Sugar is Sugar is Sugar – Really?

I’ve had many people tell me that they avoid fruit because of its sugar content.  But is it really the same as other sugars?

Basics: When sugar is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, it causes the sugar levels in your blood to rise.  Your pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin to bring your sugar levels back down to normal, by pushing sugar into your cells. Your cells then release sugar in the form of energy to keep you going throughout the day. Sounds good, right?

But not all sugars have the same impact on your blood sugar levels.  Here’s the difference:

White table sugar or sugar is a highly processed, highly refined sugar.  It enters your blood stream rapidly and causes a significant spike in your blood sugar levels.  Large amounts of insulin are released from your pancreas to bring your sugar levels back down to normal, but sometimes it pushes them too low.  This results in what is known as the “sugar crash.” Headaches, feeling tired, lack of energy, inability to concentrate and craving more sugar may be the result.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is also an extremely refined, highly processed sugar – processed with sulfuric acid (think battery acid!). Because of their molecular structure, they are absorbed even more rapidly in the blood stream than sugar.  And they go straight to our liver where a bunch of chemical reactions turn them into fat. Over time, these fats build up in our liver and can result in a condition known as “non-alcoholic” fatty liver.  This condition may result in liver swelling or scarring (cirrhosis) and may even contribute to liver cancer or failure.

Fruit on the other hand is “sugar from nature.” It is absorbed much slower because of what it is packaged in.  Fruit is high in fiber!  Fiber slows the breakdown of sugar into our blood-stream.  This causes a slow rise in blood sugar and a small amount of insulin to be released from our pancreas.  This means that you have less blood sugar spikes and lows. A steady amount of blood sugar release gives you just enough to keep you alert and provides energy throughout the day. Fruit is generally high in water – so naturally low in calories and keeps you fuller longer. Plus fruit is generally loaded with Vitamin A and Vitamin C!

The bottom line, fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth without impacting your blood sugar levels, along with providing many other health benefits.  Sugar and HFCS – not so much.

Food for Thought: I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing the “sugar-crash” after they ate a piece of fruit! Have you?

Tune in for more discussions on sugar types in future posts……

Photo: Courtesy of “That Sugar Film”

Cranberry Bogs

Did you know? Cranberries have a natural antibiotic effect. Native Americans used them on wounds to stop bleeding.  They also used the red dye from the berries to decorate fabrics.  A fun activity to try with your students is to tie-dye a shirt with the juice from live cranberries.

As we reach the end of cranberry season, cranberry farmers put on their waders, walk into the cold autumn water and reel or comb the vibrant layer of red berries that float on the surface of the bog to pull them from their vines. Cranberries grow in a mineral rich environment of clay, sand, peat and gravel from the wetlands. In natural environments, the berries offer food to both wildlife and to beneficial fungi. This fungi allows the plant to absorb water and essential nutrients. They provide a symbiotic relationship; both helping each other’s growth. Not only is water harvesting a convenient way to farm this fruit, research has shown that by allowing the berries to float on the surface of water, there are better exposed to sunlight, increasing its phytonutrient (natural chemicals in plants that help protect us from disease) content and providing us with an increased array of health benefits.

The phytonutrients in cranberries known as anthocyanins are what helps protect us from urinary tract infections!

I often let students know that the red fruits and vegetables protect a red organ inside our bodies or our heart.  Red = healthy heart

Cranberries also protect us from cancer, boost our immune system, help with digestive support and protect the tissues in our mouth.

FUN FACTS

Here’s something fun to try with your students.  When cranberries are ripe, they bounce, and so are affectionately known as “bounceberries.”

Cranberries make us pucker:

They tend to be quite tart on their own. That’s not to say they aren’t edible raw, but most people prefer not to eat them like this. An eye-opening activity to do with students is to have them try both a raw cranberry and cooked cranberry and compare the tastes.

When cooked, they become much less sour (though still tart) and a bit sweeter. Of course homemade in their whole form is best.  Commercially bought dried cranberries tend to contain a bucket load of added sugar!

With the holidays in full swing, your students will most probably find cranberries on their tables.  Here are a couple of recipes to get them into the holiday spirit:

Recipes

This first recipe is a easy way to add fruit to things that your students already love. They can add it to sandwiches; smear it over a stick of celery or toast. Dip carrots or apple slices into it. It’s a simply recipe that takes little preparation time. Maybe encourage your students to make these as holiday gifts for family, friends, or their lovely teachers.

Cran-Apple Butter

cran-apple-butter

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz cranberries, frozen or fresh
  • 5 Apples, cored and large chop with skin intact (I prefer honey crisp apples)
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp clove
  • ½ tsp all spice

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally.
  3. Once the apples have fully softened, puree all ingredients.
  4. Return the mixture to low heat on the stove and allow it to reduce to thicken. Stir occasionally.
  5. Once the mixture has reached a consistency that is thick and not runny, remove from heat and let it cool.
  6. Transfer contents into a jar and eat or store.

