Friday, June 25, 2010

What makes some vegetables bitter?

I recently spoke with a medical doctor who said that most Americans' diets are sorely lacking in the needed vitamins and minerals found in fresh vegetables... probably because most Americans don't like them enough to prioritize the time to buy, grow, or prepare them. He suggested that most people don't like them because they're bitter sometimes. This got me thinking about the question: What makes some vegetables bitter sometimes?

I mean, there's nothing worse than a head of bitter broccoli. The taste lingers in the back of your mouth like a toxic fume. I'm making a bad face just thinking about it. On the other hand, most broccoli is pleasantly mild with a slightly sweet earthen green flavor. Oh, it's so good lightly steamed on a baked potato with sea salt, pepper, and sour cream. Or lightly sauted in stir-fry. Bright green excellence!

Until today, I never knew that there could be so many reasons as to why some vegetables are bitter. I researched and came up with this list... and what you can do about it:

1. Pesticides taste bitter. Wash well. Use a natural vegetable wash, submerge in water, gently agitate delicate vegetables or scrub hearty vegetables. Recipe for natural vegetable wash is 1 c. apple cider vinegar, 1 c. lemon juice, and 1 c. water. Mix it up in a spray bottle. Or buy organic.

2. Anti-oxident nutrients are naturally bitter. Lightly steam vegetables to subdue bitterness.

3. When cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower) are overcooked, they produce a sulphur compound and emit a rotten egg smell. Go easy. Blanch, steam, or lightly saute vegetables right before serving time.

4. When vegetables are old, they get bitter. Conversely, baby vegetables (like baby spinach and baby carrots) are less bitter, but they are also less mature and therefore so is their nutritional content. Buy fresh and buy local.

SIDE NOTE: "Baby cut carrots" in the supermarkets are actually not babies. They come from specially bred fast-growing full-grown carrots which are cut up into 2 inch sections, peeled by a machine, washed (usually using chlorine), and bagged. They typically contain 30% less beta carotene of a normal carrot because they were in the ground for a shorter period of time.
But I still think they are a great example of healthy fast food. I personally always buy the regular big organic carrots and either scrub or peel them, and soak them in water until ready to eat. It only takes a few seconds.

5. Some vegetables are meant to be somewhat bitter (collard greens, swiss chard, kale) and they are very good for you. This taste compliments stews, soups, and savory sauces. The other day, I tried tossing a little bit of agave nectar into my kids' steamed kale, and they loved it.

6. Although I am not an avid gardener (that's my husband's department), I read that any stress on a vegetable such as high temperature, low moisture, low fertility, or foliage disease can cause bitterness. My Amish friend told me that cross-pollination and the acid level of the soil can also cause bitterness. Root vegetables which get exposed to light can turn green and taste bitter. Keep carrots and potatos in the dark before and after harvest.

7. There are people who are genetically extremely sensitive to bitterness. They are called "super-tasters" and about 25% of the population fits this category. Here is a list of sweeter vegetables: sweet potatos, squash, carrots, beets, peas, corn, sauted onion and garlic, local tomatos, avocado, cucumber, fennel, romaine lettuce, head lettuce, and baby lettuce.

8. Some nutritional bitter compounds in vegetables are lipophylic, meaning they dissolve readily in fat. Try a little butter or cream sauce. Salt blocks bitter and acts as a filter to let more desirable flavors come through.

Buy fresh! Buy Local! Enjoy the harvest!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eating well on a low budget...

I just found a great website and I think you'll enjoy it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rice Flour Pizza Crust - WOW!

For anyone out there who has a gluten sensitivity, here's an outstanding gluten-free pizza crust for you. I just made it today for the first time and it got rave reviews by my whole family and our friends who joined us for dinner. Most of us liked it better than any "normal" pizza crust we've had before. There's a combined chewy and crispy texture along with a mild whole grain flavor that substantially supports any toppings you choose. No falling apart (like many gluten-free things) and no compromising taste or texture just because you deviated from the tried and true wheat flours. You can expect that a rice flour dough will feel sort of like cookie dough. It's very different from a wheat flour dough because the rice lacks the elastic gluey protein called gluten (found in wheat). Never fear. It just requires a little bit different handling. It's not hard at all. You just spread, push, and shape the dough into the pan with your fingers rather than using a rolling pin or pulling and stretching it. The directions below are very helpful: complete and accurate. Embrace brown rice! It's easy on the digestive tract and full of nutrients. Lately I'm learning that it's good to rotate foods as much as possible to give your body a break from the same ingredient day after day... like wheat which is usually overdone in the Standard American Diet (SAD) in the form of both white flour and whole wheat flour. People are more prone to food sensitivities and allergies when they gravitate to the same food day after day (my doctor just reminded me of this today). Regardless of any analysis, I plain love this pizza crust!
Here ya go... and let me know if you try it.

