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The Gut-Brain Connection

Fermented foods help reestablish a healthy microbiome in the gut.

Fermented foods help reestablish a healthy microbiome in the gut.

by Jennifer Poa Jacobsen, RD

Do you ever have a “gut feeling” that something will happen, and then you’re spot-on?  Well, there may be more to it than we’ve traditionally believed.  The gut-brain connection has been getting a lot of press lately. The gut is said to be our “second brain,” controlling more of what happens inside our bodies than we actually realize.

Depression, anxiety, diarrhea, constipation, cancer, ADHD, MS, eczema, arthritis…and the list goes on.

But what if this myriad of illnesses and diseases were actually viewed as symptoms of an imbalance in the body?  While the research is still young, it looks as if varying health conditions begin with an imbalance in the gut—specifically the gut flora (bacteria).

Bacteria are often thought of as the enemy. We prevent them from multiplying in our kitchen, and they’re the reason why we slather on the hand-sani.  But—while certain kinds of bacteria are harmful, others are good.

Bacteria live and flourish in our gut, on our skin, in our mouths, and on various other parts of our bodies. The average person has 10 trillion bacteria on or in their body, with up to 10,000 species residing in the gut. The bacteria in our gut, or gut microbiota, aid in food digestion, protect us against pathogens, provide essential nutrients, and enhance our immune function. In fact, eighty percent of our immune cells reside in our gut. So when this delicate microcosm is disrupted, disease can set in.

How does it all work?

Scientists liken our microbiome to an ecosystem. If the bad bacteria dominate the ecosystem in our gut, they crowd out the beneficial ones and create a toxic environment.  Then, not only does our immune system become weakened, but our body works harder to clear the toxins created by the bad guys. 

Leading a high-stress lifestyle, eating a diet high in processed foods, and using antibiotics negatively affects our microbiome. In order to reestablish a healthy environment for the beneficial bacteria to thrive in, we must nourish our gut with healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lower our stress level, take a daily probiotic, or try eating fermented vegetables like raw krauts and kimchi. Fermented foods inoculate the gut, once the environment has been cleaned up. And you can easily find prepared krauts at grocery and health food stores.

Though often an out of sight, out of mind force, our bellies—or “second brain”—may hold the key to better health.  Start by nourishing your gut and see what happens!

Poa Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, working in the nutrition and food safety field for the past 10 years. She is passionate about fermentation--though seemingly contradictive to "food safety" --and regularly makes and eats fermented foods.

 

Locavino: Idaho Wineries at a Glance

By Leslie-Ann Sheppard

I confess. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at Idaho wines. You see, before moving to Teton Valley, I owned a wine shop on the island of Nantucket. For over a decade, I bought and sold wines from what I thought of as “all over the world”—California, Oregon, and Washington wines were “it” for U.S. representation. When I mentioned to friends that I was packing up and moving to Idaho, the responses typically included references to potatoes, wilderness, and fishing, but never to wine.

To my surprise, I found that Idaho borders states with esteemed wine production. Melanie Krause, owner and winemaker at Snake River Valley’s Cinder Winery, explains, “When I was working in Washington with Chateau St. Michelle, I would visit my parents back in Boise [my hometown]. I was always curious about the young wine industry here.” After comparing the temperatures between the Columbia Valley of Washington and the Snake River Valley in Idaho, and meeting with growers, she came to believe that world-class wines could be produced in Idaho. Koenig Vineyards proves Krause right, with their recent honor of the first Idaho wine to receive ninety-one points in Wine Spectator Magazine, for their 2010 Syrah Three Vineyard Cuvee.

Currently, the Snake River Valley is home to only forty wineries and distribution is limited. But you can get your hands on some quality Idaho juice in Jackson at Jackson Whole Grocer, Bin 22, The Alpenhof Bistro, and Nikai; at Forage in Driggs; and at Grand Teton Brewing in Victor.    

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CINDER

Who: winemaker Melanie Krause
What: ten different varieties
Where: Garden City, Idaho
    
Pairing: “I love [pairing] our Syrah with lamb or pork dishes, our Chardonnay with grilled halibut, the Tempranillo with roasted meats. And our Viogniers—we make two different styles—can be paired with salads, heavy soups, and cheese.”  -Melanie Krause

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KOENIG

Who: winemaker Greg Koenig
What: fourteen different varieties
Where: Caldwell, Idaho
    
Pairing: “Our all-time favorite pairing has to be Syrah with Idaho lamb. The rich, spicy flavors of Syrah really complement lamb, which needs some spice to offset the gamy flavors and richness. A simple preparation—either a leg or rack—with rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper, with seasonal vegetables and Idaho potato gratin, is a great winter meal.” -Greg Koenig

