Colcannon: Decoding the Missing Information Between the Lines of a Recipe

A traditional Irish dish, Colcannon was reserved for special occasions since “few Irish cottagers grew turnips or cabbages.” (1)  How interesting since those foods are so common nowadays!  Common though they may be, when combined with affordable potatoes you get a lovely dish that is not only budget-minded but also highly nutritious and tasty enough for company.

The following recipe for Colcannon caught my eye, no doubt because I’m part Irish, but also because autumn’s cool weather has finally blown in, making a hearty potato dish sound perfect.  What’s more, it takes good advantage of cool-weather produce:  I have lots of kale and green onions from my garden along with plenty of potatoes in with my CSA share.

Read Between the Line Pic

Reading Between the Lines  While making the recipe, however, I noticed how often I was “reading between the lines,” making additions and substitutions based on my health needs (I’m dairy-free), tastes and experience in the kitchen.  Another post explained how a lot of a recipe can be missing–as if written in invisible ink between the lines.  Read on to see how much and what information can be “missing” from a recipe, and how to begin building your knowledge base of trick and tips to make meals that are ever more satisfying for you.

Mind Your Ingredients  It all starts with good ingredients.  They are especially critical in dishes that have only a few to rely on for flavor, particularly when 1) the main ingredient (potatoes) is on the bland side and 2) when the main flavorings (cream and butter) have to be reduced or eliminated for health reasons. This is where tricks, tips and experimentation come in:

Colcannon RecipesColcannon--Substitutions

Health Boost  Interestingly, the modifications above also had the effect of improving the healthfulness of the dish.

  • Nothing against butter, but with 100 calories per tablespoon, it’s helpful to be moderate–and it’s not so very hard to reduce  5-6 Tablespoons to 2-3 Tablespoons.
  • While I eliminated the cream due to a dairy allergy, it also saves a lot on the calorie count.  Since butter and cream are the traditional  flavor enhancers, however, reducing or eliminating them makes it all the more imperative to use the flavor boosters listed above.
  • Potato skins, besides adding flavor, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B-6, thiamin, niacin and vitamin C, as well as iron, potassium and magnesium (2)-–plenty of reasons to leave them in the dish instead of tossing into the compost bin.
  • Finally, increasing the kale from three cups to four and tripling the green onions also boosts flavor along with nutrients.

My Recipe for Colcannon  See how I used all this information from “reading between the lines” to create my healthier version of Colcannon.

(1)  FoodTimeLine.org

(2)  “Does the Skin of a Potato Really Have All the Vitamins?”

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The Mystery of Energy Bars and Drinks

  • Why is “athletic food” held in such unquestioned esteem?
  • Why is it assumed that people who engage in athletic activity will and must eat energy bars and drinks?
  • Why is sports “nutrition” mostly about performance enhancing combinations of supplements, drinks, goos and bars?
  • The one word answer:  Marketing.
  • More specifically:  Highly masterful marketing that employs the authority of “science.”

Bar Vs. Kale Picture

Bar Debate

We were featured in a Daily Camera article last week that raised interesting questions like those above.  I got to talk with one of the athletes interviewed for the article, who had some good insights:  “Makers of athletic food products have brought science to bear in promoting their products.  Since athletic training is focused on science-based research, it’s only natural that athletes will respond favorably to scientific-type research on the superiority of manufactured energy products.”

Indeed, look at any sports site, flip through sports magazines or talk to fitness folks and you’ll discover a wellspring of enthusiastic banter about energy foods and drinks–and it is all “based on science.”

What Science Really Says

It’s curious how marketers can claim the mantel of scientific sanctity for products that often list “corn syrup” as the first ingredient.  What’s more, if we’re talking real “scientific research,” there are at least a few studies confirming the powerful benefits of food–numbering maybe in the thousands!  Why don’t these studies carry much weight in fitness circles and gyms?  Maybe because there’s a lot more money poured into advertising energy bars than what’s spent to promote broccoli florets and butter beans!

A Real Balance

Balance is such a key concept in every walk of life.  How do we profit ourselves with incredible fitness if the body is robbed of nature-given nutrients needed for true health?  That’s why I liked the title of Sarah Kuta’s Camera article: “Keeping it Real.”  Good motto for a new year.

The Real Problem:  Time, priorities and inspiration

Why can’t athletes just eat vegetables, fruit, meat, beans, etc. i.e., food?  As athlete Corey Steimel pointed out, “I struggle finding creative recipes that are not only healthy, but you can make in a timely manner.”  He and his friends get tired of eating the same things over and over.

The Real Solution

Join one of our classes and learn to cook healthful, tasty meals.  It’s easy.  You’ll be amazed at how skillful you become, even after just two or three classes.  Sports nutritionist Curt Thompson put it this way: “When people say I don’t have time to eat well, what that tells me is you’ve got your priorities wrong.”

