Whole30 Hacks – Products I Love, V. 1 – Coconuts

I love the Whole30. I love what it does for my mind, body, skin, sleep, etc. This if my fourth round in two years, and I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way.

To start, here are a few products I really love that you might not find front-and-center in a typical Whole30 conversation. And today is all about the coconut!

Good, healthy fats are really important for satiety and overall health. I’m avoiding nuts and seeds this round, which means my go-to almond butter is out at the moment, as are my favorite Kirkland brand macadamia nuts. Instead, the delicious coconut is carrying me through.

Coconut Butter

Someone told me the other day that they liked the flavor coconut butter adds to their breakfast dish. I retorted that I really like the flavor coconut butter adds to my spoon.

This stuff is delicious and satisfying. Also, it’s pretty hard in its solid state, so it’s difficult to binge on, and it triggers your satiety pretty quickly as well. It’s the perfect way to bump up your fat intake, whether you’re having trouble balancing your macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs), or if you’re needing to increase your healthy fats due to pregnancy or nursing (eat up, mamas!!).

I’m sure there are many ways to incorporate coconut butter into recipes, but as I mentioned above, all I really need is a spoon.

Coconut Milk

I’ve been using Nutpods in my coffee for a few months, but as previously mentioned, I’m avoiding nuts this round, so it’s just straight coconut milk for me at the moment.

For iced coffee, SO Delicious’s Lite Culinary Coconut Milk is perfect. It doesn’t clump, and it adds a nice creamy flavor to your coffee. (Look for it in the Asian cooking section of your grocery store. Again, emphasis on LITE, not original.)

For hot coffee, I scoop the cream from a can of coconut milk into my coffee, and use a coffee frother (one my mom accidentally left at my house, and I’ve since very happily added it to my daily ritual) to whip it into a delicious, frothy concoction.


As a bonus, I add a dash of Primal Palate’s Pumpkin Pie Spice for days when I’m feeling particularly sassy.

Coconut Chips

Add these to a snack of fruit and nuts, or simply to the palm of your hand, and enjoy!

That’s it for today. I’ll be back with future editions with information about my favorite cookbooks, spices, etc.

Dang.it

My cooking has improved SO much since the creation of this blog. I can decide to try a new dish and only have to make it once or twice (never thrice, like in the good ‘ol days…) to get it right. My kitchen meltdowns are fewer and further between, most especially now that the man in my life is a cooking whiz— a whiz, I tell you!
And all I wanted to do was slow cook some oatmeal in my brand new slow cooker (compliments of the whiz kid himself).
But, no. To slow cook yourself some oatmeal, you need steel cut oats. Not the rolled oats. Steel cut. How many web sites did I look at over the past few days that repeatedly stated this fact!?!? Well, I won’t tell you because it’s embarrassing. What I will tell you is that I picked up steel cut oats, put them down, and bought the wrong dang kind. I shall not be waking up tomorrow morning to oatmeal in my pretty new slow cooker.

Baby steps…

If You Like Piña Coladas

Then you might just like this!

I really enjoy wandering around grocery stores like Sprouts and Central Market, looking at new and different healthy-yet-tasty options. I stopped by Sprouts this past weekend, and as I was lurking around I saw the above creamer. I typically drink my coffee straight up, but I’ve been reading about coconut milk, so I figured I’d give this a go (soy- and milk-based drinks are a no-go for Lola).

It’s really, really good. Definitely recommend you try this if you’re looking for a little something special in your morning cuppa.

Yum!

The (Not So) Sneaky Chef

Since you heard from me last, I’ve been seeing a nutritionist in hopes of developing an eating regime that will carry me healthily throughout my life, and one of the first things to go from my daily diet was gluten. Having recently eaten my way across Italy (AKA gluten-central), news that I must give pasta, bread, potatoes, etc (as I know and love them) the heave-ho was devastating. But, hey, if it works, I’ll give it a try. I’m also supposed to bid ciao, bello to vino, but, um… yeah… some days are better than others on that front! I’m only human after all!

I have, however, been largely “good” when it comes to gluten, though I’m sure I accidentally consume it on a regular basis in food prepared by others, but when it comes to my own kitchen, I’ve been rather successful at creating a gluten-free zone. This has not been without challenges. A) I love carbs. Like, as in, if you were to ask me “well, if you love them so much, why don’t you marry them?” I would probably respond “I will if it becomes legal and only if cheese doesn’t ask me first.” B) Most of the rest of the world eats these delicious goodies, which isn’t a problem if I’m around my fave treats, but it does present an issue when trying to prepare a satisfying meal for others.

