Tag Archives: tips

3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good: Ask Steph

3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good—Ask Steph | stupideasypaleo.com

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Julie H. writes:

I’m new to Paleo and want to eat better, but I get bored with a lot of the meals I cook. How can I make things taste better so I’m motivated to stick to eating this way?

Julie H.

A lot of readers here are probably not just new to Paleo, but new to cooking a lot at home as well. Creating flavor so that food isn’t boring on your palate is so important, and I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty simple if you remember some basics. When healthy food tastes good, you’re more likely to come back for more rather than turning to processed food loaded with salt, sugar and fat.

A Simple Formula For Max Flavor

When you have a really great meal at a restaurant and the taste harmoniously sings on your tongue, it’s most likely because the chef has done a great job balancing three or four different flavor components:

salt + sour + sweet or umami

The good news is that you don’t need a trip to culinary school to start experimenting with these right away.

Ingredient #1 For Making Flavor: Salt

The most strict of all Paleo diets calls for NO added salt to food. None. I have one word for that: bland. When food lacks salt, the result is a lack of flavor, unpalatable. You don’t want to go crazy in the other direction by over-salting, but adding salt to food is the most basic seasoning technique.

When you’re focusing on real, whole foods and avoiding processed, pre-made foods, your sodium intake tends to drop off dramatically.

There are lots of different types of salt, but sea salt is my favorite because it tends to be less intense than kosher varieties. There’s fine, medium and coarse grain and even flakes. I like a medium-grain sea salt for an all-around variety. What about iodized salt? I tend to avoid it because I’d rather get dietary iodine—an essential micronutrient—from whole foods such as sea vegetables, seafood and eggs instead.

Salt is also important in the cooking techniques like brining or sweating veggies to reduce their moisture content. That could be a whole post by itself!

What are some other ways to add a salty element to your food: using pickled or fermented veggies like sauerkraut or capers, cured meats such as bacon, olives or even coconut aminos.

Ingredient #2 For Making Flavor: Acid

Acidic / sour ingredients really help brighten up the flavors of a dish and are also good at cutting through an overly fatty dish. Typically, I add some acid right at the end of cooking to freshen up the flavor just a bit.

Another great way to add an acidic element to your meal is by incorporating a sauce such as salsa or vinaigrette. I always keep fresh limes and lemons in my fruit bowl for a quick squeeze of acid.

Some other ways to add an acidic / sour element to your food: using fermented or pickled veggies or different types of vinegars—apple cider and balsamic are my favorites.

Ingredient #3 For Making Flavor: Sweet or Umami

Using these two components can depend on the recipe you’re making, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Sweetness doesn’t mean you have to add sugar. Rather, consider sprinkling on some dried or fresh fruit; a drizzle of honey or maple syrup; or even roast veggies to bring out their natural sweetness.

Umami is basically a savory flavor that’s imparted by foods that have the amino acid glutamate. Note: Eating real foods that are higher in glutamate is not the same as using an additive like monosodium glutamate (MSG). Yuck.

Some ways to add umami to your food: using mushrooms (I like shiitakes), broth, tomatoes, fish sauce, coconut aminos or sardines.

Don’t Forget About…

Texture. Adding an element to your plate that breaks up the texture is another way to keep food interesting. If everything is soft, add something crispy / crunchy or vice versa. Some options: raw veggies, chopped nuts, plantain chips, etc.

Spices and herbs. Get your pantry stocked up with these because they’re awesome ways to add flavor. Click here to get my free guide.

Hopefully, this gives you some inspiration to make food that’s never boring!

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3 Easy Ways to Make Food Taste Good—Ask Steph | stupideasypaleo.com

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Paleo Holiday Survival Guide

holiday clean eating guide

…aka “How to Stay Sane but Still Eat Healthy at the Most Tempting Time of the Year”.

…aka “How to Not End Up Like Buddy the Elf.” d29944f9ed6d6e0b65d7dfe721178ea71485977b07af2ba0f7a1909edf714e18

From Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives to your office holiday party, candy cane booby traps seem to be everywhere this time of year. I’m bringing you some of my best tips to survive the holiday season with your health intact so you won’t need a New Year’s resolution of losing weight…again.

Without further adieu, here are my top 10 tips for staying paleo and surviving the holidays:

#1 If possible, host a gathering or dinner at your place. 

Yes, this usually makes tons of extra work for you, but by hosting, you’ll have more control over the food offered. Chances are, folks won’t really even notice you’re not offering lots of grain-heavy choices, so don’t make a big deal about how you’ve banished bread. I’ve made a few paleo Thanksgiving dinners, and everyone walked away happy and full.

#2 Station yourself near the veggies.

If I’m out at a party, I home in on the veggies and meat options and properly set myself up with a plateful. Shrimp cocktail? You bet. Fresh veggies and fruit? Yup. It may not be as sexy as those holiday cookies, but you won’t end up with a sugar hangover the next day.

#3 Have a booze alternative.

