Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut Oil

What image does coconut oil conjure up? For most people that would be clogged arteries. And yet, evidently it's possible it ain't so. A few years ago I took a little impromptu nutrition class given by an retired nurse. Besides insisting that we cut out the sugars (duh) she introduced us to the coconut oil solution. At first the above mentioned clogged artery visions were dancing in my head. But she laid out various health benefits; the clincher was her husband, who had had a heart attack years before. But not after getting on the coconut oil train. At least I was clinched into giving the subject a further look.

I went to to get the skinny (it's an informational site, not retail). Coconut oil is +90% saturated fat; however, it is a medium chain fatty acid that is turned into fast energy. It doesn't stick to our hips or veins. Animal fats have long fatty acid chains, and do make us fat and
clogged. In countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India coconut is a staple. Their heart disease rates are much lower than ours. In addition, coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, an important component in mother's milk. It is also antifungal and antibiotic. Sounds great, huh?

I did use coconut oil for some time. I even ordered it from Tropical Traditions; their oil is extra virgin and organic. It's great for sauteeing and baking. The oil I have has a mildly sweet taste, which I like. Forget about using it in pie crust, however, it was too hard to work with. I stopped using it after a while; I was still haunted by visions of clogged arteries.

In a recent issue of my beloved Environmental Nutrition newsletter, almost a half page was devoted to coconut oil. The jury is still out on the health claims, but the recommendation was to "treat it as a neutral player" and to read your labels. Stay away from partially hydrogenated oils as always. My recommendation, should you wish to try it, is to buy an organic product, preferably extra virgin. It is carried in natural food stores. And be sure to consult your physician before trying anything like this.

My next batch of cornbread will have some coconut oil in it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


When I was a kid my Grandma Brown made the best hash. What I remember was bits of leftover roast beef, sliced potatoes and a sauciness with plenty of salt and pepper. It was pure heaven, and it epitomizes the time honored practice of dragging out what you have in the refrigerator and making a great meal. She made it look easy, and it really is. It just took me till recently to give it a try. So in case you'd like to make a tasty hash for lunch with what you have lying around, here's what we had for lunch today and how I made it.

Use a decent nonstick saute pan. Heat over medium heat with 3 or 4 teaspoons of oil. I had a about 6 ounces of baby potatoes - cut into about 1 inch pieces. Toss in the pan and add some salt and pepper and a little cayenne. Chop up about half a large onion and add to the potatoes. Red pepper, large dice, about 1/2 cup or so. I had some chicken tenderloins in the freezer so I cut them into bitesize pieces and they joined the gang. Add a little more salt (I used Kosher). To really add flavor, pour in some reduced sodium chicken broth (about 1/3 cup), cover, reduce heat, and cook until liquid is absorbed. My potatoes weren't tender enough so I added more broth, covered again and finished cooking. I topped the hash with a little pepper jack, you can add it at the end of cooking and cover so it will quickly melt. This served 2 moderate portions.
I really didn't measure a single ingredient. I just added what looked good. If you'd like a little pan sauce, after cooking, remove the hash. There will be lots of brown bits in the pan. Add some more broth, say half a cup or so, and over medium low heat stir to dissolve the bits. Let simmer to thicken then pour on hash.

Using chicken keeps the fat content down. Small potatoes reduce the glycemic index. Reducing the chicken broth in the hash intensified the flavor. This is comfort food that won't fatten you up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hold the Mayo

I really enjoy "salad" sandwiches; that is, egg, tuna, chicken, any others? For months I've been using Best Foods light mayonnaise to dress the salad, then I discovered Ztrim (go to March blogs for info) and started reducing the mayo and adding Ztrim for a creamier texture. Last week I decided to try using Dijon mustard without the mayo, with Ztrim to round it out. I really like it; Dijon is my favorite mustard but of course you can try any one you like. I like to add sliced green onions, diced red pepper and celery to the mix.

For egg salad I place my egg in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover for 12 minutes. Cover with ice water to cool down fast, peel and mash. I have a potato ricer just like the one pictured at right I like to use - it works great. Mix in your veggies, mustard and Ztrim (if desired) and you're good to go. I don't measure - I prefer to cook to taste as much as possible. Ok, I always taste what
I'm cooking, on some dishes I measure too!

