Coconut-Raspberry “Cheesecake”

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It is amazing for me to look back and see how drastically my life has changed since my first post on this blog. I rang in 2012 miserably sick, unable to work and extremely worried about the future. At the time, I had no knowledge of the important role that food would play in my healing journey. This holiday season has been very special to me because of its contrast with the last. My family has come in waves throughout the season to visit. We have shared many celebrations and relaxing days together, and for once my health has not been the main topic of our dinner conversation. I am grateful to have to opportunity to host my family and not have that experience leave me needing a week of recovery.

During this year, I changed my diet very slowly from Vegan to Autoimmune Paleo. It did not happen in one fell swoop. First, I went gluten-free when I found out I had Celiac disease. I decided not to be vegan anymore and started eating eggs for a couple of months, then fish. I skipped poultry and went straight for lamb, then beef. I then found out I was allergic to soy and didn’t tolerate most beans and non-gluten grains. So I started the Paleo diet. Then I started eating organ meats and drinking bone broth. I started to react to eggs, and then nightshades, so I went on the Autoimmune Protocol.

Then I started feeling good, really good. I hung out in that place for a little bit, kind of wondering if it was too good to be true. I tried reintroducing most of the foods not on the protocol and found out that I could only tolerate certain nuts and seeds in small quantities. I have been eating this way since the summer and have no desire to go back until it is clear to me that my body can tolerate those foods.

Which brings me to this cake. Although I have been off sugar for months, I decided I wanted to start experimenting with Autoimmune Protocol compatible desserts that I could serve to my family during the holidays. After much trial and error, I came up with this raspberry “cheesecake”. Of course it is dairy-free, along with gluten, grain, soy, nut, seed, refined-sugar and nightshade-free. It has a thick, cookie-like crust and a rich filling that sets up nice and firm as it cools.

Out of everything I have ever baked in my experience on special diets, this is the one item that everyone in my family has loved unanimously. It was so popular the first time around that I made another the following day for the next gathering. Feel free to modify the recipe for other flavors – I have successfully made it with blueberries and have plans to try a citrus version. The only thing you have to be mindful of is not letting the filling get too wet – I carefully toyed with the ratio of ingredients that harden as they cool in order to get the texture to come out cheesecake-like. This recipe takes a little time to make because most of the ingredients are hard at room temperature. I don’t like using the microwave, so before I make the crust I set the jars of coconut oil, coconut butter and raw honey in a pan with hot water. By the time I have made the crust and am ready to make the filling, they have melted and are ready to go. If you aren’t feeding a crowd but still want to make the cake, just slice it up and freeze for a little treat later.

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Coconut-Raspberry “Cheesecake”

Crust Ingredients:

3 cups dates, pitted and soaked for 5 minutes in warm water
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/8 teaspoon salt

Filling ingredients:

1 1/2 cups raw honey
1 1/2 cups coconut butter
1 cup coconut oil
5 cups frozen raspberries
6 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh raspberries for garnish
thick coconut flakes for garnish

1. Place the jars of coconut oil, coconut butter and raw honey in a pan with very hot water in order to let them soften.

2. To prepare the crust, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Strain the dates and place in a food processor or high-powered blender with the melted coconut oil. Blend for 30 seconds or so until a chunky paste forms. Be warned you may have to stop and scrape the sides if you are using a blender, and the oil will not completely mix with the dates, but the crust will still turn out fine. Combine the coconut flour, shredded coconut and salt in a bowl. Add the date paste and mix thoroughly. Place the mixture into the bottom of an 8″ spring-form pan, pressing the mixture down evenly. Use a small spatula to clean up the top edge around the sides of the pan, where the filling will meet the crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the crust browns and hardens a little bit. The texture will still be soft until it finishes cooling. Set aside while you make the filling.

3. To make the filling, combine the raw honey, coconut butter, coconut oil, and frozen raspberries in a saucepan on low heat. Stir until the raspberries are no longer frozen and the mixture is warm, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and add the tapioca starch, vanilla extract, and salt. Blend on high for about a minute, until completely mixed. Pour carefully into the spring-form pan on top of the crust.

4. Set in the refrigerator undisturbed for at least 12 hours to allow the cake to cool and completely harden. When it is solid, carefully remove the spring-form pan. Decorate the top of the cake with thick flake coconut chips and fresh raspberries.

