Monday, April 27, 2009

Battle the "Big C" with Stuffed Mushrooms

I'm battling a small "c", which stands for computer. My computer fried. I think it's literal. I smelled hot plastic for several days, and the next thing I knew, my computer wouldn't turn on. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Fortunately, I have a computer guru who backed up absolutely everything including all my programs. Now I have another battle ahead of me with another "C" - and that stands for Costco. I don't have the original box, but I'm going to try and return it anyway. I haven't had any luck dealing directly with the manufacturer.

But all these battle pale in comparison to the battle with the Big C - Cancer. As an acupuncturist, I have many patients who come to me with cancer. Sometimes it's the nausea from chemotherapy that brings them to me. Sometimes they want adjunct therapy to their western medical treatments. Occasionally I'll get someone who doesn't want to do western medicine at all - just acupuncture and herbs. I never argue with my patients' choices - I just try to support them in what they are going through.

One of the things which I try to impress upon my
patients - all of them - is the benefits of eating well. I
heard an interesting interview on the radio yesterday with a man who was talking about diets. He has studied different diets of people around the world, and has discovered that there's only one which leads to obesity and disease - ours.

Couple that with the research I've been doing recently on chronic inflammation (a condition which underlies most chronic illnesses and can be a pre-cursor for cancer), and one of the things that seems to lead to a decline in health is over-consumption of red meat. Yes, there are many cultures which exist with diets high in meat, and they don't necessarily have high cancer rates, but there are too many other factors involved which come into play as well, making a direct correlation impossible. But the bottom line is that in industrialized, high-stress societies like our own, excessive meat consumption seems to lead to higher rates of disease. In many Asian countries, meat is consumed regularly, but the quantities of meat are pretty small.

Chris over at Mele Cotte knows something about cancer, and she also knows something about cooking. She's had the first one (knocked it out in the first round!) and has a passion for the second. This is her third year of hosting this event, but the first time I've actually entered it.

So what is a healthy diet? There is so much confusing information out there and it all changes so often, how do we know what to do? Here are some basics which seem to play out in the real world:

1. Don't eat processed foods. Food doesn't naturally grow in a box or a can, and definitely doesn't appear in styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic! Try to stay away from things that are sold that way.

2. Read the label. If there's anything there which you can't pronounce and don't know what it is, it probably isn't food. Don't eat it.

3. "Food" and "nutrients" are two different words with two different meanings. Eat food. Don't eat nutrients.

4. Stay away from anything with the word "Diet" on the label. You will not lose weight and it contains things which aren't food.

5. Don't consume high fructose corn syrup. You will only gain weight, increasing your risk of disease.

6. And finally, never, ever, ever microwave anything in plastic. Neither in a plastic container nor with plastic wrap over the top. The plastic will be broken down by the heat and produce a chemical which mimics estrogen in the body, but which is actually carcinogenic.

So - now that we're done with the "don'ts", what do you get to eat? One of the most amazing things on the list that I know of is mushrooms. Shitakes have gotten the press on this one, but it turns out that all mushrooms contain polysaccharides, especially Lentinan. Lentinan is a powerful compound which helps build immunity. Mushrooms are also a source of Beta Glucan and a protein called lectin which attacks cancerous cells and prevents them from multiplying. Pretty cool for a fungus!

Another wonderful food which we all know and love and which is a major cancer-fighting food is garlic. Do you love that, or what? Garlic will not only boost your immune system, but it also helps to break down cancer causing substances. There are studies which have linked garlic and onions (including leeks and chives) to decreased risk of colon and stomach cancer.

Now those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I love my chilis, but it turns out that they are also cancer fighting as well. Capsaicin neutralizes cancer causing substances and may prevent stomach cancer.

So it seems that this little dish I made last week packs a lot of cancer fighting food into one small plate. But the best part is that it tastes good!

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Marinated mushrooms
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Marsala (optional)
  • 4 large fresh thyme sprigs
  • 6 large portobello mushrooms

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach
  • 1 pound button mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion (such as Maui or Vidalia)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 5-ounce package soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled


For marinated mushrooms:
Whisk first 6 ingredients and Marsala, if desired, in medium bowl for marinade. Stir in thyme sprigs. Cut stems from mushrooms and place stems in processor. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up, in 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Pour marinade over mushrooms and marinate 4 hours, turning to coat occasionally.

For filling:
Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain; cool. Using hands, squeeze excess water from spinach. Place in small bowl.

Add half of button mushrooms to processor with portobello mushroom stems. Using on/off turns, process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to medium bowl and repeat with remaining mushrooms. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add chopped mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and increase heat to high. Cook until almost all liquid evaporates, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Season mushroom mixture with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl; cool to room temperature.

Add spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and breadcrumbs to mushroom mixture; toss to distribute evenly. Add goat cheese and toss gently to distribute evenly. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover filling and let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Transfer marinated mushrooms, with some marinade still clinging, to rimmed baking sheet, gill side down. Roast until beginning to soften, about 15 minutes. Turn mushrooms over. Divide filling among mushrooms. Sprinkle remaining 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over and bake until heated through and cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Kitchen Notes:

I added green chili, of course. And I sprinkled some smoked Paprika over the top.

For more health information, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cucumber Dill Soup after a crazy New Mexico trip!