Cranberry Energy Bars

cranberry-oats-bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups uncooked old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup pumpkin seed butter or almond butter
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries, unsweetened
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup pistachios, chopped
  • 5 tbs agave or honey
  • 1 2 tbs flax seed, ground
  • 2 tbs hemp seeds, hulled
  • 1/4 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Spread the oats over a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet and bake until slightly browned (about 8 minutes).
  3. Place the oats in a mixing bowl with the flax seeds, hemp seeds, cranberries, raisins and pistachios.
  4. Combine the pumpkin seed butter (or almond butter), honey (or agave),1 tsp of the coconut oil, salt, and cinnamon into a saucepan and cook over medium heat and stir until the mixture begins to melt.
  5. Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the rest of the ingredients in the mixing bowl. Mix all ingredients so they are all evenly coated.
  6. Coat an 8” square glass baking dish (or a similar size) with the remaining coconut oil and press the oat mixture into the bottom of the dish. Cut into it evenly to create the size bars desired.
  7. Bake at 350° for about 10-12 minutes.
  8. Let cool and separate bars.

Cauliflower, the New Comfort Food

In 1621 the pilgrims celebrated their first fall harvest. They held a ceremony to show gratitude for their good fortune and to give thanks. Over time this tradition became known as “Thanksgiving”. What you might imagine this to look like is quite a bit different than the stereotypical “Turkey Day” image of grandpa napping on a couch with a full belly, pumpkin pies, apple pies, pecan pies, stuffing, cranberry sauce, biscuits and a large juicy bird on the table and a football game.

While the original Thanksgiving was a gathering of family and community, their dining table looked a little different than what we are now accustomed to. The table they feasted at in 1621 had less overindulgence, less refined carbohydrates and saturated fat, and a wider variety of local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. I want to zoom in on one particular item on their Thanksgiving table, cauliflower.

Mark Twain said “a cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education”. That’s because the cauliflower plant actually is in the same family as cabbage, along with kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts and broccoli. These are cruciferous or brassica vegetables. One of the most significant characteristic of vegetables in the Brassica family is that they contain glucosinolates, a phytochemical in some plants that releases a pungent taste when chewed.  

Cauliflower can be found in white, green, purple and orange varieties, each one offering different nutrients, dependent on their color.  In general cauliflower contains:

  • Glucosinolates
  • High amount of vitamin C
    • A powerful antioxidant that protects the immune system
  • Potassium
    • Keeps your heart beating and muscles from cramping
  • Manganese
    • Important for metabolism, bone development and wound healing
  • Vitamin K
    • Needed for bone development and helps stop bleeding when you have a cut
  • Fiber
    • Aids in healthy digestion and makes you feel full
  • Omega-3
    • Cauliflower is one of the best vegetable sources of omega-3. It’s important to fight of inflammation, regulate cholesterol levels and have been shown to help with helps keep our minds sharp.

Fun Fact: Romanesco Cauliflower is a great example of sacred geometry in food. Sacred geometry is a term used to describe patterns we see repeating themselves over and over in nature. They are the building blocks or seeds of nature. Pinecones or nautilus shells are other good examples of this. This has got to get your students excited about cauliflower because. . . well, it’s really cool!

romanesco-cauliflower

How To Cook It:

The recipes below provide a twist on traditional Thanksgiving recipes. Imagine Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes or stuffing… no thank you. But what if instead of the heavy bread and eggs for the stuffing or the potatoes for the mash, we lightened it up with cauliflower? Changing an unhealthy habit into healthy choices is made easier when we just tweak what we already know and love. This is a way to help your students add more vegetables in their diet and get excited about what they are eating.

Here are some other ideas on how to use cauliflower:

  • Cauliflower pizza crust
  • Cauliflower buffalo wings
  • Cauliflower hash
  • Cauliflower tots
  • Cauliflower tacos (see recipe in previous beet article here)
  • Cauliflower fried “rice”

You can also throw it into an omelet, drizzle some oil on it and roast it, puree it into soup, toss it in a stew or curry, or make a sauce and to dip it in and eat it raw.

Mashed Cauliflower

mashed-cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 heads cauliflower, florets, rough chop
  • 1 cup of vegetable stock per every cup of cauliflower
  • 3 tbs plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

(Optional) chives, rosemary or parsley for garnish or 2 tbs chopped and mixed in

Directions:

  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan, add the cauliflower and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer until cauliflower is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of the oil on a pan and lightly sauté garlic on low heat until it begins to brown. Set aside.
  3. Reserve cooking liquid and transfer cauliflower to a food processor. Add yogurt, garlic and seasonings and blend until smooth. Slowly add in the oil and then the cooking liquid until you reach desired creaminess.
  4. (Optional) Mix in fresh parsley or chives.
  5. Serve and eat.

