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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Artificial sweeteners: not really magical

Clients, friends and family members often ask me about artificial sweeteners. My opinion hasn't changed in many years, actually it keeps getting reassured as more research gets published. I don't use them myself and I don't recommend anyone to use Equal (aspartame + dextrose + maltodextrin), Splenda (sucralose), Saccharin, or NutraSweet (aspartame).

These are some of the main reasons:

1. With their sweet taste, artificial sweeteners fool our body. By design, the body prepares its hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc to utilize incoming sugar when it perceives a sweet flavor  (that's how we are engineered. It doesn't have to be table sugar, it could be from fruits or other foods containing glucose). But guess what? If no sugar comes in, but just an impostor, eventually, the neuroendocrine feedback loops built in our bodies linking pleasure, nourishment, deprivation and fat-storage get disrupted, and our brains don't even register that our appetite for sweets has been satiated, so we keep craving sweets, even if we just had Splenda in our coffee or drank a diet Coke.

It's like having a date, but instead of the guy you like (sugar) showing up, a total stranger (artificial sweetener) you are not interested in appears, and demonstrates to be completely subpar. You had spent hours getting ready plucking your eyebrows, doing your hair, applying makeup, getting a new outfit and talking to your friends about all the excitement and your future plans with this amazing man (neuroendocrine feedback loops prepping up). All for nothing! Your crush is nowhere to be seen. You feel horrible and become obsessed with finding him, you become a stalker (insatiable sugar cravings), but continue to date the man you didn't like (more Splenda) just because the one you are interested in is not available.

Please note that I'm not suggesting you to add sugar to your diet! Excess sugars are definitely problematic and are the topic of a blog post to follow this one. There are many unrefined sweet real food options that can satisfy your need/want for sweetness, but to be clear, artificial sweeteners are NOT the answer! Just continuing with the date analogy, even if you think you are in love with the guy who didn't show up (sugar), he's not worth it and is hurting you. You just need to look around some more and find your right fit (which is not Splenda either). So stay tuned...

2. There's no evidence artificial sweeteners help in weight loss. Quoting Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, "after almost 50 years of artificial sweeteners in the food chain, not a single peer-reviewed scientific study has shown any correlation between the use of such nasty tasting stuff and long-term weight loss." There are actually studies that have found that synthetic sweeteners are even more weight-promoting than sugar (mainly for the reason stated as #1).

3. There are plenty of studies linking artificial sweeteners with atherosclerosis, aging, kidney malfunction, cancer, leukemia, diabetes, DNA damage, neurotoxicity, and the list keeps going. A new study was recently published revealing an extensive array of safety concerns specifically to Splenda, including the formulation of dioxins, severely toxic (carcinogenic) compounds when sucralose is used in baking. In short, they can be a dangerous gamble, and I like working in favor of my body, not against it (and we should all do the same). For more on that and the link to the original study, click here.

4. Artificial sweeteners alter the gut microflora. As I've written before, the composition, diversity and balance of our gut microbiota (aka flora, the microorganisms populating our digestive tract) are detrimental in every single aspect of our health (I will press the STOP button here because I can go on and on, but click here if you want to know a bit more about this). Studies have shown that consuming artificial sweeteners changes the composition of our gut biota, and since I'm such a promoter and believer of probiotics (foods and supplements), prebiotics, cultured and fermented foods, and everything that helps keep the 3 pounds of bacteria and fungi we host in our bodies happy, I take this very seriously!

5. They taste awful! I refuse to fool my body (see above #1) and to harm it (#3), but I also refuse to feed myself something that tastes disgusting. There are so many delicious foods that nourish me and make me happy. Those are the ones I'm eating! Why do I need to resort to foul, fake, metallic, unpleasant flavors to produce fake satisfaction? Enjoying what we eat, preferably, every time we eat, is part of a healthy existence. I try to give myself that gift every day!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I try to be as chill as possible and in the look for a middle ground (or you might know me as the maniac who freaks out with artificial food coloring or makes berry crisps with eggplant in the mix), but in my opinion, given all the evidence, there's no gray zone when it comes to artificial sweeteners. 

I invite you to participate in an experiment: if you consume an artificial sweetener, sit down quietly, and be really introspective when eating or drinking it. Try to sense its smell and taste. Close your eyes if you need to. Don't get distracted by any noise, people, conversations or thoughts. Focus on the flavor and try to discover if you really enjoy it... 

