[Re-Blog] A little bit of Turkey, Lebanon and Persia mixed together makes…?

I stumbled on this and I’m looking forward to trying it but with probably turkey, chicken, or beef. Exciting!

Food and other delectable things... according to a 'Kitchen Chemist'

Someone recently asked me what sort of cuisine I cooked and I could not answer. I felt a little embarrassed as I responded saying didn’t cook cuisines per se, but rather picked flavours I liked and used them as inspiration. At my table, you might end up with an Asian duck ravioli, a confit Japanese-style salmon, or even more vague: an interpretation of ‘something’… Luckily, my official Taste Tester – Ms TT – has a very open mind when it comes to my cooking. But to go back to the initial question – aside from wondering at the motives of the asker as this was out of context – it had me wondering whether many people (who aren’t professional chefs that is) cook only one cuisine? When asked the same question my date replied by saying he cooked Korean food and bolognese…hmmm… I decided it wasn’t worth pursuing this any further with him…

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Recipe Roundup: Sweet Cucumber Kimchi

Sweet Cucumber Kimchi

I’ve always had a thing for sweet kimchi. I like the spicy stuff too, but it doesn’t settle well for me. A restaurant near here makes great kimchis using sprouts and cucumbers. As I’ve been messing around with ideas in an effort to increase my vegetable intake (an area of my diet that is sorely lacking), I remembered this all-vegetable dish.

Unfortunately for me, a quick Google search soon proved that most people make a spicy, or pseudo-spicy, kimchi similar to the standard Korean variations.

So where to go from here? Among all of the recipes I found, I was able to glean the base items that go into a good kimchi recipe: vinegar, salt, veggies (usually greens and legumes), and spices. Below is my variation based on that summary. I also had to tweak the seasoning to suit what I happened to have in my spice rack.

Notes:

  • Use as much, or as little, of each vegetable as you wish. The main goal is that everything should be able to be submerged in the liquid. Below is simply what I used given the size of my dish.
  • The last two seasonings were just what I had lying around that complimented the flavour I wanted. They may not work for your version, so feel free to substitute whatever seasonings work best for you. Chili peppers and other spicy seasonings are usually popular.
  • Balance of sweetness to the bitterness of the vinegar is subjective. What I’ve listed is what made the balance I was looking for but it may be way too bitter still, so adjust accordingly.
  • Cucumber kimchi does not keep long. Consume within a day or two of making it.

Ingredients

  • 3 mini cucumbers, sliced into thin sticks
  • 1 orange bell pepper, sliced into thin sticks
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • garlic to taste
  • mustard powder to taste

Instructions

  1. Pour vinegar into an airtight-capable bowl or jar.
  2. Chop veggies and add them to the vinegar.
  3. Add in sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring and tasting until desired balance of sweetness is reached.
  4. Add other seasonings as desired.
  5. Chill in fridge for at least 30-60 minutes.
  6. Serve in liquid, chilled.

I’ve usually had this served with the liquid to me but, from my research, it seems to be dependent on the cook’s preference. If you wish to remove the liquid, be sure to let your veggies soak for at least an hour, or overnight.

Sweet Cucumber Kimchi

Sweet Cucumber Kimchi with Green Onion and Orange Bell Pepper.

This dish is a great compliment to a hearty warm meal and it can be very refreshing in the warm summer days. I hope you enjoy!

Recipe Roundup: Quinoa with Spiced Meat and Cheddar Cheese

All Mixed Together

In looking for a healthy carb option for my lunches while I’m on a higher intensity training schedule, I came across this recipe. Given what I had in my kitchen at the time (10:00 pm on a Sunday night) I modified it to suit my needs.  It still worked out really well so after encouragement from Vicky, I’ve decided to post it. For those who checked out the above link, you’ll notice my recipe is different. The ingredients below are what I used in my variation. I love garlic and cheese, so please keep that in mind. The original called for 2 gloves of garlic and 1/2 cup of cheese. In my second batch I also used peppers.

For me, this makes 2 filling lunches (not 4-6 servings as per the original). Probably for most people 4 would be the most reasonable amount of servings but you may find that on the small side if that’s the whole meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 package of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 pound ground meat
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar

Instructions

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add quinoa and simmer with a lid for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Uncooked quinoa in boiling water.

