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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 hens...And...it 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:
http://kimkushner.com/blog/#sthash.tQD9ESkM.dpbs

  • 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:
http://ironyofbaking.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-third-plague.html

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

  • 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!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwBuNtd4xAY 
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!

AZ

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The best oils to stock in your kitchen.

It seems we've officially ended the era of  Fatphobia. Saturated fats have been proven innocent from causing heart disease, and since our brain is 60% fat, we need to rethink our approach to it, so we can think better. This is a tremendous shift of the whole nutritional belief system of the last 30 decades, I know. And it's really hard to let go of all the non-fat, low-fat concepts we grew up with. With the exceptions of the "crazies," that will soon be turned into "visionaries" in the filed, the experts had told us that healthy eating meant skipping or minimizing many fatty animal products. The consequences on the way we eat and how we'll be eating in the time to come are just getting started, so expect to see many changes...

Saturated fats have been redeemed, but trans-fats (aka partially hydrogenated oils) are still and will be nasty and should be avoided at all costs! Trans fats are, as Harvard's Dr. Walter Willet calls them, "metabolic poison." They lower levels of good cholesterol and raise levels of bad cholesterol. Even if by now trans fats have such a bad rap and are not as abundant, they still hide in products, including many kosher foods such as macaroni 'n cheese and some packaged snacks. Make sure to read ingredient lists carefully, looking for --and avoiding-- "partially hydrogenated oil," even if a container states "trans-fat free."

Another change that I expect to see soon in the mainstream, is (besides the comeback of butter) processed seed and grain oils (often used in processed foods) to be found to be not really that great for us, but that will still take a couple of years...

In the meanwhile, since I don't mean to make things more confusing, I will stop telling you what to avoid and will recommend to stock your pantry with what I consider the foolproof oils, no matter if you are vegan or have joined the Paleo lifestyle, if you keep kosher or hallal. The four of them are decently available (in health food stores for sure), have many benefits, and are great for cooking and/or baking. Please note that these are my "multipurpose oils," and I will post about other specialty, "finishing oils" in another post. The quality of the oils you eat is very important, because our cell membranes are made mainly out of fat, so choose carefully. You don't want your cells to become stiff! Go the extra mile to ensure the quality of your oils! 

Another quick note: yes, we do need good quality fats, but please be aware that everything should be done in moderation, and usually a drizzle of the following oils is enough at every meal. I'm not advising you to just go crazy and finish a bar of Plugra butter during breakfast!

To avoid oils processed with chemical nastiness, always look for oils that are "EXPELLER PRESSED," which means they were obtained through mechanical methods.The best way of storing oils is away from the light, and preferably in tinted glass bottles. 

These are my fave oils:


  • Olive: Extra virgin olive oil (evoo) is full of health benefits, especially for the heart and cardiovascular system, and it contains plenty of antioxidants. It’s best for finishing dishes or making dressings and sauces that won’t be cooked, as it has a low smoke point (burns at a lower temperature, and when oils burn, they produce harmful compounds that should not be eaten nor smelled). Have fun tasting different extra virgin olive oils. They are a bit like wine, as they pick up different flavors, colors, scents and degrees of astringency depending on the terroir where the olives grew. Cold pressed virgin or filtered olive oil  (without any heating involved) is a better option for cooking than evoo, as it has a higher smoke point . Although I need to confess: I do use extra virgin for roasting and even baking at lower temperatures (below 300 F). Don't use evoo for frying!

  • Extra virgin (or virgin) coconut oil: a great substitute for butter or margarine. It’s the richest source of medium-chain fatty acids, which aid in the assimilation of fats. It’s also been found to promote brain health, boost immunity and help thyroid function. It is a powerful antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral food and one of the only food sources of lauric acid, which is a fat found in human breast milk. It’s solid at room temperature, doesn’t need refrigeration, and due to its high smoke point, it can be used for cooking, frying and baking. For a flavorless (but also less health benefits, than the unrefined form), use expeller pressed "refined" coconut oil (I like Spectrum brand refined coconut oil when I want a clean flavor).

