Who says chocolate has to be bad for you? I'm not much of a baker so you won't see many desserts on here, but one thing I can whip up is a batch of chocolate...mostly because this recipe is very easy but also very versatile.
The star of this recipe is coconut oil. Coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat, which contrary to popular belief, our body absolutely needs for several functions. One of the more notable benefits of fats is that they make us feel satiated. There is a hormone called Cholecystokinin (CCK) that is produced in the duodenum (small intestine) only in the presence of fats. CCK not only stimulates the gallbladder to send bile down so that we can digest fat, but it also sends a signal to the hypothalamus in the brain to trigger a feeling of satiation. Because of the coconut oil in these chocolates, you may find that you eat less because you will feel full after just one or two. Of course, if you regularly have insatiable chocolate cravings, you may be deficient in magnesium and might want to consider supplementing with magnesium. A glass of Natural Calm at night should do the trick (and you'll sleep great!)
My favorite part about this recipe is that it contains minimal natural sweeteners, and since you are eating it with fat from the coconut oil, your body will absorb the natural sugar slower and your blood sugar won't spike.
This recipe is very versatile. I use chia seeds because I do really well with them and I love the crunch (it reminds me of crispy rice chocolate) but you could use almond meal instead. Some other options I have tried: omit the chia seeds and add a dollop of nut butter to make a nut butter cup, add some coconut milk to make "milk chocolate", add raisins or almonds, or use a combination of grass-fed butter and coconut oil. The possibilities are endless!
Easy Homemade Chocolates
Prep time: 15 minutes
"Cook" time: 45 minutes
In a medium mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout, whisk melted coconut oil, sweetener of choice, vanilla extract, and cacao powder until thoroughly combined. Mix in chia seeds and a pinch of salt.
Pour mixture into mold. For the mold I use, I only fill it up about 3/4 of the way to avoid spillage while I am transporting it. Set in the freezer for about 45 minutes (I recommend placing the mold on something flat like a small cookie sheet). You could also set this in the refrigerator, it will just take longer.
Once the chocolates are set, pop them out of the mold and store them in a covered container in the fridge. The coconut oil will melt or become soft in the heat, so don't leave them out in the warmer months. I highly recommend keeping them in the refrigerator at all times.
Please use this as a guide and play around with different mix-ins. I'd love to know what creative things you come up with!
I used this mold to make my chocolates. I love the silicone because it is very easy to get the chocolates to pop out.
'Tis the season for soups! I love making soups. I am very much drawn toward the simplicity of them. In just one pot, you can get the benefits of homemade bone broth, nutrient dense veggies, and properly raised protein. Soups are my favorite way to use up the abundant leafy greens of summer (I keep bags of frozen kale, chard, and bok choy in the freezer from our farm share just to be used in fall/winter soups). Making soups requires minimal preparation and clean-up, makes the house smell great, is easy to put away and reheat to eat later in the week, and also freezes great for when you need a quick lunch or dinner option later on. I love including a soup for dinner parties and holidays because you can make it in advance.
Because I am pretty busy at the moment between working full-time and being in school part-time, I have been making a big pot of soup every Sunday to save me some time weeknight cooking. This particular recipe is one I made several times during the early summer when there was an abundance of cabbage. There was so much cabbage that I froze some in preparation for cold and busy weeks like this.
Prior to making this recipe for the first time, my initial thought was to make traditional stuffed cabbage. I never enjoyed it the few times I had it as a child, but I thought maybe I could come up with a better recipe. Then I realized that no one, including myself, has time to make stuffed cabbage. How time consuming! So I reverted back to my love of the simplicity of soups. My new motto is going to be "If you don't have the time or patience to cook something, turn it into a soup!'
Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Soup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, cook ground meat and onions until meat is cooked. You can add a couple sprinkles of salt and pepper at this point. Add in tomatoes, sauce, and cabbage; stir and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add in riced cauliflower and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until you are ready to serve. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If you so desire, you can add some good quality parmesan cheese to your bowl like my husband does.