    Continue with the recipe but remove from heat when the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa will be soft but chewy with each grain looking like it has popped open.

    Quinoa Done

    How quinoa looks fully cooked.

  3. While the quinoa is cooking, warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add the onion and mushrooms.
  5. Saute until soft.
  6. Add the ground meat, cumin, Italian spice and cinnamon.
  7. Continue cooking until the meat is done. Drain excess fat or liquid as needed.
  8. Add the garlic (or garlic salt) to the meat and saute 1-2 minutes.

    Meat Cooking

    The meat and veggies mixture.

  9. Remove the meat from heat
  10. Mix the meat and quinoa together.
  11. Add the cheddar and stir until mixed.
  12. Serve warm or store for later.

This works out well for me as a quick and protein-full lunch option. I am rarely hungry for the second half of my day and well into my work out, which has always been a challenge. Enjoying a warm meal that tastes good re-heated is also a bonus. I would recommend serving it warm (either fresh or re-heated). Although I do enjoy it cold as well, I’m sure many would prefer it warmed up, if possible.

I like to experiment with the veggies and seasonings a bit each time so feel free to sub in what works for you. I also usually like to put my garlic in before the meat or split it with half before and half after. If you prefer, you could also add in a sauce or stronger spices. This recipe lends itself to adaptations. Sorry there isn’t a prettier final picture. It was going into lunch containers, not onto my plate (sadly).

All Mixed Together

Quinoa with Spiced Meat and Cheddar Cheese.

Saturday Shake Up: “Chocolate-Covered Strawberries”

So in talking with Vicky (of menubyvicky), we realized that often some of the little things in our routines, things we do to improve the impact of our health regimen or things we’ve learned through experience or research, are often things others may not have come across that could be beneficial to them. This could be anything like knowing about foam rollers for runners or the benefits of some fats over others. There is always going to be something new to learn and share.

With that in mind, and inspired by Vicky’s wonderful suggestion, I’ve decided to share my experiences (and recipes, as simple as they are) with protein shakes. These recipes are very simple and straight forward, but for many who have never made a protein shake before, it may be daunting to figure out solid recipes that you like. It often takes a little trial and error to figure out what your body likes, as well.

When I talk about protein shakes, by the way, I don’t mean the sugar-filled meal replacement drinks you see on the shelves. Even the ‘high protein’ options there have so much sugar (and very little protein) that you might as well blend a chocolate bar and a multi-vitamin together.

I also want to encourage readers and fellow bloggers to send in their own shake recipes or substitutions. I’m always on the look-out for new recipes, especially for ways to incorporate more protein into my routine, and I’ll be looking to post some of your ideas (linking back or crediting to you, whichever you prefer) to share with others. Please send any submissions to me at rapunzels.adventures@gmail.com.

So, for my first Saturday Shake Up post, I’m sharing a recipe I had to improvise in order to use up left-over strawberry protein powder (which I’ve realized I can’t stand on its own).

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries Shakes
Yields: about 2 large glasses

Ingredients

  • 1-2 cups of cold water
  • 1 scoop of chocolate whey protein
  • 1/2 scoop of strawberry whey protein
  • 2-4 frozen strawberries
  • almond milk as preferred

There isn’t a specific order that you must follow in terms of blending the ingredients, but my preferred order goes like this:

  1. Add water (adjust the water to your preference of thinner or thicker shakes)
  2. Add chocolate and strawberry protein powders (ideally, each should be around 25 – 30 grams of protein per full scoop)
  3. Add frozen strawberries
  4. Add almond milk (optional)

If you can’t or don’t want to use the strawberries, use a few ice cubes instead and increase the strawberry protein portion to a full scoop. If your scoops come out to more than 30 grams of protein each, only use half scoops so you’re not wasting protein (as was mentioned in Protein Part 1, we can only absorb around 30 grams at a time) unless you’re splitting the shake with someone or saving half for later. Both are really good options!