  • Red Palm Oil: this might be the one you are not familiar with. It has a deep orange color (and will turn your food that hue) and it's a great cooking oil with very high concentrations of vitamins E and A (in the form of beta-carotene and tocotrienols and tocopherols). It has a slight peppery taste and it's been used traditionally in the cuisines of Africa and South America. It makes a great butter substitute, and has a very high smoke point, making it a very stable oil, even at high temperatures. Make sure you purchase red palm oil, which is extracted from the fruit of the palm, not from the kernel, which doesn't have the same health benefits.

  • Avocado oil: With free-radical fighting capabilities and a high content of phytonutrients, and a high smoke point, this is an amazing oil for cooking (or just eating raw). It helps fight heart disease and aging, and has a neutral taste. So this can be your new all-purpose oil. Costco just started carrying a really good one that is expeller pressed and way less expensive than the ones sold in other stores.
 
  
HEMP SEED PESTO
This recipe is a twist on the classic pesto, which uses pine nuts or other nuts. I substituted them for hemp seeds to add some variety, extra protein and good fats (as I just mentioned the importance of the quality of our fats!). Plus, people with nut allergies tend to be OK with these seeds (although always consult your doctor, if in doubt). You can use any of the oils mentioned above. The flavor will be different depending on which one you pick, but they are all deilcious! You can use this pesto to dress pasta, salad, as a dip, or to top chicken or fish, just as I did when roasting wild Alaskan salmon the other night. 
INGREDIENTS
1 bunch fresh basil, washed and patted dry
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup hulled hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) 
1/4 teaspoon unrefined salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive (or coconut, red palm or avocado) oil

Optional: add fresh lemon juice and zest, a pinch of cayenne, grated Parmesan cheese, or switch basil for parsley, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, etc. Anything green would go!

METHOD
In a food processor or a power blender, grind basil, garlic, hemp seeds and salt. 
Drizzle oil in and process or blend again until a paste is formed. You can make it coarser or more pureed depending on your taste.
Use, serve or store for up to 5 days covered in the fridge.


Monday, February 24, 2014

A Case for Salt

And...I am back!!! Although I'd like to say that I was away in a long tropical sojourn at an exotic location, I've physically been experiencing every single snow storm on the East Coast. I've seen it go from picturesque to gross during these impossibly busy months, full of work, projects, hopes and snow days. Overall, I'm thankful, and thrilled to be writing an new entry in the blog again, and starting to see daffodils being sold at the neighborhood bodegas, which every year gives me hope for the spring to arrive.

As you've probably noticed already, I love finding new food items and trends-- especially healthful ones. And although this one is definitely not new--actually it may have been the first culinary step ever taken by the human race-- it's worth to write about. 

I'm talking about salt, which we usually give for granted, but is actually one of the most fascinating food topics. Since early history, this mineral crystals have given origin to conquests, many superstitions (some people refuse to pass the salt from hand to hand, or they toss a pinch of salt over their left shoulder to get rid of bad luck, especially if they've spilled salt!), and to everyone's favorite word: "salary." And we all know that everything in life is easier to assimilate if we "take it with a grain of salt."  But before I lose you more in food idioms, let's go back to the trend: from incredible boutique businesses, such as The Medow in NYC and Portland; to the isles of Costco, the mainstream consumption temple; salts of every color, flake size and bouquet are adorning the shelves. I was recently at Kalustyan's (if you're in the NYC area and consider yourself a food enthusiast of any sort, and you've never stepped a foot inside this food import store, it's definitely worth a visit), and was shocked to see bags and bags of black, gray, pink, brown, pulverized, flaked, smoked, infused and block-shaped salts from France, England, Pakistan, Hawaii... all with lovely foreign names full of apostrophes and squiggly lines above and below the letters. It's not that I hadn't seen the varieties before, but the amounts did impress me: the shelves were covered from floor to ceiling. 

