Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying Healthy and Fuelled with Kale

So I'm still going to try and do a quick Daring Cooks Challenge post here in the next couple of days, but we'll see how that turns out seeing as I'm also working full time the next 2 days :p So no promises, but I'll do my best! In case I don't make it, I wanted to do some kind of quick post to reassure everyone that I AM still alive, if just baring hanging on to life :)

A brief update on why I've been so terribly absent: This past month, yes the competition is OVER so my "free time" should technically have increased, but what really happened is it just got swallowed up by homework, college classes, and college PLANNING. And when I say college planning I mean applying to colleges, talking to advisers, talking to teachers, talking to recruiters, attending fairs and meetings, looking up scholarships, making visits, signing up for classes, dropping classes, writing resumes, getting letters of recommendation, sending emails, reading emails, submitting the FAFSA, ALLLLLL that good stuff. UGHHHH. yeah. So that's been my life recently...on top of THE REST of my life. SO, with all that weighing down on me, what is one of the big things my mom has been stressing? "STAY HEALTHY!" One of her greatest fears right now is that I'll suddenly becoming severely ill due to my hectic schedule and lack of sleep and then my progress with come to a halt and my whole plan will fall to pieces. THE END. And not that I blame her as it is a pretty legit fear with how unhealthy all of this stuff is for my mental and physical stability. Still, it's not like I can just let it all go either.

So what do I do in attempt to keep my body and brain chugging along this crazy path? Several things. I make sure to give myself breaks, even small ones, to do things that calm down my brain. I cook, I go for a walk, I read a chapter of a good book, I play my violin, or I listen to my favorite songs while I write 2 billion essays. A few things here and there just helps me keep it together. My evening devotions, daily prayers, and journaling is also a HUGE contributor in this area.

In addition I try to walk as much as possible to de-stress and keep my body strong. I'm a long way from being in shape for soccer season, but I do what I can in the winter :p Finally, another major factor in taking good care of myself is, of course, eating well! Keeping my mental and physical functions going at hyper-speed for looooong days and weeks requires the right fuel, just like a car. Eating food that I love relaxes me, but it is even more important to eat things that my body will love. Sugar, caffeine, and simple carbs may give me short bursts of energy and feelings of happiness, but all too soon that high will drop and leave me even more emotionally and physically drained. Instead, I aim to consume foods that give me energy from vitamins and minerals. This means lots of fruits and veggies of every shape and color to boost my immune system and whole grains and legumes for sustained energy. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of complex energy and protein. In addition, about 95% of my liquids are purified water or herbal tea which are essential to keeping my body running smoothly. Of course, I don't meet all of these goals all of the time and sometimes you just need to eat some simple carbs and sugar, but these practices have served me well so far as I'm months away from graduating high school and stepping into the stages of my life and I can take all this craziness and no just die because I'm trying to take care of my mind and body. :)

Now, as much as I love experimenting with healthy recipes and playing in the kitchen, I rarely have time for that, and usually just need a tasty, healthy meal FAST. Thus, most of my everyday meals are not what I would consider food-blog worthy, but every now and then I try out a new recipe that just really wows me! I'm going to share just a couple of those today. I've recently been having a lot of fun with coconut milk, but I'm not quite done experimenting with those recipes. However, another great ingredient for high-quality energy that I think a lot of people avoid is...kale! Kale is kindof like taking spinach and bumping it up a couple of levels on the health-o-meter. Unfortunately, though, where most people can handle spinach because it is milk in flavor and texture, kale takes more getting used to because it is so fibrous and has a much stronger flavor that is slightly bitter and rather broccoli-like. It has taken me quite a few attempts at various recipes to get myself to like kale, and I'm not a picky eater, so I understand how people could not be big fans of the stuff. 

My first success at appreciating kale was quite some time ago when I finally pushed myself to try making kale "chips". Everyone in the food blog world was raving about them so I finallly just gave in and gave it a go. OH my goodness, what took me so long?! My view on kale changed forever! Who knew that those dark leaves with a little olive oil and seasoning, baked in the oven for a few minutes could come out so thin and crispy and delicious? I think I ate like 2 whole bunches of kale in 2 days all by myself...hehe. I hope this convinces all of you to give these suckers a try if you haven't already. They are seriously easy, make a great snack, and use up a whole lot of kale really quickly!

