Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato and Apple Deliciousness ~ Gluten/Dairy/Egg-Free and Paleo Friendly

Let me start by saying that I still don't know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. So I'm just going to tell you to get the orange one. Whichever one that happens to be at your local grocery store. Once you've done that, you can start making one of the most delicious and simple dishes I've had in a long time. I frequently eat it for breakfast but I am taking it to my parents' house for Thanksgiving as a side dish. It is very versatile since it has both sweet and savory elements. This is not a traditional dessert-y sweet potato casserole dish. No marshmallows or butter on this baby! There is no added sugar, just the natural flavors of the ingredients, heightened by the yummy goodness that is bacon :)

3 mediumish sweet potatoes (or yams)

4 mediumish granny smith apples

1ish package of bacon I use Applegate Farms Uncured Sunday Bacon since I try to avoid the nitrates/nitrites. I just found out that Hormel also makes one without preservatives in their Natural Choice line.

Half of a largish sweet yellow onion

Chop the bacon and set aside. Chop the onion and set aside (how finely you chop it is really a matter of personal preference). Peel and then cube the sweet potatoes and apples. Set them aside separately. Cook the bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat until you've rendered out the fat and the bacon is nice and crispy-brown. Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel covered plate. Pour the bacon fat into a heat-safe bowl.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of that bacon fat you set aside into a new pan. I use a large, high sided pan. If you are using non-stick pans you can always reduce the amount of fat you use to cook the onions. If you are trying to lose weight, this could cut down on the calories and fat in the recipe substantially. I've heard the Scanpan line is really good (and Chef's Catalog has quick shipping). Hint-hint Santa Clause :) 

Cook the onion in the bacon fat until it is translucent and soft. Put the onions in a slow cooker or a dutch oven. Put the sweet potatoes in the pan you just cooked the onion in (you might need to add a little more bacon fat) and brown them. You don't need to cook them through, just get a little of the flavor of the bacon and that nice golden color they'll get from hitting the hot pan. You might need to do this in batches to be sure the sweet potatoes are just getting browned and not steaming in the pan. Put all of the sweet potatoes in the slow cooker. You can throw the apples into the pan with a little of the bacon fat or not. You have enough of the bacon-y taste with all of the other elements that it doesn't really need that step. And again, it can save a bit of calories and fat if you put the apples straight into the slow cooker. Add the bacon with the rest of the ingredients. Finely grate some orange zest (about half an orange) and mix together until all of the ingredients are evenly combined. The orange zest is an important element so don't skip it! Cook in the slow cooker on low for about an hour. This makes a very large batch but it will keep well in the fridge in a sealed container.

Enjoy! Please comment and let me know how you like it :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chocolate Mint Truffles ~ Sugar-Free and Dairy-Free!

I made these last night and . . . WOW . . . just, WOW! They are so easy, are allergy-friendly, and lower in calories, and yet they are rich and delicious enough to feel totally indulgent!

1/4 cup coconut oil (I use raw, organic)

1/4 cup cacao powder (I like TerrAmazon Organic which I've gotten at both Sprouts and Whole Foods~ make sure you don't get COCOA powder as that will have dairy and sugar in it!)

1/4 cup powdered Xylitol (put the xylitol in a coffee grinder for about 30 seconds and it will resemble powdered sugar. It's crazy-easy)

Pinch of salt (I used a salt grinder and did about 2 turns)

4 drops of peppermint flavor liquid

Extra cacao powder for dusting.

Put the coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl and get it liquid but not hot. Add in the cacao powder, powdered xylitol, and salt and mix until everything is well incorporated. Add the peppermint flavoring and mix well. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is the consistency of a cookie dough. Put a little cacao powder into a small bowl. When the chocolate mixture is ready, roll some into a ball between your hands (your hands will get chocolatey, but that's okay!). Once you have a nice little ball, roll it in the cacao powder to coat it just enough so that the balls don't stick together. Put the truffles in an airtight container and refrigerate. I like them stiff and cold so I ate two right out of the refrigerator today. If you want them softer, just take them out of the fridge about 10 minutes before you plan to eat them.

It's up to you how big you want to make your truffles. I'm like a toddler in that if you offer me one big cookie, or two smaller cookies, I will take two because it just feels like more to me. So I made the truffles pretty small. How many truffles you end up with, and what the nutrition information would be is totally dependent on how big your truffles are.

If you try it, and you don't feel that they are exactly what you want, you can adjust the ingredients slightly without drastically affecting the outcome. My husband thought they were too sweet and a few of my taste-testers thought the mint was a little strong. You can easily play with either of those elements by slightly reducing the amount of xylitol to make it less sweet, or putting fewer drops of the mint in to make it less minty. If you omit the mint altogether, you will get chocolate with a slight coconut taste ~ also yummy.

