammation. So, responsibly and within moderation, feel free to put de lime in de coconut (with a little rum) and drink ‘em bot’ up.

A Healthier Sports Drink

It is a well known fact that a large portion of the human body is made up of water.  In fact, it is estimated that water comprises nearly 50-75% of the average person, with a large portion being stored in the muscles and bones.  Water is essential for all bodily functions, including proper muscle function, digestion, blood flow, and waste removal.  One simple test to ensure that you are well hydrated is to analyze the color of your urine.  If the urine is a dark yellow, you are typically dehydrated, while clear urine indicates that you are getting enough liquids throughout your day.

A common reason that someone becomes dehydrated is that they typically wait too long to drink water, relying on the feeling of “being thirsty” rather than periodically drinking water throughout the day.  More often than not, people confuse the sensation of being thirsty with being hungry, overeating when they should actually be drinking more water; this hinders digestion as more food needs to be broken down with inadequate water to support the process.

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When talking about dehydration, it is important to note that it only takes a loss of 2-3% of the body’s water supply to activate the thirst response.  Perhaps, even more surprising is the fact that it takes a water loss of just 1 % to impair both mental performance and physical coordination.  This, along with other serious health risks (such as heat stroke) is why it is essential to stay hydrated during athletic competition.  One of the best ways to do so is by making your own all natural sports drink (see recipe below) that provides the benefits of the big name products, but without all the added preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Homemade Cherry Sports Drink

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  • 5 T. Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate
  • 2 T. Lemon Juice
  • 2  1/2 T. Raw Honey (local honey may boost immunity against common allergens)
  • 3  1/3 c. Cold Water
  • 1/4 tsp. Himalayan Sea Salt (provides important electrolytes/minerals)

 In a quart size bottle, combine first four ingredients.  Add salt and shake to thoroughly combine.  Chill and serve.

A Healthy Holiday Addition.

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash w/ Cranberries & Feta

Looking for a healthy alternative to those “candied yams” covered in brown sugar and marshmallows?  Try this healthier, yet delicious, alternative.  The following dish is loaded with good-for-you foods, including garlic (a strong anti-inflammatory that has been shown very effective in combating arthritis related pain) Cranberries (contain polyphenols, which may play a role in cardiovascular and immune system health), and Cinnamon (has been shown to safely reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels.  It is also suggested that smelling cinnamon can boost your IQ level).

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Ingredients:

1 Large Butternut Squash, peeled & chopped

Olive Oil

Salt, Pepper, & Garlic Powder

2 C. Fresh Cranberries

2-3 T. Honey

1/4 C. Crumbled Feta

Ground Cinnamon, to taste

Fresh or Dried Parsley (optional garnish)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400.

  2. Lightly drizzle olive oil over baking sheet.

  3. Add cubed squash to baking sheetand drizzle with additional oil.

  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to desired preference.

  5. Roast squash for 25 minutes, remove from oven, and add cranberries to baking dish.

  6. Return to oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until cranberries have started to soften/burst.

  7. Remove from oven and lightly sprinkle cinnamon over dish, along with honey, and feta.

  8. Garnish with parsley and ENJOY!!!