My name is Carol, I'm a Crossfitting female, 23 years of age, with bad sleeping and eating habits. I'm compiling a list of recipes from everywhere-paleo, primal, sugar-free, gluten-free, etc. I love pastas so I'm learning how to use spaghetti squash or make peeled zucchini noodles or cauli-rice as replacements for my starchy, sugar-loving appetite. My problem is all of these recipes call for things that your average girl doesn't have in her pantry. Things like coconut milk, coconut oil, different kinds of “flours”, stevia drops, all-natural this and organic that. I really just need a list of things to buy in bulk and stock my kitchen with so that I'll always have these things at the ready for my meals. I love to cook and I cant wait to lose the guilty feeling of cooking with vegetable oil. So I'm looking to do an overhaul. Thanks for your help!
Thanks for letting me use your question as today's blog post. I am confident you are not the only one who has this same dilemma. First and foremost, it is important to note you do not “need” anything special to eat healthy. You can stock your pantry and refrigerator with fruits, vegetables, proteins, nuts, seeds, butter, cream, spices, coffee a little dark chocolate as well as a bottle or two of red wine and eat healthy. In fact, some purists will even scoff at the idea of using alternative sweeteners and flours to make conventionally unhealthy foods, like pancakes, healthy. If this is going to be a lifestyle and lifetime of healthy eating, I see no reason not to have a stack of healthy pancakes for breakfast once in a while or a healthy cupcake to celebrate your birthday. Ok, so let's address specifically the items you mentioned in your note, coconut milk, coconut oil, flours and stevia.
You mention searching recipes that are designated as paleo and primal. Many paleo enthusiasts recommend nixing dairy from your diet. The primal folks are a little more forgiving when it comes to dairy and the low-carb folks even more so. However, no matter which camp you pitch your tent in, if you have a sensitivity to dairy, it is best to ditch it. Is coconut milk a necessity, no, but for recipes that call for “milk” for the most part, it can be replaced with coconut milk with little to no difference in taste or texture. Many times it actually improves the recipe.
Coconut milk comes in a can and can be found in your local grocery store in the Asian foods section. It comes in regular and “light” varieties, go for the regular. Before using coconut milk, it's important to shake the can really well as there is a yummy layer of delicious coconut cream that floats to the top. If you are looking for a higher quality coconut milk, I recommend Native Forest Unsweetened Organic Coconut Milk. My reasons are two-fold, it is organic and the lining of the can is BPA-free. This brand is available online, in health food stores and at places like Whole Foods. It is not available at local grocers, at least in my area. If you are looking to save some pennies, you can try making your own coconut milk it's very easy and very yummy.
Guilty feelings be gone, no more using vegetable oils in your kitchen. I use coconut oil in baking when making a dairy-free recipe that calls for butter, but personally I prefer ghee for baking. I don't do a lot of frying unless you count eggs, and then they are cooked in the leftover bacon grease. Can't have eggs without bacon. That being said, I always have a jar of coconut oil in my cupboard for those times it is needed. Coconut oil is gaining in popularity and can be found at your local grocery store pretty easily. You may have to shop the organic section to find it, but it's usually on the shelf. When shopping for coconut oil look for unrefined, unfiltered, without any additives. Many of the paleo and primal enthusiasts seem to support the Tropical Traditions brand, however, I like Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil and Dr. Bronner's Organic Coconut Oil.
If you plan to do any paleo, primal or low-carb baking you will need something other than regular ol' white flour. Ditching grains and gluten is at the cornerstone for most paleo and primal peeps, however, many low-carbers don't necessarily avoid it. While some gluten-free bakers will use something like rice flour, it's important to note, many gluten-free flour alternatives have the same impact on your blood sugar that white flour or even wheat flour does. Hence, the preference for nut flours such as almond and coconut.
There a few different options for recipes that call for almond flour; blanched and unblanched. Blanched almond flour is made by soaking the almonds, removing the skin, drying them and then grinding into a flour. Unblanched almond flour is made from almonds, with the skins on and ground into a flour. While many claim their baked goods turn out better with blanched almond flour, in my baking I have noticed no difference.
In the past I have purchased almond flour either online or at our local food co-op, however these days, I make my own. I have perfected my technique at getting a very fine flour and have had only success using it in my baking. A few different brands I have used include, Bob's Red Mill Blanched Almond Flour, which can be found online or at health food stores, NOW Foods Unblanched Almond Flour, which I have found at the Vitamin Shoppe and online and Honeyville Grains Blanched Almond Flour, which I have only purchased online.
Another nut flour I use, occasionally, is Hazelnut Flour. I have only used Bob’s Red Mill Hazelnut Flour and either buy it online or at Whole Foods. I really only use this in making crusts for pies or cheesecakes, which is usually around the holidays.
Coconut flour is used by many in gluten-free baking. It is made from coconut flakes that have been de-fatted and ground into a flour. Due to its high fiber content, coconut flour is like a sponge and requires a lot of added moisture. I have used both Bob's Red Mill Organic High Fiber Coconut Flour and Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Flour with success. I can find both locally either at our food co-op or at Whole Foods.
We all need a little sweet in our life. While some will say to use no sweetener, artificial, natural or otherwise, I do not. I use stevia in almost all of my baking, in my coffee, in my tea and even in some cooking. When it comes to stevia a little goes a long way. Some brands of stevia are more bitter than others as well as impart a licorice flavor.
I have tried many different brands of stevia and am very partial to the NuNaturals brand as the stevia leaves are non-GMO and cold-water processed as opposed to a chemical process. I order this brand online as it is substantially less expensive. I use NuNaturals Pure Liquid Clear Stevia in several of my recipes where I want less than a cup worth of sweetening power. I use NuNaturals Pure White Stevia Extract Powder, anytime I need a cup or more of sugar. For more information on selecting a high-quality stevia product, check out my Guide to Stevia.