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TELAYA

Who: winemaker Earl Sullivan
What: four different varieties
Where: Garden City, Idaho

Pairing: “We make big bold wines and found that our 2010 Syrah pairs well with buffalo...A medium-rare buffalo strip, seasoned with pepper, plated with some baby potatoes and mushrooms…Our 2010 Cab is very rounded and fruit-forward, with the coffee and nutmeg coming later in the finish. It really lets the chocolate shine…Finally, our Turas has been paired with spicy pasta.” -Earl Sullivan

Leslie-Ann Sheppard is a former web-footer (sea level transplant), adventurer, writer, yoga enthusiast, and a lover of wine and food.  She works for Pro Guide Direct in Victor, and lives in Tetonia with her husband and two young daughters.

Out of the Box: Holiday Gift Giving for the Frugal Foodie

By Annie Fenn

My Decembers used to be full of frantic last minute shopping trips, schlepping from store to store, searching for the perfect gift. As the holidays approached, all I really wanted was to be home, in the kitchen, with my family and friends (and to give unique gifts without spending a fortune). Nowadays, I craft gifts from the kitchen for everyone on my list. I just set aside a lazy December afternoon to crank out my precious homemade goodies and reap the added bonus of kitchen time doubling as family time.

Gifts from the kitchen do take advance planning, but you won’t have to sacrifice a powder day for these simple projects. Most can be made in less than an hour from ingredients already found in your pantry. I no longer spend money on expensive wrapping paper destined for the trash or the fireplace. Instead, I keep an eye out, year-round, for suitable containers. Throw in a handwritten label and some festive twine, and they’re ready to go.

Tip: Make more than you think you’ll need. These recipes are easily doubled or tripled. The extra jars of oil make for a quick party favor. The Dark Chocolate Bark, however, tends to disappear regardless, so put some aside for yourself. It’s the cook’s reward for a holiday well done.

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Moroccan Preserved Lemons
Makes 2 quarts of preserved lemons, divided any way you like into airtight jars

Strips of preserved lemon rind give savory dishes a magical zing. Use the lemons for a Moroccan twist on chicken, to add zest to pasta dishes, to make preserved lemon vinaigrette, or to simply sprinkle over vanilla ice cream.

12 or more  organic lemons
1-1 1/2            cups Kosher salt
                       bay leaf, a few green cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick (optional)

1.  Sterilize the jars in the dishwasher or wash them with hot, soapy water. Dry completely.
2. Scrub the lemons well, and dry with a kitchen towel.
3. Cut them in half through the equator.
4. Using a sharp knife, quarter each half, cutting lengthwise down to the stem, but not through the stem (the lemon should look like a flower). The stem end should remain intact to hold the lemon half together.  
5. Rub kosher salt between each quarter. Place a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, and a few cardamom pods inside each jar (if using). Stuff as many salted lemons as you can into the jar.
6. Juice the rest of the lemons. Cover the salted lemons with the juice, leaving ½ inch of headspace for mixing. Cover tightly.  
7. For the next 3 days, turn the jar over once each day to mix the ingredients. After 3 days, put them in the refrigerator to cure for 3 weeks.
8. To use, take out a piece of lemon, rinse under cold water to remove the salty brine, and pull off the pulp. Slice thin or mince before adding to recipes.

Note: Preserved lemons will keep refrigerated for up to one year as long as they are completely submerged in the brine.

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Chili Orange Oil
Makes 2 ½ cups

When stored, the seasonings will settle, forming a goopy paste. To use: Skim the oil off the top for cooking or finishing a dish. Use the “goop” to spice up Asian noodles, soups, or stir-fries.

4    large oranges (preferably unblemished and organic)
1/2  cup red pepper flakes
3     tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
2     large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2     cups peanut oil (for allergies, substitute grapeseed oil)
1/4   cup sesame oil

1. Scrub the oranges with soapy water and an abrasive sponge. Dry with a dish towel.  
2. Zest the orange in long strips with a vegetable peeler. Finely mince the zest with a sharp knife.
3. Combine the orange zest and all the other ingredients in a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan. Heat until gently bubbling and maintain a temperature of between 225ºF and 250ºF on a candy thermometer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
5. Pour the oil and the seasonings into glass containers, cover, and store at room temperature.

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Ginger Lemongrass Vinegar
Makes 3 cups

Perfect for my favorite go-to Asian vinaigrette (just add EVOO)!