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Seared Broccolini with Garlic Chips and Coconut Pesto

As much as I love traveling, it really puts a strain on my eating habits. Eating food I pack around with me, suspicious meals at restaurants and scrounged fare from random grocery stores gets old really quick.  The last six weeks have held two west-coast road trips for me, to Oregon and California. As much as I love cooking with friends and family and eating out (those moments when I feel brave), the thing I dislike the most about traveling is not eating my usual home-cooked meals.

This recipe is exactly the sort of thing I miss most when I am on the road – green, vibrant, and full of flavor. Cruciferous vegetables are year-round staples in my Northwest garden, and I take much delight in cooking them often. My favorite type of crucifer to use here is broccolini, but you can substitute kale, collard greens, regular broccoli, or anything else dark and leafy. Garlic chips add a little crunch while the dairy-free, nut-free coconut pesto gives it a nice ginger and basil flavor. This pesto is nearly medicinal – a great way to get a good amount of raw ginger, garlic and basil into your diet. If you make the garlic chips first, you can use the garlic-infused oil later to cook the broccolini, along with anything else that wants to taste a little bit like garlic.

Seared Broccolini with Garlic Chips and Coconut Pesto

To make the pesto:

Ingredients:

1 cup coconut water (or blended raw coconut)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ume plum vinegar (coconut or apple cider also works)
1 lemon, juiced
a few sprigs of fresh mint

Place all ingredients into blender and blend on high until incorporated. Keeps for a few days sealed in the refrigerator.

To make the garlic chips:

Ingredients:

1/4 cup coconut oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled

Slice garlic cloves very thinly longwise into chips. Heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan over high heat until it smokes. If there is not enough oil to submerge the chips, add some until there is. Turn heat off, and gently fry chips a few at a time until lightly browned (about 30 seconds) using tongs or chopsticks. Let cool completely on a paper towel to get crispy.

To make the broccoli:

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons coconut oil (re-used from frying the garlic, preferably)
4 cups broccolini, washed and bottoms of stems removed

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet on high heat. Sear the broccoli on high heat for a couple minutes on each side. Turn heat down and let cook covered for about 10 minutes, or until brown and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Serve with coconut pesto and garnished with garlic chips.

Sugar-Free Almond Chocolate Bars

Of all of the dietary changes I have made as of late, ditching sugar has been one of the hardest, yet most rewarding. After reading about it on Sarah Wilson’s blog and seeing how many people were being helped by her program, I finally gave in – and I am happy to say I am not going back to my sugar eating ways!

The most difficult part about giving up sugar, for me at least, was giving up chocolate. Not for long, however; once I figured out that the flavor of stevia actually went well with chocolate, I began making my own dark chocolate bars. Stevia gets a bad rap because it doesn’t replace sugar very well, either in volume or in taste. I have found that because of its bitter aftertaste it works well when paired with something expectedly bitter, like dark chocolate or lemonade, rather than something that is supposed to be sickeningly sweet, like ice cream or pie.

This recipe is very simple and ready to be customized at whim. You can try different types of nuts, coconut flakes, dried or fresh fruit (I have made delicious batches with fresh cherries), even roasted cacao nibs to give them that extra dark chocolate kick. Feel free to use coconut oil if you don’t have the butter, just know that your chocolate will be a little more prone to melting and will need to be stored in the fridge. The only way you can mess up a recipe like this is to over sweeten it with stevia, so for your first time making it, start with half the amount and keep adding until it tastes right to you.


Sugar-Free Almond Chocolate Bars

Ingredients:

3/4 cup melted unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup coconut butter
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Scant 1/4 teaspoon stevia powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped

Mix the melted chocolate, coconut butter, almond extract, stevia powder and sea salt in a small saucepan over low heat for about two minutes or until warm enough to combine thoroughly. Pour into molds either lightly greased with coconut oil or lined with wax paper until about 1/4 inch thick. Scatter the almond pieces all over the chocolate in molds. Let harden in the refrigerator or freezer.

Grilled Fresh Sardines

When I was a kid, I have a clear memory of my dad eating something smelly out of a tin on toast whenever my mom was out of town. I now know the food in question was sardines, and the reason he wouldn’t eat them in front of my mom was because of their stink and her extreme aversion to all things seafood. Not being interested in something smelly that my mom didn’t like, I steered clear from sardines, and could never work up the courage to try one before I became a vegetarian. As I made the transition from vegan back to omnivore, I started with fish. Plain, bland, non-fishy Sole, to be exact. I then advanced to Cod and Halibut, and then finally Salmon. Adding fish to my diet was doing wonders for my health, but was also getting really expensive. Soon enough, those stinky tinned sardines were looking more and more appetizing. When I finally worked up the courage to try them, I was amazingly surprised at how delicious they were.

