Category Archives: Food

#AtoZChallenge: Kale Chips

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Everyone’s been getting on these! And rightly so, they’re friggin delicious! But I have my own taste when it comes to kale chips. I’ve tried the manufactured stuff from the store and they’re just so criminally terrible. Homemade is really the only way to go as far as I’m concerned.

So I bought a big ol’ bag of the precut, prewashed greens so I wouldn’t have to deal with cutting out the stalks (my thumb tingles thinking about it…) and turned that whole bag into the chips I craved so much. Here’s my take on it:

Kale Chips

Ingredients

1 whole bag of precut, prewashed kale greens (or a bunch of whole kale if you don’t mind the added labor)

Olive oil (or really any oil you like)

A mixture of the following spices: 2 parts coriander, 2 parts salt, 1 part turmeric

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Make sure your kale greens are as dry as possible. Pour them into a bowl and pat them dry with a paper towel for good measure.
  3. I made my kale chips in smaller batches, but if you are able to make all the kale chips at once, more power to you. Having said that, when you add the oil, do so one teaspoon at a time, mixing with your hands as you go. You’d be surprised how well-coated those greens will be just from the mixing; you don’t want too much oil here. Keep adding and mixing until the leaves have a little shine to them, then you’re done with the oil.
  4. Combine the spices in a little cup or bowl, mix them well, then sprinkle them over the greens, mixing while you do so like with the oil. To avoid getting your hands yellowed from the turmeric, wear gloves here. I prefer to stop when I clearly see the seasoning on the greens, but you can add more or less if you want. Taste a chip to be sure.
  5. Immediately place the greens on the baking sheet in a single layer. If they overlap with each other, you’re chips will be partially or totally floppy (as opposed to crispy) where the overlap occurs. Also note, that your tray will look way crowded, but once they’re baked they will shrink up. Consider this when you’re thinking of making chips for larger groups. Note that I said “immediately”, because if you mix up these greens ahead of time and let them set, the greens will start getting wet and won’t crisp up.
  6. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes until they have shrunk up and dried (the larger the greens are the longer it will take). A little browning won’t hurt the taste either. Let them cool so they can dry up a bit more.
  7. Eat them!

If you’re making these ahead of time, you may want to bag them up right away and store them in a cool place; they’re susceptible to floppiness almost immediately after coming out of the oven. I don’t have that problem, though; these chips are always gone before the day is out!

 

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#AtoZChallenge: Elderflowers

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If you haven’t tried any beverage with elderflowers, you should.

Up until I tried this lemonade, I thought it seemed odd. Who adds flowers to lemonade? And yet, after tasting it, I wondered why they weren’t added more to drinks and even desserts. It’s tart, sweet, and fragrant…especially the one with the rose extract or syrup added. It’s definitely the kind of drink you would serve at a bridal shower or some other special occasion.

It’s not exactly found at Acme or any other typical grocery store, but it’s freaking delicious if you can find it. So far, I’ve only ever found it at The Fresh Market, a higher end kind of grocery store in the suburbs. This particular brand from Belvoir Fruit Farms is imported from England, which explains it’s limited availability here in the states. Actually, Europe as a whole is more familiar with elderflower and its uses in beverages. It should be everywhere, frankly. It’s not only delicious, but also good for you health!

As much as I love this lemonade, though, I can’t always buy it. So I started looking into making it myself at home. I’ve found that the key ingredient to any elderflower beverage is elderflower fruit syrup. Adding it to water, club soda, lemonade, tea, and even wine transforms it into a “fancy”, floral drink immediately. If you’ve ever worked with rose extract or dried lavendar, you know that a little goes a really long way if you’re thinking of using dried elderflowers. But I like convenience as much as authenticity, so I prefer the syrup. It takes out the guesswork, especially considering the bark, leaves, and stems of the plant itself are toxic.

It should come as no surprise that there are some pretty sweet benefits to consuming elderflowers and elderberries. They’ve been used in home remedies for asthma, colds, congestion, toothaches, acne, and general detoxing for centuries. They’re rich in vitamins C, B, and A and even contain those flavonoids I mentioned in my posts about dark chocolate. In fact, it may be an interesting experiment to make dark chocolate elderflower tea! That would be a health bomb if I can strike the right balance of ingredients…ohh the gears are grindin’!!

 

The Beauty Benefits of Dark Chocolate

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There's a reason dark chocolate (or to be absolutely technical, cocoa) is considered a superfood. It's good for you inside and out and in many ways. I'm going to tell you how and why in 3…

2…

1!