Cauliflower Stuffing

Cauliflower Stuffing.jpg

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, florets rough chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, dice
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup polenta, dried
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbs parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp sage powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Directions:

  1. Put cauliflower florets into food processor and pulse until it is small and rice-like.
  2. Bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add the cauliflower, salt, pepper and sage and bring to a low simmer. Allow to simmer until it becomes tender and reaches a porridge like consistency, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the vegetable oil. Over medium heat, add the onions, carrots and celery. Once these have softened, add the mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and parsley for an additional minute or two.
  4. Once the cauliflower has finished cooking, add the polenta and stir for about 3 minutes. Then, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Serve and eat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!: Pumpkins as FOOD!

Halloween is over, but pumpkin season most certainly is not! Pumpkins are considered a winter squash, which means that they are harvested in the autumn but last all the way through the winter season. This is a great way to get fresh vegetables on to our plates in the colder months. In fact, in the past (before freezers, canned goods and imported foods), pumpkins and other winter squashes were an essential item in the kitchen to making it through the winter with enough food.

Today, we most commonly know pumpkins for pumpkin lattes and jack-o-lanterns. As it turns out though, those lattes are flavored with sugar and artificial flavoring, and no pumpkin at all. And our Halloween decorations, which are hybrid pumpkins known as Aladdin pumpkins, were developed particularly for their ability to be carved instead of for the purpose of being eaten.

While carving pumpkins doesn’t make a great meal, their seeds (and the seeds of all pumpkins varieties) are still widely used and full of nutrients. So let your students carve their pumpkins, but encourage them to roast, toast or sprout those seeds too!

Try using pumpkin seeds for seed butter, in a trail mix, as a topping for salads, soups, desserts, and cereals or grind it up to be used in dressings or put in a flour mix.

Pumpkin seeds are packed with:

  • Protein
  • Fiber
  • High Iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folate, niacin and selenium
  • Healthy fats
  • Antimicrobial properties (antifungal and antiviral)

There are now over 40 varieties of pumpkins that vary in color, shape, size and texture. Larger pumpkins tend to have a stringier and bitter quality compared to the smaller, sweeter ones used in most recipes. While jack-o-lanterns aren’t meant to be eaten, there are many pumpkins that are. Some varieties often used for cooking are labeled as Pie Pumpkins or Sugar Pumpkins, Baby Pam, Autumn Gold, Lumina, Ghost Rider, Cinderella. Fairy Tale, Jarrahdale, Peanut, Lakota, and Cow Pumpkins.

These all generally have a similar taste, but their key notes and texture do differ. For a fun activity to do with students, purchase a couple different types of pumpkins, roast them, and see if your students are able to tell the difference in taste between them. Then see which ones they think would be better used in pies, in soups and other applications.

I doubt you are going to find any pumpkin that will turn into gold and become your midnight carriage ride like Cinderella, but here are some ways you can use pumpkins: in pies, breads, smoothies, roasted to be thrown in quinoa, salads or a vegetable medley, put in soups and stews, used as a cooking and serving vessel (ditch the bread bowl, try a pumpkin bowl!). Really, the options are limitless.

Encourage creativity from your students to see if they can come up with an idea of how pumpkins can be used in an entrée of each meal, as an appetizer, side dish, dessert, as a snack and in a beverage.

pumpkin-pie-smoothie

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

  • 12 oz Unsweetened almond milk
  • 5 dates, rough chop
  • ½  cup Winter Luxury Pumpkin, cut in half and gutted
  • ½ banana
  • 1 tsp Maple Syrup
  • ½ tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the pumpkin with foil and roast until it is tender enough to pierce with a fork. Allow the pumpkin to cool.
  2. Scoop the pumpkin meat from the skin. Put ½ a cup of pumpkin into the blender and set the rest aside to use for more smoothies.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and puree until smooth.
  4. Pour into a cup, sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon and enjoy!

pumpkin-chili

Pumpkin Chili

  • 1 Long Island Cheese Pumpkin (or other pumpkin suitable for stews), gutted and
  • kept whole (reserve ¼ cup pumpkin seeds)
  • 32 oz vegetable stock
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 large carrots (orange, white and purple if possible), rough chop
  • 2 yellow pepper, medium dice
  • 2 red onions, rough chop
  • 2 large poblano peppers, medium dice
  • 1 cup white beans, dried and soaked over night or longer
  • ¼ cup scallions, minced
  • 3-4 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tbs sage powder
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • Pepper, 1 tbs

1. Soak the beans over night, thoroughly rinsing before using.

2. Preheat the oven to 425

3. Cut around the stem of the pumpkin so that it can be gutted while keeping

the rest of the pumpkin intact.

4. Rinse pumpkin seeds and set aside. And toast with on a dry pan until they

start to brown. Let cool.