You can also sub in more strawberries in lieu of the strawberry protein powder or a couple of small pieces of dark chocolate in lieu of the chocolate protein powder. Please don’t substitute both though since the goal is to get some protein in this shake. If you can’t do almond milk, use 2% instead of skim as skim often has more sugar (aka carbs) than 2%. Start off with a little almond milk, if you’ve never had it, so it doesn’t overwhelm your shake. It can take a couple of uses to grow accustomed to almond milk, but it’s much better in shakes than on its own.

Well there you go! Our first Saturday Shake Up! Feel free to let me know in the comments what you thought of it and if you have a recipe you’d like to share, shoot me an e-mail.

Protein Part One: Why and How Much?

I’ve been talking with a lot of fellow runners and fitness pursuers lately about food and diet changes. It has had me thinking more about the common misconceptions out there about ‘healthy’ eating. I was speaking with one friend about little changes in what she consumes and when I mentioned increasing protein, I could see her immediately react with nervousness and she said something that has stuck with me for a while: “I’m not going to be training to be a runner.”

It’s probably because I have been so immersed in learning about the various macronutrients out there that her comment struck me as bizarre. I didn’t realize, until then, that some people don’t really know what certain macronutrients do and how they work into the different fitness routines.

Protein is good for everyone. Period. It has more effect for those who actively do some sort of resistance/weight training, less so in terms of cardio. So let’s look at protein more closely. This will probably be broken into a few segments since there’s a lot of information.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Like with the various fat discussions, the basic answer to why protein is good for us comes down to the composition of protein. It is made of various amino acid chains. Amino acids are the foundation and bricks of muscle. You can’t build or maintain muscle without protein. Amino acids also regulate hormones, enzymes, and immune chemicals. Normally, we can make 12 of the various amino acids internally. The other 8, considered essential amino acids, we have to get from outside sources.

Healthy fats (like Omega-3), including, unfortunately, unhealthy fats, and protein encourage the body to feel full which in turn helps decrease cravings and overall caloric intake. As well, protein has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients. What that means while we burn energy (ie. calories) to process what we eat, protein takes the most energy and therefore we burn more caloric fuel to process protein than we do carbohydrates or fats.

Carbohydrates can have strong effects on insulin and blood sugar, but when consumed with sufficient amounts of protein, the effect is significantly decreased.

How Much Protein Should We Have?

Currently, the daily recommendation for sedentary individuals, to maintain day-to-day functions, is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.5 grams per pound of body weight. The amount increases to 1.4-2 grams per kilogram of ‘desired’ body weight for active people going as high as 1 gram per pound of ‘desired’ body weight.

I would use caution when looking at ‘desired’ body weight, though. If all that matters is the number on the scale, the above works against you. For example, if I’m 160 pounds and my desired body weight is 130 pounds, by limiting my protein intake to only 130 grams of protein a day, I will drop weight, but that weight will come partially from my muscles. Your body will use muscle tissue as fuel, if need be, and by not feeding your muscles the ‘bricks’ it needs to keep itself building up, then they will become smaller. As muscle weighs more than fat, this effect will result in a lower scale weight.

A better rule to live by, for active individuals, is about 20-30 grams per meal for women and 30-40 grams per meal for men. Overall, 30% of your food on a given day should be protein. The normal maximum amount that can be absorbed at one time on average is about 30-40 grams. This varies based on the overall available muscle mass.

It’s better to have excess protein rather than excess carbohydrates. Carbohydrates convert into glycogen to fuel the muscles during any high intensity activity. If the glycogen is not used within a short time span, it is then stored for later use as fat.

As we know above, protein takes more calories/energy to process and this is partially because protein goes through many more phases before going to storage (if it goes there at all). Any extra protein in the system is first converted to glycogen as fuel for muscles. Any extra is then changed again and used to build up lean muscle mass to a finite amount (varying based on muscle size, so less so for women). After that, it is converted back into glycogen and stored in the muscle as fuel if it is not used right away. It is only after that point, that is could potentially be stored as fat. Keep in mind each step in this process requires converting the protein which in turn burns calories.

