Soup’s on!

“A good soup will resurrect the dead” — ancient proverb

Nothing beats a nice hot bowl of soup on a cold day, especially when you’ve made it yourself and don’t have to worry about MSG, BPA or excess of salt.  Once you get into the habit of making soup, the bones you used to throw away become one of your favorite ingredients.

For this soup I chose beef neck bones.  The many joints provide lots of gelatin and other nutrients for the stock.  Just a few of the nutrients leached from the bones and joints will include Calcium, Magnesium, trace minerals and items such as chondroitin and glucosamine (anyone taking these for arthritis?).  For more information about the health benefits of a proper soup stock I always refer to the article ‘Broth is Beautiful‘, by Sally Fallon at the Weston A Price Foundation.

Ingredients: Beef Soup
4 pounds meaty neck bones
8 quartz cold filtered water
2-3 Tbsp vinegar
3 onions, sliced
6 carrots, coarsely chopped
6 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
5 slices ginger
Sea salt, added to taste upon completion

Getting Started:  I began by blanching the neck bones.  This will result in a clearer stock with less skimming later (if you want a richer colour and flavour your can quickly oven roast the bones).  I simmered the bones on low heat overnight with a few tablespoons of vinegar for about 12 hours.  The vinegar is said to help pull even more minerals from the bones.  With a slotted spoon I then removed the bones, but left the meat, and began to reduce the stock.  I sliced and browned 3 onions and added them to the stock with 6 chopped carrots, 6 chopped celery stocks and a few slices of ginger.  By the time the carrots had softened the stock had reduced to a rich flavour.

I will generally cool to room temperature before refrigerating.  Once chilled the congealed fat can be easily removed.  Reheat portions and serve.  This will make about 12 large servings.  Enjoy!

Jell-o for adults

I’ve been looking for some gluten-free desserts lately and I got to thinking about Jell-o.  It was always a childhood favorite.  Looking back I think the real attraction was that it was the only food you were allowed, even encouraged, to play with, or maybe it was just the neon colours and all of the sugar.  Over the last few years I’ve been learning of the many health benefits from the gelatin contained in Jell-o so I was excited to see it on sale last week for just $0.59 a box.  Then I read the package on the strawberry flavoured Jell-o:

Ingredients: Sugar, gelatin, adipic acid, sodium phosphate, sodium citrate, artificial flavour, fumaric acid, colour (E010B).

Okay, to be fair, you could do a lot worse when selecting a dessert but there is a lot of sugar and have you seen how “artificial flavour” is broken down?  Listing all of the chemicals involved would fill the side of the box.  I believe I first saw the break down in the book ‘Fast Food Nation’ and it looked a little something like this for the artificial flavour in a strawberry milkshake from a popular fast food restaurant:

“Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenyglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerbate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl-2butanine (10% solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenythyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, y-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.”

I really don’t want to consume all of those chemicals even if they are generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by those that produce them.  So my ‘jello for adults’ is not made with vodka or shaped into something that you have to hide from your kids ’cause they “won’t understand until they are older”, it is simply a jell-o dessert with less sugar and less additives, a recipe that puts you in control of its contents, of how potent the flavour may be, of how sweet it is, a slightly more natural version and perhaps one you will appreciate if you are trying to avoid some chemical exposure while minimizing your sugar intake.

Okay fine I still bought eight boxes of the $0.59 J-ello, but now I’m moving on…

You’re going to need some gelatin (vegans can find vegan sources, I went with Knox gelatin), some juice and some water.  I chose Kedem’s Concord grape juice because it seems to be the most pure.  Just two ingredients, Concord grape juice and a preservative (if you can find a better one, use it).

Directions: Bring 2 cups of grape juice to a boil, stir in 3 packs of Knox gelatin until dissolved.  Remove from heat, stir in 1 cup cold water (or cold juice if you want a more concentrated flavour), carefully pour into the serving container(s) of your choice and chill until it sets.  This could take a couple of hours to set completely in your refrigerator.  You can use any juice that you like just don’t use fresh pineapple or the gelatin won’t set.

Want to know about the health benefits of gelatin?  Or how it can contribute to healthy joints, skin, bones, digestive track and a healthy immune system?  I was going to write about it here but I would just have to quote the heck out of my favorite article on the subject, so instead I’ll encourage you to go straight to the source, the article “Why broth is beautiful” from the Weston A Price Foundation:

Now go ahead – play with your food and feel like a kid again (while appealing to your adult sensibilities).  Enjoy!

