Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Render Tallow

News flash.  Saturated fat is good for you.  Like really good for you.  The ultimate superfood.  Seriously, give me a slab of butter over acai berries any day.  I know this may come as a shock to some of you.  In the last few decades, we have been led to believe that fat was the enemy, and saturated fat was something to avoid like the plague.  As a society, we ditched the animal fats, like lard, tallow, and butter, and started consuming processed vegetable oils, shortenings, and margarine.  Study after study seemed to prove that saturated animal fats caused a myriad of health issues and that we were better off using these new-fangled, highly processed substitutes.  Like most people, I bought into this way of thinking for a long time.  It wasn't until I began my real food journey that I realized how wrong I'd been.  Undergoing an "oil change" was the single most influential dietary decision I've ever made.  My diet has always consisted of real, whole foods with plenty of fruits, veggies, and protein but my choices regarding fats and oils were misguided, uninformed, and extremely detrimental.
Go back a hundred years, and you'd find lard and tallow in every kitchen.  Go back a hundred years and you'd also find almost no obesity, heart disease, or diabetes.  Coincidence?  Hardly.  Even the Golden Arches used to use tallow to fry their French fries until 1983 when they eventually switched to soybean oil.  Vegetable oils like canola, soybean, and cottonseed are cheap and plentiful, the perfect recipe for processed food manufacturers.  Unfortunately in America,  the driving force behind our food supply is not the health of the people, but the almighty dollar.  Food manufacturers care more about their pockets than our waistlines and well being.  Consequently, cheap and dangerous vegetable oils replaced nourishing, time and labor intensive animal fats and we are all paying the price. 
Saturated fats, like the ones found in coconut, butter, avocado, and meats play an integral role in every single bodily function.  To gain a little perspective on how vital these fats are, we need to look no further than Nature's perfect food, breast milk.  It's composition is 54% saturated fat, and no one could argue that is by mistake.  Need more convincing?  Each one of our cells are comprised of 50% saturated fat.  Yes, you read that right.  Half of our cell membrane's structure is saturated fat.  Simply put, our bodies cannot function without it. 
But wait.  Animal fats are bad for us, right?  If you listen to the FDA, you may believe so.  In recent years, animal fats have been demonized, being blamed for everything from heart disease to high cholesterol.  Turns out they were wrong.  What?  The government wrong about something?  Say it isn't so.  Recent studies have shown that contrary to previously stated evidence, higher saturated fat intake is associated with lower incidences of coronary heart disease deaths.  You can read more about the benefits of saturated fats and the detriments of vegetable oils here, here, and here.  Animal fats like lard and tallow, especially if sourced from pastured animals have a veritable smorgasbord of health benefits including, but not limited to:
  • Providing energy and structural integrity to cells
  • Grass-fed tallow is high in CLA, a type of fat that actually burns fat.  CLA can reduce body fat and increase muscle mass
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Building and strengthening bones and teeth (preventing cavities and osteoporosis)
  • Protecting the liver,  maintenance of skin and hair and vital for proper brain function
  • Enhancing the body’s use of essential fatty acids
  • Lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Increased tolerance to the sun (less burning)
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved sleep
  • Decrease in food cravings
  • Necessary for absorption of vitamins A, K, D, and E

  • In addition to these benefits, animal fats also:
  • Are extremely shelf stable and do not become rancid easily
  • Do not call upon the body’s reserves of antioxidants
  • Do not initiate cancer
  • Soothe artery walls

Okay, so maybe you're starting to buy into this whole animal fat as health food thing.  But you're still a little hesitant.  I know what you're thinking.  You want to stay away from fat because, well, it makes you fat.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  Without getting all technical on you, hormones are responsible for our ability to either burn or store fat, specifically insulin and leptin.  Our bodies are designed to break down fat and use it for energy but they can't and won't do this if there is excessive consumption of grains, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates.  The reason?  They are the easiest source of energy for the body to use.  To better understand it we can use the bear and dumpster analogy.  In campgrounds around the country, bear-people encounters are becoming more and more frequent.  Bears are meant to eat berries and fish in the wild but have found a readily available food source in human garbage.  Are they designed to eat leftover hot dogs and potato chips?  Of course not. Is it easier to raid a dumpster or ice chest than to forage for their own food?  Absolutely.  The same goes for our bodies.  After years of indulging on too many processed, refined foods, the body begins to prefer these easier sources of energy and doesn't metabolize fat as effectively.  Too many refined carbohydrates and not enough healthy fat, and your body never taps into it's stored energy reserves, your adipose tissue. And if your body isn't using fat for energy, its storing it.  Translation: you gain weight.  