If you’ve decided to forgo alcohol, have a substitute drink. That way, at the office or gym party, you can mingle and still have something sparkly in your hand while you’re socializing. One of my favorites is a Mediterranean Fizz from Mel of The Clothes Make the Girl…it’s sparkling water with a lime and olive garnish. For another option, check out my Easy Paleo Mocktails.

#4 If going to a party where you’re unsure of the food situation, eat at home first.

Sounds simple enough but I’ve been to enough parties where the main food options were sandwiches and gluten surprises of unknown origin that if I’m unsure about it, I eat at home before I go. Nothing’s worse than going hungry at a party then arriving home really late, starving. If you show up and there are options, cool…you can pick and choose and fill your belly up with stuff that’s not going to wreck you.

#5 Be prepared for travel.

Holiday season is prime time for travel to visit family and friends, but long hours in transit plus limited options in airports and truck stop convenience stores often lead to impulse eating. I’ve consumed my bodyweight in nuts on many a long trip because I wasn’t prepared. Stash paleo-friendly snacks in your bag if you’re going on a plane (click here for one of my favorites). If you’re going by car, consider bringing a cooler so you can nosh while on the go. Check out these posts from Popular Paleo and Whole9 for paleo foods that travel well.

 #6 Don’t start a clean-eating challenge during the holidays.

This one’s tough. Some folks take on 30 day paleo challenges over the holidays in an attempt to “be good” because there’s a structure in place that they’re committed to. While it sounds great in theory, I don’t recommend it. It’s one thing to make paleo versions of your favorite holiday foods but when you’re ultra restrictive around this time of year, there’s always the significant chance of going 180 in the other direction because the pressure and temptations are so high. Falling off the wagon big time is even more likely at this time of year because you need to exercise willpower virtually everywhere you go. Just like a muscle, willpower gets exhausted from overuse, too. From personal experience and what I’ve learned with clients and readers, save your 30 day challenges for after the holidays.

#7 Schedule time to be active and exercise.

Even if it’s a short walk or a workout at home, with time off around the holidays, it’s easy to fall into a rut. You don’t have to hammer yourself, but make time each day to get outdoors or get  a sweat on. You’ll keep your energy up and prevent some of the doldrums that seem arrive with the winter season.

#8 Get the bat signal ready.

When temptations arise, have someone you can send a bat signal in the sky to. It could be a work buddy, a trusted friend or a family member. Staring down a tray of Christmas cookies? Send a text or phone a friend. The buddy system works wonders.

#9 Resist the urge to be a paleo zealot.

If you’re loving paleo and all the great stuff it’s done for you – better sleep, more energy, fat loss, etc. – it’s so tempting to want to. Tell. EVERYONE. When’s a better time than having a captive audience at a holiday get together?! (I’m being facetious…this is a terrible time). As much as you want to tell Aunt Mary why her dinner roll causes gut permeability or your Uncle George about the blood sugar spike he’ll get after eating that slice of fruitcake, it’s probably not the time or place. Course, if someone asks all about the fabulous changes they’ve noticed in you, you may want to strategically talk about what you’ve been doing (like, “I eat plenty of meat, veggies and healthy fat”). Focusing on the positive always helps. Take it from me, discussing the downsides of grains at a holiday family party when it’s unsolicited often goes over poorly.

#10 Know where you can cut corners.

I’m assuming you’ve already done a strict 30 days of paleo (like a Whole30 or similar) at some point in your journey, right?! (wink wink) You should have a good idea of which foods you can be lax about and which are an absolute no-go. If gluten makes your guts tie into knots but dairy usually doesn’t bother you too much, you’ll know to studiously avoid the cookies while maybe having some holiday eggnog. If you’re out and you want to indulge a bit, pick a choice that won’t wreck you for days.

If there’s a super special treat that your mom only makes for Christmas and it’d fill you with joy to have it, I’d argue that’s where you could / should / would give in. A bag of red and green M & Ms every day through December 31 just isn’t special.

What’s your best tip for clean eating during the holidays?

blue lights 405 x 405

holiday lights 405 x 405

5 Paleo Flavor-Making Juggernauts

5 Flavor BoostersThink back to the best meal you’ve ever had…go ahead, I’ll wait a moment. What was special about it? The flavors…complex yet subtle, layered by the chef to compliment each other left you with an experience. Far from plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, right? With a little know-how and a bit of creativity, you can make super tasty, rockstar-status meals.

It’s all about balancing flavors (this could be a long lesson but I’ll keep it to the basics). For novice cooks, try working with this simple triad: salt, acid and aromatics. For example, if a dish just tastes flat, try adding an acid like vinegar or citrus juice to brighten it up.

If you want to go a bit further, you can play with notes of bitter, savory (umami) and spicy.

You can create big flavors, too and it’s as simple as having these five Paleo-friendly, taste-tickling juggernauts on hand. These are my must-haves that I always have around my kitchen.