5. Lightly coat the inside of the pumpkin with 1 tsp olive oil and let roast until

the inside is soft enough to be easily penetrated with a knife. (About an 1-1.5

hrs- times vary depending on size and type of pumpkin used)

6. Place the tomatoes with the cut side face down in a pan with 1 tbs of olive oil

on medium heat. Once the juices start to leak out, flip over and allow to cook

for another 5 minutes.

7. Let the pumpkin cool enough to touch and without cutting through the skin

of the pumpkin, cut around the inside walls of the pumpkin to remove the

meat. Leave a thin layer of the pumpkin meat on the walls so that the

pumpkin is strong enough to be used as a serving vessel.

8. Add the vegetable stock and tomatoes. Puree the ingredients using a blender

or immersion blender.

9. In a stockpot, sweat the onions with a small amount of olive oil.

10. Once translucent, add in the carrots and peppers for 5 minutes, occasionally

stirring. Add in the garlic, Once the garlic starts to brown, add the chili

powder, pepper and sage and transfer the pureed mixture into the pot and

bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

11. Add the beans.

12. Meanwhile, shell the pumpkin seeds. Add the remaining amount of olive oil

and the rest of the chili powder. Toast on light heat until crunchy.

13. Once beans are tender, add the salt and remove from heat.

14. Pour the chili back into the pumpkin shell.

15. Sprinkle scallions and pumpkin seeds on top of the chili.

Pleased with Parsnips

Parsnips: carrot’s ugly cousin? Maybe. But they are sweeter, have more of a nutty flavor and are a bit mellower than the carrot, and personally, I like them more.

Parsnips have long clusters of stems with bright green leaves springing out from above the ground, but just beneath the surface of ground are long roots anchoring these green plants down into the earth- the root vegetable. (The leaves are often said to be toxic and can cause a rash similar to poison ivy, though some people have used them in recipes without any adverse reactions.)

You’ve heard the importance of eating the rainbow before, right? So why I am praising this whitish, gnarly looking vegetable? White vegetables actually have a pigment called anthoxanthins, and though they don’t provide a vibrant color, they do have important roles that contribute to reducing risk of heart disease, reducing allergy symptoms, and reducing inflammation in the joints, gut, blood and other organ systems.

Parsnips have antioxidants, which have been shown to be anti-inflammatory, antifungal and have anti-cancer properties.

  • Parsnips are a terrific source of fiber, vitamins B (particularly folate), C, E and K.
    • Folate helps produce new cells and is extra important in during pregnancy and early life.
      • It also helps produce red blood cells in the body, helping to keep the body anemia-free and allowing for oxygen to be transported through the body.
    • Vitamin E contributes to the production of red blood cells.
    • Vitamin C helps stimulate the production of white blood cells, which help attack diseases in the body.
    • Vitamin K is important because it helps in blood clotting- this is why we don’t continuously bleed when we get a small wound.
  • The vegetable holds many minerals, such as iron, copper, calcium, manganese, potassium and phosphorous.
    • Manganese helps produce hormones and phosphorous helps prevent cardiovascular disease because of its ability to reduce blood pressure and stress on heart.
      • It does this by regulating the fluids in the body and balancing the effects of sodium.
    • Phosphorous helps our bones and teeth.

So, from our skeletons to our blood, heart and happy digestive and immune systems, parsnips are a food that contribute wellness throughout the entire body.

They are a starchy vegetable and some people tend to steer clear of them for this reason, thinking that starch is a “bad carbohydrate”. While they are starchy, gram per gram, they contain about half as much starch than that of a potato carries. Starch breaks down into glucose in the body and becomes a great source of energy and is needed particularly for proper brain function. Starch plays an important role in our diet, so why not allow parsnips to fill the starchy portions of our plates?

Fun Fact:

Parsnips were often used as a sweetener before sugar cane was introduced to Europe. You could find parsnips in recipes for desserts and jams, for example. A fun activity may be to have your students come up with ways that parsnips can replace sugar. (For example: perhaps using parsnip juice or puréed parsnips for sauces and frostings. Or maybe dehydrating parsnips and grinding them into powder to use as a sugar substitute.)

Parsnips can be eaten raw, roasted, steamed, made into soups, stews, chips, fries, a mash, a hash, used in cakes, etc. The first is parsnip fries. Studies have shown that sensory qualities such as color can largely effect what we think we are tasting and our willingness to want to try something (particularly with kids). Because parsnips have very similar coloring to potatoes, this could be a great alternative to the extra starchy common French fry (or potato chips).

Parsnip Truffle Fries – SHORTER RECIPE

Serves: 6

parsnip-fries

Ingredients

  • 2 lb parsnips, batonnet
  • 1 ounce fresh parsley, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs truffle oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper

Instructions

  1. Preset oven to 425°F
  2. Combine parsnips and olive oil in a bowl and mix until coated evenly.
  3. Spread parsnips over wax paper on a sheet pan.
  4. After 20-15 minutes, flip and let roast until they begin to brown and reach desired crispiness (about 15 minutes).
  5. Sprinkle garlic over fries in the last 3 minutes.
  6. Toss parsnips, truffle oil, parsley and salt in a bowl and serve.