 I can't stress this point enough: Our bodies are designed to burn fat as fuel, but to do so, we have to increase our consumption of healthy fats and reduce our intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars!   Eat fat to burn fat as I like to say.  Even my own husband is shocked by the amount of fat I eat and my ability to stay in tip-top shape.  I keep trying to tell him, fat is the reason I am thin.  I realize this sounds so contradictory, but my body is truly fat adapted, meaning I can consume copious amounts of butter and endless slices of avocado without the slightest worry that I might start packing on the pounds.  The only caveat here is that you must limit your refined, processed carbohydrate intake.  Period.  End of story.  As long as you follow these guidelines, you not only drastically reduce the likelihood of contracting a number of health related diseases, but you get to enjoy food with lots of flavor, all while staying slim.  It doesn't get much better than that.  You literally get to have your bacon and eat it too.


I'm going to be presumptuous and assume that by now you have jumped on the animal fat bandwagon.  The mounting evidence in favor of fats plus the tantalizing thought of potatoes fried in tallow have you ready to start rendering.  Good news, it couldn't be any easier to make tallow. Plus, there is something so primal and therapeutic about running your knife through a thick piece of creamy fat. Or maybe that's just me...:)  
Step one.  Gather your fat.  Suet, the fatty layer around the kidneys, is the best if you can get it, but pretty much any hard fat will do.  Preferably you want your fat to come from grass-fed, pastured animals as these will have the highest concentrations of valuable fatty acids, although I'd take tallow from conventionally raised animals over vegetable oils any day.
Step two.  Place fat in freezer for a few hours.  This will make it a breeze to cut.
Step three.  Trim off any meat left on the fat and cut into small pieces or place in food processor.
Step four.  You have three options here.  All work well, but I prefer the stove top or crock pot. 
Stove top and crock pot version:
  • Put fat in large, heavy bottomed pot or crock pot.
  • Turn on heat to lowest setting.
  • Cover and cook for 1-2 hours or until there is mostly golden liquid with hard bits floating on top.
  • Strain rendered fat through cheesecloth or coffee filter over a mesh strainer into a mason jar.
Oven version:
  • Put fat into Dutch oven or other oven safe pot.
  • Turn oven on to 200 degrees.
  • Cook until you are left with mostly golden liquid and hard bits floating on top.
  • Strain fat through cheesecloth or coffee filter over a mesh strainer into a mason jar.
Tallow will turn a creamy white when hardened and last about a year in the fridge.  You now have a healthy, stable, high heat fat to cook and fry with!  In our house it doesn't get much better than sweet potatoes fried in tallow or veggies roasted in this delicious fat.
Making tallow soap or lotion is next on my to-do list.  What are your favorite uses for tallow?


Friday, June 21, 2013

Garlic Bacon Brussel Sprouts

Cruciferous vegetables.  Brassicaceae family.  Sounds like some poorly made Sci-fi movie.  Fitting perhaps, because the vegetables that belong to this elite group have unique phytochemicals that offer superhuman benefits. Not to mention they are delicious.  In fact, cruciferous veggies are my all time favorite and make their way to our plates almost everyday. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy, I love them all.  Plus cruciferous is just plain cool to say.  

By now, we are all aware that plants contain powerful antioxidants, and these antioxidants provide numerous benefits to our bodies.  Cruciferous vegetables however, are overachievers. They possess the unique ability to modify human hormones, detoxify the body, and prevent toxic compounds from binding to human DNA, thus preventing toxins from causing cellular damage that could lead to cancer. Studies have even shown that cruciferous veggies are able to suppress the genetic defects that may lead to cancer!  Even though a healthy diet comprised of whole, unprocessed foods is a valuable tool in the fight against cancer, cruciferous vegetables in particular have been shown to be twice as effective as other fruits and veggies in preventing it. As cruciferous vegetable intake goes up twenty percent in a population, cancer rates drop a staggering forty percent!

If all these facts aren't enough to make you want to increase your consumption of these super veggies, then adding two of the world's most delectable foods to one of these veggies should.  C'mon, bacon and garlic??  Does it get any more delicious than that?  Not for me.  It is a well known fact that smoked swine makes everything better.  And as for garlic, well the more the merrier, I say.  Usually I roast my brussel sprouts, enjoying the flavor that develops in the oven as well as the crunchy little leaves that get left behind.  But, I told you we eat a lot of cruciferous veggies, and so I need to find new ways to cook them.  Simmering slowly in nutrient dense bone broth and the addition of bacon and garlic makes this dish shine, both in flavor profile and nutrient content.  Bone broth carries with it it's own super powers, namely gelatin and a bevvy of amino acids, but we'll save that info for another post:)

These sprouts make a perfect side dish, whether it's for a family meal, or you are entertaining guests, this one is a definite crowd pleaser.

Garlic-Bacon Brussel Sprouts

2 lbs brussel sprouts, ends trimmed and cut in half, small sprouts left whole
5 pieces bacon, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 c bone broth
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp tallow, ghee, or more bacon grease

Brown bacon in a cast iron pan over medium high heat.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and keep the grease in the pan.