So...are we all into fancy salts? Is it just snobbery or the coolest thing ever?

I know what you might be thinking...."HELLO! high blood pressure..., heart attack..." And yes, there's definitely that, as we've been told over and over about the dangers of an excessive salt consumption. So why am I writing about it here a "healthy" blog, then?

Let's start with Dr. David Brownstein, who argues in his book Salt: The Way to Health, that the first mistake is that "nobody makes a distinction between unrefined and refined salt. They 'lump' all salt together as a bad substance." He states that, "refined salt has had its minerals removed and has been bleached to give it the white appearance that we are accustomed to seeing with salt. It is the fine, white salt that is available at almost any restaurant or grocery store." It's what we know as table salt, and it's "been bleached and exposed to many toxic chemicals in order to get it to its final product. It has aluminum, ferrocyanide, and bleach in it." He believes that "this refining process has made it a toxic, devitalized substance that needs to be avoided." On the other hand, he continues, "unrefined salt has not been put through a harsh chemical process. It contains the natural minerals that were originally part of the product." That's why salts come in different colors, as their mineral content gives them a distinct hue that varies depending on the source where the salt was obtained, either the sea or deep in the Earth. "It is the minerals in unrefined salt that provide all the benefits of this product. The minerals supply the body with over 80 trace elements [magnesium being one of them] needed to maintain and sustain health," he affirms. Unrefined salt has a much lower content of sodium chloride (about 84%, sodium still being a vital electrolyte), while table salt has almost 98%. All those extra minerals alkalize the pH and lower blood pressure, which is exactly the opposite of what table salt does. Interestingly enough, sometimes, when we experience intense salty food cravings, it's our body trying to communicate to us a mineral deficiency in it...

Another issue with refined salt that has been brought up is that the anti-clumping agents added to it to increase its shelf life (which keep salt from absorbing moisture), also interfere with the regulation of hydration in our own bodies when we consume table salt.Our bodies end up retaining water to protect themselves, and our cells release water to help dilute, neutralize, and break down the salt. This loss of water dehydrates and weakens the cells.

It's basically another clear example of refined, overprocessed food, that ends up--just like flour and sugar--looking white, pure, clean and trustworthy, but deprived of nutrients...

Am I suggesting an unrefined salt fest? 

Not really. Moderation is always key, but the QUALITY of our food, even of our salt, should also be a priority (trust me! Fast food restaurants don't add Celtic salt to their French fries!!!). And...good quality salt is the most basic way of turning what we eat from blah... to bliss!  A well seasoned salad can convert anyone into a veggie fan, while if there's no flavor balance nor anything brightening the ingredients, blandness will be unavoidable. 
Oversalting spoils our taste buds, it makes us build up our need for salt and perhaps affects our health, but not salting at all, spoils our appetites!  Did you know that recent findings have suggested that there is no actual benefit to sodium restriction when it comes to preventing heart disease or death? For references, click here and here


Salt is the most essential seasoning and flavor enhancer, and it's also a natural preservative, quite useful in controlling fermentation, as it inhibits the growth of yeast.  But how do we take all that to the next level, turning the simple act of salting a food (of course, with unrefined salt!) into an art?

I asked Alexandra Joseph Rabbani, Executive Chef of Salt of the Earth Bakery to give me a hand with that task. Her company's treats are luscious, rich, sweet (and almost all chocolatey), artisanal concoctions finished with hand picked salts (I'm partial to THE MAYAN brownie...), so what better expert to learn from?
Here's what she taught me, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it as well:

Q: How you decide the right pairing of salt and other flavors? What factors do you take into consideration?