Regarding tuna salad, if you're concerned about mercury as I am, you can get minimal mercury, troll caught, sustainably harvested, even unsalted tuna from Wild Planet. I really like it. It's only cooked once, after canning, unlike other canned tuna, and is packed in its own juice. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Eat Your Eggs!

I'm an egg lover, have been all my life. Growing up, breakfast was a given. And eggs were generally part of the equation. There was a period when my mother was buying eggs from some special place where the eggs often had double yolks - yum!!! In my opinion the yolk is the best part, and I stand by that statement despite the controversy that has raged over the years.

According to the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, egg yolks contain some pretty significant nutrients. They contain lutein naturally, and some hens are raised on lutein-fortified feed. Lutein is good for your eyes and may help ward off the age related blindness caused by macular degeneration. The lutein in egg yolks is more easily absorbed than in many other foods.

Here in the U.S. hens are also fed flaxseed and algae to supply Omega-3's. I'd like to find the eggs with algae based omega-3's, they're labelled DHA and are a better source than flaxseed.

Yolks are also rich in choline and betaine. In a large study it was found that those with highest intakes of choline and betaine had the lowest levels of inflammatory markers, which are linked to heart disease as well as other issues. These nutrients are also found in other foods. Go to to find more information, because I'm talking about eggs here!

My ideal egg is gently fried in a little olive oil, just until the white sets up. Turn it over, cook for about 2 seconds and then slide onto your plate. The yolk must be soft and unbroken. Heaven. I'd rather have one perfectly cooked egg than a plateful of egg whites anyday. You see, it's about quality, not quantity.

For a nice scramble try what we had this morning: thinnishly slice up an asparagus stalk, medium dice some red bell pepper, and slice up a green onion. Gently saute your veggies in a little olive oil, say 1/2 to 1 teaspoon. Beat up 2 eggs with a whisk, season with a sprinkle of cayenne and pour into your good quality nonstick pan that is already laden with veges. Keep the eggs moving with a wooden spoon until they are cooked to the desired doneness; this will make them fluffy. I like hot sauce on my eggs but you may not. Serves 2.

The moral of my story is eggs are good for you. In moderation - just like everything else. Remember, 'tis better to eat one perfectly cooked whole egg than a plate of bland egg whites. Kathy Ackerman

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Saul's Deli

I'm not nuts about deli food but yesterday I got my head turned around. A couple of years ago my husband was listening to a radio talk show out of San Francisco. They were making restaurant talk. Saul's Deli in Berkeley was promoted as a great place and Paul had me enter it in my Palm for future use. Fast forward to yesterday; during a ride to Oakland we decided to try Saul's. I was reluctant but decided to give it a whirl.

Saul's is on Shattuck, a major artery in Berzerkley. There are beau coup restaurants; the variety is astonishing. We miraculously parked smack in front. The place has decent curb appeal, considering how old and dingy Shattuck Ave is. But ah, when you step in the joint is roomy, bright and clean. When we first walked in I spied the Niman Ranch sign on the cold case and was happy. The servers were friendly and efficient; the vibrations were good. And... the bathrooms were clean!

Instead of a bread basket the bus person brought us a ramekin of delicious kosher pickles. Not too sour, a little garlicky, just right. I ordered the Armenian lamb sandwich - ground lamb in a pocket bread with hummus, tahini, romaine and chopped veggies. I had a choice of fries or salad. I ordered the salad, which was a nice bunch of spring greens with a simple vinaigrette. The lamb was not at all greasy and the sandwich was delicious. I confess I ate it all because it was so good. (Normally when I order a burger I can only eat about half, probably because the buns are so thick.) Cost was about $10.50.

Paul had the pastrami sandwich with green salad. It looked very good, plenty of pastrami and he pronounced it wonderful. Price: $9.95.

We both heartily endorse Saul's Deli. Visit the site for location and menu. To see the menu select the order online button and all will be revealed.