SMOOTH SKIN

More and more spas are adding chocolate masks, scrubs, and other skin treatments to their services for a reason. In fact, long before this chocolate craze we've been using a very common component of chocolate on our skin: cocoa butter. We already know what that does for your skin: it conditions, soothes, and hydrates with regular use. But there are benefits to the skin besides this. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are also found in teas and wine, and it's these compounds that are the key to its antioxidative properties. They are also the reason why dark chocolate is bitter! The higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher the percentage of flavonoids you will get. For perspective, consider that milk chocolate has much less than 10% cocoa…so not quite as beneficial compared to the intense dark 88% cocoa bars you see nearby.

Applied topically, dark chocolate helps smooth out your skin and reduce wrinkles, again due to the antioxidative qualities of the flavonoids. In addition, dark chocolate stimulates microcirculation (more blood to your skin to keep it nourished and healthy), restores skin elasticity (thanks to the cocoa butter that naturally exists in it), and reduces inflammation.

While you may be tempted to grab a chocolate bar, melt it down, and then slap it on your face, I wouldn't advise that. To get it in liquid form you would have to use a double boiler or microwave and keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn! That's a lot of work for a 15-20 minute skin treatment… instead, you should get unsweetened cocoa powder. It's much simpler to add some warmed ingredients to the powder and get the perfect consistency. In addition, you should know that cocoa powder is even more pure than the commercially available dark chocolate bars. It contains almost 100% cocoa.

 

 

WEIGHT LOSS

We've all heard about this one! And the reason is pretty simple: there is much less sugar in dark chocolate. How many times have you been told that simple sugars are empty calories? It's true. So while you may be able to eat a whole milk chocolate bar in under 10 minutes, you'll be hungry later. Then you're eating more and more while those calories accumulate. Pretty soon, your jeans don't fit like they used to.

Dark chocolate's main ingredient isn't milk or sugar. It's therefore more satisfying than milk chocolate. Perhaps the fact that it melts more slowly in the mouth also helps with satiety, just like eating more slowly and taking smaller bites help you control your eating. It's because of its lower sugar content that it not only satisfy your cravings, but also trains your taste buds over time. After regular consumption, you'll find that milk chocolate bar you loved so much to be too sweet. Your cravings for salty and fatty foods also get reduced in the process. A little dark chocolate after dinner can help keep you from midnight snacking, too.

 

STRESS RELIEF

This is a beauty benefit to me, simply because there's nobody more attractive to people than a happy, relaxed person. And yet, overeating is often associated with stress. As I just mentioned in the last section, dark chocolate is more satisfying and reduces your cravings. Well, it just so happens that it helps with weight loss through mood improvement as well!

Research has shown that a little dark chocolate every day for at least 2 weeks can significantly reduce a person's anxiety and stress hormone (like cortisol) levels. No anxiety, no ice cream binging. And when you feel better, you look better. Happy = Healthy = Beautiful.

 

SUN PROTECTION

Boy, these benefits are starting to add up! And like I mentioned in a previous post, it was after learning about all of this that I realized I could totally get used to the taste (and topical use) of dark chocolate if it meant I would be this much better off! Granted, this particular benefit doesn't really apply to me, as I'm a woman of color and therefore, I don't sunburn easy. What am I talking about?

Researchers in London found that because of those lovely flavonoids in dark chocolate, when you eat a little bit of dark chocolate for at least 3 months (are you seeing a pattern here?), you can prolong sunburn. Consequentially, this prevents premature aging of the skin and wrinkles. This doesn't mean you should nix the sunscreen! It just means that you have yourself a pretty great supplement to your UV protection routine.

 

HEALTHY, SHINY HAIR

Not only does dark chocolate improve circulation (as mentioned before), but it also contains minerals that promote a healthy scalp and strong hair.

Making a hair mask with that unsweetened cocoa powder can also add some nice shine to your locks! I go with a 3-2-1 recipe: Mix about 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 2 tablespoons of warmed honey (ideally raw) and 1 cup of low fat or greek yogurt. Apply however much it takes to cover your whole scalp and hair (longer hair means doubling this recipe to be safe). Put a shower cap over your scalp and hang out for about 20 minutes before you wash it out thoroughly with shampoo (preferably the clarifying or volume-enhancing kind).