A: There are many factors that play into creating the perfect salty-sweet match. After we create a new baked product, we bring it to one of several "selmelliers" (salt experts) with whom we work to find the ideal pairing. All factors are considered. Most important, of course, is the flavor profile. We always want the salt to shine, but the more important goal is to have the salt accentuate and elevate the other flavors. We don't take [the salt's] place of origin into consideration, but have struck gold several times matching salts and ingredients hailing from the same region. Texture and mouth feel are obviously a very important part of any eating experience, and the unexpected crunch or snap that salt can add to our products is always a welcome surprise.

Q: How do you balance the right amount of salt to bring out the flavors in dessert without over salting?
A: We always make a distinction between "salty" and "saltED". Every one of our products is hand-salted and we are pretty obsessive. We encourage an environment wherein we drive each other crazy about checking salt levels. 
Q:  What are your favorite kinds of salt and why?
A: The "Official Rabbani Family Salt" is definitely Sel Gris de Guerande. It is outstanding on roasted chicken and vegetables. We have large bags of it on our kitchen counter at all times. For my birthday dinner, my husband made me some amazing dry-aged steak and finished it with a sprinkle of the Sel Gris. My mouth still waters when I think of it.  
Q: What do you look for when choosing salts?
A: For me, it is all about bringing out the right flavors in your food. Different salts have different flavor profiles, from clean to briny to minerally to astringent, and you need find the right salt for the job.  
Q: Do you use different kinds of salt for cooking, baking and finishing a product, or do you combine them?

A: While finishing salts may have great flavors, there are a lot of reasons not to use them in your batter. First and foremost, they can get expensive. Second, there's no need to use a flake salt in your pasta e fagiole, because no one will know that was ever a flake once it has dissolved. Here are my general guidelines: 
  • Baking: Fine grained, non-iodized sea salt. I like the Kirkland brand best (available at Costco)
  • General Cooking: Kosher Sea Salt. Alessi makes one, and several are available via SaltWorks.us
  • Finishing: Sel Gris de Guerande (mentioned above) does amazing things to roasted meats and vegetables. Maldon Sea Salt is a favorite for cookies, salads, and and any light dish that would benefit from a crunch and a pop of salt.  Coarse grained sea salt (in a grinder) is the only way you should ever salt your eggs. 
Q: Would you be capable of blind-tasting salts and guessing what kind they are just by flavor? Do you feel the different mineral contents?
A: While I would definitely lose a game of "Name That Salt", I can taste the different characteristics in different samples and I am learning more every day.
For more information on the characteristics of different unrefined salts, check out Salt of the Earth Bakery's salt link here. 
You can also learn more here

In conclusion, when using salt: 
-Use only unrefined salt (the container usually states the place of origin), and make sure that unless salt is infused with herbs or spices, the only ingredient listed is "salt."  
-Bring out your inner selmellier, experiment with different salts, turning it into a meditative tasting experience, find your favorite kinds and think how they affect the food they are combined with.Think of texture, flavor (smoked salt can be awesome!) and try to feel the delicate details.
-Use salt in moderation, as Alexandra Rabbani recommended, your food should be saltED, but NOT salty!
-Consider purchasing a salt sampler set like this one, where you can try different ones without committing to huge containers. 
-Have fun with it, and you can start here:

MALDON SEA SALT INFUSED WITH VANILLA BEAN

The title of this recipe is longer than the recipe itself. My friend Emily brought me back from Paris a tin of vanilla Fleur de Sel more than 10 years ago. I was fascinated. The whole fancy salt, plus sweet spice concept just blew me away! But you don't have to go to France to get a hold of fabulous such combo. It's actually a great use for a used vanilla bean, that has been already scraped. So don't you ever throw those away! I love using the salt on dessert, but it is also stellar sprinkled over salad. 
Ingredients

1/2 cup Maldon salt  (sea salt flakes from England, but feel free to substitute for other flaked sea salt, but not one that is too coarse)
1 "used" vanilla bean (split open and scraped. Use the scraped beans for other recipes)

Method

Place salt in a lidded glass jar.
Cut the vanilla bean into coarse pieces and throw it into the salt.
Cover with a lid and shake to mix.
Let infuse for at least 2 days and for as long as you want.
Use by sprinkling over chocolate desserts, or on any dessert or a salad, just before serving. 