 

Parsnip and Carrot Soup – LONGER RECIPE

  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 lbs parsnip, rough chop
  • ½ lb carrot, rough chop
  • 1 medium red onion, rough chop
  • 3 cloves garlic, left unpeeled
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 tbs pepper
  • 1 ounce white wine
  • 1 tbs balsamic
  • 1 tbs fresh tarragon
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Coat parsnips and carrots and whole, unpeeled, garlic cloves evenly in olive oil and black pepper (reserve a small amount for sweating onions). Occasionally stir the vegetables and remove once they have softened (about 30-40 minutes).
  3. Let the garlic cool enough to squeeze out of skin and set aside
  4. In a stockpot, add a small amount of olive oil and the onions over medium-low heat. Stir regularly until the onions have become translucent.
  5. Add the garlic to the pot and stir for just a moment so the flavor is incorporated and fragrant.
  6. Add wine and let reduce by ½.
  7. Add roasted vegetables to the pot.
  8. Add stock and bring to simmer for about 15 minutes until very tender
  9. Using an immersion blender, puree the ingredients in the stockpot until smooth.
  10. Once the soup is complete, use a ladle to transfer to a soup bowl.
  11. Drizzle ½ a teaspoon of balsamic over the top of each bowl for garnish along with ½ a teaspoon of fresh tarragon.

 

An Apple a Day. . . Makes a Difference

Snow White and Adam and Eve did not have the best of luck with apples. Even Johnny Appleseed couldn’t keep the doctor away when he died of pneumonia. But studies have shown that though an apple a day might not keep the doctor away, they can greatly reduce risk of certain diseases and the need for some medications. No wonder this juicy fruit has been a long time token of respect and gratitude given to teachers. So how to get more apples from your students? Share some apple history, explain their nutritional benefits and show them new ways to eat these tasty treats.

A fruit with a story

Not every fruit has a good story behind it, but this one is worth talking about, at least a little bit, and I bet your students will enjoy it. At first, when Johnny Appleseed spread apples across America, they were a very bitter fruit and not palatable enough to be eaten, so instead they were swigged. On frontiers that didn’t have safe drinking water, they drank apple cider.  In other places, they were fermented into the alcoholic form of “hard apple cider.” During prohibition, FBI agents began chopping down these sour, bitter hard cider apple trees in order to prevent consumption of the “hard stuff.”  In order to survive, apple growers had to adapt so they started promoting them for their nutritional value instead.  Hence the proverb “an apple a day, helps keep the doctor away.”  Through natural and artificial selection, the sweet apple as we know it today has made its stamp in the culinary world.

Apples for health

Apples are full of vitamin C, and as the seasons are changing, your students might need a good boost of this to keep their immune systems strong.  Vitamin C is an important ingredient for healthy skin and will help fight against the awkwardly embarrassing acne. How cool is it that your students might actually be able to improve their skin by eating more vitamin C and possibly even improve their confidence?

  • Apples have a good amount of fiber, which slows the rate at which sugars are released into the blood stream.
  • This is helpful in weight loss, maintaining a stable energy level and promoting digestive regularity.
  • Fiber is largely contributive to a healthy heart, because it lowers cholesterol levels naturally.
  • Due to the fiber’s anti-inflammatory abilities and the large amounts of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols, the fruit is a great shield against cancer.
  • While apple juice tastes great and still contains some vitamins and minerals, eating the apple whole is a much more nutritive option, because it contains fiber and the many nutrients in the skin of the apple.

Also found in apples are a load of potassium. Potassium benefits our heart and kidneys. It has been known to reduce anxiety and stress, and even help strengthen muscles and regulate fluids in our body. Apples have even been said to improve symptoms of asthma, improve moods and decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Fun fact:

Upon first bite, apples are already helping us out. They have shown to actually help keep our teeth clean by removing plaque. The astringent quality in their skin helps kill bacteria and reduce tooth decay. Of course nothing can maintain a healthy smile like a good old-fashioned toothbrush, but apples are useful in maintaining their pearly whites. Apples (particularly green apples) are often used as a palate cleanser. After eating, pass around apple slices and have your students notice the clean mouthfeel.

So what to do with them?

Apples are such an easy item for your students to throw in their backpack and eat at lunch or as a snack. It sounds strange, but this is a fruit that is easy to eat in its natural form. It’s not messy when eating, doesn’t require silverware, and doesn’t damage easily when transporting. Help your students realize how easy it can be to eat well without needing to deal with extensive preparation!

And apples can be fun to cook with too- all day, any day, any meal, and at any course. So what can you do with them? Here we go: poach, steam, stew, bake, caramelize, braise, purée, put them on a spread, use them as a crudité. . . you get the idea, the options are kind of endless.

