We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Health Benefits of Honey and How to Make Honey Simple Syrup: Paleo Beverages 101

by Linda

"More than 30 years ago, there was a big push by the doctors and the government to get people to eat less fat. That was to help lower the rate of heart disease. Low fat they said means heart healthy. So, out went the fat, but in many foods, to keep them tasting food, in went more sugar. And so, here we are today, as you've heard me say over and over again, we as a nation are more  unhealthy than ever. Not to mention fatter. You've heard a lot of theories as to why, but one in particular is getting a much closer look. It's about sugar. Everybody knows too much is bad, but I have been surprised to see just how bad." ~ Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Good things to look for on a honey label: Organic, Raw and Unfiltered.
   A few months ago I was perusing through my feed on Facebook, and I ran across a post featuring a Paleo Margarita by Danielle Walker of Against All Grain. She was sharing a recipe from her brother, Joel, who has a blog called Worthybar. For Danielle's post click here. The information was exciting for me, because I am trying to keep refined sugar out of my diet. If you are one of the few who hasn't heard just how bad white sugar or HFCS is for you, here is some food for thought from a 60 Minutes segment from 2012. Sugar is known to be a toxin in the scientific/medical community, and studies link is not only to diabetes, but heart disease, cancer and other serious illnesses. Enter honey stage right ...
I focus on growing pollinator attracting plants in my garden each year, and lately bees have 
become a favorite subject of mine to photograph. Not as easy as you might think! 
There is a reason people say "busy as a bee".  Indeed, as I have discovered by 
following them around, they rarely stop moving.
   The good news to this sweet conundrum, is that raw honey, a product made from bees which is whole and unadulterated—not refined in any way—can be eaten safely. New research is proving what ancient wisdom has always known—raw honey from bees, consumed in moderation, is not only delicious, but good for you, too.
   Honey is alchemy of the highest order. Merriam-Webster defines alchemy in this way: a power or process of transforming something common into something special.
   Honey from our friend the bee is transformed from pollen, as we all know, and in a magical process, is converted into a sweet, thick and heavenly ambrosia. I can't think anything more mysterious, delicious or just bursting with the power of nature than honey.

   Michelle recently shared a great recipe for Curry Chicken Salad which is made with honey. In that post she linked to an article entitled, Does It Matter If a Sweetner Is Natural?, which I had shared with her from one of my favorite health professionals, Chris Kresser, L.Ac. In my opinion, which is based on 20 plus years of studying nutrition and herbal medicine, Chris Kresser's web page if full of the most cutting-edge and non-faddist information about nutrition and diet. I am definitely an advocate. Chris has this to say about honey (the link to the full article is highlighted above):

   "...honey has long been an important food in the human diet. Its fructose to glucose ratio is similar to that of high fructose corn syrup, with about 38% fructose and 31% glucose (the rest being primarily water). Honey also contains enzymes and other proteins, trace minerals, flavonoids and other polyphenols.
   Although honey is “Paleo” even in the strictest sense, it can be easy to think of it as just another source of sugar; better than table sugar, perhaps, but still an indulgence that should be kept to an absolute minimum. Sugar is sugar, right? On the contrary, increasing evidence indicates that honey is a functional food with uniquely beneficial physiological effects.
   For example, two human studies found that supplementing with 3-5 tbsp of honey per day (depending on body weight) increases serum antioxidant levels, including vitamin C and glutathione reductase. In another study, the same dose of honey lowered plasma prostaglandin levels by 48-63% after 15 days, signaling a reduction in inflammation.
   In overweight and obese patients, consumption of about 3.5 tbsp honey per day for a month resulted in lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (particularly in people with elevated values), and higher HDL cholesterol. In another study, honey also reduced levels of homocysteine and blood glucose.