CHOCOLATE-AVOCADO MOUSSE
If you are on a hurry and/or want to eat healthfully, are following a Paleo* lifestyle or if you are vegan, avoiding gluten or dairy, but you still want to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is a recipe for you!

Ingredients
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably raw)
3 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons yacon syrup (or pure maple syrup, raw honey, silan or coconut nectar)*, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon unrefined salt
1 ripe avocado (flesh only)
Hemp seeds, optional
Cacao nibs, optional
Sliced or chopped nuts, optional
Pinch of vanilla-infused or plain Maldon sea salt

Method
In a blender, food processor or a deep bowl (if using an immersion blender), dissolve cocoa powder in hot water until all lumps disappear. Let the mixture cool at room temperature (you don't want to cook the avocado!)

Add syrup, vanilla and salt and blend or puree again.

Add in the avocado flesh and process or blend until completely smooth, you don't want any avocado pieces left. However, if you are using a power blender, don't over do it, or the blender will generate heat that will cook the avocado and will change its flavor. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. 

Scoop mousse into individual serving bowls or wine glasses. Top with hemp, cacao nibs and/or nuts, if using; and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. 
Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 5 hours. 

Variations: 
-Potion mousse (before topping it with any ingredients) into ice cube molds, place a small lollipop stick in the middle and freeze. Sprinkle with Maldon salt before serving. 
-Use mousse as cake frosting


Makes 4 serving


*Adjust sweetener according to your specific diet.




Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hamantaschen Kits 2014

Due to popular demand, after being sold out last year, the Three Tablespoons Hamentaschen Kits are back!

Even if we're still deep into winter freezing our bones, this year, Purim will take place on March 16, so for once, I'm planning ahead!

The updated version allows you to use the kit for making your own hamantaschen, or to gift them as mishloach manot (food gifts, traditional of Purim). Since all the ingredients are pre-measured, all you have to do are the fun parts: mixing, rolling out, cutting, filling and baking with no mess! A great activity for adults and kids, that honors tradition in a fun, modern way.

The resulting hamantaschen aren't only delicious, but also free of gluten, nuts, eggs, bad fats, loads of sugar or refined flours. The filling is made with organic berries, a touch of pure maple syrup and is charged with chia superfood. 

Plus, the kit is an activity set as well. While dough chills and cookies bake, the kits come with everything you need (child and adult friendly) to decorate the box for a beautiful and creative mishloach manot.


Each Kit Contains:
- Dry cookie mix (premeasured)
- Pure maple syrup (premeasured)
- Olive oil (premeasured)
- Cookie cutter
- Berry-chia seed filling
- Mini chocolate chips

- 1 fruit
- Decoration materials
- Baking instructions


Price: $35.00* per kit that makes about 2 dozen cookies


*Delivery and shipping fees may apply 

Please place your order by February 23, 2014
email me at ale@threetablespoons.com 
 

 

Monday, December 30, 2013

What it was and what it will be...

I can't believe it's that time of the year again! Last January I wrote here about my thoughts, predictions and hopes for the health food trends of 2013. I was just re-reading,  and I must admit, I was pretty much on the money...Here are my reflections of the past year and what I think is coming ahead:

1. If the theory of Evolution is right, the newer generations will not grow teeth. We're not chewing any more!!! Between the Vitamixes and all the other power blenders of the world, the smoothie and juice joints and services, the ubiquitous frozen yogurt places,* the fancy nut and seed butters, and all those squeezable pureed foods that started for babies and now make products for every age, we can seriously let go of our pearly whites. Why don't we want to chew any more? Is this the New Fast Food? What do you think?