Which brings me to last night.

Mom and Dad are in the midst of Kitchen Demolition 2011, and there’s nary a cooking surface or utensil in sight. They quickly became weary of dining out and were none too shy about extending invitations for them to come to my place. Well, of course I want to be with them and provide a home-cooked meal, but my schedule doesn’t always allow for that. However, this Monday I decided to throw them a life raft in the form of dinner. As soon as Mom hungrily said yes, I thought, well, crap, what am I going to make them? Mom is low-maintenance. I could make her a tuna sandwich, and she would be grateful. Dad, on the other hand, needs some man-food. I quickly did a mental scan of my kitchen contents and decided I’d make them some pasta — regular pasta for the gluten-tolerant, and brown rice pasta for me.

Well, my mental scan failed me. I didn’t have enough regular pasta to go around, but I had a full package of gluten-free pasta. In reviewing the package and its assurances that the contents within were not mushy (it really reads as such), I thought, heck, let’s give it a go. Surely it’s safe for the whole family!

So the moment arrives. Mom and Dad are on the way over, and I’m bustling around my kitchen preparing sauce (97% fat-free turkey, yellow onion, garlic and some store-bought sauce I had on hand), roasted broccoli; roasted onion, zucchini, squash and Chinese eggplant; sauteed spinach with fried garlic; and a rustic Greek salad. I have my pasta pot boiling, and when my dad isn’t looking, I dump in the faux noodles, purposely placing the package face down on the counter so no one would see what was up. Then, I turn my back to the pot to continue chopping. I see my dad out of the corner of my eye move towards the pasta pot. I hear plastic wrap crinkling between his fingers as he examines the package, and I turn around… “nooooooooooo!!!!” I exclaimed. “You’re not supposed to see that!!!” Dad just kinda shrugs, resigned to his fate of a potentially mushy meal, and wanders out of my hot kitchen. (I should note here that my dad is an EXCELLENT cook, and thus my anxiety was particularly heightened at wanting to please his honed palate.)

A few moments later, we’re seated around the table and have been joined by my fella, who, like my dad, also prefers substantive man-food. I take a tentative bite of the pasta, and instantly feel relieved. *I* love it. In fact, I immediately prefer it to the store-bought pasta I’m used to, and am reminded of the pasta I made while in Italy. I start to giggle like Beavis and Butthead, and ask the table: “Heh. Hehehe. do you like… hehehe… the pasta? Hee hee hee.” Dad looks nervous. He’s the only one in the know. Finally, he takes a bite. Adds some pepper. Looks up, and says:

“Darlin’, it’s awesome.”

Whoops.

This was bound to happen.

I decided to get back on the cooking horse today, diving back in with a recipe from one of my Christmas presents: John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table.” I was thrilled to get this book for one reason, and that’s the scallop ceviche recipe, but I’ll address that when I tackle the recipe. As I cruised through the book, though, I realized quickly that it represented the deep end. No more Food Network “Recipe Level: Easy” dishes that have served as my crutch for the past few years. It was time to put on my big girl apron. But truthfully, I was intimidated.

The book is beautiful and inspiring, but at the same time, I need a stocked kitchen, a cup of coffee, and some chutzpah to make the most of these recipes. My only complaint (aside from the recipes being over my head) is that Chef Ash very clearly believes in eating seasonally. I think the book would be that much better if the recipes were divided into seasons in addition to their dish categories.  Just my two cents, which is exactly what my opinion is worth in the kitchen.

In a move that might be considered sticking my baby toe in this deep end, I selected the very first recipe in the book, which just so happens to be in the salad section: Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Olive Oil and Pecorino Cheese (page 15). I like salads and I really like asparagus. However, Chef Ash at some point cautions that asparagus is a spring veggie. Well, back to my point about the dishes being segmented into seasons. And, hell, Central Market carries it, so I’m just going to go for it.  One of his tasting notes recommends that, to make this more of an entrée, add some meats, good olives, and “maybe a sprinkling of some Fried Capers (page 33).” I check out page 33, and I think “okay, this sounds good; I can handle frying some capers in olive oil.”