How easy was that!?
I have been completely 100% gluten-free for almost 9 years, and grain-free for 5. I very rarely, if ever, get cravings for pasta anymore. I can be around pasta and bread and have absolutely no interest whatsoever in eating it. It does nothing for me.
With that being said, I love to cook with what nature provides. That's why I stopped following recipes (for the most part) and started making my own. This year, I received over SIX spaghetti squash from my farm share (I gave some away). Spaghetti squash got me through some pretty dark times when I first went gluten-free but now that I have no cravings for pasta, I rarely use it.
But I want to use this fresh, local, organic spaghetti squash up, along with some other vegetables that were on the verge of spoilage, so I made this sneaky sauce (You could also probably call it "everything but the kitchen sink sauce").
I'm calling this "Sneaky Sauce" because it's a great way to get in vegetables that picky eaters might not normally eat, like mushrooms and kale. Chop up the mushrooms if you have to and crumble them so it resembles ground meat. The kale will cook down...just tell resident picky eater that it's parsley!
I also want to note that it is always preferable to use fresh tomatoes and homemade tomato sauce instead of canned if you can. I made this sauce long after my garden stopped producing and after not grocery shopping for over two weeks. I usually keep some frozen tomatoes on hand but I must have used those as well, so I had to refer to my canned tomato stores. But fresh is best!
This can be vegetarian friendly, just leave out the meat. The eggplant and mushrooms make it very hearty!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes at least, but the longer the better
Makes about 6-7 quarts
In a large sauce pot, cook ground meat, onion, and garlic over medium-high heat. Add a couple shakes of salt and pepper and cook until meat is brown and onions are translucent. If your sauce is meatless, cook the onions and garlic in stable cooking fat of choice like butter or ghee, or you can use olive oil and just keep the heat at medium.
Add eggplant and mushrooms and cook until soft. Add in all the tomato products and cook until sauce begins to bubble. Add the kale and let it cook down. Add your herbs and spices, and salt and pepper to taste. I like to bring it up to a bubble and then let it simmer as long as I can before serving, or maybe even make it the day before you plan on having it. As we all know, sauce is best when the flavors have time to mix and meld.
I threw mine over some spaghetti squash. I just cut the spaghetti squash in half longways, scooped out the seeds and guts, placed it facedown on a parchment lined baking sheet, and roasted it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes. Once it cooled, I scooped out the spaghetti part with a fork.
This sauce freezes well.
This recipe was recently features in Emily Schromm's newsletter! Available here.
Here is another winter squash recipe to satisfy your fall harvest needs, and it probably won't be the last. I personally love fall, but I know a lot of people struggle with the change in seasons (spring is a whole different story for me). A new school year leads to more interactions and more running around for extracurricular activities. Not only are we run down at this point, we are getting less Vitamin D (I will say the change in sunlight seriously messed with my cortisol levels this year), and our bodies are also adjusting to a change in temperature.
I like to turn to nature in times like this. In the spring when I feel it the worst, I load up on local honey (it HAS to be local to have any medicinal effect) which immediately improves my pollen-induced fatigue and depression. This may also be effective for those suffering from fall allergies. Nature also provides an abundance of hot peppers and winter squashes, which provide a lot of immune boosting nutrients.
Now, I am a very simple cook and normally recipes like this sound intimidating and time-consuming which are cooking turn-offs for me, but I can assure you there is nothing difficult about this recipe. It also makes for great leftovers. This could also be made with butternut squash.
Simple Stuffed Acorn Squash
Cook time: 45 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a very sharp knife, cut the acorn squash in half from stem to bottom. Scoop out the guts and seeds. You can also cut a very thin slice of skin off to make your acorn squash sit level so it doesn’t wobble. Brush the flesh (orange part) with stable cooking oil of choice (I used coconut oil) and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash flesh side down in a glass baking dish. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
Heat your remaining oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add sliced onion and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add ground beef and spices, mixing it all together until beef is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste.