It’s a new year, and a perfect time to work on the good eating part of your fitness equation.  We have three sessions to choose from.  Come join us, learn a few key skills–and have some fun!

What athletes are saying about our classes:

“Great hands on class!  Very informative.  Yummy healthy meals without the complications.  Thank you so much.”  –Corey Steimel:  Triathlete

“Great class!  Excellent hands on experience as well as visual experience.  Answered all questions perfectly and helped us learn in a way we understood.  Amazing class!  — Meghann Castillo:   Triathlete

Athlete's Class Photo

Happy athletes after a class learning to make kale salad, eggplant with tomatoes, and Japanese tofu.

Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Spinach in Salad Spinner

Unless it is pre-washed, be sure to clean spinach thoroughly. A salad spinner is perfect for the job because you can spin dry completely, so spinach doesn't become soggy or water down other ingredients.

We’ve been told that bacon is unhealthy,but is it really as bad as they say?  Check out how that question got answered in the previous post, Bad Boy Bacon VS. The Cheese Danish.  Then enjoy the incomparable flavor of (a little) bacon in this dish that’s perfect for spring and autumn, when spinach is in season and winter pears have become, or are still, available.

Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Bacon does all the work of flavoring this dish so you can have a delicious dish that’s easy, too

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed saute pan, cook 2-3 pieces of lean bacon over medium heat.
  2. While it cooks, dice a medium pear roughly into 1/2″ to 3/4″  cubes.
  3. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a paper towel to cool.  Pour off all but about 1 Tbsp. of the fat from cooking bacon, then add pears to pan and saute about 3-4 minutes.
  4. While pears cook, cut stems from a large bunch of spinach, then cut the leaves roughly into 2” squares.  Add spinach to pan and cook just until wilted, stirring gently to combine.  Crumble bacon over the top of cooked spinach and serve immediately with a grind or two of fresh pepper, if desired.

Bad Boy Bacon VS. The Cheese Danish

What a way to stir up controversy, angst and anxiety:  At a health fair last week, we demonstrated Spinach Sauteed with Pears and Bacon.  Yes, you read that right.  We made a dish featuring none other than bad boy bacon.  Not turkey bacon, not a vegetarian imitation, not a special lean variety, just good old pure bacon.

As the smell of frying bacon wafted through the exhibit area, people started drifting our way, sheepishly yielding to the scent of a food at once reviled and adored.  Arriving at our booth, their bacon stories and angst poured forth.  It was an interesting window into the conflict and confusion that permeates our food and health thinking.  As we’ve all been taught, bacon is supposed to be a clear cut bad boy, and yet . . .

  • I used bacon grown on a small family farm where the pigs are not confined to live in their own excrement, are fed a wholesome diet and aren’t pumped with growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • The bacon had only four ingredients:  pork, salt, spices and sugar (and the sugar and salt were nominal, just enough to accomplish the curing process.)
  • I combined the bacon with two other pure, whole, real foods (pears and spinach) for a dish rich in nutritional benefits.
  • The bacon was so lean it barely rendered enough fat to saute the pears and spinach, plus I used only 3 ounces of bacon to generously serve four people so each full serving contained only 3/4 of an ounce.)
  • Because the bacon was so flavorful, no fancy preparations or ingredients were needed for great taste, i. e., this is a vegetable dish anyone could make on a weeknight
  • And because the bacon tasted so good, the whole dish was irresistibly good, meaning that vegetable eating became a delightful experience and getting us exactly where we want to be: eating lots of vegetables and fruits because they taste so good.

Far from being a nutritional disaster, then, this scenario represents a nutritional success!

The moral of this story: real, whole foods were never and are not now the source of our nutritional problems.  Manufactured and adulterated foods are the problem.  And at the health fair, there was a perfect example of manufactured, adulterated food in the central exhibit area.  There, as official foods of the fair, were grapes, orange segments–and trays of cheese Danishes that were being eaten without any conflict or angst.  In fact, some visitors to our booth were munching a cheese Danish as they debated whether to partake of our bacon.

