Crock Pot Beef With Cabbage And Carrots

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Once upon the time there was a beautiful queen (wife) who needed to make sure her townspeople (husband) had enough food to get them through the cold winter (lunch for work). All that were left of the live stock were some skinny old cows (only thing thawed was a round steak), but she was wary of her usual preparations. So she went down to the castle’s larder (opened the fridge) and saw a cabbage and some carrots patiently waiting to be used. The following parchment lays out what her clever mind created  (This is all I could come up with). The peasants rejoiced at the ingenuity of their queen (My husband was pleased).

All fanciful attempts at storytelling aside, this is a simple slow cooker meal. It was also pretty tasty. The contrast with the cabbage brought out the sweetness of the carrots. And my husband always loves “something different”.

Crock Pot Beef with Cabbage and Carrots

1 ½ -2 lbs round steak
1 medium  cabbage
8 carrots
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the cabbage in half and remove the hard heart. Slice it into 1/2 inch ribbons. Cut the carrots in half and then slice lengthwise so you end up with thin sticks. Add your meat, vegetables, seasoning and water to your slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. Distribute to your peasants…. err, I mean, enjoy for lunch the next day!

 

 

Autumnal Chicken Salad

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Happy Belated Autumnal Equinox! Yesterday I had some leftover chicken that I had to make into today’s lunches. I love a good chicken salad, and decided to make a fall themed one. And autumnal is just fun to say.The Michigan apple season is in full swing so those had to go in, and we have dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Add in a touch of maple and you have some great fall flavors. Some may consider chicken salad more of a summer style dish, but I’ve often wished it was more of a year-round food. Here’s to stretching out our enjoyment of it!

Don’t worry about exact measurements, the proportions are approximate.

Autumnal Chicken Salad

2 1/2 cup diced cooked chicken
2 small apples (or 1 large) diced
1 rib celery, diced
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1-2 Tbs maple syrup
pinch salt

In a large bowl combine your chicken, apples, celery, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries. In a small bowl mix together the mayonnaise, ginger (if using), salt and 1 tablespoon each of the vinegar and maple syrup. Taste the dressing. If you want it sweeter add more syrup, but if you think it needs more tang add more vinegar. Once the dressing is to your liking add it to your large bowl and toss until it coats your salad. You could serve this on its own, on a bed of lettuce, or as a sandwich filling. Ooh, you could use roasted sweet potato or squash rounds as a bread replacement! I’m going to have to try that next time. Enjoy!

 

 

Why Quit Pop And Alternatives

why quit pop

Pretty much everyone knows soda pop is bad for us; however many still drink it. Knowing something isn’t good for us isn’t always motivating enough to quit doing it, especially when its something as addictive as pop. Specific facts about what it does to our bodies can help us to make the commitment to quit.

Soda leads to obesity. There are 11 tablespoons of sugar in just one 12 oz can. Our bodies can’t burn off that much sugar all at once, so it stores it as fat. One can of pop a day can equal an additional 15 pounds a year. Want to lose weight? Skip the soda.

Pop erodes our teeth and our bones. The acidic content of soda removes minerals from our enamel leaving us prone to cavities and other dental problems. The high phosphorus content depletes our bodies of calcium, weakening bones. Harvard did a study of female teenage athletes and found that girls who drank soda were five times more likely to get bone fractures than those who did not.

A study from 2007 showed people who drink soda have a 40% higher likelihood of having metabolic syndrome. This was true even of those who drink diet pop. Someone with metabolic syndrome has three of the following symptoms including high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, and extra abdominal fat. People with these symptoms have a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

Those who drink soda have a higher cancer risk thanks to the carcinogenic chemical benzene. 5.5 parts per billion (ppb) is the federal limit of benzene in drinking water. Levels as high as 79 ppb have been found in soft drinks.

Pop is full of nasty chemicals. The preservative sodium benzoate has been shown to damage DNA. Another preservative, polyethylene glycol, is used as an oil solvent and anti-freeze in cars. The chemical dyes can cause cancer as well as many other problems.