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

By: GinnyP 
Oct 29, 2002

From Carol Fenster's "Special Diet Solutions".

SERVES 6 (change servings and units)


1 tablespoon dry yeast

2/3 cup brown rice flour or gram flour or fava bean flour (I use 'garfava' flour which is a blend)

1/2 cup tapioca flour

2 tablespoons powdered milk or non-dairy powdered coffee creamer (Dairy alternative, 2 T tapioca flour or sweet rice flour in place of 2 T dry milk powder or non-dair)

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

1 teaspoon italian seasoning

2/3 cup water (110 degrees F)

1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey or agave syrup

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cider vinegar


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In medium bowl using regular beaters (not dough hooks), blend all ingredients on low speed.

Beat on high speed for 3 minutes.

(If mixer bounces around bowl, dough is too stiff. Add water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time, until dough does not resist beaters.) Dough will resemble soft bread dough.

Put mixture on lightly greased 12-inch pizza pan or 11 x 7-inch pan (for deep dish version).

Liberally sprinkle rice flour on dough, then press dough into pan, continuing to sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking to hands.

Make edges slightly thicker to hold toppings.

Bake pizza crust for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven.

Spread pizza crust with your favorite sauce and toppings.

Bake another 20 to 25 minutes or until top is nicely browned.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I used to look at the fat content on a food label and avoid anything with a high number. I didn't care what kind of fat it was. I thought all fats were bad for the arteries and for the waist line. So, I lumped them all into one category and avoided them as much as possible. Them... them fats... them fat guys... who are they? I didn't care. I just thought it would be safer to avoid every type of fat on the planet. Sweeping generality. Intolerant. Prejudicial state of mind. Meanwhile, I was getting fatter and fatter having no idea that there were healthy fats out there that I needed to consume to be healthy, feel satiated, and stop overeating. This food group is quite misunderstood. The kind of fat you're eating is much more important than the grams of fat you're eating. It tastes good and feels good to cook and bake with healthy fats like cold-pressed virgin coconut oil... and for salads: extra-virgin olive oil. Enjoy this GREAT article by Dr. Mercola:

Healthy Fats

Fats in general are considered the dietary villains by many people. And while a low-fat diet is actually quite good for the 1/3 of people who are carb nutritional types, the other two-thirds of the population do not fare well on this type of diet.

Another persistent sub-set of the fat myth is the belief that saturated fat, in particular, will increase your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

This is simply untrue.

Saturated fats provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone like substances that are essential to your health, and saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as meat, dairy, certain oils, and tropical plants like coconut) provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.

When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry.

In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes.

Saturated fats are also:

- The preferred fuel for your heart, and also used as a source of fuel during energy expenditure

- Useful antiviral agents (caprylic acid)

- Effective as an anticaries, antiplaque and anti fungal agents (lauric acid)

- Useful to actually lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)

- Modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid).

Sources of healthy monounsaturated fats include olive oil and nuts, such as pecans. Canola oil is also in this category, but I advise avoiding it and using olive oil instead. Keep in mind, however, that olive oil should not be used for cooking. Instead, use coconut oil for cooking, frying and baking, and save the olive oil for salad dressing.

One of the most important of the healthy fats is omega-3.

Deficiency in this essential fat can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year.

For more information about omega-3's and the best sources of this fat, please review this previous article.

Dangerous Fats

Now, the type of fat that is truly disastrous to your health are trans fat and damaged omega-6 fats.

Trans fat is the artery-clogging, highly damaged omega-6 polyunsaturated fat that is formed when vegetable oils are hardened into margarine or shortening. It's also found in most processed and fried foods, such as French fries and fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers.

This is the most consumed type of fat in the US, despite the fact that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine.

Trans fat raises LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and lowers HDL (good cholesterol) levels, which of course is the complete opposite of what you need in order to maintain good heart health!

In fact, trans fats -- as opposed to saturated fats -- have been linked repeatedly to heart disease. They can also cause major clogging of your arteries, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems.