Add 1 Tbsp fat of your choice, turn down heat to medium and add garlic.  Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant, being careful not to burn the garlic!  Add brussel sprouts and turn in pan to coat with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook brussel sprouts 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften, then add broth.  Bring broth to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer for 10 minutes, until tender.  Remove sprouts with a slotted spoon, you will be leaving some broth in the pan.  Top with bacon and eat!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Green-Choco-Avo-Nana Smoothie

Green-Choco-Avo-Nana smoothie?  Whew.  That is a mouthful.  Even more impressive than the amount of words I put in the title of this smoothie, are the amount of nutrients it has.  We make a lot of green smoothies in this house.  I am fortunate that my kids don't have trouble eating their veggies, but there are a few that they shy away from, and leafy greens are one of them.  They will gobble up anything in the cruciferious family, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and they've never met an orange veggie they didn't like, but leafy greens just aren't their favorites.  Which is bad news for mom because I know how many protective compounds leafy greens possess that simply aren't found in other veggies.  This is why we incorporate green smoothies into our mornings. 

Since the kids have smoothies on a regular basis, I am always on the hunt for new combinations to try.  I like to switch up the greens, anything from spinach to beet greens and everything in between.  Sometimes we add a tropical twist with fruits like pineapple and kiwi, other times a berry mix gets thrown in.  This morning, I served up one of their favorite variations: green chocolate smoothie.

Now I know what you're thinking, "chocolate, greens, and avocado?"  It doesn't sound the least bit appetizing.  It is however, quite the contrary.  The taste and texture honestly mimic chocolate pudding.  The avocado gives this smoothie an unbeatable creaminess and adds a good dose of healthy fats, all without altering the flavor.  The greens (depending on which ones you choose) don't affect the taste much and give this smoothie a powerful nutrient punch.  The cocoa, banana, and honey?  Well, I think that's pretty self explanatory...  they make this drink delicious.

Green-Choco-Avo-Nana Smoothie

1 banana, frozen
1/2 ripe avocado
2-3 T cocoa powder (depending on how chocolate-y you like it)
2 T honey
1 t vanilla
1/4 c raw milk or more depending how thick you like your smoothies
handful of greens* (I used an organic baby spinach, chard, and kale mix)

Place all ingredients into Vitamix and turn that baby on!  Pour yourself a glass of that chocolate-y goodness and enjoy.  Chocolate for breakfast, minus the guilt...  count me in!

Variations & Substitutions:

- to make a dairy free version, omit raw milk and substitute full fat canned coconut milk or almond milk (you can also use a vanilla almond milk, but omit vanilla extract if using this).

- instead of honey, use maple syrup or dates.

- if your banana isn't frozen, no need to fret, just add ice and increase liquid.

-feel free to play around with additional ingredients like, chia seeds, flax meal, or cinnamon.

- to make 21 DSD compliant, omit honey and use a green tipped banana.

*Spinach is the mildest tasting green, and therefore the easiest to mask.  If using any other greens, it will affect the flavor a tad but nothing to be afraid of.  Always use baby greens however, as they blend up effortlessly.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tropical Coconut Milk Pops

Ahh, the dog days of summer.  It was a comfortable 103 degrees here today.  A perfect day to kick up your heels and relax outside.  Ideal.  Exceptional.  Idyllic even.  Sarcasm, along with 20 pounds of sweat are literally dripping from me as we speak.  Honestly, who in their right mind enjoys temperatures above 90 degrees?  Not this lady,  that's for sure.  There is nothing to do when it's this hot except play in the water and try and keep cool.  Sweltering temperatures and mid-day munchies DO NOT make for happy kids, so I knew I needed to restock my supply of cold treats in the freezer A.S.A.P.  We make a ton of popsicles in these warm summer months and these here are one of my favorites.  The kids think it's special to get a popsicle for a snack, and I'm content knowing they are enjoying a wholesome, nourishing meal devoid of all the junk found in store bought treats.

These tropical popsicles are honest to goodness real food.  They only have three ingredients, real fruit, and nourishing healthy fats.  Doesn't get much easier or more nutritious than that.  You can customize the fruit as you please, we've done a strawberry/banana combo that was equally delicious.  The coconut milk adds that subtle taste of the tropics and a creamy mouth feel.  The banana and mango compliment each other beautifully and when mixed with the coconut milk, you are transported to a tropical paradise where days are long, worries small, and the weather always pleasant.  Or at least that's where I imagine wish I was right now.  Until that becomes a reality, I will enjoy one of these pops and try in vain to keep the heat from ruining my mood and my good hair day....

Tropical Coconut Milk Popsicles

1 can full fat coconut milk
1 yellow banana
1 ripe mango

Open coconut milk and peel banana.  Complicated stuff, I realize.  Cut around the long, flat mango seed and remove the flesh.  Put coconut milk, banana, and mango into a food processor or blender.  Squeeze out any mango juice remaining around the seed as well and add to rest of ingredients.  Blend until combined.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until set.