In my opinion, there's a whole belief system and many daily rituals around consuming no calorie synthetic sweeteners. There's routine and there's the cultural value we've given to them, there's even the comfort felt while opening the pink (or blue or yellow) individual package, seeing the powder emerge, hitting our breakfast and offering us the warmth of a new day, sweetening a fresh cup of joe or feeding us a sensation of control in a chaotic world. This activity embraces us into an idea, as over the years, we've been told these scientifically advanced sweeteners are the smart choice and the modern day solution to our criminal sugar lust, they imply we are being "good,"  and/or that we will look amazing if we consume them, also pumping up our self esteem. They can mean being in control or give us assurance. They can make us feel better psychologically and emotionally for what they represent. But I hate to break it: that has been a very long farce. They can be harmful. And although not an easy task, decreasing, and hopefully at some point ending their consumption completely, would be a wonderful thing!

In case you are interested in reading research studies about the problems of artificial sweeteners, I encourage you to do searches in PubMed, or click here for a great amount of articles and references. And for inspiration, here's Phyllis' story.

Phyllis is a lovely 18-year-old who came to me to do her senior exploration internship. In preparation for the upcoming alternative sweetener post I promised above, I asked Phyllis to do some research online and I also included this article about the neurobiology of sugar cravings. The next time we met, I asked Phyllis how she had felt about everything she had read, and she told me that the aforementioned article surprised her the most and after reading it, she decided to quit using Splenda. Here's what she wrote:

Being an eighteen year old living in Manhattan I have always been conscientious of my calorie intake. I'm not obsessive but I feel if there is an option for an equally tasteful food with less calories why not choose it? That is how I chose to use Splenda. I drink coffee fairly often and I need to mask the bitter taste with the sweetness of Splenda. Of course I assumed Splenda wouldn't be the best option because there had to be chemicals in something that had no calories; but my thought was 'at least I'm not wasting my calories'. It wasn't only the no calorie aspect of Splenda that made me use it so often, it was the sweet but not too sweet taste that I enjoyed so much. So of course I continued to use it every time I had a cup of coffee. After reading an article about what Splenda (and other artificial sweeteners) does(do) to your body I was been enlightened. I never imagined that something so small could be so harmful. Splenda tricks your body, the sweet taste causes the body to expect calories when no calories hit, then your body craves more calories causing a person to consume more. When I first read this, I was shocked. Splenda is supposed to reduce your calorie consumption not help increase it. Right away I decided to give up Splenda. I wasn't exactly sure what I would replace it with but I just knew that anything was better than an artificial sweetener that tricks your body. It's been about a week since I have given Splenda up. I no longer put any sweetener in my coffee at first it was difficult the taste wasn't as satisfying as it was with the Splenda. But The fact that it's only been about a week and I'm enjoying my coffee without Splenda just as much as I did with it, makes me feel great and accomplished. 

I know it's not so easy for many people. I'm definitely not comparing nor putting pressure on anyone, but I do think that what Phyllis did was really motivating. It's been way more than a week since she wrote that, and last time I checked in with her, she was still completely off Splenda and not missing it a bit. It's just some food for thought, and I would LOVE to hear about your own experiences. So please share!
In the meanwhile, since I'm not a coffee drinker (I feel really sick and physically uncomfortable when I drink it), it might be way too easy for my to tell you just not to drink Splenda sweetened coffee and/or to alter your precious morning ritual. However, I do want to bring up an alternative: the coffee that all the cool kids are drinking and swearing by. From mental acuteness, satiety, energy increase, to pure bliss, Bulletproof Coffee is all the rage (although some folks didn't experience such magic) and since it's harmless unless you don't do well with coffee or butter, I'm putting it out there. Try it and see if it works for you!
Here's how you make a serving of it:

1 cup brewed organic coffee (or a shot of espresso) 
1 tablespoon MCT oil*
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted grass fed butter

Combine all three ingredients in a power blender (such as Vitamix, Ninja, etc) for about 30 seconds, until the drink becomes frothy. Drink!

*MCT oil is made of Medium Chain Triglycerides found in coconut and red palm oil, that are said to increase metabolism and provide quick energy to the body. You can find it in amazon. Some people have had good results by using virgin coconut oil instead of MCT, although coconut oil has a more varied mixture of fats, that do include in a high percentage MCT. I've never used MCT, as I'm more of a whole foods girl (not the store, but the actual food!), but it does beat artificial sweeteners by far!

