Gourmet on a dime
Keeping up with the latest nutrition news and food trends is exciting and empowering.
It feels good knowing we’re eating foods with the highest levels of antioxidants, omega-3s, phytochemicals and other powerhouse nutrients.
However, although eating the widest variety of whole foods is the smartest way to get all the nutrition we need, some health foods get expensive.
Instead of cutting out the nutrients, let’s consider great substitutes and smart DIY recipes for healthful foods so you can get all the nutrition without breaking the bank.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the many health benefits of almonds and converted the lunch box classic PB&J to the lesser-known, but power-packed AB&J sandwich.
Almonds can help lower cholesterol, reduce risk of heart disease, inflammation and cancer; improve blood pressure, blood sugar, digestion, immunity and cognitive function – all while helping maintain a healthy weight. But so can other tree nuts.
With a jar of almond butter approaching $10 in some stores, it’s wise to look for ways to save.
Making your own nut butters is incredibly easy and it’s a great way to save money.
If you enjoy a range of nut flavors, including Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts, you’ll be able to shop for deals on unprocessed nuts.
Plus, by diversifying your nut intake, you’ll invite a wider range of micronutrients into your diet, including:
- Brazil nuts which are packed with selenium.
- Hazelnuts which are filled with folate and heart-healthy proanthocyanidin.
- Pecans which increase metabolism.
- Pistachios which support the vascular system.
- Walnuts which have more antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut.
Making nut butters
Add whole nuts or nut pieces to a food processor or high-powered blender, such as those made by Blendtec or Vitamix.
If you’d like to add optional salt or honey, a good ratio is 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon honey per cup of nuts.
Process all ingredients on low speed at first, then faster, until a cohesive mass of nut butter pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
Scrape out and store in an airtight container; eat within two weeks.
Oil and lard
There’s no doubt that coconut oil is a miracle food.
Coconuts are incredibly nutrient-dense and contain fats that protect us from heart disease and a long list of other maladies.
As the world learns more about the bad science of recent years, which had everyone avoiding fats while still managing to put on weight, it’s becoming clear that many naturally occurring fats are good for us.
They make us feel full and satisfied, which contributes to the maintenance of a healthy weight, and contain heart-healthy compounds our bodies cannot otherwise make.
The fact that coconut oil must be harvested in exotic locations and shipped to us necessarily means it’s not going to be cheap.
I keep coconut oil at home for some purposes, but I also buy healthful lard from heritage-breed pigs raised on nutritious pastures near my home for about half the price of most brands of coconut oil.
Unfortunately, most commercially available lard is processed in ways that transform it into a trans-fat-laced bad fat, so when choosing lard for healthy cooking, you’ll want to investigate your source.
If you don’t have a good farmer’s market, sustainable butcher or other specialty market near you, check for pastured lard resources online.
You can also make lard at home quite easily, and you might be able to get it for free – like I did last summer when a farming friend gave me an enormous bag filled with pork fat that her family normally throws away.
If you’re in a position to be choosy, keep in mind that fat from the back of the hogs is best for sauteing and frying, while the prized fat around the kidneys, known as leaf lard, is best for pastries.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Fill a large, ovenproof pan with 1-inch cubes of pork fat, plus about 1/3 cup of water per pound of fat, and roast in the oven for four to eight hours.
It takes a while, but slow cooking ensures the fat will retain a neutral, non-porky taste.
Stir and press on the fat cubes about every 30 minutes or so. Remove the pan whenever you see that the fat is beginning to color.
Drain off the rendered liquid and return any cubes to the oven to continue melting. Eventually, you will reach the point of diminishing returns and some of the pieces of fat and connective tissues may not melt but will instead become crispy cracklings that you may choose to eat or discard – or feed to your dog or chickens.
Strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth into a glass jar. Refrigerate for a couple of months, or freeze for up to a year.
Greek yogurt is thicker and more luscious than many other kinds of yogurt.
Its creamy quality comes from straining out some of the whey, which ends up concentrating the yogurt into a more nutrient-dense offering. Many brands of Greek yogurt have about double the protein of other yogurts.
Besides being an easy breakfast food, thick and tangy Greek yogurt is a perfect substitute for cream and sour cream in a wide variety of recipes.
While many brands of Greek yogurt do contain an abundance of protein, they often lack the full blend of micronutrients they could offer because the milk used to make the yogurt isn’t of the highest quality.
To get that kind of yogurt, you have two options: Buy yogurt made from the milk of grass-fed animals, and strain it through cheesecloth for several hours to concentrate and thicken it; or make your own yogurt from premium grass-fed milk, and then strain it to the thickness that you prefer.
The instructions here are for use with a yogurt maker – available at most kitchen stores or online for $30 to $50.
Yogurt makers keep the fermenting mixture at a consistent 110 degrees during incubation, perfect for the proliferation of yogurt bacteria.
If you don’t want to use a yogurt maker, improvise with a Thermos or cooler using these instructions.
Heat a quart of whole milk to 180 degrees over low heat, stirring frequently. Allow milk to cool to between 110 and 115 degrees.
In your yogurt maker, mix a small amount of the heated milk with 1 tablespoon of any yogurt you like that contains live, active cultures. (This is known as your “starter.” You can use a tablespoon of your own homemade yogurt as the starter for your next batch.)
Then stir in the rest of the heated milk and cover the yogurt maker for incubation.
The longer your yogurt ferments, the tangier it will be – you might like the results of your yogurt at three to four hours, or more likely at six to eight hours. Taste to determine your preference.
To thicken your yogurt, pour it into a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl to drain for a few hours, or longer if you prefer. If you allow it to strain for about 24 hours, you’ll end up with yogurt cheese.
Refrigerate the yogurt while it strains. Enjoy your homemade thick and tangy yogurt within a week or two.
Excerpted from Mother Earth Living, a national magazine devoted to living wisely and living well. To read more articles from Mother Earth Living, visit www.MotherEarthLiving.com. Copyright 2015 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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