Did those pastries really deserve an honored position at the fair?  Did they deserve to be eaten without at least a little angst?  Take a look at the ingredient listing for a typical Danish:*

Enriched flour (wheat flour [translation: refined white flour], malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), folic acid), water, vegetable margarine [palm oil, water, soybean oil, salt, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, annatto (color), calcium disodium EDTA (preservative), Vitamin A Palmitate], sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, coconut, corn syrup, palm oil, raspberry puree concentrate, yeast, egg yolk, whey (milk) wheat starch, soy flour, mono- and diglycerides, modified cornstarch, raspberries, salt, tapioca dextrin, soybean oil, natural and artificial flavor, orange juice concentrate, soy lecithin, pectin, sodium stearoyl lactylate, corn flour, maltodextrin, citric acid, gellan gum, calcium sulfate, potassium sorbate (preservative), calcium carbonate, xanthan gum, black currant juice, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, malic acid, nut paste, sodium citrate, cellulose gum, agar, sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, egg whites, cornstarch, calcium citrate, artificial color, caramel color, sorbitan monostearate, glycerol monooleate, spice and color, azodicarbonamide, sulfiting agents (preservative)

Seriously?  We’re supposed to eat things that contain stuff like this?  They’re just manufactured products, like crayons, Play Doh, and craft glue.  No one would suggest that you eat those things.  So why eat manufactured products just because they are made with food grade commodities and shaped and colored to look like a food?

  • Food grade commodity wheat is processed, refined and adulterated just like the filler material for Play Doh.  The wheat is stripped of its natural nutrients, leaving a lifeless calorie material which is then sprayed with artificially created nutrients.  Like Play Doh, the rich yellow color in Danish dough comes as more from artificial color than egg yolks.
  • Like red crayons, the “raspberry” filling is mostly just industrially processed corn syrup colored with fruit juice concentrate and food dye.  There’s maybe a thimbleful of real raspberries in the entire Danish.
  • The snow white frosting drizzled artfully over the top is just white sugar in another form.  Maybe it is less harmful than white glue, but it is no better for the body nutritionally.

This sounds so radical.  Can it really be that all our yummy, supposedly healthy breakfast pastries aren’t really that good?  Could it really be better to simply eat one or two real eggs, an ounce of pure bacon plus vegetables and fruit?  Try and see for yourself!   I’ve gravitated toward vegetable and protein breakfasts followed by a mid-morning, whole grain granola snack.  I feel much better.  Get easy ideas from my Tweets and remember this “radical” takeaway:

Healthful eating for wellness is a lot easier than you think:  Eat just real, whole foods.  Ditch the boxes unless they contain products made with only real, whole foods.  Easy.

Next Time:  But cheese Danishes taste so good!  How do I resist?

Parsley Is the New Superfood? No Surprise There

Week after week, headlines roll, announcing with great flourish how different foods are good for us:  Acai berries!  Kale!  Blueberries!  Quinoa!   I just read an article from the Land Animal blog, describing  the many nutritional benefits of parsley.  Yes, you read that right.  Even lowly parsley has now been recognized as a nutritional powerhouse.  That’s what got me thinking there should be an article with this headline:

Sound odd and surprising?  It really isn’t.  Why wouldn’t all the fruits of the earth be good for us?  They were all designed to be our nurture and nourishment, and our bodies were designed to put them all to good use.  Just like every other critter on the planet, we’ve been given a perfect food source.

What’s actually odd and surprising is how impressed and awed we are when a “scientific study” discovers the obvious.  Equally odd and surprising is that despite the obvious rightness of real foods, we knowingly feed ourselves food-grade  factory products that bear no resemblance to what the earth gladly supplies us.

Parsley is just one more example in a long string of evidence that the earth will gladly take care of us.  All we have to do is eat what the earth gives us instead of sugar-laden, fat-filled, over-salted, additive-addled factory products.   With all due respect to all the scientific studies, healthful eating  just isn’t as hard as we’ve been led to believe.

Parsley Bouquet

More parsley benefits: It's always cheap and always available. Keep some on hand and store in a vase so it can double as nice winter greenery.

Another interesting thing happens as you begin eating consistently from the seasonal fruits of the earth:  When a study comes out proclaiming the benefits of, say, beets, or celery, or millet or grassfed beef, the chances are good that you’re already eating the latest miracle food!  You don’t have to run out to the store and e.g., buy a bushel of parsley then gag it down in smoothies.  Instead, you’ve already been buying parsley every week or two, sprinkling it over casseroles for color, adding it to salads for flavor, or turning it into pestos (like the one in the next post.)

Shopping Tip:  If you’re ready to start weaving parsley into your diet, try the flat-leafed, or Italian, variety (pictured to the right.)  I prefer it’s taste to curly-leafed parsley, the other main variety available in stores.

Cooking Tips: Wash parsley well in advance of using so it can dry completely.  (I wash right when I get it home from the store, then let it dry in a colander for 30 minutes to an hour before bagging and refrigerating.)    Also, don’t throw out the stems.  See how they are used in Parsley Pesto.

Come find out more about how easy it can be to eat in rhythm with nature, which is healthful automatically.  Whole Kitchen Cooking Classes are all about learning to easily cook and enjoy the cornucopia of food the earth supplies us:  from fruits, vegetables and grains to proteins, nuts, beans and all sorts of herbs, spices and flavorings–like parsley!  Next session begins Thursday, January 13.

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