I hope you enjoy it and please keep me posted!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tasty, easy, nutritious Shavuot menu

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of teaching a Shavuot-themed class to the lovely ladies of Westchester Day. Shavuot is my favorite Jewish holiday, as it's basically the only one that is not part of the "they tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat," category.
It's a holiday of joy, with no threats, no fears. It's the celebration of the greatest gifts the Jewish people ever received: the Torah. Shavuot takes place in the peak of spring, which is not only exciting for the sun, light, warmth and flower tapestries everywhere, but also because culinary speaking, the season's bounty allows for creating delicious and fresh food with plenty of produce, many colors and textures.
Since it's a tradition to eat dairy products during the holiday, the class I taught had plenty of them (although I personally don't deal that great with dairy). I want to share the recipes with you, as well as an extra one for a salad, and don't hesitate to comment, ask or send feedback, they are all greately appreciated!

  • Almond gazpacho with grapes
  • Arugula and asparagus salad with goat cheese
  • Baked eggs with spinach, tomato, herbs and sheep’s milk cheese
  • Herbed salmon with turmeric and white wine
  • Homemade ricotta and strawberry parfait with rhubarb and chia seed compote

This is not your traditional gazpacho! It doesn't even have tomatoes. It's one of my favorite recipes, and everyone always finds it "interesting."  It's a very sophisticated dish with complex flavors.
4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) almonds, soaked in water overnight, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
Four (1-inch) cubes of honeydew melon
½ baked potato (flesh only)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar, to taste
4 cups iced water
A few drops of pure almond extract, optional
Halved grapes, for serving

Place almonds, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Beat until nuts are as finely ground as possible. Add melon and potato, blending until pureed. Drizzle in oil a bit at a time, and once it’s all incorporated, add in the vinegars. Gradually pour in the water. Strain if desired, but I love mine with texture! Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or vinegar if needed. Add in 2 or 3 drops of almond extract, if desired. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Chill well, preferably for a couple of hours or overnight. The flavors will develop further. Adjust seasoning before serving. Serve in bowls topped with a few grape halves.
Serves 6

This salad has crunch, smoothness, sweetness, saltiness a slight tang, and just screams of spring! It repeats some of the ingredients used in other recipes in this menu, so you don't have to shop for extras! 

1 bunch asparagus, washed and bottoms trimmed
1 (8-ounce) package organic strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, separated
2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar, separated
Coarse sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ¼ ounces baby arugula, washed
6 large fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup seedless grapes
1 bunch (about 20) salted and roasted pistachios, shelled
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
½ teaspoon dried culinary lavender
Preheat oven to 400 F. And proceed to wash and cut vegetables as indicated above while oven warms up.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place on it the asparagus and strawberries. Drizzle them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons maple syrup and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix well making sure both, asparagus and strawberries are evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and generously with pepper.
Roast for about 20 minutes, until strawberries melt and their juices bubble (make sure they don’t burn) and asparagus brown a bit.
While roasting is taking place, prepare dressing: in a small bowl, whish with a fork minced garlic, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoons pure maple syrup and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve arugula in a salad bowl. Top with grapes, pistachios and the warm strawberries and asparagus with their juices. Place goat cheese on top of warm fruit, so it melts a bit ,and with your fingers crumble lavender on the very top.
Serve immediately!
Serves 4


Based on my grandmother's recipe, but with many simplified steps, this is a favorite dish of mine for brunch. By all means use fresh, sauteed spinach if you prefer, but a pack of the frozen greens can save you some work and time. 
Olive oil, for pan
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach (preferably organic), thawed overnight in refrigerator
1 dozen large eggs, preferably pastured
3 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably organic), more to taste
Assorted chopped herbs, fresh or dried, such as oregano, thyme, parsley, etc
8 ounces sheep’s milk cheese such as Pecorino Romano or kashkaval, or feta, cut, sliced, crumbled, or shredded
Red pepper flakes, to taste (start with ¼ teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line an 8x8-in baking pan (or equal capacity) with parchment paper, if using an aluminum pan, and oil it.
Place thawed spinach in a kitchen towel (or a couple of paper towels), squeeze the spinach in the towel and drain as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and tomato paste. Add in drained spinach, herbs and chili flakes into the bowl with the egg-tomato mixture. Mix to distribute evenly and pour onto prepared pan. Sprinkle with cheese pieces and bake, uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until mixture doesn’t wobble when pan is shaken.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.