After you take the squash out of the oven, flip it over and fill the cavity with the ground beef mixture. Depending on the size of your acorn squash, you may have some left over. Put the squashes back in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley or fresh herb of choice.
Note: This article was adapted from an essay I wrote for the my certification program through the Nutritional Therapy Association.
Second Note: This is NOT a post about what dietary fats are good for you and what dietary fats are bad for you because those have been written many times. I am obviously referring to the good quality dietary fats that contribute to optimal health, and if you do not know what those are, please refer to any of the articles listed in the link above. Please do not use this as an excuse to eat deep-fried food and other bad fats and oils that are extremeley damaging to our cells and overall health.
In Ode to Fats: Part 1 - Healthy Fats Make Healthy Cells, I discussed how healthy fats contribue to optimal health, and how no/low/bad fat can contribute to degeneration and poor health.
Now I want to discuss how, out of all three macronutrients--carbohydrates, proteins, and fats--fats are the most efficient source of energy. We have been indoctrinated to think that we can only make energy from carbohydrates, but that is incorrect. Each macronutrient is a combination of micronutrients that the body can break down into glucose and use for fuel. Carbohydrates are simply and quickly broken down into glucose, but proteins and fats can also be converted into glucose (via a process called gluconeogenesis) and enter the energy production cycle.
First of all, I hate the word “fat” because 99% of the time it is used in a negative connotation. The word fat is really a bit of a homonym. Fat is an essential macronutrient that contributes to cellular function and energy and therefore, overall health. This is a positive thing. Fat is also another word for adipose tissue, or body fat. This usually implies something negative. It’s important to think of these two as completely separate things in terms of health and nutrition. Second of all, biomarkers and bloodwork are more indicative of overall health than body fat. Just because someone has no visible body fat, it does not necessarily mean they are healthy.
That’s why it’s complete nonsense to think that eating fat makes you fat. You don’t just eat fat and store it as adipose tissue.
Fats are broken down via digestion into triglycerides. A triglyceride is a glycerol molecule with three fatty acids. From triglycerides we can use both 1. Glycerol molecules which break down into glucose and 2. Fatty acids which are converted immediately into Acetyl Coenzyme A as soon as it enters the mitochondria.
While proteins and carbohydrates, as well as fats, can be broken down into glucose which goes through a pyruvic acid conversion into Acetyl CoA which then enters the energy production cycle, fats are additionally immediately converted into Acetyl CoA to enter the energy production cycle as well. Therefore, fat is the most efficient source of energy for the body. Fats provide us with more energy per molecule.
Because fat is a dense form of caloric energy, we don’t need to eat as much, but we are able to create the most energy from it out of all the macronutrients. For those on a low fat or no fat diet, once your body gets used to digesting and metabolizing fats properly, it will get much better at using it as a source of fuel.
I’ve discussed how fats are essential to the life of our cells and overall health, as well as being the most efficient form of energy, but fats perform other important functions in our body. Fats trigger the release of CCK (cholecystokinin), a hormone secreted in the small intestine which induces satiety, or feeling full to the point of satisfaction, by acting on the hypothalamus in the brain. CCK also triggers the release of bile being stored in the gallbladder, which helps break down fats into smaller parts for our body to use. It's not uncommon to find out that people who have had gallbladder stones and/or attacks or have had their gallbladder removed, also have a history of eating a low or no fat diet. Without fats to stimulate the release of bile, the bile builds up in the gallbladder turning viscous, and eventually becoming stones. Fats are also necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
It's important to add that our digestive system needs to be functioning properly in order for all these good fats to be effective. If you experience any digestive discomfort from eating more fat in your diet, try gradually increasing the amount of fat you eat, allowing your body time to adjust from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner” (and make sure they are good quality fats!). You can also work with an NTP or functional medicine practitioner to identify any nutrient deficiencies that could be causing issues; they will help you bring your body back into balance so it can function properly and properly utilize all the great nutrients you are feeding it.