As I was eating more and more fish, I wanted to do my research to make sure I was making the best choice for my health, the fish, and the environment. I recently picked up the best book about fish I have ever found, the River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher. What I love about this book is that the authors give light to many easily obtained, nutritious, and underrated species of fish that most people are not familiar cooking and eating. It was after flipping through this book that I decided to think more about the seafood choices I make and seek out fish varieties that are more economical and sustainable. Sardines definitely fit that bill, and have become a staple in my diet.

A few reasons to eat more sardines:

1. They are extremely nutritious. Sardines are one of the best whole-food sources of EPA and DHA, which are omega-3 fatty acids that the body cannot make. As most people know by now, recent studies have shown these fats to be beneficial to the brain, inflammation and cardiovascular disease, among other things. Sardines are also one of the highest dietary sources of vitamin D, which can be hard to get in a diet that does not contain dairy products. In addition to these, sardines contain a good amount of B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, selenium and iron. They are an excellent source of protein and the amino acid tryptophan.

2. They are low in mercury. Because they are a smaller fish and at the bottom of the food chain, they have nowhere near the amount of mercury as other commercially caught fish (like tuna or halibut). This table shows sardines as having some of the lowest amounts of mercury found in seafood, while this article claims that the presence of selenium neutralizes the effects of mercury by binding to it so that it can’t accumulate in your body. If you are at all worried about mercury content in seafood, sardines are an excellent choice.

2. They are sustainable. Salmon is most definitely the golden child of the omega-rich fish group, but those that sing its praises are hesitant to mention the current problems with overfishing and its deleterious effects to the species and marine environment. Pacific Sardine populations are abundant, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has certified them “best choice” for sustainability. (Read this report from them if you would like further reading on the topic).

3. They are inexpensive. I have found fresh sardines to be a third the price of fresh salmon at my local fish market (around $4-5 a pound). They are also quite inexpensive in tins, although make sure to choose brands that are sustainably harvested, packed in olive oil and in containers that are BPA-free (These are my favorite).

As a newly-minted sardine addict, I had to take it a step further and find out how to cook them fresh. Fresh sardines happen to be particularly difficult to find, both because they are not very popular and spoil very quickly. Once they have been fished they only have about 2-3 days before they go rancid. At one point I thought I would never find them in Seattle, until I was told by an employee at Wild Salmon Seafood Market that they get them in every once in a while. They now give me a call whenever they get some, and I run over to buy a few pounds, fire up the grill and call my friends!

This recipe is so simple it is almost not a recipe. Fresh sardines are so delicious that they don’t need any fussing – trust me! Remove the backbone and head and then eat everything else, skin bones and all.

Grilled Fresh Sardines

2lbs fresh whole sardines, gutted and cleaned
4 Tbsp olive oil
coarse sea salt, to taste
1 bunch fresh thyme or rosemary
1 lemon

Rince the sardines in cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. When they are dry, drizzle the olive oil over them and apply a generous amount of sea salt to both sides. Grill on medium-high heat for 3-6 minutes a side, until skin chars a little bit and they are cooked through. Squeeze the lemon juice over them and garnish with fresh herbs.

A Golden Birthday

In June, my dear friend Brenna Rose had her golden birthday. For those that are unaware, a golden birthday occurs when one turns the age of their day of birth. Brenna happens to be a fantastic event designer and wanted to throw herself a killer party. Now I am not naturally the entertaining type, but I offered to host at my house and to collaborate on the cooking end of things knowing that she would work her magic to make it all come together.

And so it happened; we convened on a warm summer evening to celebrate the occasion. There were greens from the garden, lamb kebobs, cake (two of them!) and a sparkly red dress. We happily ate and drank as the sunlight faded and candlelight became more prominent. Before we knew it the room was dark and Brenna was blowing out candles to celebrate her special day.

Fresh Cumin-Spiced Salmon Patties with Dill Mayo

Salmon has been a staple in my diet since the day I made the leap from being vegan back to omnivore. Its easy to cook, and was one of the only tastes that was palatable to me after years of not eating any type of meat. It also happens to be one of the most nutritious meats one can eat, being full of healthy omega-3s. I came up with this recipe when trying to devise a way to break myself into eating meat again, and these little patties seemed like the perfect thing to make this transition.