This first recipe is a super simple way to make a grilled cheese a healthier option. Use whole grain bread, “real” unprocessed cheese, and sneak fruit and vegetables into a normally fruitless sandwich. . . because let’s face it, nobody wants to give up a creamy grilled cheese delight. The second recipe can be used as a dessert, snack, and side dish or as a condiment. This might be a good way to let your students experience apples in a new way, which a completely different flavor profile than what the ordinary apple can provide.

Apple Grilled Cheese

Apple Grilled Cheese.jpg

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • ½ granny smith apple, sliced thin
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup onions, thinly sliced

 Instructions:

  1. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a pan on medium high heat. When hot, add the onions to caramelize, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Cover and set aside.
  2. Brush the remaining oil on one side of both pieces of bread and sprinkle the cinnamon and salt on the oiled side of bread.
  3. Flip one piece of bread over and layer the apple slices and caramelized onions in between the pieces of cheese. Put the other piece of bread on top with the oiled side up.
  4. With the stove on medium-low heat, place the sandwich on a pan and carefully flip over once the bottom piece of bread starts to brown. Remove from the pan once both sides are browned and the cheese is melted.

Apple Chutney

Yield: about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 5 pound apples, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, with the skin left on
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tbs fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions:

  1. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan and then reduce to a simmer until the mixture thickens and the apples are soft (about 45 minutes).

Beets to Make Your Heart Beat

In homage to the dropping temperatures of autumn: beets! They thrive in cooler growing seasons- their red and yellow bulbs rooting earnestly underground as their vibrant foliage reaches sunward.

There is a widespread feeling about beets. Some love their versatility in color, texture (dependent on the way in which it is prepared), and their sweet, earthy flavor. Others are weirded out by beets. Perhaps because it can make your pee turn pink or because they think it tastes like a forkful of dirt. A handful of your students might already be beet advocates, and this perhaps may give them some new ideas of ways to use them. A lot of your students might hate the idea of them, but beets can be fun and maybe their interest in them can be spurred by some of their colorful uses.

Let’s start with the basics.

We have red beets; these are our classic earthy beets with a strong, unique and sweet flavor. In class, cut this beet open, drop it in hot water or smear it across an old t-shirt… show them how the bright red color bleeds. Golden beets are similar in flavor, though are less earthy and slightly sweeter, and as expected, have a vibrant yellow color. Chioggia beets look candy stripped. They have pink and white circles that can be seen when cutting through the center and don’t differ much in taste from the like. Cut one Chioggia width wise and one lengthwise and show your students how the candy striped pattern will look different dependant on how it is cut. And wait! The leafy greens! Let your students know that they can eat these too. Beet greens have a similarity to chard in texture and flavor.

Beets are packed with manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper, folate and B and C vitamins. Beets are also a great source of fiber and have no saturated fat. With such vivid color in the vegetable comes a great deal of phytonutrients, which have proven to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxification properties. So what does this mean? It means healthy hearts, livers and overall immune systems. Beets can help fight off cancer and the every day cold.

WARNING!

As mentioned before, when cooking with beets, it’s not uncommon for it to stain your hands or clothes. Unlike golden beets, red beets bleed their red color when cooking and will turn your recipe pink. Because of this, beets are often used as a food dye. . . or even as lipstick, hair dye and tie dye! Tell your students that it is a certain pigment called betalains that give beets their bright colors. There are two types of betalains- betacyanins, which create the red and purple shades, and betaxanthins, which are responsible for the orange and yellow colors. Having your students use latex gloves and aprons are a good idea.

So what do you do with them?

Roast them, steam them, boil them, throw them in a smoothie or a hummus purée, cut them up and eat them raw or make chips out of them! Add a little olive oil and seasoning and you’re good to go! The leaves too; they can be steamed, sautéed, thrown in soups, smoothies, salads, or even used as boat for lettuce wraps.

This first recipe is super simple and can be used in so many ways. Eat them as a snack (hot or cold), toss them in a salad or serve it as a side dish.

Simply Steamed beets

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized beets
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Option to add chopped garlic, fresh basil and oregano.

 Instructions:

  1. Remove the taproot and stems from the beet. Set the stems aside for another use.
  2. Cut the beet into quarters
  3. Fill the steamer with 2 inches of water. Add the beets to the steamer when water is at a light boil and cover. When beets are tender enough to easily insert a fork through the beet (about 15 minutes).
  4. Peel the skin off the beets using a paper towel.
  5. Transfer beets to a bowl and mix in the olive oil and seasonings.

beet-slaw-taco-recipe

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with a Creamy Beet and Apple Slaw

Yield: 12 tacos

For the slaw:

  • 1/4 cup Chioggia beets, julienned (or red beet, but keep in mind that the red beets will make the slaw pink)
  • 1/4 cup golden beets, julienned
  • 1/4 cup green apple, julienned
  • 1/4 cup beet greens, chiffonade
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbs dill, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp orange zest, finely grated