So, if diet pop is not a good alternative what is? Iced tea can be a good choice. You can start with it sweetened and then slowly lower the amount of sugar you use as you get used to the taste. When I want to experience the tickle of the bubbles I mix a small amount of juice in with soda water. There are also many flavored sparkling waters on the market. Plain water is also a healthy and convenient choice.

Whether you call it soda, pop, or cola, our beverage choice can have a big impact on our health. If you’ve tried quiting cold turkey before and ended up going back to it, don’t give up hope. Read my post here on taking baby steps to a healthier lifestyle. I’m rooting for you!

Snowball Your Way to Healthy Living

snowballIf you are here you probably already want to start living healthier. There are so many different aspects that it can become overwhelming; avoid this, do that, don’t forget to watch out for the other thing. Because of that its easy to give up before you start, deciding that it’s just too hard.  When that temptation hits, try this method.

The popular financial guru Dave Ramsey has the snowball plan for debts. You pay off the smallest first and then use that momentum to move your way up the list.  We could also apply this method to changing our lifestyle.  Instead of trying to fix everything at once, pick one small thing and set short term goals.  For example, if you need to stop drinking soda pop you could start by saying that today you will replace one coke with, say, sparkling water. Or if you want to be more active take the stairs or walk in place for one set of commercials. The point is making it easily achievable.

You can then use this accomplishment to combat any negative thoughts.  So tomorrow if you are feeling down on yourself and about to enter that paralyzing cycle of self-recrimination, remind yourself that you can get, and already are, healthier. Use that momentum to keep reaching that goal. It will eventually become second nature.  When that happens set another small goal on the same topic. Back to the pop example, you could replace another coke a day with a healthy alternative.  Keep repeating this process and you will have quit drinking pop.

There is just so much information out there on what is hurting your health it is easy to get lost in it. Especially since people have differing opinions. Because of this its hard to translate that into your daily life. Starting small and staying strong will make it possible.

 

 

 

Basic Slow Cooker Beef Stew

The weather is starting cooling down, and its making me excited for Fall. Brightly colored leaves, cozy old sweaters, and fresh apples here we come. The chill in the air means its time to pull out the soup and stew recipes again. This beef stew is a classic standby.  I takes little prep time but is very satisfying. Throw it in crock pot in the morning and dinner is ready when you need it.

Basic Beef Stew

2 lbs stew meat, or cheap cut of steak cut into cubes
5 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 small onion
1 pound potatoes
any other vegetables desired, ex: peas, zucchini, green beans,mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs sea salt (more or less to taste)
1 tsp pepper (more or less to taste)
5 cups beef stock, vegetable broth, or water

 

Chop vegetables. Place meat, vegetables, spices and liquid in crock pot or slow cooker. Cook on low for 7-9 hours or on high for 5-6. Meat may be tougher if cooked on high. Makes 6-8 servings of hearty classic beef stew.

20 Minute Meal Strippy Steak

 

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Cooking everything from scratch can be quite time consuming. If you plan ahead its much more manageable. But what if your plan falls through and you need something quick?  Well this is one option I’ve found that takes only 20-25 minutes from freezer to plate.  Cube steak and round steak usually need to be slow cooked or they get tough.  We’re going to slice them into ribbons so they can be fried really quickly to get around that.  Another staple in my freezer is pre-chopped onions, they come in handy to add flavor to almost any dish. If you haven’t done that ahead of time add it to step one.

2 lbs frozen cubed steak, or round steak could probably work too
2 lbs spinach, or other greens
1/2-1 cup frozen chopped onion or 3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tbs coconut oil, split into 2 and 3
salt and pepper or your favorite steak seasoning

Step 1: Take the steak out of the freezer and put it in warm water for ten minutes. While its thawing wash, and prep your greens. If you don’t have pre-chopped onion on hand, prep it or the garlic now too.

strippy steak raw

Step 2: Put 3 tbs of oil in a large skillet on high heat. Start slicing your meat into ribbons about 1/3 inch wide. Its ok if its still a little frozen in the middle, its easier to slice that way.  Halfway through this your pan will be hot. Turn it down to medium high and toss in your onion or garlic. Finish cutting the steak and season it to taste.

strippy steak cooking

Step 3: Add your steak to the hot pan, watch out for spitting oil. Turn the heat up just a touch because the cold meat will cool down the pan and you want this to cook FAST.  Flip/stir frequently. Add the remaining 2 tbs of oil to another pan on medium high heat. As soon as it’s warm toss in your spinach and reduce heat to medium to get it wilted down. Stir this frequently as well. As soon as your steak is no longer pink turn off the heat.