The superfood turmeric adds its superpowers to this dish, plus a beautiful golden hue. Since curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, is best absorbed with black pepper and oil, this recipe is a perfect vehicle for flavor and health. 
1 (2 to 2 1/2 lb) skinless salmon fillet (preferably wild Alaskan)
Sea salt, black pepper and turmeric, to taste
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 lemon
½ to ¾ cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, scallions, mint, dill, etc)
¼ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Line a roasting pan with parchment, if using aluminum. Place salmon in the roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and turmeric on both sides. Drizzle oil and squeeze lemon juice all over the fish. Scatter the herbs over the fish. Pour wine around the fillet. Roast uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the desired doneness. Insert the tip of a paring knife to see if it’s cooked through (although many people like salmon slightly undercooked). Let cool for a couple of minutes, and serve.
Serves 6.


I get it! you might not want to make your own ricotta cheese. Feel free to substitute for store bought or even for Greek yogurt, but I do recommend that if you have 15 extra minutes, you take the time to make the ricotta yourself, and even better, with your kids. It's the perfect way of seeing how cheese is made from milk and just that is an amazing experience!

4 cups whole milk, preferably grass fed and organic (goat milk works too)
2 cups heavy cream, preferably organic
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Set a large sieve over a large mixing bowl. Moisten 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with it. The dampness will keep the cloth in place.
Heat the milk and the salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil (large bubbles breaking on the surface), and remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and let mixture stand for 1 to 2 minutes, until curdles form. The mixture will separate into curds and whey, which is the liquid part. Scoop curds from pan and transfer to cheesecloth-lined sieve. Let drain for 25 minutes. The longer the curds drain, the thicker the ricotta will be.  Transfer the cheese to a bowl, and discard the cheesecloth. Use the whey in smoothies, no need to discard it! Use immediately or cover and chill for up to 4 days.
Makes about 2 cups.
2 rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons raw honey, separated, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 pint strawberries (preferably organic)
1 lemon, juice and zest optional
1 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped, optional
Mint leaves, for serving

Cook the rhubarb in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons water, covered for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft, but don’t overcook, or the color will be unpleasant. Puree with an immersion blender and let cool. Add 2 tablespoons raw honey and 2 tablespoons chia seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, vanilla bean seeds and 4 teaspoons raw honey. Taste and adjust seasoning (add more honey, if needed).

Slice the strawberries and if they are not sweet enough, add a drizzle of honey. Add some lemon juice and zest, if using and allow to macerate.

Place half of the sliced strawberries in the bottom of a see-through vessel. Add half of the ricotta mixture and top with rhubarb-chia gel. Repeat by topping it with strawberries, ricotta and rhubarb. Sprinkle pistachios on the surface and decorate with mint. Serve.

Serves 6 to 8

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Berry Chia Bars

I cook because:
1. I must do it
2. I love eating
3. I promote healthy habits (and cooking is one of the most important ways to develop them) 

However, my main passion is and will be baking, as impractical as it can be. Food is a need, and dessert, a want. You can improvise as you cook, change, adapt as you go. Baking requires precision, obedience, patience, faith and lots of tolerance for frustration. Plus, since I'm obsessive compulsive about only using real foods that are rich in nutrients, no refined sweeteners nor flours and I'm a huge fan of including super foods in my recipes (plus not dealing that well with dairy and gluten), I've exponentially grown my chances of failure. 

My kitchen is a mixture of a Whole Foods Market-loving mad scientist's lab, with an overworked Manhattan family kitchen where a chef with big aspirations and very little room tries to produce some healthful, palatable goodies... Since baking is mostly about chemistry (especially the reactions among eggs, butter, flour and sugar, which I don't use), unfortunately, lots of experimental batches end up in a trash bag,. So, when something turns out right, I feel as if I'd climbed the Everest! And this recipe is one of those. It's based on the Hamentaschen recipe I developed two years ago, and I just tweaked it a bit and served it during my children's school Health Initiative night. I was asked for the recipe, which besides showing that they were actually good, is the biggest self esteem booster ever, and encourages me to keep trying and proof that you can have your cookie and health healthfully too!