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head cauliflower, chop into bite sized florets
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt

Toppings and base:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 2 avocados, sliced
  • (optional) 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

 Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix together the olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt in a bowl.
  3. Toss in the cauliflower florets.
  4. Once they are coated, place them on a sheet pan and roast until crispy (about 30 minutes).
  5. While that is roasting, mix the yogurt, limejuice, orange zest and dill in a bowl for the slaw.
  6. Add the beets, apples and carrots to the bowl and delicately mix the ingredients together.
  7. When the cauliflower is almost done roasting, lightly heat corn tortillas on a dry pan until warm (this will help to keep them from breaking).
  8. Remove the tortillas from the pan and lay a strip of the slaw across the center of the tortilla.  Then add the cauliflower and top each taco with jalapeños (if desired) and a slice of avocado. Serve and eat.

Hot Peppers in a Pickle

School Start = Hatch Chili Season

Everywhere I go right now, I see these big black drums filled with roasted hatch chilies.  I must admit as they are roasted in spinning drums, I’m always waiting for someone to reach in and pull out the winning lottery numbers.

Hatch chilies are really Anaheim chili’s with much more heat.  They are named “Hatch” after the small town they are grown in New Mexico (chili capital of the world!).  Just like wine they have different flavors depending on the region where they are produced. It is believed that the hot days and cool nights of this region, give Hatch chili’s their unique flavor.  They have enough heat to let you know they are there, but not too much to overpower the flavor of a dish.

Peppers are an excellent source of Vitamin C! They also contain Vitamin A, B6 and potassium. They are low in calories and contain no saturated fat.

Locked inside of peppers are these amazing phytonutrients known as capsaicin.  Capsaicin is found in the seeds and flesh of peppers and is responsible for its heat. Some people remove their seeds before cooking to cut down on some of the hotness.

This powerful built-in chemical has been shown to help relieve arthritic pain, protect against nerve pain, ease sinus issues, relieve dermatological itching, prevent many forms of cancer, treat ear infections and speed up our metabolism. Plus, many, many, many other health benefits!

FUN FACT ABOUT CAPSAICIN: Capsaicin in hot peppers is a natural pest control service. The burning sensation caused by these fruits, keep animals from eating them.

A pseudo-canning activity you can do with students is to make “pickled hot peppers.” In the recipes I made, I used “hatch” chilies, Fresno red chilies (also named according to the region in which they are grown), jalapenos and serrano’s.

The first recipe is the simplest and doesn’t contain any added sugars or salt.  It’s the purest form of “pickled” hot peppers.

IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE STUDENTS WEAR RUBBER GLOVES WHEN SLICING AND WORKING WITH PEPPERS TO PREVENT THEIR HANDS FROM BURNING OR IRRITATION.

jars-of-refrigerator-pickled-hot-peppers

Quick Pickled HOT Peppers

Ingredients:

  • A variety of sliced hot peppers – remove seeds and inside flesh
  • ¼ of a yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 smashed mature garlic cloves – blanching them first will keep them from turning blue
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

 Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a slow boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Use slotted spoon to remove peppers from pot and place in mason jars.
  4. Pour remaining liquid over peppers and cover with lid.
  5. Let sit on a counter top until peppers cool and then serve.

The second recipe contains unrefined honey and a little salt and definitely more of the flavor that students enjoy.

“Crunchy” Pickled HOT Peppers

Ingredients:

  • A variety of sliced hot peppers – do not remove seeds and inside flesh.
  • ¼ of a yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 smashed mature garlic cloves – blanching them first will keep them from turning blue
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

 Instructions:

  1. Place peppers in a mason jar.
  2. Add water, vinegar, honey and salt to a pot and bring to a slow boil.
  3. Pour liquid over peppers in mason jar and cover with lid.
  4. Let cool for about 10 minutes and then place jars in the refrigerator to cool.
  5. Serve once peppers are fully cooled. FYI: These peppers taste much better the next day, once the flavors have had time to settle in and are well worth the wait.

Cherry Baby

Cherries eaten from nature are incredibly sweet, juicy and flavorful!  There are over 1,000 different kinds with the most popular being the Bing, Rainier, black and sweetheart. The rainier are considered the “princess” of the cherries because they are the sweetest and most expensive.

Cherries are great in salads, jams, cookies, muffins, breads or scones or dried and mixed with nuts, in a cherry pie or cobbler or covered in chocolate (see healthier version of chocolate covered cherries below).  They are the “cherry on the top” of a lot of rich desserts including cheesecake or cherries jubilee (doused with sweet liquor that is lit on fire).

Cherries are naturally low in calories (makes them a great snack!) and fat. They are a good source of fiber and potassium and are high in Vitamin C. They contain some protein, Vitamin A, calcium and iron.

Something you may not know is that there is about ½ cup of water in each cup of cherries.  This not only contributes to your daily water requirements, but also helps provide fullness.