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Step 4: Your greens should be done after about 5 minutes of cooking time. Put some greens on a plate and top them with some steak strips. This makes about 4 adult portions. Enjoy your quick and easy dinner.

 

3 Major Problems With Thyroid Testing

problems thyroid testing

Its estimated that a total of 20 million Americans have a thyroid disorder, but 60% of those people are not diagnosed.

Every cell in the human body needs thyroid hormone to function properly. It effects every system of the body and helps control metabolism.  Proper testing is sorely needed.

Unfortunately there are three major problems with modern testing conventions. The normal ranges are inaccurate, testing is incomplete, and antibody tests are rarely administered.

Normal TSH Range

TSH is an abbreviation for thyroid stimulating hormone. It is released by the pituitary gland in response to the levels of thyroid hormones in the body. Increased TSH tells the thyroid gland to increase hormone production.

Most TSH ranges are way too broad. The original range was made in 1973 by testing a group of 200 people and making a bell curve. Those in the tall portion of the bell curve are considered “normal”. The problem is in this group of people they did not exclude those diagnosed hypothyroid or those who may have it and be undiagnosed. This makes the resulting range inaccurate.

The range they came up with was around 0.5-5.0 mU/L (milliunits per liter). In 2002 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists updated it to 0.3-3.0 mU/L. Some places have adopted the new standard, but others have not. Different places use different ranges causing much confusion.

Some studies found a range of 0.5-2.5 was normal in healthy adults.  The TSH normal range needs to reflect the true normal and needs to be standardized.

 

 

Incomplete Hormone Testing

If you walk in to your doctor’s office and ask them to test your thyroid, they will most likely just test your TSH. TSH goes up in response to low thyroid hormone levels to tell your gland to make more thyroid. So high levels means that your thyroid is low.  This does make sense, however that is only part of what is going on.

The thyroid gland makes a hormone called T4. This is the inactive form of the thyroid hormone. The liver then converts T4 to T3 which can be used in the cells. If you have trouble with the conversion you could be hypothyroid with high normal TSH levels. In these cases you have enough thyroid, but your body can’t use it.

Another level of complexity is total versus free T3 tests. Total T3 is exactly what it sounds like, the total amount of thyroid hormones in the body. In order to be transported through the body it has to be attached to a carrier protein. Free T3 is the amount not attached to one of these proteins. The hormone then has to separate from the protein to cross the cell membrane and be used.

Think of the carrier protein as a car. You get in your car and drive to work. You need to get out of your car to walk through the door. You can’t fit your car through the door. If the hormone fails to separate it can’t go to work. Normal total T3 levels but low Free T3 causes hypothyroidism because the hormone is not available inside the cell.

In order to get the big picture all of the above tests need to be done. TSH is only one component of a very complex system.

 

Antibody Testing

Two thyroid diseases are caused by autoimmune disease. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is hypothyroidism caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. It is the most prevalent cause of hypothyroidism in the industrialized countries. Similarly Graves disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. It causes an antibody to be made that mimics TSH.

Hashimoto’s is diagnosed by testing for thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin antibodies (TG).  Testing for Graves disease checks for thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI).

Unfortunately, despite their prevalence, the tests for these diseases are rarely done.

 

Many people are going to their doctor complaining of thyroid disease symptoms and being told they are fine. I was one of them, until I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s myself. If you suspect your thyroid may be the root of your problems, talk to your doctor about these tests. If they don’t listen, find someone who will.

I am not a medical professional and cannot give medical advice. Find a naturopath or holistic doctor who will help you look at your big picture.