These are allergy-friendly and great if you are limiting sugar. They are not, however, calorie-free. The coconut oil is calorie-dense and while the xylitol has a lower glycemic load than refined sugar, it still has about 10 calories per teaspoon. These are a healthier alternative but they still need to be thought of as a treat, especially if you are trying to lose weight.

If you make them, please let us know what you think!

As always, if you want to be sure that you don't miss any new posts in the future, you can "follow posts" or "follow by email" at the top right corner of this page. You will only get an email when I post something new. You can also follow me on Facebook at Healthy Bodies With Brooke or on Twitter at @hbwbrooke


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Good God I Miss Sourdough, Part Two

In the last post, Good God I Miss Sourdough Bread, Part 1, I wrote about why I drastically changed my diet and how it greatly improved my everyday well-being. Overall, the changes have been beneficial but they have been difficult. Figuring out what to eat was a huge problem. Dealing with social situtations has been awkward. And as with weight management, sticking to a restricted diet is challenging and sometimes makes me feel resentful of people who can eat whatever they want. I've identified a few main challenges and a few things I would have done differently. I hope that the following information will help you if you decide to embark on this journey!  

Problem 1: Now what do I eat? I gained weight when I stopped eating gluten. I did not expect that. When I explained to people early on that I was going gluten-free the first response was usually, "Oh, you'll lose so much weight!". Unfortunately for me, I didn't take the time to really research, plan and prepare myself for going gluten-free. I just went to Sprouts and Whole Foods and bought a bunch of gluten-free, high-calorie crap. Before the gluten news, I ate whole grain everything in my general diet. Every once in a while I'd eat a cookie or piece of sourdough bread as a treat. I had done Weight Watchers for years so I was always looking for the high fiber options (lower points, whoo-hoo!). Most gluten-free options are made with things like potato starch and rice flour so they are lower in fiber than whole grain options. When I found out I couldn't eat eggs, dairy, and almonds, we were about to go on a family vacation with two other families. I drove straight from the doctor's office to Whole Foods Market (crying) and bought all of the packaged foods I could find that were safe for me to eat. I left with "oreos", crackers, bagels, bars, breads, coconut milk ice cream . . . Again, a whole bunch of stuff that I wouldn't normally eat. I basically went from eating minimally processed food, to almost entirely boxed or packaged junk. I was so overwhelmed by thinking about everything I couldn't eat, that I didn't take the time to figure out what I could eat. It took me a little while to realize that this way of eating was not going to work for me (reality hit when my pants stopped fitting).

Solution 1: Eat real food and substitute with real food. Once I got over the panicky feelings, I sat down and made lists of what was safe and healthy for me to eat. It meant more cooking, which I wasn't happy about, but I knew that it would be worth it. Vegetables and meat are okay for me to eat (but I have to prepare the meat myself). When I discovered quinoa, it was like the heavens opened up and the angels started singing! I've included more info about what I eat later in the post. Luckily, I reversed the trend and after a few months of being very careful about what I ate, I lost almost 15 pounds (which was on the lower end of the healthy weight range for me).

I recently found out about some more health issues and am having to cut more food out of my diet. This time I was smarter. I took a few days to research and plan. I made a list of the foods I could eat. I found recipes that would work. I set aside time that weekend to shop, prepare, and cook food for at least a few days. Sometimes I feel like taking care of my health is a full-time job that I have to fit into my life in addition to being a wife, mother, and fitness professional. But the positive changes I notice make me optimistic and willing to continue.  

Problem 2: People think I'm crazy and there's never anything for me to eat at parties except for raw carrots. Another issue with cutting foods out of my diet has been social awkwardness. My family and some of my friends see me as a bit of a hypochondriac (even when there are scans and tests that show that yes, there really is something wrong). I think many of them were rolling their eyes when I first told them that I stopped eating gluten and that I felt better. I was very defensive and emotional about it. Beyond dealing with my close family and friends, I struggled to find a graceful way of dealing with social outings. At restaurants, I felt embarrassed to ask the questions I had to ask and order the way I needed to order. I was worried the servers and the people with me would get annoyed. At parties, I was either really self-conscious when people went out of their way to have something that I could eat, or annoyed because there was nothing safe for me and I was starving. People always end up asking why I'm not eating and when I explain, I feel like such a downer. I have actually avoided going to social gatherings just because I didn't want to deal with the issue.