In this recipe I used coconut flour and egg to bind the salmon into a patty. The batter comes out too wet to form by hand, so freezing gently before breading in almond flour makes it so that they can be handled but still turn out moist and delicious. If you haven’t made mayo before it is quite a treat – as far as I am concerned its not even the same food that is made commercially. Making it out of pastured eggs and olive oil makes it actually healthy for you, nothing like the processed variety full of industrial seed oils that one can buy at the store.

This recipe is also something that is easily made in advance and frozen for later use. Some days I double the recipe and then freeze the extra patties with sheets of wax paper between them. On nights I don’t feel like making a big production out of dinner, I just cook a couple of them up in a skillet and eat with a salad or some leftover veggies.

Fresh Salmon Patties with Dill Mayo

Ingredients for the patties:

3 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp cumin, ground
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb fresh salmon, deboned and skinned
4 pastured eggs, beaten
1 cup almond meal/flour
1 tbsp coconut oil

Ingredients for the mayo:

2 pastured eggs
1 tbsp mustard
1 cup olive oil
2 tbsp fresh dill
1/2 tsp salt

Prepare a baking sheet that can fit in your freezer with a sheet of wax paper. Combine the coconut flour, dill, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Chop the salmon into chunks and place in a bowl with the eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the salmon mixture and stir. The batter will have a pretty wet consistency, but if it seems too wet you can add some more coconut flour (be careful – coconut flour is very effective at sucking up moisture and you don’t want these to end up dry). Form 8 patties by spooning mixture onto the baking sheet – the dough will be too wet to handle but you should be able to form the patties once they are on the sheet. Place them in the freezer for 20 minutes. This hardens them up a little so that they can be  cooked without falling apart and still remain moist inside. Lightly dredge them in the almond flour. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet and cook the patties on medium heat for 8-10 minutes a side, or until browned on the outside and cooked through.

To make the mayo, crack the eggs into a blender or vitamix. Turn the blender on low, and add olive oil very slowly until an emulsion has formed (you will want to start with drops and slowly add more and more oil). Once it emulsifies, you can slowly add more and more oil until you are pouring the rest in. Lastly, add the mustard, salt, and dill. (For more in-depth instructions to making homemade mayo, go here. Its a little tricky!).

Makes 8 patties and a little more than a cup of mayo.

Note: If you freeze these, place them in a container with sheets of wax paper between them so they don’t stick to each other. They also take a little longer to cook from frozen – use your judgement and make sure they are cooked all the way through before serving.

Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea

A few months ago, I got a call from my uncle, who was super excited about this amazing tea recipe that he wanted to share with me. He had been using it to ease the soreness and joint pain from working in the vineyard, and thought it might help me and my inflammation issues.

As per my usual, I did some research to see why this combination works so well. Many studies have been done about the benefits of consuming turmeric, most of them focused on the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties due to its curcumin content. I also found out that the bioavailability of curcumin is greatly increased when it is consumed with piperine, (which is found in black pepper), and oil.  Add that to the immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties of ginger, garlic and cayenne pepper and you definitely have a powerful combination.

The day I got the recipe, my uncle assured me that it didn’t taste as bad as it sounded – and believe me, I was skeptical looking at the ingredients on paper. Garlic? Olive oil? Yikes. He was right though - it actually tastes great, especially with the addition of lemon and honey. It has a very earthy, savory taste, with a little kick from the cayenne.

I like to make a big pot of this on days when I am feeling stiff or getting run down. It is nice to use a french press because there is a large volume of solids to strain out at the end. The recipe makes four cups, so don’t be afraid to halve it if your vessel isn’t quite as large. Also be forewarned that turmeric stains everything it comes into contact with – hands, cutting boards, clothes, etc. Best to use caution so all of your favorite kitchen items don’t end up yellow.

Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea

32 oz boiling water
1/2 Tbsp turmeric powder
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
5 peppercorns, whole
1 1/2 Tbsp raw honey (or 10 drops stevia)
cayenne pepper, to taste

Put water on the stove to boil. Combine all ingredients in a strainer or teapot. Pour boiling water into the pot and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy!

Cabbage and Avocado Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Having home-cooked meals with quality ingredients that I get to choose is important to me, but often it is impossible to devote so many hours in the kitchen to make that happen. Over the years, between loving cooking as a hobby and needing to cook because of increasing food allergies, I have arrived at the place where most of my meals are cooked at home. Although the rewards of being in control of my own food are many, it is hard work that takes a lot of time and planning. Over time I have learned some tricks that make it seem like I am not spending every waking moment in the kitchen.