Gluten free - Vegan - No refined flour nor sweeteners

Feel free to use frozen and thawed mixed berries or just a single kind. They are all delicious! Other frozen (and thawed) fruits, such as mango with pineapple, cherries, etc are great options as well. Play around, just taste the filling before adding any sweetener, as they might not need any, as some are really sweet my themselves. 
However, do use frozen fruit, as the freezing process changes its texture and that is desirable for this recipe.
Also, this filling is awesome raw, just by itself or drizzled atop of yogurt, oatmeal or even in savory dishes. My daughter and her friends eat it by the spoonful!

  • 1 (10 oz) package of organic frozen berries, thawed in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight.
  • 1 tablespoon whole chia seeds
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  •  Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • Lemon zest, optional
  • Pinch unrefined salt

  • 1/2 cup (120 g) pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)
  • 8 g (about 2 tablespoons) ground chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon unrefined salt 
  • 2 cups (250 g) gluten free oat flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) potato flour (NOT potato starch)
Throw everything in a blender and blend until fruit has pureed. If you are using fruits other than berries, don't add the maple syrup. Mix first, then taste and add syrup, only if needed. 

Let the chia thicken the mixture while you prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line the bottom of a 9x13-in baking pan with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix with a spatula or wooden spoon the maple syrup, oil, ground chia, vanilla and salt, until incorporated.

Add the oat and potato flours and mix until a dough forms.

Spread and press the dough evenly on the bottom of the prepared pan with a spatula or even your hands. 

Pour the filling onto the crust and spread evenly.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling looks dry. 

Let cool, cut into bars or squares and enjoy.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The multiple uses of a can of coconut milk plus reflections on social media

For a long time I refused to join Facebook, but when I started blogging, it became a necessary tool to stay in touch. I often wish we still lived in a social media free world. Our time yielded more (at least mine did) in those days. From a refuser, I've become an addict: one of those people who get a nervous tic if their fingers are not typing on the impalpable keyboard of their phone, emailing, texting, facebooking, instagraming, pinning, tweeting, and I'm sure there are many more verbs for doing things in social media, but I'm too old to know about them yet!

Nevertheless, there are some perks. In general I'm really bad at staying in touch, and since I moved out of my native country and live in a city where people come and go, social media has allowed me to at least know a bit about people who are very dear to me, but who live far away.

Where is this story going (before my ADD hits in)? A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Fabebook a picture of my favorite brand of  coconut milk, which is packaged in a BPA (a hormonal disruptor)-free can and that doesn't have any thickeners. Basically, it's only coconut and water, the way it should be--but is not if you read the ingredients of any other coconut milk can label. 

Unfortunately, I haven't found it in stores, so I've been ordering in amazon. My dear friend, and perinatal and pediatric nutritionist & lactation counselor, and blogger Debra Waldocks (do yourself a favor and subscribe to her blog, just click on her name), asked, from Israel, for inspiration on coconut milk uses, and tadah! this blog post was born... 

Bottom line: social media has some good things, but just as with dessert: it may cause addiction, so it should be consumed mindfully (this as I type a post that will go out on FB, twitter and instagram)!!!

Please read this post I wrote a while back about coconut derived products, if you want to learn more about the perks of this amazing tropical fruit. Briefly, I'll just mention that it's quite rich (60% of the total fat in coconut oil) in medium chain triglycerides, which--as renown integrative doctor Dr. Frank Lipman explains--are easily digested fatty acids that are used as energy rapidly, and metabolized quickly in the liver without being stored as fat. Don't think I'm recommending to gulp down gallons of coconut milk a day, but it's a great ingredient to include in your repertoire.

Coconut milk is an amazing option to dairy. It's not an exact substitute, as coconut milk has some different qualities: it's more dense and fatty, contains about half the amount of protein that dairy milk contains, it's sweeter and more luscious, and it does have a characteristic flavor, but this often works to its advantage. Both vegans and Paleo (Primal) lifestyle followers use it quite often .  
Warning: I love coconut milk. However, some people not only don't like the coconut flavor, but actually can't stand it, so I recommend you always ask if you are sharing! 

The very best coconut milk is the freshly made one, but I'll just suggest you some ways of using the canned one and you might get inspired to make your own, but et's take it a few steps at a time. 

Here are my favorite 5 uses, and would love to know if you come up with more ideas!