   Honey also has antibacterial activity, and can shorten the duration of acute bacterial diarrhea in children. Honey might even be an effective treatment in some cases of h. pylori infection. Other potential benefits of honey include antiviral, anti-tumor, and anti-mutagenic effects, and reduction of IBD-associated inflammation, but these have yet to be tested on humans. So it would appear that honey has many benefits that outweigh the potential downsides of consuming a concentrated sweetener. I recommend using raw honey, which will have the most enzymes and nutrients when destructive heat has not been used."
This bee in my backyard garden is gathering nectar from a marjoram flower. If you want to attract bees, plant culinary herbs! Not only can you cook with them, but they have beautiful blooms and bees love all of them. This year my garden is planted with: oregano, marjoram, dill, several kinds of basil, many sages (salvias), cilantro, mint, rosemary, and lavender. Bees abound!
   So armed with this information and the realization that, "Wow, honey isn't just a more natural form of sugar—it actually promotes health and weight loss!", I resolved a few months back to make a more concerted effort to use honey in my diet and eliminate refined sugars as much as I possibly can. Stevia is another valid choice for a natural sweetener, but it has a bitter after taste for me, and regrettably, I am not a fan.
   The problem with honey though, is that I have found it to be inconvenient to use. It is gloppy, messy, and sticky and is hard to measure accurately. It also doesn't combine well into cold drinks. In addition, it crystallizes if is sits in your cupboard for too long, and high heat destroys its beneficial properties. What changed all that for me, however, was learning how to make simple syrup from honey, prompted by the Worthybar Paleo Margarita recipe. This little asterisked comment at the very bottom of the post caused a light bulb to turn on in my head:

* Honey syrup can be made by simply combining equal parts honey and filtered hot water (not boiling!), then stirring to incorporate the two. I suggest using a lighter honey, such as raw clover honey, as you don't want the flavor of the honey to overpower the drink. You can make 8 to 16+ ounces at a time and store in a sealed bottle or container in the fridge for up to a month.

A nose dive into a coriander, aka cilantro, bloom.
    Thus began my experimentation with simple syrup made from honey, and since then I have found it has solved all of the issuers that plagued me in the past with using honey straight from the jar. It makes measuring a breeze, adding it to cold drinks is no problem, and I now keep a container of it in the fridge at all times. I have discovered so many uses for it, that I think you will love it, too. Here's how to make your own:

Check out my visit to Heidrun Meadery and more information about bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honey Simple Syrup

   I have found a multitude of uses for honey simple syrup since I began making it. I keep a jar in the fridge at all times. I use it when make my day off Mocha on Saturday morning. On this hot summer afternoon while I am writing this post, I am using it to sweeten my iced Chai. It is also great for cocktails (simply replace equal parts of simple syrup with honey simple syrup). It can also be used for  smoothies, vinaigrettes or anything else that would benefit from a touch of sweetness.

I have found that the squeeze bottle purchased at my local restaurant supply has been
a very handy dispenser for the honey simple syrup.
Raw unprocessed honey (light honey will produce a more neutral flavor)
Filtered water

Use one part honey to one filtered water. In the simple syrup I am making in the photo, I scooped the honey from the one pound jar into the empty two pound jar. I then pour hot water (not boiling) in the just emptied small jar to the top. Stir the hot water in the jar to incorporate all the remaining honey, and then pour it over the honey which is now in the large jar. Do not stir. Place lid on jar and allow to sit for about 30 minutes. This will allow the hot water to slowly soften the honey, and it will become easy to mix. It also helps keep the honey cool, preserving all of the health benefits. When honey is softened, stir until the water is well mixed in, and then I usually finish off my simple syrup by giving it a good shake to make sure that all the honey is dissolved. Transfer honey simple syrup into a covered container and store in the refrigerator. It will last at least a month—most likely longer since honey is naturally antibacterial.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The All So Wonderful and Versatile Zucchini Noodles and Spiralizer Magic

by Michelle

   "Last night we had three small zucchini for dinner that were grown within fifty feet of our back door. I estimate they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $371.49 each." ~ Andy Rooney

   In my circle of friends, I am the self-proclaimed Queen of the Kitchen Gadgets. If she lived closer, my only rival would be my sister, Linda. We each own espresso makers, waffle makers, pasta machines, mandolines, KitchenAids, food processors, electric water kettles, rice cookers, pressure cookers, LaCloches and Vitamixes. I have the electric panini press, while she is the proud owner of a large fermentation crock (which I don't have yet, but will own at some point in the future). Just when I think I don't need one more gadget, except the fermentation crock (of course), I stumble across a spiral vegetable slicer, and think, "How cool is that?"
   According to the promotional materials, "the little machine that could", which is what I'm now fondly calling it, will produce curly fries, vegetable noodles, shoe strings, as well as, vegetable ribbons and garlands. The crafty corporate marketer had me at curly fries. For anyone living by the tenants of a gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or paleo lifestyle—a Spiralizer is certainly a necessity.
   As an appliance discovery, I'm a little late to the game, even if I do call myself the Gadet Queen. Some casual surfing on the internet unveiled a blogger, Ali Mafucchi with a site dedicated entirely to the glory of the spiral vegetable slicer. Ali appropriately has a marketing friendly name, a little play on words, called Inspiralized. My compadre in blogging, who is doing her best to whip up an Inspiralized Movement, also has a pending cookbook and a corporate sponsor.
   Ali estimates that she spiralizes 3 to 5 times a day to make mealtimes more fun and healthful. While I'm nowhere near Ali's frequency rate, I have found that I'm spiralizing several times a week and that the gadget has found a home on my kitchen counter. I recently began adding curly carrot and cucumber noodles as refreshing and crunchy garnishes for Asian entrees such as Sweet and Tangy Chicken, Chicken Teriyaki and Kung Pao Chicken.