I made my shopping list, and off I went to my friendly neighborhood grocery. I zoomed through the necessary sections and finally found myself standing in the olive oil aisle. Without using an ounce of hyperbole, I tell you that I stood in this aisle for 20 minutes. Twenty! There are so many oils, and so few of them are lemon-infused, and even fewer are under $20. And that’s kind of the bummer part of this experience: it is not inexpensive to stock your kitchen for the whims of your chef guides.  Alas, with the help of Lee, resident Foodie, I picked the least expensive ($17). I’m going to jump ahead here and say that, wow, lemon olive oil smells delicious. I’m a convert. It was worth the cash.

Back at home, I start my water for some pasta (whole wheat linguine to be sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, an easy dish as recommended by Gina Stipo, a chef who taught a class on Tuscan cuisine last week at Central Market), and then set out to fry some capers. Chef Ash said to “heat 1/2 inch of olive oil until it shimmers (350 degrees on a frying or candy thermometer).” I looked (not very hard) for such a thermometer at the market but didn’t see one, and I figured, hey, I can wing it.

Wrong.

The oil looked like it was shimmering to me, so I dropped in the capers, and my pan instantly turned into a frenetic oil jacuzzi. I panicked, immediately pulled the bubbling pan off the heat, and watched as the capers turned from a beautiful sage green to something more… meteoric…

This is what a fried caper should look like.

Photo credit TheKitchn.com

And here are my massacred capers.

Exhibit A is beauty and light. Exhibit B is, well, the opposite.

Fortunately, capers were but a mere suggestion, and my asparagus dish with my whole wheat linguine can be counted a success, with only a few points deducted for a house full of burnt caper smoke.

Next stop: a new dish and a thermometer for the kitchen.

The Bachelorette Diet

When starting a new habit or making a life change, one must really keep up the consistent momentum for a period of time (I’ve heard 21 days and 40 days to develop a habit). But, as we all know, life gets in the way of our plans. The plans we make with the most sincere and best of intentions in a moment frustration, despair, passion, jubilation (or just standing in front of the mirror) are quickly pushed to the side when the reality of exhaustion and our daily schedules set in, when the demands of our families, friends and colleagues supersede our personal goals.  It takes perseverance, a bit of selfishness, and real grit to ensure that you and your desired habit don’t end up at the bottom of the heap.

At some point, I always end up at the bottom of the heap. At some point, I say yes in stead of no. At some point, I put someone or something ahead of what I need. At some point, it’s just easier to give in.

And so Friday morning I was standing in my kitchen after yoga, quietly eating a bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal and a banana when I suddenly realized that five of my last seven meals were exactly what I was eating now: cereal. Instead of heating up soup or preparing a dinner from scratch, I came home two nights in a row to a cold bowl of cereal. Never before in my life have I done this exact thing. I’ve never been a cereal junky (except for a regrettable Fruity Pebbles binge my freshman year of college when I realized my parents no longer dictated what kind of cereal I could eat). In fact, I just started eating cereal again after not touching it for a solid three years.  Is this what single girls do when there’s no one to come home to, to cook and share a meal with? I needed sustenance, and in my silent house, I succumbed to the path of least resistance. And it tasted SO good.

Some people say that cravings are your body’s way of telling you what you need, which makes sense if you go bonkers on raspberries, spinach, or some other nutrient-rich dish. But what if cereal is incredibly, deeply satisfying? What the heck does that mean? Am I feeding my soul, or am I just tired? Tired of cooking and cleaning up a monstrous mess? Tired from working too much and sleeping too little? Tired of eating alone? Probably all of the above.  What I do know is that had I not used up all the milk yesterday morning, this bachelorette would have dined on cereal a few more times.

But I don’t want to give up on being a budding cook. Very soon, I will crawl back to the top of the heap; I will say no instead of yes. I will put myself first again.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that once in a blue moon, my girls Ina, Giada and Ellie will come home bone-tired to a dark and empty house. They’ll stand in front of their respective high-end refrigerators, door ajar, their bodies illuminated solely by its light, and feed their aching hearts with cold pizza.

What the Heck is a Tartine?

I remember the first time I ever heard “tartine.” My office was having a birthday lunch to celebrate the Leos in the group, and we were sitting at a cozy table at a new restaurant down the street. I was in the mood to be virtuous, so I requested that our waiter inquire as to the vegetarian dish of the day. He informed me that he could do that, but that there was a tartine on the menu as a vegetarian option. I asked what the heck is a tartine, and he told me, but I wasn’t sold, so I requested again that he go ask the chef what her vegetarian option of the day would be. He snippily replied, “well, I know it’s going to be the tartine.” I stared up into his hairy nostrils, skin burning a bit knowing he wasn’t being truthful, but nonetheless, I told him I shall try this salad atop a toast thingy. And oh, I am so glad I did.  The roasted baby vegetables tossed in a light vinaigrette piled on crispy bread quickly became my favorite dish, but, it being a a seasonal restaurant, the item is not currently on the menu.  Ah well, there’s always spring.