 

Further reading

http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jc.2005-0455

http://thyroid.about.com/cs/testsforthyroid/a/newrange.htm

http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/tsh-why-its-useless/

http://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/ 

Dairy Free Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

My mother’s birthday was coming up and she had recently started a mostly gluten and dairy free diet.  Because I had experience cooking for this lifestyle I was in charge of the menu for her surprise party. She was craving a dish we used to make by slowly cooking a cheaper cut of steak in cream of mushroom soup. Obviously Campbell’s version was no longer an option, so I decided to try to replicate it myself.  After looking at a variety of recipes online I came up with a plan.  I used mimicreme, a nut based cream substitute, and potato starch as my thickener. And what do you know, it worked first try!

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

8 tbs coconut oil or ghee
8 tbs potato starch
1 tbs salt
1 tsp pepper
4 cups mimicreme
4 cups finely chopped mushrooms (I used a combo of baby bella and button)

1. Melt coconut oil/ghee in large skillet on medium high heat.  Saute mushrooms until they darken and shrink a bit.

2. Turn heat down to medium-low.  Add starch gradually, stirring until fully mixed with coconut oil/ghee.

3. Add mimicreme gradually, stirring constantly until smoothly combined with starch mixture.

One can of condensed cream of mushroom soup is about 1 1/4 cups. I got about 5 cups worth from this recipe. It froze well for future use.

Chocolate Coconut Oil Bombs

As a breastfeeding mother who has always been a light weight I need to make sure I’m taking in enough to maintain. I decided to turn to coconut oil to help me out a bit. The internet is full of article after article of the benefits of eating coconut oil (fighting dementia, balancing blood sugar, satiating the appetite, etc).  You can also find long lists of its many uses.  These are great, but another great thing about it is its taste! I found out about coconut oil fat bombs, and tried a couple recipes that were close to what I wanted. After a couple of batches I got it taste how I wanted it to.  This of course, is the joy of cooking. A little tweak here or there can make things perfect for our individual tastes, and I love playing with tweaks. So, without further ado, here is my Chocolate coconut oil bomb.

1 cup coconut oil
4 tbs cocoa powder (dairy free)
1 tbs honey
1/8 tsp stevia powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smoothly combined. Line a pan with parchment paper. Drop spoonfuls of the coconut oil mixture on to the parchment paper. Balance the pan as un-precariously as possible in the fridge for half an hour or until the coconut oil sets. Mine was perched on a container of chilling bone broth and a bowl of marinated zucchini salad while trying to  not let any of its weight crush my farm fresh greens. At this point you can take out the pan, peel the chocolates off the parchment paper and place them in a more space efficient container.  Tell your husband you have a stool sample in the fridge so he doesn’t steal them. (Just kidding, but they do look like little poos) I grab for one of these if I just need a quick little boost between meals, or if I feel the need to indulge in their silky chocolateness. Enjoy

P.S. Maybe I shouldn’t write posts late at night when little man decides trying to learn to crawl is more important than sleep.

coconut oil bombs Update: If the oily feel throws you off a bit (it doesn’t bother me but it might some folk) just add 1/2 cup shredded coconut to change up the texture. Thanks Barb for this idea!

Garlic Herb Roast Chicken

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We buy a lot of whole chickens. I can get a lot of servings out of it. For the first 2 servings we have roast chicken with a vegetable side and salad. Then I shred the rest of the meat and make other recipes out of it, getting an average of 6 more servings. (Italian Chicken Quinoa is an example) The bones I use to make broth. Roasting a chicken is pretty easy and doesn’t take a lot of hands-on time. Just season your bird, put it in a pan, and put it in the oven for a while. One of our favorite ways to season our chicken is using garlic and dried herbs. Here’s our recipe.

Garlic Herb Paste

3 tbs ghee, coconut oil, or butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp each dried parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil

Add all ingredients to food processor. Pulse until combined.

Pre-heat your oven to 375. Rub the paste under the skin of the chicken. Just rubbing it on top doesn’t get the flavor into the meat as well, but you’d still get a flavorful skin that way if you are in a rush. Roast your bird 20 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes.  Check its temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the thigh. It should be 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Enjoy your beautiful bird!