In comparing protein to carbohyrdates in terms of processing, it’s easy to see that overloading on carbs can quickly lead to fat store build up. There is 1 step in the conversion process. With protein, there is 4-5 steps that it goes through before it could potentially enter the fat stores of the body. Protein, in addition to going to the muscles first and staying longer, takes 4-5 times more energy to process so it burns way more calories on the way which in turn creates more places for the protein fuel to go before becoming fat.

Is it possible to have too much of protein? Yes, probably it is. It’s possible to have too much of anything, really. The key thing here though is that the limit of ‘too much’ in terms of protein is extremely high and much harder to reach than the limit of carbohydrates or fats. The average person would be very hard pressed to hit that limit without intense over-supplementation. Hitting the carbohydrate limit is easy and the majority of us do it ever day, especially when we fail to combine carbohydrate consumption with high intensity interval training of some kind (not steady-state cardio).

In part two, I’ll tackle the various sources of protein, the traps of ‘high protein’ labels, and ways to increase protein in your daily meals.

Also, keep an eye out this weekend for the start-up of my (protein) shake series!

Trans Fat: The Evil Fat

This post is going to be pretty short since the information sums up really well: Don’t consume trans fat.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the entire post, but if you only take one thing away today from my post, that should be the one.

What is Trans Fat?

Trans fat is a highly processed, hydrogenated version of unstaturated fat. It’s man-made to increase shelf-life and to add taste to foods and other consumable products. It is not found naturally unlike saturated and unsaturated fats. This means our body wasn’t meant to process it and that consuming it forces our body to attempt to break down a foreign substance. Trans fats also pack very densely into our storage cells, allowing our body to store more of it.

Trans fat is known to increase the risks of:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Lymphoma
  • Alzheimer’s

Because trans fat is a fat, it competes with other fats for the fat receptors in the body. This is an issue for two reasons. When trans fat attaches to a fat receptor, our body is taking it in, but that also means one less receptor for our body to take in the good fats like Omega-3.

In my post about Omega-3 and Omega-6, I wrote about the competition between the two fats and trying to add more balance, aiming towards a ratio of 4-1:1 of Omega-3 to Omega-6. That is because you have a finite number of fat receptors and they will take what is there. Increasing the amount of Omega-3 increases the chances of more Omega-3 in your system and, by proxy, reducing the amount of Omega-6 in your system.

The same works with trans fat versus Omega-3. The more trans fat attached to receptors, the less receptors for your Omega-3 intake. Since Omega-3 is linked to increases in HDL (good cholesterol) and decreases in LDL (bad cholesterol), this competition with trans fat also has a negative effect on your cholesterol levels. Trans fat lowers HDL, significantly. A single meal high in trans fat can contribute to the progression of heart disease. There is no ‘consume in moderation’ when it comes to trans fat.

Sources of Trans Fat

Trans fat (and it’s evil partner high fructose corn syrup) can be found in many various items:

  • Margarine
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Shortening, including any pre-packaged baked goods such as:
    • Crackers
    • Cookies
    • Doughnuts
    • Cakes
    • Pastries
    • Muffins
    • Croissants
    • Snack foods
    • Fried foods (french fries and breaded foods)

On the topic of that last note, frying in ‘trans fat free’ oil is bull. Period. Food items, including oil, change properties when heated or cooled, especially at extreme temperatures. Heating and maintaining oils to the temperatures needed to fry a food item, changes the oil’s structure so that it, essentially, becomes a trans fat.  I think it’s great that fast food places want to move towards healthier offerings, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen while food is prepared in giant vats of oil.

It can be hard to pass up the convenience of fast food, and I will be the first to admit I have a weakness for McDonald’s sausage and egg mcmuffins, as bad as they are for me, but there is no middle ground with trans fat. Every little bit does hurt you, and there is no way to balance it out health-wise.

Saturated Fat: The Mid-Way Fat

Apologies for the mini-hiatus. Injuries, work, life in general conspired against me. Things are more or less under control again so back to the posting!

Recently, I suffered a set-back in my running training. In particular, I injured my knee (with a leg press machine no less!) and I have been working on recovery for it given I have a half marathon coming up this weekend. The decision of going is still up in the air at this point.