3        cups unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2     cup fresh ginger, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into quarter-sized coins
2        fresh lemongrass stalks, crushed and cut into 3-inch pieces

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy non-aluminum pot, and bring to a gentle simmer.  
2. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
3.  Pour the vinegar into clean glass jars, straining and discarding the solids.

 

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Dark Chocolate Cherry Pistachio Bark
Makes enough for about 5 gifts

Customize your chocolate bark by swapping out the pistachios for almonds, walnuts, or cashews. Swap the dried cherries for dried cranberries, figs, or candied ginger. Add a dash of chili powder for some kick.

16    ounces dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
1       cup dried cherries
1       cup unsalted pistachios, shelled
1/2    teaspoon coarse sea salt (Maldon, grey, or Fleur de Sel)
    
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  
2. Place the pistachios on a cookie sheet and toast for 10 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Discard the papery husks.
3. Melt the chocolate by placing it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Or warm in the microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds.
4.  Place parchment paper or a silicon mat on a 17 x 12-inch rimmed baking sheet.
5. Toss dried cherries with the toasted pistachios and sprinkle over the baking sheet, reserving 1/3 cup.
6. Pour melted chocolate over the center of the baking sheet, and spread evenly to the sides of the pan.  
7.  Sprinkle with reserved pistachios and cherries, pressing them into the chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt.  
8. Cool in the refrigerator until firm.
9. Peel the paper or silicon mat off the chocolate slab and break into large pieces.  
10. Pack into small boxes, jars, or tins.  

Unique foodie ingredients:

Fresh Lemongrass: Smith’s Grocery/8 cents a stalk. Prices may vary.
Marukan Rice Vinegar: Most supermarkets/$3.29
Morton Kosher salt: Most supermarkets/$3
Chinese fermented black beans: mingspantry.com 12 ounces for $4.99 or at an
Asian market for about $2.

Festive Packaging:

Mini Corked Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$1.99
Wide Mouthed Spice Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$1.79
Tall Vinegar Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$2.79
Weck 1/5th liter Deco Jars: weckjars.com/$13.55 for 6
Weck Mini Mold Pint Jars: weckjars.com/$23.50 for 12
Kerr Mason Pint Jars: Smith’s Grocery/$8.80 for 12
Kitchen Towels:  $2.95 each at crateandbarrel.com or locally at Bella Cose in Jackson or Festive Living in Victor.

After twenty years of practicing OB/GYN, Annie Fenn traded in her surgical gown for an apron and spoon.  She now writes about cooking, growing, and foraging for food at www.jacksonholefoodie.com. She splits her time between Jackson, WY and Felt, ID with one very tall husband, two soccer and skiing-obsessed sons, and two semi-obedient hunting dogs.

 

Cream of the Crop: Farmer’s Market Favorites

By Sue Muncaster

You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to make the most out of shopping at the farmer’s market. In fact, the simpler the recipe, the better. Selecting thrifty, choice ingredients requires flexibility. And a repertoire of recipes ensures garden-fresh flavor, making even the most obscure fruits and veggies shine.

When I return from the market, I find myself thumbing through recipes I’ve collected from my travels to places like Italy, Chile, and New Zealand. In these countries, generations of cooks have learned to prepare seasonal recipes with what’s on hand.  

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Swiss Chard Pie

Serves 6-8

You can easily substitute spinach for kale in this recipe. Or, if you want to get fancy, layer sautéed zucchini, summer squash, and thinly sliced carrots in a glass pie pan. For a flavor boost, add fresh shiitake mushrooms to the sautéed greens. 

  • 2–3 large bunches Swiss chard (8-10 cups, approximately 2.5 lbs.)
  • cloves garlic, chopped
  • eggs, lightly beaten
  • tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • tablespoons bread crumbs, divided
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Oil the bottom and sides of a pie pan or 9-inch cake pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs over the bottom. 2. Wash and boil (or steam) the Swiss chard in a large pot. Drain and cool. Squeeze out the remaining water and chop. 3. In a large frying pan, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until it starts to soften. Add the chopped chard and salt. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool. 4. Prepare the Béchamel sauce: melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste bubbles—do not brown it. Add the warm milk slowly, stirring continuously. When all the milk has been added, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Continue whisking and cook until thickened. 5. Add 3 beaten eggs and Parmesan cheese to the chard mixture; gently stir in Béchamel. Pour into a pie pan and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm and lightly browned.

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Savory Muffins

2 dozen regular or 10 jumbo muffins

I adapted this recipe from The Naff Caff coffee shop original. This Queenstown, New Zealand, locale serves savory muffins as an alternative to sweets for clients preparing for an adventure-packed day. They are an ideal way to sneak veggies into a picky eater’s (or kid’s) food. 