One of my favorites is to have a day a week that I spend more time cooking ahead for the week. Things on my list include making almond milk, bone broth, baking bread, and making a couple of salads. I always have some sort of chopped salad with kale or cabbage as a base on hand, as they don’t wilt and keep well for a few days. I add them to lunches or eat them as afternoon snacks, which i’m finding keeps me satiated longer than my usual piece of fruit.

This version of cabbage salad is nice and simple with a sweet blood orange vinaigrette. It keeps for a couple of days dressed in the fridge, longer if you keep the salad and dressing separate. Don’t store it with the avocado, that is better sliced fresh as needed. It also makes a lot, enough to get a veggie-loving couple through a few days of lunches and snacks.

Cabbage and Avocado Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

1 head savoy cabbage, shredded
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, grated
1 handful parsley, chopped
2 blood oranges, juiced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons coconut vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
1 or 2 avocados, cubed

Combine cabbage, onion, carrots, and most of the parsley. Combine the juice from the oranges, olive oil, honey, coconut vinegar, and salt in a small bowl. Toss the dressing with the cabbage mixture, adding avocado and parsley on the top.

How to Open a Young Thai Coconut

An electrolyte imbalance was the start of my illness last year. It put me in the hospital, and I was sick for weeks. I was given potassium pills that made me feel worse every time I took them. In searching for a natural solution to my problem, I discovered coconut water. It had the perfect mix of potassium, calcium, magnesium for my needs. As long as I drank a couple glasses a day, I was free from the symptoms of electrolyte imbalance and was on the road to recovery.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be sick to gain benefits from drinking coconut water. My husband uses it as a recovery drink after his cycling races. It is high in minerals and b vitamins, and low in sugar. Using the coconut meat and blending it up with the water adds fat and protein to the mix. This blend is great to have on hand for a drink by itself or to use in smoothies or desserts.

Coconuts can be found at some health food stores and most Asian markets. You can tell Young Thai coconuts from the mature variety because they have most of their husks removed and are cut into a white cone with a peak.  When picking them out, make sure they are heavy and you can’t hear water swishing around (they should be full inside). Also look at the bottom and make sure there is no discoloration or mold.

Make sure to use a cleaver for this task! You do not want to use any other kind of knife for fear of ruining it. If you don’t have one, there are cheap ones on amazon that will do the job wonderfully.

First, use the cleaver to scrape off the soft white outer part near the peak. Scrape it down until you reach the hard brown shell, all the way around the top.

Then the fun part! Use the heel of the blade in a big chopping motion to crack through the brown shell. Make a few cuts until you are able to pry the top off with the knife. You will want to do this close enough to the top of the peak so that you don’t loose a lot of the juice.

Carefully pour the water into your blender.

Then, use a spoon to scrape off all of the meat from the inside of the coconut. Put all of it in the blender with the water and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Creamy Almond Milk Chai

This week brought some unusual snow and ice to Seattle, which has made most of the city go quiet. It is hard to ignore how annoying it is to try to get around these hills in the snow, but it is amazing how beautiful and peaceful of a scene it creates. Instead of the constant noise of city drivers bustling about, the neighborhood is quiet. People are walking around having impromptu snowball fights and enjoying the unexpected days off. I took advantage of my days doing work at home, organizing my space and trying out some new recipes.

One of my friends sent me this recipe for an almond milk chai, which tuned out to be just the thing I needed to warm up during these cold days. If you have never tried making your own nut milk before, this would be a great recipe to start out with. It requires a little planning with the soaking time, but the benefit is a much more flavorful, creamy milk than the store-bought varieties. I enjoy using the whole spices and blending them up fresh with the almonds, but you can also pre-grind the spices before adding them to the milk.  This chai is slightly sweet with an intense spice mixture that is sure to keep you warm long after you drink it.

Creamy Almond Milk Chai (Adapted from Sunfood)

Ingredients:

1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight
3 cups water, filtered
3 tbsp raw coconut crystals (or sweetener of choice)
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp coriander, whole
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
1 tsp cardamom, whole
1/4 tsp cloves, whole
1/4 tsp black pepper, whole
Pinch of sea salt

Instructions:

Soak almonds in a bowl of water overnight or for at least 4 hours. Rinse almonds, and place in blender with water, sweetener, and whole spices. Blend on high for a couple of minutes. Strain liquid through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth into a small saucepan. Heat until desired temperature and enjoy.