1. Add it to your soups and stews.
Coconut milk adds a delicious texture, creaminess and a bit of exoticism to soups, stews and purees. You can make kosher and/or Paleo beef Stroganoff with coconut milk en lieu of cream, or even add some into your cholent. Carrot, lentil, sweet potato, mushroom, squash, you name the soup, just add some! Here's a soup recipe my friend Sarah shared with me from a magazine, and it's absolutely delicious and packed with nutrition!
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 2. Whip it.
I've been making whipped coconut cream for a couple of years already, and I still can't get over the amazement every time the stiff peaks form. I love adding a tiny bit of coconut nectar or yacon syrup and the scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean. Use it as you would whipped cream. 
To make it: Refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut milk (not light) overnight in the back of the fridge (where it's cooler). The can should still be closed. When ready to use, open the can of coconut milk and place the creamy, more solid part that has separated, into the bowl of a standing mixer, preferably using a silicone spatula (you could even whip it by hand in a bowl using a wire whisk).Whip coconut cream with the whisk attachment of a standing mixer until stiff peaks form. 
Don't discard the remaining liquidy part! Add it to soups, smoothies or as a cooking liquid for grains or beans.

3. Freeze it. 
Its higher fat content, richness and sweetness make coconut milk an ideal liquid to churn into ice cream or making popsicles. Try this: Do the refrigerator trick explained above. When ready to make, melt 3 ounces of dark chocolate (70% cacao content). Once melted, add the coconut cream (the denser portion after separation in the fridge), 1/4 cup (100g) coconut nectar (OR pure maple syrup, raw honey, xylitol, or yacon syrup), a pinch of unrefined salt, the scrapings of a vanilla bean pod and blend with either an immersion blender or a power blender. Let cool for a couple of minutes and add the flesh of 1/2 of a very ripe avocado. Blend until compeltely smooth. Portion into Popsicle molds and freeze or, if you have an ice cream machine, cool the liquid, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
  • If you are rushing or don't feel like turning on the stove, use 3 tablespoons of cacao powder (I like using raw) instead of melted chocolate and the additional cocoa.
  • Add some drops of mint extract or essential oil (just do very few drops at a time, as both are very concentrated)
  • Forgo the chocolate and the cocoa and add 3 tablespoons (or to taste) freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus the zest, if you please) and/or add your favorite fruit. Particularly easy if the fruit is frozen: from bananas to berries, pineapples or mango. Just blend all the ingredients together and play around. Mix and match! You don't even have to measure, just taste as you go and adjust as you'd like.

4. Culture it. 
I've spoken about coyo (coconut yogurt) before, and it's pure yummyness! I make water kefir at home (a post on that in the works), and by adding 2 tablespoons of prepared water kefir into 2 cups of coconut milk and letting it culture at room temperature for 24 hours, I make a lovely coconut kefir. If you have a yogurt maker or are thinking of purchasing one, you can get a vegan yogurt starter and make some pretty easily. Cultures for Health is a great source for cultures and equipment. 
For recipes:
This one is great from; and this other one from is a bit of a cheater's version that is super easy and doesn't require you to wait for the milk to ferment. I hope they get you inspired!

5. Sub dairy.
Ideal for vegans, Paleo, lactose-intolerants, kosher keepers or anyone else avoiding dairy, a can of coconut milk can open a world of possibilities.  Use coconut milk as a substitute for:
  • milk (although it will result in a richer concoction).
  • heavy cream: do the refrigerator trick explained under "whip it," but don't whip it, just use the separated part.
  • buttermilk: place 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and fill up to one cup with coconut milk. This can be used to substitute 1 cup of buttermilk in a recipe.   
  • Sour cream: Combine the heavy cream and the buttermilk methods.

Coconut milk loves being paired with vanilla, chocolate as well as with sour flavors that cut through its richness, that's why it's such a good friend of fruits, especially the tropical ones (such as mango and pineapple) that tend to grow in the same soil as coconut.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Healthy, Happy Passover

Spring is here, finally! It seems we've survived!!!

If you are Jewish, chances are the beginning of spring means that most of your current decisions are determined by Passover: you are either involved in a cleaning frenzy, food shopping like a maniac, if you are very organized, you've already started cooking, or if you are lucky, you are packing up your bags dreaming of Paradise, happily evading the whole process!