Sauté brined shrimp until just cooked, remove from pan and set aside.
Sauté cherry tomatoes for a minute until hot, but not blistering, add to reserved shrimp.
Lightly sauté the noodles in the pan for 3 to 4 minutes, then toss with basil pesto to evenly distribute the sauce. With a light hand, carefully mix in shrimp and tomatoes and serve.
Garnish with shredded Parmesan and chopped toasted walnuts, if you like.
   After I submitted my order for the machine on-line, I giddily shared the news with Linda. It wasn't long before she bought one, too. Linda even beat me to the punch, making zucchini noodles and curly fries before I even had the chance to open the box that sat ever so patiently on a dining room chair, waiting to rock my world.
   I will report with confidence that this little machine generates lots of fun in the kitchen. I kid you not, it will have you thinking about preparing vegetables and meals in a whole new way. The Spiralizer really shines with the following fruits and vegetables: apples, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, chayote, Daikon radish, eggplant, English cucumbers, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, plantains, potatoes, and yams. While your creative juices percolate, the following is a recipe that will help get you on your way to eating fruits and vegetables in new and interesting ways.

Zucchini Noodles

   Remember the salad spinners of days of yore? I still have one and it is perfect for storing the zucchini noodles, if you have room in your fridge, because the noodles can continue to drain as they rest. The prepared noodles can sit in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, which is great for make-ahead recipe planning.

6 medium zucchini equals approximately 1-1/2 pounds prepared noodles
sea salt

Special Equipment:
Paderno Spiralizer

1. Press the suction base of the spiralizer to secure the unit to the work surface. The Spiralizer ships with three blades:

A) The Shredder Blade, the one with the smaller holes produces thin spaghetti-like strands
B) The Chipper Blade (no Fargo jokes, please), for medium-thick continuous cuts
C) The Straight Blade, for ribbon-like cuts

1. I prefer to use the Chipper Blade to make thicker strands of zucchini noodles. Slice off the ends of the zucchini. Push one end of a zucchini against the prongs and push the slider plate forward until the vegetable is flush with the blade. Turn the crank, while steadily pushing the vegetable forward, to make fresh green noodles.
2. The Spiralizer will produce rather long strands of noodles, and while I can appreciate that long noodles represent long life in the far east, I find them too difficult to work with in a saute pan. I clip the noodles about every 12 inches as they come out of the Spiralizer's blades into the colander.
3. Once all the zucchinis are processed, voila, you are done. You can use the noodles as is. However, vegetables have very high water content and zucchini are no exception. Once you add zucchini noodles to a hot sauce, be aware that the noodles will seep water and dilute the sauce. Sometimes this is fine, if you are adding the noodles to soup; no big deal. If you're adding raw noodles to a marinara sauce, the result might not be so great. If you want the noodles to lose the water ahead of cooking, take the extra time to dehydrate the noodles.

To dehydrate the noodles, sprinkle sea salt and toss the noodles to evenly distribute.
4. To dehydrate the noodles: Sprinkle the noodles in the colander with about 2 teaspoons of salt and toss well with your fingers. Be sure to have a rimmed plate or bowl underneath the colander because the noodles will release about a cup of water. I let the noodles sit for about 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon what else is capturing my attention. Toss the noodles every once in awhile. Rinse the noodles thoroughly to wash away the salt and shake vigorously to expel as much water as possible. You can dry the noodles with a towel, if you like, but I didn't find the extra step necessary.

Let the noodles sit at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
4. At this point, you can proceed with the final preparation of your desired salad or entree, or you can cover the noodles and store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

P.S. My favorite way to prepare the zoodles is to quickly blanch the curly strands in salted boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain the noodles and toss with a little olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Six medium zucchini produced 1-1/2 pounds of prepared noodles.
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