Baked Kale Chips

§  Kale
§  Olive oil
§  Salt and pepper
§  Other desired seasonings (have fun with it!)
§  (optional) shredded or grated cheese

1.       Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2.      Wash and dry the kale then remove the stems by cutting on both sides of the stem in a quick, slicing motion. (the stems can be reserved and steamed or sauteed if desired). Roughly chop the de-stemmed kale into large bite-sized pieces. Place these in a bowl.
3.      Drizzle the kale lightly with olive, just enough to coat as if dressing a salad.
4.      Season with salt and pepper, and other seasonings and even cheese if you want. Plenty of recipes for these can be found online if you want to get crazy with it, but salt and pepper are tasty just on their own!
5.      Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, foil, or silpat and place the kale on the sheet in an even layer. It can be touching, but you don’t want it too crowded.
6.      Bake the kale 10-12 minutes until nice and crispy, but not too brown. Let cool for a minute or two and then enjoy!
Note: After 12-24 hours, depending on the humidity in your house, these chips take on a strange, chewy texture, even when sealed in an air-tight container. This may not bother some people, but I try not to have any chips left-over because I prefer them crispy.

Unbaked kale, with no oil or seasoning

Baked kale, with no oil or seasoning.
(The kale will still get nice and crispy without the
oil and seasoning, but it will also be drier in the
mouth and the flavor will not be as good)

Round 2, it may take a couple of batches to
get it just the way you like it.

Snack time!

You just KNOW that's way better than a potato chip! :)

Now, my 2nd kale recipe I'll be sharing is one I discovered just this week. I had some kale in the fridge and had been meaning to use it up, but I really wanted to work on my goal of enjoying kale raw, since so often I bake it or saute it. I'd try a few kale salads before and tried kale in my green monster smoothies, but it just wasn't enjoyable to me yet. Then I came across a concept that was new to me: massaged kale salad. Sounds pretty weird, right? Well, sorry that's what it's called! And really, it's a pretty accurate name. The basic idea here is that you take your raw, de-stemmed kale and some sort of dressing and you literally massage the kale with the dressing for a few minutes. By doing this, you are not only breaking down the kale's tough fibers with your hand motions, but you are also getting the flavor of the dressing deeper into the kale so you don't have so much of that bitterness of raw kale. Intrigued? I sure was! Now, this should work with just about any dressing you choose, but the recipe I chose and experimented with was sortof a pseudo-dressing created by mashing fresh avocado into the kale and flavoring it. Can i just say, this was a GENIUS idea of mine :) So quick, so easy, SO delicious! Check it! I'm now in desperate need of more kale and avocadoes!!

Raw Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado and Sesame

§  1 bunch of kale
§  2 ripe avocadoes
§  Juice from 1 lemon 

§  2-3 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
§  1 Tbsp of more sesame oil
§  Optional: sesame seeds (toasted if desired) to garnish
§  Optional: sliced avocado to garnish

1.       Wash, dry, de-stem (the stems can be reserved and steamed or sauteed if desired), and chop the kale into bite-sized pieces and place it in a large bowl.
2.      Scoop the avocado flesh into the kale then pour the lemon juice over the top.
3.      “Massage” the avocado and lemon juice into the kale, simultaneously tenderizing the kale and mashing the avocado, for about 5 min. The kale should change slightly in color and become much less fibrous. Taste a piece and see what or think.
4.      Add the soy sauce or tamari and the sesame oil and massage that in for another minute, then taste and adjust flavors as needed.
5.      Serve salad at room temp or chill first and then garnish with sesame seeds and avocado slices or whatever you want :) The possibilities are endless!
Note: I’m not sure how this salad will keep with other dressings, but the avocado develops an undesirable flavor after a day or 2 so I don’t advise making a big batch for left-overs like I did :/

Ready to become a masseuse? :)

The acid in the lemon adds great flavor and
helps in breaking down the kale without
killing any of the nutrients like heat would in
cooking! If you use a vinaigrette, the vinegar
should serve the same purpose.

5 min later, the avocado and lemon are thoroughly
massaged in, the kale it tender and slightly greener
in color.

Another 5 min later and my lunch is ready to go!
Healthy fats from the avocado, some protein in
the sesame seeds, tons of vitamins in the kale
and lemon and it's all RAW so allll the good stuff
is there and it tastes GREAT! Who needs red bull
to boost your energy when you've got this stuff?

Remember, these are just some sample recipes and that with these basic techniques you can do ALL kinds of fun flavor combos with kale and you DO NOT have to just eat it to get the vitamins and minerals! If you're not a big kale person or you're afraid to give it a go, these are great starter recipes! And if they can fit into MY crazy schedule, they can squeeze into yours too! Enjoy! Any questions or additional comments appreciated! :)