Muffins:

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 cups buttermilk 
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Filling/topping:

  • 1 cup grated cheese of your choice
  • 3-4 cups chopped filling (fresh veggies, herbs, and cubed meat)
  • 1/2 cup toppings (nuts, herbs, seeds, or additional cheese)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease two regular muffin tins or two jumbo tins. 2. With an electric mixer, beat together the oil, eggs, garlic, and buttermilk. If using spinach or fresh herbs, mix them in. 3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cheeses. Stir in the filling ingredients. 4. With a large spoon combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir only enough to mix (this is a delicate process, almost like folding). Batter should be moist but not runny. Adjust with extra flour or buttermilk. 5. Fill each muffin tin to the top (the muffins are thick enough not to run over the sides). Sprinkle on nuts, seeds, and cheese, or place an olive on top. 6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size of the muffin. Remove the muffins when they are golden brown, firm to the touch, and a tester comes out clean. Serve warm.

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Basic Pesto 

1 to 1 1/2 cups

Pesto sauce originated in the city of Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy (pesto Genovese). It traditionally consisted of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk). Everything was done with a mortar and pestle. Well, we aren’t in Italy and with today’s food processors we can do whatever we wish, right? Pesto is the ideal way to use up any mix of herbs and greens lurking in the refrigerator. It can be served with anything from pasta to 460 Bread and bison burgers to young potatoes. 

  • 1 salad-spinner full of fresh basil (or some combination of basil, arugula, mint, thyme, Italian parsley, cilantro, chives, and oregano)
  • 40 pine nuts, about 2 tablespoons
  • 10 walnut halves, about 1/4 cup (roasted almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, or sunflower seeds will work)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or other sharp, dry cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil 

1. Fill a food processor with basil, salt, garlic, and nuts and grind them to a paste (the salt will keep the basil green). Add the grated cheese. 2. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the feed tube, while the processor is running, to reach the desired consistency.

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Mangiatutto al Pomodoro 

Serves 8

This Tuscany side dish literally means “eat everything with tomato!” It’s only as good as the tomatoes you use, so be sure they are ripe and flavorful. Basil is a gentle herb. So if you want to add boldness, choose rosemary, oregano, thyme, or garlic.

  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh veggie combo (green beans, zucchini, summer squash, potatoes, kale, mushrooms, Swiss chard, or spinach)
  • 5–6  large, ripe, fresh tomatoes, peeled 
  • onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons or more fresh basil, cut into ribbons
  • 1/4 cup, or more, extra virgin olive oil 
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • Water, if necessary

1. Place veggies, tomatoes, onion, basil, and olive oil in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover and heat over medium. Reduce heat after 5 minutes and simmer until veggies are soft, approximately 30 minutes. 2. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add water if the mixture starts to stick to bottom of the pan. 3. Serve with meat, or a slice of crusty bread and a tossed salad.

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All Dressed Up

Nutty Blue Dressing 

2 cups

Puree 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3/4 cup parsley, and 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (try the Sapphire Blue from Teton Valley Creamery) in a blender or food processor. Stir in 1/2 cup of chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and/or hot sauce to taste. This makes a great dip for crudités. Or, use it as a B.L.T. spread. 

Green Goddess Dressing 

2 cups

Adopted from the Chez Panisse Vegetable cookbook, this gorgeous dressing adds flavor to simple greens or heirloom tomatoes.

Blend 1/2 ripe avocado, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 chopped garlic clove, 2 chopped anchovy filets (packed in oil, drained), 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and a dash of sugar in a processor. Gradually add 3/4 cup olive oil through the feed tube; blend well. Pour into a bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream. Add any combo of: 3 tablespoons Italian parsley, 2 tablespoons tarragon, 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon basil, 1 small chopped shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 3 hours—dressing will separate if not chilled. Re-whisk before serving. 

Warm Bacon-Mushroom Vinaigrette 

1 cup

Cut 4 slices of thick bacon into 1/2-inch-wide strips and fry in medium skillet until bacon starts to crisp. Add 2 cups sliced mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender. Add 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar and 1/4 cup water. Simmer until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Toss, while hot, with spinach or braising greens, or serve over lamb or pork chops.

Maple-Sesame Dressing

1 1/2 cups

In a blender or food processer combine 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos), 1 small garlic clove, 1/3 cup tahini, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and 1/4 cup water; blend until smooth. This Cosmic Apple Gardens work-share’s favorite goes best with stout greens like mustard, arugula, or braising greens.

All dressings best eaten fresh or within 3 to 5 days.