They are naturally sweet, so you don’t need to add sugar to them.

And they contain the flavonoid anthocyanin (responsible for their red color), which is why they provide a variety of health benefits including:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Protecting the liver
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving eyesight
  • Suppressing cancer cells

They play a significant role in preventing cancer, diabetes, heart and neurological disease. Plus drinking their juice can reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of gout.

For a special treat, try chocolate covered cherries. Most of these recipes use jarred maraschino cherries that are bleached with chemicals and other additives. Plus they contain added high fructose corn syrup and red dye #4.  This recipe contains only “real”, whole cherries from the stem.  To make it a bit healthier, we swapped out butter and milk chocolate with dairy-free dark chocolate. We also used raw honey and 100% pure organic maple syrup instead of refined white sugar.

Delectable Chocolate Covered Cherries

Yields: 12-15 cherries

Ingredients:

  • 1/3rd pound stem removed and pitted cherries (approximately 12-15) – one for each chocolate covered cherry
  • ½ cup honey or maple syrup – use maple syrup if you prefer a vegan recipe
  • ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Sprinkle of almond extract
  • ½ tablespoon arrowroot
  • ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 cup (approximately 2 bars) dairy-free dark chocolate 72% cacao – use one sweetened with coconut sugar to reduce added sugar amount.
  • Chocolate covered cherry mold

Directions:

  1. Mix together cherries, honey or maple syrup, vanilla and almond extract and then place in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Heat on medium heat until mixture simmers.
  3. While cherries are heating, mix together arrowroot and water in a small container until it forms a thick paste.
  4. Raise heat to medium high and then add paste to cherry mixture.
  5. Mix in arrowroot and cook until mixture is thick. You may need to add more arrowroot if mixture is runny and won’t thicken.
  6. Remove cherry mixture and set aside.
  7. In another pot, melt chocolate on low heat. It only takes about a minute or two to melt chocolate.
  8. Place chocolate mold on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  9. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate into bottom of each cherry mold. Add 1 cherry and some juice on top of it.  Cover with another drizzle of chocolate.
  10. Place cookie sheet in freezer for 30-40 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.
  11. Turn candy mold upside down and pop candy out of mold. Serve immediately.

 Tip: I would highly recommend purchasing a cherry pitter to remove pits as it will save you a significant amount of time (cost is around $7-10 for this).

Local Produce is Here!

I’m like a kid in a candy store in the summer.  There are SO many farmers markets to visit, and it gives me the opportunity to sample some unusual fruits and veggies that I may not have tried before.  Plus I always learn something new.  For example, last weekend I learned that palisade Bing and rainier cherries grown in Colorado are only in season for a few weeks (end of June – 1st week of July), so we have a small window of time to purchase them locally.

July – October is the height of the growing season in Colorado and so local fruits and veggies are in abundance.  Strawberries and lettuce are the earliest crops (in-season starting in June). This month we’ll start to see more tomatoes (to me they are the sweetest in July!) and some sweet corn.  Some farmers sell peppers now, but they are baby sizes.  The real sweet and hot peppers aren’t in season until August.

Why local produce? First of all you can meet the farmer that grows your food or even visit their farm.  A lot of local produce is grown organically – even if it’s not certified organic – which means no pesticides. It doesn’t travel very far from the farm to your table, so to me it tastes fresher.  Generally, it’s sold at neighborhood farmers markets, which is a way to bring the community together. And lastly it’s good for the local economy.

So what do you do with all of this amazing produce grown locally?

Why grill them, of course.  You may have heard that grilling meat releases chemicals called HCA’s that have been shown to cause cancer.  Fruits and vegetables do not release these chemicals and actually supply cancer-fighting nutrients instead.

Spring Onions: Two of my favorite grillers are spring onions and garlic scapes.  Spring onions look like scallions but have large bulbs at the top.  They are the beginning of a regular onion, but are harvested before they develop into a large, round mature onion. They are called spring onions, because they are planted in the fall and harvested the next spring. They have a highly-flavored, sweet taste that makes them perfect on the grill.  To eat, cut the top off and if desired the bottom green stem.  Slice like you would a tomato into thick pieces and grill with some olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spring onions are extremely high in Vitamin C and A and a good source of fiber, potassium, calcium and iron.  They also contain a small amount of protein.

Garlic Scapes: Have you ever seen a garlic bulb attached to a long, green, scallion-looking stem?  Well these are called garlic scapes.  They are harvested in late spring and you can generally find them throughout the summer. The garlic bulb attached to these scapes has a milder flavor and doesn’t seem to cause as many digestive issues as regular garlic.  The stems are great grilled and have a light garlic flavor.  Please note: The garlic bulb has a fibrous outer coating that needs to be removed first before grilling.  Grill as a bulb or separate the cloves and grill them individually.

Since there are many, many, many more in-season fruits and vegetables to write about, there will be more to come soon!