Displaying photo.JPG  
*According to my observation-based pseudo scientific research, there are now more froyo stores in Manhattan than nail salons, and that's a pretty shocking stat!!!

2. Sorry, but not only gluten is out, but grains (and sugar...duhhhh) in general are being blamed for causing a lot of disease. In his best selling book Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers, neurologist David Perlmutter, MD holds grains responsible for a lot of our current scariest diseases such as dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, etc. Just add this to the highly popular Primal/Paleo diet and digestive SCD and GAPS protocols, and the picture isn't looking that bright for whole grains.This means good news for nuts and seeds used ground as flour substitutes, and I foresee an abuse on those too until they are blamed for something else. I'm not ready to bid farewell completely to my whole grains yet, but if I owned Kellogg's stock, I would sell (although I should keep at food/nutrition advice and avoid financial ones that I don't really understand).

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain's Silent Killers


3. The "it" cuisines are from the South. All the way down to the Andes and the Amazon (the region, not the estore, although I'm sure that's where you can purchase the majority of the ingredients). Peru is the place to go and to purchase from. It started with quinoa, but it hasn't stopped there. Inca superfoods like maca, lucuma and camu-camu and the sweetener yacon are going to keep making their way into our hearts (via smoothies), and I'm betting on kaniwa to become the newest it grain (which is actually a seed). I just hope we get to do it through fair trading and the locals getting something worth in exchange, as we've already taken all their quinoa...According to Vogue, "the latest detox vacations are taking place not only off the beaten track but well above it," with high altitude treks on the Inca Trail. The other place whose ingredients we'll keep getting to know is Brazil. This huge country (which is actually hosting back to back the World Cup and the Olympics, so we'll be learning a lot about it via the media) has unbelievable produce, many with incredible nutritional value that has only been started to get promoted in these latitudes. We already know about acai, but I believe produce with rhythmic names like umbu (high in disease preventing polyphenols), pitanga (with suggested anticancer and anti inflammatory properties), caju and many others, will eventually make it into the American market, labeled as superfoods. Award winning chef, Alex Atala recently published D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, a beautiful coffee table book with foods you didn't even know existed. It's a wonderful eye candy (I wouldn't even dream attempting any of the recipes) and introduction into the exotic foods of Brazil.  
Image from D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients (caju)


4. The "it" sweetener is now yacon syrup, which is extracted from the yacon tuber from...Where else? Peru. I had been wanting to write about it for many months, but Dr. Oz had it on his show before I got to do my post, and by highlighting some weight-loss properties from the sweetener, the already hard-to-find syrup, completely vanished from the shelves and the web (unless you're willing to pay like $40.00 plus shipping for a minuscule amount). Yacon is low glycemic, tastes like a cross between molasses and maple syrup, has 50% less calories than sugar, and it's highly concentrated in inulin--a type of fiber that breaks down into fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are prebiotics (feed the good gut bacteria). Yacon contains potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and some amino acids. Just a warning (if you are ever able to get a hold of it): that same wonderful inulin, is also present in Jerusalem artichokes (which I love), and if you've ever had those, you might have realized that they can make you really gassy. So no yacon syrup before a business meeting or a first date! 
 

5. Cultured foods--My most fave topic, so I'll try to keep it short. For a longer spiel, read here. Although there's much more research to be done ahead, keeping out gut microorganisms happy and abundant is essential for good health, not only digestive, but general health, from brain to skin. Small pickling shops have been popping up everywhere in Manhattan, and that is a fabulous trend. When purchasing sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, or any other pickled vegetables, look for unpasteurized ones that have no vinegar (both kill those bacteria that we need to eat/drink) and no preservatives nor other artificial additives. Dairy kefir and water kefir have been increasing in the market as well, which is excellent news (especially for my son, whose main source of food is kefir). However, my strongest bet goes to COYO. What? You might ask...It stands for coconut yogurt. Made by pureeing (again, the trend I listed under 1.) the meat and water of fresh coconuts and then culturing the blend with yogurt or kefir cultures (microorganisms), slightly sweetened and some times even flavored, I expect to start seeing it EVERYWHERE within the next year. 
Young Coconut Yogurt
Recipe and image from: http://www.rawfoodrecipes.com/recipes/young-coconut-yogurt.html