Clearly, if you value your health, abolishing trans fats from your diet should be at the top of your list. It really doesn't matter how filling the food might be – if it contains trans fats, avoid it at all cost…

So which Type of Food is Really the Most Filling?

The issue of satiety is a big one, especially when trying to manage your weight, and food manufacturers know this. According to the Food Navigator article above, the US diet food market – which is typically focused on increasing satiety without the calories – is valued at $3.64 billion!

Unfortunately, "diet foods" are among the worst foods there are. Nearly all of them are processed and pre-packaged, and contain a slew of chemical additives.

So, what should you eat if you want to increase that feeling of fullness and reduce hunger pangs?

Although healthy fats can help you feel fuller longer, protein beats both fats and carbs when it comes to satiety.

However, the amount and type of protein that you need can vary dramatically, depending on your gender, height, weight, exercise levels, and, most importantly, by your nutritional type.

A strong carb type, for example, can feel stuffed for hours on a meatless salad with a no fat dressing, while the same meal would have a strong protein type craving for food in about twenty minutes. So keep in mind that although you certainly need protein, you have individualized requirements for it.

The way to decipher your requirement is by determining whether you're a protein, carb, or mixed nutritional type.

Protein types, as the name implies, do better on low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat diets. A typical ratio might be 40 percent protein and 30 percent each of fats and carbohydrates, but the amounts could easily shift to 50 percent fats and as little as 10 percent carbohydrates depending on individual genetic requirements.

Carb types, meanwhile, normally feel best when the majority of their food is vegetable carbohydrate. Yet they, too, still need some protein and fat in their diets. (Mixed types fall somewhere in between.)

The type of protein that your body thrives on will also vary according to your nutritional type.

Protein types, for instance, thrive on high-purine meats like dark-meat chicken, or high-quality steak, while carb types prefer light meats or even beans as their source of protein.

Some generally good sources of protein (though you need to find out your nutritional type to really tailor your foods for optimal health) include:

- Eggs (ideally, raw and organic)

- Grass-fed beef and bison

- Free-range, organic chicken and ostrich

- Raw dairy products (raw milk, raw-milk cheese, and so on.)

- Wild-caught, mercury-free fish (only eat this if you can confirm via lab-testing that it's not polluted)

When choosing protein sources, it's extremely important to find high-quality varieties.

These would include grass-fed (not grain-fed) organic meats, raw (not pasteurized) dairy products, and wild-caught (not farm-raised) fish that you know is not contaminated with mercury and other pollutants.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

If you're wondering what to make for the next birthday party, here ya go! This is from "The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook" by Elana Amsterdam. Make sure to read my note at the bottom about where to buy this wonderful, super nutritious, high protein, low glycemic ingredient: blanched almond flour. This was my only challenge... I had a hard time finding it in stores.*

VERY VANILLA CUPCAKES (makes 10 cupcakes)
2 large eggs, separated
1/4 c. grapeseed oil (I accidentally omitted the oil once, and it still turned out well.)
1/2 c. agave nectar
1 TBSP. vanilla extract
1 TBSP. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 and 1/2 c. blanched almond flour (packed down)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350. Line 10 muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk wet ingredients, except for egg whites. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into wet ingredients. In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Fill up muffin cups with batter. Bake for 20-30 min. or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My gas oven took 28 min. ~ Amy) Let cupcakes cool for 30 min. The center will sink just a bit - this is normal. Frost if desired with chocolate frosting below (also from Elana Amerstam's cookbook). It's excellent!

CHOCOLATE FROSTING ...which is deliciously fluffy, dark, and vegan!
1 c. coarsely chopped dark chocolate 73% cocao (like Dagon or Green and Black's Organic)
1/2 c. grapeseed oil
2 TBSP. agave nectar
1 TBSP. vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Melt chocolate and oil in saucepan over low heat until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Place in freezer for 10-15 min. Whip with hand mixer until thick and fluffy, 1-2 min. Frost your cupcakes.

* I'm finding that the recipes in Elana's cookbook are absolutely delicious and extremely simple. The only challenge is simply finding blanched almond flour in stores. Bob's Redmill is easy to find, but it's not recommended for these recipes because it's not milled finely enough. It's worth ordering exactly what you need on-line. I just bought some great blanched almond flour from and it was $29.99 for a 5 lb. bag of this nutritious high protein and low glycemic ingredient. Shipping fees were minimal from this company ($4.95 for my order of 4 bags). Although the almond flour is more expensive than wheat flour, I figured out that my cupcakes used about 50 cents of almond flour per cupcake. Have fun!