 

Given all these beauty benefits alone, perhaps you're considering making the transition. Maybe you already enjoy dark chocolate and are happy to know it's good for you in these ways. Maybe you're already planning your Chocolate Spa Day with your friends! So I'll add some final take-home points you should remember:

  • Eating a little bit of dark chocolate is the key. It should be somewhere around 1 to 2 ounces each day (this is about 1/3 of a standard-size chocolate bar). No more than that! After all, dark chocolate still has sugar and calories.
  • When you are making skin or hair treatments for yourself, unsweetened cocoa powder is best because it contains the most flavonoids. You won't mind that bitter stuff on your skin as much as you would in your mouth!
  • It seems that incorporating it into your regular diet as an after- or between-meal snack is the best way to go for the longer term benefits like mood enhancement (at least 2 weeks) and sun protection (at least 3 months).
  • As I mentioned earlier– as well as in my last post about chocolate— it's the flavonoids that cause chocolate to be bitter. I also mentioned that flavonoids are also found in teas and wines. So you may wonder, ” Why not drink alot of that too?” Well, if the naturally bitter taste is an indication of their presence, I would say dark chocolate still contains more of these compounds. Also, too much of anything, especially alcoholic beverages, has proven to be more harmful than helpful anyway. Having said that, I do have a great dark chocolate tea recipe I will share in a later post for anyone interested!

I hope this has been as enlightening for you as it was for me to research all this. If you have any input on the topic including any more skin or hair treatment recipes, let's talk! I'd love to know more!

 

Chocolate: The Misunderstood Superfood

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We've been hearing for years that chocolate is actually good for our health, yet this kind of statement is very misleading. There is a specific type of chocolate that is beneficial. And for those of us with a super-sweet tooth, it's not the especially appealing kind…

Dark Chocolate. That's right. And it has to be at least 70% cocoa to be any good to you inside and especially out.

We really don't have to get into it's origins. It's pretty commonly known that chocolate comes from the cacao beans in the tropical regions of the world, like Africa, Madagascar, and South America. Just like coffee, it's much more familiar to us consumers once it's been roasted and processed much further from its natural state. But we need to understand that the less processed our chocolate, the more beneficial it is.

Right out of the cacao bean, the pulp and seeds are referred to as cacao. It doesn't become cocoa until it's been roasted and ground up good. So when you are in the store and you see “70% cocoa” or “88% cocoa”, you usually know you're getting the real unadulterated stuff. Dark chocolate contains more cacao and therefore retains it's naturally-occurring compounds that the media sing praises about. Trouble is, that good-for-you components, also known as flavonoids or flavonols, are naturally bitter. When you're eating semi-sweetened or milk chocolate, the manufacturers have replaced those compounds with milk and sugar so they would taste better. Frankly, your health isn't the first thing on their minds…your taste buds are.

This is why the term “chocolate” as a superfood is a misrepresentation. My idea of chocolate isn't the same as someone else's. Hell, my idea of chocolate isn't even what is was 5 years ago! The superficial Chocolate is the dark variety. And not just any dark chocolate. In fact, even if you find the chocolate bars that say “70% cocoa” on the label, you need to check the ingredients. The first ingredient listed is usually the main ingredient. If it says anything besides the lines of “bittersweet chocolate” (I've seen “milk” in some), it's not going to be the real thing. Here's what you should see:

By the way, in case you are concerned about the “chocolate liquor”, don't worry! It's not referring to anything alcoholic. After the cacao nibs are roasted and hulled out of their shells, then ground into a gritty paste, this is what it's called. The word “liquor” simply refers to its liquid state. I can't tell you how many times I had to clear this up for people who avoid alcohol for religious and health purposes.

Personally, when I am choosing dark chocolate, I have an additional criteria. I happen to favor products in general that are good for the environment. Chocolate is certainly no exception, especially when it has the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” seal of approval on the label. This means that the cacao used to make the chocolate was bought from small and often family-owned proprietors that work sustainably. This, in turn, protects the habitats and communities directly affected by these proprietors. And because the environment and its inhabitants are their first priority, I'm moved to buy my chocolate from them exclusively. I like people who care about something larger than themselves.

I used to be all about milk chocolate. I would grimace at the very mention of bittersweet or dark chocolate. For a long time I believed it was an age-related taste, but even though part of it may be true, I found as I was getting older that my taste for such “mature” food hadn't changed. What has changed it more recently, though, is the research I did to find out more about the “chocolate” they say is good for you. The health and especially beauty benefits were worth acclimating my tastebuds to this once-offensive substance. But that's for the next post.