Regardless of what your plans are, this holiday can be an amazing opportunity to start tuning your body to the new season and cleanse yourself from the stress of winter (or, it can also be an opportunity to feel bloated and miserable and to stuff your face 24/7 for 1 week... We've all been there!).

Since I'm an eternal optimist (a quality I recently discovered buried deep, deep inside me) let's plan on making the best out of it. The holiday lasts 7 days, therefore, here are my seven tips and my favorite links for a healthy happy Passover:

1. "Eat [real] food. Mostly Plants. Not too Much." Michael Pollan's motto always works, and you can follow it either if you spend the 7-day long holiday in your own home, at someone else's or in a destination where the food is catered. Focus on the produce by filling 3/4 of your plate with vegetables and fruits (if you are going to the tropics or to a place famous for its agriculture, you have an extra reason to enjoy local--maybe even exotic--fresh produce) and 1/4 of a protein rich food (eggs, breakfast, meat, fish, nuts and seeds. And, make sure that as the rule suggests, you are eating REAL food. I'd say that it sounds like adopting (at least temporarily) a Paleo lifestyle might be the best way of dealing with the holiday...More on real food in the next tip.

2. Don't fake it. You can nowadays purchase lots of processed products that imply that "you won't even believe it's not chametz (forbidden grains during Passover)." I do admire the creativity and skills of food science to achieve amazing results at that. However, I try to stay away from those imitation foods. From "mustard" (which is not permissible) to cakes saturated with sugar, shortening and a plethora of additives, ice cream that is ice, creamy but no cream, and many more "non-food edibles." Stick to real food! Your body knows what to do with that, while it has no idea how to metabolize ingredients with names that your brain can't process. Read labels, and don't purchase anything that lists ingredients you wouldn't recognize as common food! Have you ever eaten sodium acid pyrophosphate? Well...then avoid the gluten free matzah ball mixes, just make your own using 3/4 almond flour and 1/4 potato starch to substitute the matzah meal!

3. It's JUST ONE WEEK! All the prep work, the hype and the restrictions seem for many people (including moi!) a daunting task, mainly an emotional one. You can eat amazing things during Passover. Yes, you can! Make a celebration of all the festive meals and focus on what you can eat, not on what you can't. Get creative, and cook. The new season brings really nice options, and remember, it's only seven days of your entire year! No toast, no pasta, no many other things...use the opportunity to try new ones instead! How about star fruit, or young coconut, Brazil nuts or Cornish will end sooner than you think!

4. Eat color. Vegetables, fruit, spices, herbs, nuts, many seeds. Many are allowed in Passover. They are full of flavor: they can add crunch, sweetness, tartness, heat, creaminess, etc, which makes your food not only palatable, but delicious. Remember that including all the colors of the rainbow in your meals gives you the amazing qualities of the different colored phytonutrients contained in them (plus many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and detoxing abilities). 

5. Enjoy it! Enjoy the change of pace and the better weather, enjoy children laughing or a good book (or both, if the children are laughing far from where you are reading), enjoy the company around you. And enjoy the food! Don't count calories, carbs or fat. Eat tasty, well prepared meals, and if you can, get in the kitchen yourself! Cooking has a special effect in the way we feel about the food we made! Just savor it all, slowly, consciously, joyously! And remember that there's plenty of dark chocolate certified kosher for Passover!

6. Quality rules. Don't feed your body junk! And I'm not suggesting you to ditch all treats. Just make sure the treat is worth it: made with good ingredients and with care. Preferably, not by a machine (see tip #2), but by another human being--or yourself. Enjoy it because it's delicious, not because it's there. Get the best food you can. You are worth it!

7. Keep it in perspective. The holiday is about slavery and freedom, so we might have to feel a bit of both to complete the purpose!

Favorite links: 

  • This is a lovely blueprint on how to keep Pesach food simple, delicious and healthful that my friend and awesomely amazing chef, instructor and author, Kim Kushner wrote in her blog:

  • If there's only one Passover thing you are making, make my grandmother's (actually, my great, great grandmother's) charoset. It's hands down, the very best:

  • This blog is a great source of grain free recipes that are almost completely Passover friendly and health oriented:

  • Getting in the mood with Six13's Chozen (A Passover Tribute). Please don't blame me if you can't get it out of your head after watching! 
Wherever this Passover finds you, I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday full of celebration for freedom and the company of your loved ones!