Solution 2: Get over it. I'm less self-conscious when I order at restaurants but I also only go to a few now that I feel relatively confident eating at. I try to limit social outings that revolve around food and I feel okay bringing my own stuff to parties. I also try as often as possible to eat before an event so that if there is nothing safe for me, I don't faint or get drunk because I have no food in my stomach (made that mistake again recently and it was not good). Sometimes I'm surprised by people's reactions. I was at a 3-day training this weekend and had to pack all of my food in a big cooler. I wheeled it in every morning and made my special little snacks and lunches. The funny thing was, the rest of the group was interested and actually a little jealous of my food as they ate their Panera sandwiches!

I have also come to the conclusion that I need to surround myself with people who won't be annoyed when I take 5 minutes to order a meal, or I bring something with me to a party, or have to hear me explain, for the 100th time to someone new why I can't eat what's on the table. The people who really love me have gotten over it now and are very supportive (and many have gone to get tested themselves!)

Problem 3: I'm ready to punch everyone around me who can eat pizza. I shake my fist at the sky and get a little "why me" every once in a while. This whole thing really is a pain in the ass. It is torture to watch other people eat pizza or to make my kids sourdough toast with butter. And then every 6 months or so, I get really mad, say "screw it", and eat stuff that my body can't handle. Then I pay the price and remember why I'm doing this in the first place.

Solution 3: Be grateful. In the grand scheme of things, I could have much more serious health problems or may never have figured out why I was feeling bad to begin with. My health is not great, but right now, I can move without pain. Nothing I'm dealing with is life threatening. I'm not facing an illness that could bankrupt my family. And so far, most of my auto-immune issues are being held at bay. I believe this is at least partly because I am so careful regarding my diet. I have an amazing husband, awesome children, a wonderful family, and great friends. I have a job I love, working with people who inspire me every day. Overall, I'm one lucky chick. Sometimes I just have to remind myself of that. 

Resources: There are so many resources available that make this process easier! 

1. Blogs: There are a ton of bloggers out there creating recipes that are healthy and allergy-friendly. I have been especially happy with the recipes I've tried from Real Sustenance. I have only made a few of her recipes but they have all turned out well. I have a few recipes here on this blog that are also very allergy-friendly. The most popular is my Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf. I've also been checking out Paleo food blogs because they tend to omit most of what I can't eat.

2. Labels: If I'm going to go with packaged foods, I read labels very carefully. Since I can't have dairy, I have to look for a whole host of ingredients that have different names but which are derived from dairy. When I had the testing done, the paperwork that came with my results listed everything I needed to avoid for each category. Packaged foods list major allergens, so I know that if I don't see dairy, and if something is marked Pareve or Vegan (and doesn't contain all of the other stuff I have to avoid), then it should be safe for me. Learn your trigger foods and research all of the ways they are used in packaged foods. Dairy and Soy are probably the two that are the most prevalent and the most "hidden".

3. Fresh food: As difficult as it can be to have to cook as much as I do, when I'm primarily eating vegetables and meat I prepare myself, I feel much better. And it's much easier to maintain a healthy weight. My fridge is usually stocked with salad greens (Big Green Salad #1), greens for smoothies (My Favorite Green Smoothie), cooked chicken, and the odd Applegate Farms meat product. I also make Tuna Salad and some grain-based salads (Mom's Summer Quinoa Salad, Mango Quinoa Salad) frequently. My new favorite snack or meal base is my Cauliflower "Couscous". Last week I added some grilled chicken and curry powder and ate it for lunch ~ Deeee-licious! Almost all of the recipes I make can be made in a large batch and then either refrigerated or frozen for later use. I find it easiest for me if I spend a few hours on a Sunday making most of my food for the week. And the more I cook, the faster I get!

4. Substitutes: I've replaced most of my dairy with coconut milk products. I eat grains like quinoa and rice instead of wheat. I really like using Daiya shreds in recipes where I need cheese. I use Tamari instead of Soy Sauce (now that I'm also avoiding soy I'm going to try coconut aminos). I also like The Pure Pantry mixes because they use more high fiber grains like buckwheat and quinoa in their baking mixes. I'm also starting to bake more from scratch and less from mixes (the little baking that I do).

I don't believe that everyone needs to, or should, create dietary restrictions for themselves. However, If you are not feeling well ~ headaches, fatigue, intestinal distress, foggy-headed, etc. ~ it may be time to talk to your doctor or look into testing for these types of antibody reactions. It's not easy but it may make as big a difference for you as it has for me!

If you already live with dietary restrictions, please share any resources you find useful. The more information we all share, the easier this journey is!