Last week I was in New Mexico. Now, most people, when they hear "New Mexico", they immediately think "Santa Fe", but my house is in the mountains east of Albuquerque - about an hour south of Santa Fe. Santa Fe is lovely, which is why it attracts tourists and movie stars, as well as all kinds of people who are into New Age thinking - psychics and healers, numerologists and astrologists. Where my house is situated attracts people who have jobs in Albuquerque, but who prefer to "get outta Dodge" at the end of the day. There are also lots of artists living in the mountains, but it doesn't attract the publicity of Santa Fe - mainly because it lacks a real town. Santa Fe is old, has beautiful architecture, and real estate values high enough to attract people with money.

All of that being said, I spent more time in Santa Fe and Galisteo (just outside of Santa Fe) this trip than I usually do, and as a result, I met some pretty fascinating people. The weather was typical of this time of the year in New Mexico - one minute it was snowing, the next it was sunny. Mostly it was windy, but sometimes not. It sleeted one day, and then the sky put on a spectacular show of clouds - the clouds of Michaelangelo, as Joni Mitchell once wrote. I went for a long hike one day and needed no more than a long sleeve cotton top, and I sat outside and ate salad.

On Easter Sunday, we went to hear a talk given by a man named Paxton Robey. Paxton is an engineer who has, over the last ten years, been doing training for large corporations as well as the Department of Defense in computer networking. However, back in 1968 when he was working for a major U.S. airline, he became aware of the fact that he had psychic abilities, and ever since then he has been working more and more in the spiritual realm, working with metaphysical and spiritual seekers. Whatever your take on these kinds of things, Paxton's message is always positive and uplifting. If you're interested, you can check out his website at No Time For Karma.

That evening, we went to a meditation at the Light Institute in Galisteo. I head read about it back in the 70s in Shirley McClaine's book "Dancing In The Light". She mentioned the Light Institute in that book, and also talked about having worked with it's founder Chris Griscom. In those days, Chris was doing past life regressions using acupuncture, and Shirley McClaine was one of her clients. These days there's a free meditation every Sunday evening, and Chris led it on Easter Sunday. Following the meditation, there was a discussion whose theme was "transcendence".

And so on, and so forth.....That was my trip to New Mexico this time. Now, let me ask you something. Do you think that after spending days like that, you would be able to post recipes and photos of food? I mean, even if the food was spectacular? If your answer was "yes", then you are waaaaay ahead of me!! It was all I could do to keep my eyes open past 9:30pm!

Which is why I missed last Sunday's post. Sorry 'bout that.

Now that I'm back in San Diego, the weather has gotten beastly hot. I think it was in the 90s today. THE 90S, PEOPLE!!! That's ridiculous! It's still April! Supposedly it will remain quite warm until around Thursday, when it will be back in the 60s again. So when faced with weather like this, all those plans for roasting more veggies went out the window. I needed that window open and the oven off. It was time for cold soup. And for some reason, it needed to be green, so gazpacho was out.

In Chinese medicine, different foods have different properties. Cucumbers are a cooling food, which is why they're perfect for summer when you want to cool down. (Watermelon is another great cooling food.) I thought of cucumbers and scallions and dill.....and in my mind the soup was made. Now all I had to do was buy the cukes, dill and some buttermilk. I had the rest. I kind of winged it with this one, so proportions are approximate. But you guys are phenomenal cooks - you'll know how to adjust.

Cucumber Dill Soup

3-4 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
4 scallions, white parts and some of the green
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 bunch of dill weed
3 cups of buttermilk
1/2 C plain yogurt
juice of 2 meyer lemons
1 tbs chopped green chili

Thinly slice some of the cucumbers and scallions crosswise and save for garnish.
Coarsely chop the rest of the cukes and scallions and toss into the blender
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend
Taste and correct the seasoning.

Chill. This is important, because it tastes so much more refreshing when it's chilled for at least an hour.

Kitchen Notes:

If you don't have green chili, I would recommend using something spicy. You could use pepper or hot sauce, but be judicious. You don't want the heat to overpower the flavor of the dill, and this is coming from a woman who loves spicy food!!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

I was telling a friend the other day that I believe the secret to living well is having a good Asian grocery market nearby. There was a large one not too far from me which had been closed for months for remodeling. It recently reopened, and I'm back in heaven again. Large bags of longan fruit, huge bags of snow peas, loofah - a wonderful vegetable as well as a decent sponge - green veggies with no English names, exotic tapioca desserts with things like corn in them, every conceivable sauce and some inconceivable ones too, and some of the freshest fish and meats you'll ever see behind a counter. And all of this sold at recession prices.

Like I said........heaven!

I was in somewhat of a daze by the time I reached the fish counter in the back of the store. But the large tiger shrimp selling for $5.99/pound made me snap out of it in a hurry. I had already picked up a bag of snow peas and another one of baby bok choy. The shrimp practically winked at me, whispering "Hey, honey, how about taking me home with you?" I looked into my cart and back at the shrimp and decided that they had a point. Who was I to argue with perfection?

As usual I just started assembling a meal without thinking about amounts. But you who read this blog are better chefs than I am, so you can pretty much guess at the amounts. Besides, if you're wrong, there's always hot sauce!

After heating up some canola and hot pepper oil in a pan, I added sliced onions and some garlic. When the onions had wilted, i put in the bok choy, which I had cut in half length-wise. After they were lightly seared, I threw in the shrimp and continued to toss the ingredients. The last veggie to go in was the snow peas. I love snow peas in salads and I prefer them very lightly cooked. After the snow peas were in, I added some seasoned rice vinegar, about a teaspoon of sugar, lime juice and a touch of soy sauce.

There's precious little chopping involved in this recipe. The bok choy was only sliced in half. The onions only need slicing. Only the garlic needed to be minced. How simple was this? Simple enough that you could fix it mid-week and still have time for your favorite TV show. Enjoy!