Vinegars

The options are pretty endless here and it’s generally accepted that vinegars (except for malt vinegar…derived from grain) are Paleo-friendly. Besides the obvious use in dressings or condiments, vinegar is a great way to add a bright note to veggies or heavy dishes like stews.

My favorites: apple cider, balsamic and white wine vinegars

Salts

Okay, this one can be controversial. Some folks who follow a very strict Paleo template don’t use any salt. At all. I tried this when I started Paleo 4 years ago, and it made food pretty boring. By avoiding processed foods, the amount of sodium intake in your diet is already substantially lower. As someone who enjoys cooking and my food, salt is part of the game. I use regular salt during cooking to adjust the overall flavor and sometimes flavored finishing salts as a very light sprinkle before serving. Which type of salt is best? Read this article from Chris Kresser for a comprehensive answer.

My favorites: Maldon Sea Salt flakes, smoked sea salt (pictured), truffle salt

Citrus Juice and Zest

DSC_0033Another option for adding a note of acidity or brightness to your food. Besides the obvious lemons and limes, you may want to experiment with others like grapefruit for savory foods (one of my favorite ceviche recipes uses grapefruit juice). If you’re throwing the zest out with the spent fruit rinds, though, you’re missing a gold mine of flavor! The outermost, colored layer of the skin (not the white pith underneath) contains the citrus oils that make the fruit so fragrant. I use a microplane grater to remove the zest and toss it in everything from dressings and marinades to desserts.

My favorites: lemons, limes and grapefruit

Aromatics

DSC_0035 These form the backbone of your dish…the flavor foundation everything’s built on. Used in cooking from cultures around the world, they can be used as a dominant note (think garlic chicken) or as a subtle layer. I always have plenty of aromatics hanging around! The powdered / ground form is useful for some dishes (especially where you don’t want to introduce a lot of extra moisture) though I lean toward the fresh variety just because the flavor is so much more pronounced.

My favorites: onion, garlic, and ginger

Fresh Herbs

DSC_0037Fresh herbs are so great! Not only are they relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to grow your own no matter your space constraints, from pots on a balcony to huge backyard gardens. Heartier fresh herbs like rosemary hold up well to cooking (like in Rosemary Balsamic Butternut Squash) while more delicate leaves like cilantro do better in cold applications (because they’ll wilt otherwise). They’re great to sprinkle on top of a finished dish for another layer of flavor or to brighten up the colors on a plate.

My favorites: flat leaf parsley, mint and rosemary

Let me know what your flavor-making essentials are in the comments below!

5 Tips for a Successful Whole30

doing-the-whole30 I’ve pulled five of my favorite tips for having a successful Whole30 (or just eating clean Paleo) into one place! Check them out and tell me how it’s going with your Whole30 in the comments below.

 

On getting your kitchen ready…

On batch-cooking…

On the buddy system…

On handling social drinking…

On having a contingency plan…

3 Ways to Start Improving Your Health…NOW!

When faced with the desire to “get healthier”, even the best intentions can get lost in the details, especially if you’ve read about “diets” such as Paleo or Zone. Trying to figure out what to eat, when to eat it and how to modify your eating and shopping habits can get so overwhelming that it’s easy to revert to status quo. If you’re having trouble getting started on a path to better health (whether its athletic performance, longevity, quality of life, or even just to look good naked you are concerned about), keep in mind these three simple tips to kick off your quest:

1. Get rid of processed food! You! Yes you snacking on a bag of chips or making dinner every night out of the frozen food aisle! As the old adage goes, “Only eat things your grandparents would recognize as food.” Start shopping the perimeter of the grocery store: meats/seafood/eggs, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and minimally processed dairy–and no, ice cream does NOT count as a healthy dairy product. Start to read labels. If you can’t pronounce what’s in your food (as a chemistry teacher, even I stumble on some of the words I see on ingredient lists), you shouldn’t be eating it. Besides being loaded with weird chemicals and preservatives, processed foods are loaded with excess salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. The maddening part is that they are often engineered this way to play with our brains in an addictive sense. A good rule of thumb is to consume food in the purest form possible.

2. Drink more water. This probably sounds cliche and like common sense to most of us, but we’ve become a society always looking for sugary or fattening drinks to “hydrate” us. From soda to sports drinks to Frapuccinos, we seem to have forgotten about the importance of plain old H2O. Aim for half your body weight in ounces but consider excessive heat and activity level in your volume. If you are an athlete, you have alternatives other than sports drinks! Try a sugarless electrolyte replacement such as Elete drops or plain old salt tablets.

3. Devote more time to sleep. Period. Aim for eight to nine hours a night. I know the rebuttal well: “I am too busy!” I’m here to tell you that there are things you are doing which are not improving your quality of life all that much, things you could give up or limit, that would benefit you greatly to reduce. Maybe it’s time to start giving yourself a curfew or putting a limit on the amount of television you watch or how much time you are online. Try it! I think the sentence, “Wow, I just feel too rested,”  has been uttered by nobody, ever.

Your health and well-being has to be your priority! Take these three steps today towards being your best you.