So how is this all related to the post today? Well, one of the things I’ve been doing to help my joints recover and strengthen is focussing on my Omega-3 intake. The average person should be getting 3 grams a day. Runners, athletes, and active people who work their joints more frequently should be getting three times that. So as I gulped down my 2 tablespoons of Omega-3 oil, I remembered that I had promised to discuss the other siblings in the Fat family.

Thus, here we are! Saturated fats. I’ll be blunt here: saturated fats, while not the worst fat sibling, are really not your best friend when compared to the golden child, unsaturated. That being said, saturated fats are not nearly as unhealthy as previously thought and certainly do not compare to trans fats on the unhealthy scale. You can have saturated fats in your diet and still call it healthy. Tran fats serve no nutritional value and any trans fat added to a diet pretty much drags it down into the non-healthy spectrum. We’ll leave trans fat alone today, though, since it’s saturated fat’s turn in the spotlight!

Saturated Fat

The first thing we’re probably all asking is, “What really makes saturated fat different from unsaturated?” And no, the answer isn’t as simple as the ‘un’ in front since that really doesn’t help those of us who flunked science (and even those of us who didn’t).

When we talked about unsaturated fats, we looked at their form at the molecular level. Unsaturated fats are better because they break down easily due to a kink/weakness in their form that allows for easier processing and absorption. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature due to this ‘kink’. Saturated fats don’t have this kink in their form. They’re more sturdy and that makes them more compact. An example of this is in the room temperature scenario above. Where unsaturated fats are liquid or viscous, saturated fats remaind solid. That’s why natural nut butters, like peanut butter, need to be refridgerated to keep their form, and tend to separate in room temperature settings. The normal jar of Skippy, Kraft, or Jif can sit in your cupboard and not change. Most of these brands have started to make ‘natural’ or Omega-3 versions of their recipes but the price is often quite more for less product. It’s worth it, if you must have peanut butter, since the ‘more product’ aspect of the cupboard versions, is really not going to add healthy value to your diet. Adding more of something that is less healthy for you doesn’t provide much of a bonus.

Why is Saturated Fat Suddenly ‘Healthy’?

Well, it’s not, really. It’s just less unhealthy than previously thought, and often the rest of the diet affects the health value as well. The main issues associated with excessive saturated fat intake, like increased body fat, cardiovascular disease, and blood lipid issues, are often present when saturated fat is joined with a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and when the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats is not balanced.

The key here is to avoid combining low unsaturated fat intake with high saturated fat intake, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates. The best solution, in my opinion, is to cut the carbs and sugar, and increase the Omega-3s. If you’re not sold on the benefits of Omega-3 and unsaturated fats, check out the post I linked earlier. Fat can be your friend!

The Side-Effects of Too Much Saturated Fat

Diets that have too much unsaturated fat are linked to heart disease. This is linked to the increase in LDL cholesterol (which Omega-3 helps control and lower). Along with heart disease, unbalanced or high levels saturarated fat diets are associated with:

  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Prostate cancer
  • Mutliple sclerosis

Sources of Saturated Fat

So we know we want to avoid excess saturated fat, keeping it in check with our unsaturated best friend, Omega-3, but to do that, we need to know from where we get our saturated fat.

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Palm oil
  • Beef

Just because something is a source of saturated fat, does not mean we should avoid it and it is bad for us. We know coconut oil is good for us as is beef, both in moderation. The stearic acid in things like beef, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Lauric acid (found in coconut oil) increases HDL (good cholesterol, also in Omega-3) as well as boosting the immune system.

Coconut oil is also a good oil for cooking as it doesn’t break down like most oils do when heated. Oils that break down while cooking change their structures, often becoming trans fats even if they did not start that way, losing most of their health benefits. Interally, coconut oil is processed by the body differently, being used as energy first, unlike most other oils. Often, when coconut oil has been linked to negative effects on the body, it was refined/processed coconut oil that was used.

Beef that is fed grain has higher levels of saturated fat than beef that is fed grass. It is also shown that grain-fed beef has higher levels of Omega-6 (which we already get in excess) than grass-fed beef.

Hopefully, the above helps show that not all saturated fats are equal and there are ways to keep your fat ratio balanced. Saturated fats may not be your friend, but they’re definitely better than trans fats, which I’ll tackle next time.