In the meantime, while binging on the Food Network, I watched Ina demonstrate her version of a tartine, and I thought, holy moley, I must make this immediately. And soon, the opportunity arose: our office New Year’s party, which we celebrated with another PR firm. Our respective company presidents decided to hold the party at my boss’ home, and each staffer was to bring an appetizer. My first reaction was “sh*t, what do I make?!?” But then, I remembered my dear Miss Ina, and my plan was set.

I arrived at Paige’s house, bread, goat cheese, arugula, and sliced tomatoes in tow. Most everyone else brought dips or pre-assembled items, but I proceeded to take over the kitchen (as I do), to make my contribution. I asked Paige if I could borrow her toaster, but she offered her broiler instead.

Lola: Ummmm… how do you use a broiler?

So, to make my appetizer, my boss had to show me how to use a broiler, which, to be honest, I’m kind of in love with now. It’s so cool! Who knew you could just turn the dial to broil, put the rack on the top row, keep the door ajar, and then, bingo— toast! Oh, let me never know a day when I do not learn something new, for that would be a sad day.

As I assembled the Arugula and Goat Cheese tartines, the party goers kept filtering past the kitchen, peeking over my shoulder to watch the show. I do imagine watching me make a mess in the kitchen is something of a sight to behold. And as I placed the tartines on the table, I watched in delight as they disappeared before my eyes. These suckers are GOOD. And such a wonderful party trick!

On the TV episode, once Ina put the cheese, tomatoes and arugula on the toast, she put the tartines back under the broiler for a moment. This tip is not in the online recipe, but I suggest you follow suit. However, don’t wander away from the oven because that arugula burns quickly. So, I just stand there with my face up to the cracked door, impatiently (per usual) waiting for the arugula to wilt down.

After the party I stopped by my parents’ house to watch the BCS Championship and to show off my new dish. This go-around, I put salt and pepper on the cheese before putting the veggies on top. Ina doesn’t do this, but I think it’s a nice touch. Mom and Dad were uber-impressed and gobbled up their share with pride. Taking advantage of my mom’s happy tummy, I decided I’d politely ask to take her cookie sheet home with me since the one I purchased previously was a wee bit too big for my oven. And since I was on a tartine roll, I made the tartines as an appetizer for some girlfriends the next night. Once again, clean plates all around. Huzzah!

Accompanying the tartines, I offered my Friday guests a mix of garlic(mmmm)-marinated olives and olives with chile peppers, as well as harvati with dill cheese and crackers. For the main course, I made one of my go-to soups from my favorite TV nutritionist, Ellie Krieger. I’ve made this soup probably five times or so, and it is truly a simple dish to make, and really tasty, and, apparently, healthy. Since it’s pretty basic, I’ve put my own spin on the recipe each time I’ve made it. This time, instead of using a can of tomatoes, I put in two cans of mild Rotel, which actually made it a teensy bit too spicy. Fortunately, we all had stuffy noses and too much wine, so the zest was a welcome touch by the time we got around to finally eating dinner. The girls devoured the soup, and I glowed from the vino and accomplishment.

I came home tonight, my je ne sais quoi a little limp after a long day and a sinus infection, and I cooked up some comfort, heating leftover vegetable lentil soup, and making what I decided is a sophisticated grilled cheese. Ma, look at me now! Instead of Campbell’s condensed tomato variety, I’m soothing my soul with my very own homemade soup, and an open-faced grilled cheese made of goat cheese and tomato. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Velveeta —probably way more than I should, actually — but damn, I felt so smug standing in my kitchen, eating my snooty comfort food.  I can only assume my waiter once had a similar experience, and if so, he is now forgiven.

Novice tip: for the tartines, I sliced the tomatoes the night before to cut down on prep time at the party. Ditto for the soup; I did all my chopping Thursday night since that’s the most time consuming part of the process. I just stored all the veggies in Tupperware so all I had to do was open them up and toss in the veggies. I highly recommend that you do this as well if you’re going to be entertaining.