DIY Energy Bars

I can remember many a cool fall ride in the mid to late 90s, coming over a rise on a beautiful country road, as I neared the half way mark of a 100+km ride, the birds overhead flying south for the winter, the sun low in the late afternoon sky, as I tried in vain to gnaw my way through a cold Powerbar that had been in my jersey pocket.   They were hard as a rock and about as palatable.  The only thing worse than their texture was the effort required to open their space-age mylar packaging, with gloves on, as you rode!   Powerbar was the go-to brand though.  They sponsored everything on two wheels and they were about all you could find at the bike shop, I even acquired a taste for them after a while.  Seriously!  I’m not sure exactly when Clif bars came out, but I was quick to convert.  They offered chewy ‘chocolate chip’, ‘oatmeal raisin walnut’ and ‘carrot cake’, among others!   They were like cookies that you could believe were good for you.  As the years, and the miles, passed, my nutritional perspective began to change and I sought to get away from the carb dominant bars and soy protein isolates.   By this time, around 2005, I wasn’t riding much, except to get to work, but I was looking for a convenient bar to fuel the longer sessions in my outrigger canoe that tended to take me from the TSCC in Toronto to Port Credit and back (about 34km depending on the line taken), or from the TSCC to Ashbridges Bay (also about 35km), or for a quick post workout recovery snack after my favorite loop around the Toronto Islands.  Around this time MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) products were becoming better known amongst endurance athletes, and while I wasn’t about to drink MCT oil from the bottle, I did look for lower carb bars that were higher in fats, especially these medium chain fats from coconut oil.  My favorite became the Cocochia Bar by Living Fuel.  It happens to be dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free so it’s ideal for those looking to remove these common allergens from their diets too.  The flavour is mild, and it provides sustained energy, just like the wrapper claims!  In fact I liked them so much I became one of their Trusted Advisors, or distributors, a few years ago.   The only problem, other than all of the chia seeds that will be stuck in your teeth and the fact that no one will tell you, would be the price, about $35 +tax for 12, or about $3.25 per bar.  The price is actually a bargain given the quality of the mostly organic ingredients, but it does add up after a while.  Still a favorite I tend to pack one in my jersey occasionally now that I’m back to cycling regularly  and covering longer distances again.  Here’s a link if you’d like to learn more:

But this isn’t about Cocochia bars, this is about my bar, or your bar, this is about making your own and packing it to go!

I was inspired about a month ago have a go at making my own bar so I looked for recipes online.  Many of them used oats as their base.  I have been on a gluten-free diet since March, and while oats are a gluten-free grain, they are pretty much all contaminated with other cereal grains, and thus gluten, during shipping, processing and packaging, so I decided to go with toasted Buckwheat instead, and hoped for less contamination.   Yes, despite having wheat in the name Buckwheat is one of the few gluten-free grains.  It has a rather strong flavour though, compared to oats, so I wasn’t sure how it would work out in a bar, but I figured if I mixed in enough dark chocolate chips it would all even out 🙂

So with some online recipes in mind to serve as a guideline I took a trip to the Bulk Barn at Yonge and Carlton and picked up a pile of things that I hoped would go well in a bar;  Toasted Buckwheat (often labeled Kasha), raisins, shredded coconut, walnuts, semi-sweet dark chocolate chips etc and some brown-rice syrup to help bind it all together.  The most expensive ingredient would be the walnuts, but even then, the price per bar comes in under $2 and for that price I know what’s in it, and I get exactly what I want.  Actually I would prefer to use almonds instead of walnuts but my partner may be allergic, so I made the change in case she’d like a sample.  Baked ahead of time, these chewy, nutritious walnut-buckwheat bars are the perfect companion for long rides or your favorite canoe route. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to give them a try, or make a few substitutions and come up with your own:

Chocolate-Walnut-Buckwheat Energy Bars (okay I may need to work on the name)

Homemade energy bars

1 1/2 cups Toasted buckwheat (kasha)

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
2 tbsp packed light brown sugar (to help balance the bitterness of the cocoa powder)
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp coconut oil
3 Tbsp brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In food processor, or coffee grinder, grind all or most of the walnuts into a coarse flour.

In large bowl thoroughly mix together all dry ingredients, add oil and brown rice syrup and mix thoroughly.

Pat mixture evenly into a parchment-lined cookie sheet until it reaches desired thickness. Bake about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to cutting board to cool.

While still warm, shape edges if necessary.

Once cool cut into rows, 2×5.  Makes 10 bars (obviously).

Enjoy and let me know how yours’ turn out!