6. Despite Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to forbid the sale of gigantically-huge-humongous sweetened drinks--that are undeniably bad for anyone--the industry seems to be getting it its way. But not without a fight. I applaud The New York City Health Department's TV and subways placard ad campaign against soda, sports drinks, teas and energy drinks.It's just so easy to inadvertently gulp down huge amounts of sugar without even noticing. I'm glad they are trying to educate people about it! 
http://www.crainsnewyork.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/storyimage/CN/20100802/FREE/100809973/AR/0/soda-ad.jpg?q=100

7. BPA-free canning. Eden organic has been doing it for a while with their beans, but other food companies such as Crown Prince Natural (canned wild fish) and Farmer's Market (vegetable purees) are joining in lining their cans BPA-free. What is BPA? Short for bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic containers (often used for storing food and beverages) and epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines.Research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages. Exposure to BPA is a concern due to possible health effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children and fertility issues in adults.Therefore, it's a good thing that if you consume canned products and/or use plastic containers, that you purchase the ones labled BPA-free.


8. It's been a juicy year for celebrity chef scandals. I guess it all comes with the territory, however, I do  hope Nigella Lawson goes to rehab, puts her personal and professional lives back together and keeps showing up on TV and writing wonderful cookbooks that turn recipes into experiences I want to go through. I can't help it, ever since How To Be A Domestic Goddess many years ago, I've been a big fan. 

9. "Healthy Eating" is IN and vegetables are cool. The once-blah-now-superhip Bon Appetit magazine has done a great job promoting them. 
food lovers cleanse main
Photo by Carin Olsson for Bon Appetit


10. Here, here and here are some lists of the best cookbooks of 2013. However, the ones I personally used the most are:
-Gwyneth's It's All Good
-Kim Kushner's The Modern Menu
-Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (although this book was a re-launch not really a 2013 release) 
- Estee Kafra's Cooking Inspired

 

NUT/SEED MYLK 

 I keep getting requests on how to make nut and seed mylks such as almond, hemp, cashew, etc. You can basically turn any seed or nut, even coconut (either dry or fresh young)--although not chia seed-- into "mylk" by pureeing it with water, and passing the mixture through a sieve. You can flavor it with spices and sweeten it (I like making mine with dates). By making your own mylk, you avoid any harmful additives such as carrageenan, and others that are common in most milk alternatives. There are endless possibilities, my favorite proportions are:

Ingredients
2 cups organic raw nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil, macadamia, hazelnuts, unsweetened shredded coconut, etc) or seeds (pumpkin, hemp, sunflower seeds, sesame, etc)
4 cups water (plus more for soaking the nuts and rehydrating dates)
10 pitted dates (or raw honey, yacon or pure maple syrup or coconut nectar)
1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, but I recommend the bean)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Optional: mesquite flour, ground cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, ground ginger

Method
  • Place the nuts/seeds in a container and cover them with fresh water by 2 inches. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If using cashews, soak between 2 and 4 hours. In a separate container, soak dates in water overnight.
  • Drain nuts and dates and rinse them in fresh water. 
  • Place nuts, dates and 4 cups fresh water in a blender and blend until smooth. Time will depends on your blender.
  • Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds with the back of a knife into the nut/seed-water mixture. Add salt and spices, if using, and blend again.
  • Set a large bowl with a fine mesh strainer/sieve on top* and pour the blended liquid into the strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract more liquid. 
                              
*If you want a completely smooth mylk, line the strainer with cheese cloth.


  • Voila! Refrigerate and enjoy!