Monday, November 11, 2013

Meat Monday: Baked Crunchy Tacos with grass-fed beef, spinach, and black beans

Contrary to today's post title, I am planning on actually doing "Meatless Monday" blog posts more regularly.  You see, over the past year our family has transitioned from a "meat on every dinner plate" to become "flexitarians."  The word, flexitarian, is a marriage of the words, "flexible"and "vegetarian."  Over time, we have added more food groups to our diet.  These include the “new meat” (beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs); fruits and veggies; whole grains; and spice.  By focusing our dinner plate to include a majority of fruits and vegetables, gradually meat just had less of a position.  But, we are flexible and still consume it--but WAY less frequently.  In fact, we believe there is even a specific purpose for it and it can actually be very good for your health--if you choose wisely.

Today's recipe that I am sharing does include meat:  baked crunchy tacos with grass-fed beef, spinach and black beans.  Tacos are something that anyone, with any cooking ability, can make.  But, to make a delicious and nutritious taco takes a little more intention.  So, I am not just going to share a recipe today.  I am also going to explain why I chose to include each of the specific ingredients.

Grass-fed beef:  One of the things I have learned over the past year is that grass-fed beef is actually very good for you!  I always knew grass-fed beef was better than conventional, but honestly, I never really understood just how much better it is for you.  I have found one principle (and quote from Michael Pollan--author and chef) to be true:  "You are what what you eat eats."  This means that the diet of the animal affects the nutritional value and quality of the meat, milk and eggs we consume.  Cows, for example, are intended to consume grass.  If they are fed too much grain and not enough grass, they get sick and need antibiotics.  Also, they are often given hormones to increase their growth or production.  The difference between grainfed and grassfed animal products is dramatic.  For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats (more omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA; fewer omega-6s and saturated fat) in their meat, milk and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. I could share a plethora of statistics with you, but instead, I will share a few and point you to an awesome article to read more (and be blown away!)  First, did you know that grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk.  It also has extra omega 3's (which may reduce cancer risk).  One more awesome tidbit to share:  the meat and milk from grassfed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called "conjugated linoleic acid" or CLA.  To quote the linked article: "When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their milk and meat contain as much as five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets. CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. In laboratory animals, a very small percentage of CLA --- a mere 0.1 percent of total calories ---greatly reduced tumor growth.In a recent Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk oI honestly could go on and on on the benefits of grass-fed meat products.  Click here to read more details about the benefits.  

grass fed beef health benefits
Vitamin E is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This potent antioxidant may also have anti-aging properties. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin E.

So, without further ado, here is your "Meat Monday" recipe.  

Baked Crunchy Tacos With Grass-fed Beef, Spinach and Black Beans
12 Crunchy Taco Shells (non GMO, whole grain is best!)
1 1/2 C Black Beans Or One Can, Rinsed  (I actually used an organic black bean and corn salsa instead and it was delicious!)
1 lb. Grass-fed Beef
1-2 Tsp. Tumeric
1-2 Tsp. Cumin
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder (or 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced)
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Salt
Organic Sharp Cheddar or Colby Jack Cheese, Sliced into small pieces.
Spinach and Arugula to top (about two cups). (or avocado)
Preheat Oven to 350˚
In a skillet brown the ground beef, and add in the beans (or some black bean/corn salsa) and spices on low heat.
Line the shells on a 13x9 baking pan. Fill the shells by the spoonful until you run out of filling.
Top with cheese
Bake until cheese is melted, about 8 minutes.
Top with Spinach & Arugula (and sliced avocados)

We always look for sales on grass-fed beef and then stock up.  See the dark, rich color of the meat?   It tastes SO MUCH better than grain-fed beef!  Our local farms also carry the grass-fed beef for $6.99/lb.

Always read ingredient labels so you know what you are putting into your body (and into the bodies of your children and family)!   Try to buy products with the fewest ingredients, or at least ingredients that you would keep in your kitchen and can pronounce.  Also, when buying corn products, try to choose organic corn products. That way, you can be guaranteed they are not genetically modified corn products.  

We usually make our soft tortillas from scratch with whole wheat flour, but sometimes you just crave a crunchy taco.  We bought these at our local "Natural Grocers" store and they were just as inexpensive as the popular brands at the regular grocers.  

When I was less discerning, I used to purchase products like this.  They trick you with the words "whole grain corn" on the front.  

But then, you read the ingredient label and find that they use TBHQ to preserve the product.  Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ as it is more commonly referred to as, is in fact a chemical preservative which is a form of butane.  Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also further aggravate ADHD symptoms and cause restlessness. Long term, high doses of TBHQ in laboratory animals have shown a tendency for them to develop cancerous precursors in their stomachs, as well as cause DNA damage to them. It is also suggested that it may be responsible for affecting estrogen levels in women.  No thank you!

When you buy organic milk products, you can be assured you are getting a product from a cow that spent a majority of its time grazing in a pasture, free of pesticides and chemicals, and fed organic feed (free of GMOs).  Just as in the grass-fed beef, you also get to consume more Omega 3's and CLAs by buying organic (and especially by buying cheeses from grass-fed cows).

One of the things I learned in my cooking class was that herbs and spices have great health benefits.  But, many of those benefits are lost when consuming them long after they have been ground or harvested.  So, it's best to use spices shortly after they are ground for maximum health benefit and flavor.  Ideally, you should throw out anything older than one year (buying small amounts in the bulk section of the store is a great way to prevent waste).  Garlic is something I use almost every time I cook.  It has some great heart-health benefits.  By using fresh garlic over garlic powder, you can receive greater health benefits.  

By adding your own spices instead of using a store-bought taco seasoning packet (which likely has nasty preservatives, MSG or other things we would never keep in our kitchens at home), you can choose healthful spices, such as turmeric and cumin.  Turmeric is such a powerful healer due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.   Curcumin, which is the bright yellow compound found in turmeric, has been shown to inhibit the expression of a specific gene that’s believed to lead to the development and progression of breast cancer. Cumin also contains the heart-healthy antioxidant, curcumin, along with other compounds that provide health benefits. Cumin may support heart health, reduce your risk for anemia and help fight infections.   It helps control blood pressure, improves iron levels and kills bacteria. 

This recipe also includes black beans, because they are amazingly great for your health also.  They have significant digestive tract benefits, help regulate your blood sugar, are wonderful for cardiovascular health, help prevent cancer with their 8 different flavonoids and high content of phytochemicals, they're high in folate (great for your nervous system), and rich in the trace mineral molybdenum (serves the useful purpose of breaking down and detoxifying sulfites).
Our delicious finished meal, complete with a side salad of seasonal greens (arugula, kale, spinach and herbs, organic apples and freshly shredded organic carrots.)  Since this is apple season, organic apples have come down significantly in price.  So, we have been enjoying a lot of them lately!

Our family rated this meal an A+ and it is definitely in our meal rotation!

Our growing boy!
And our sweet little Abbey.
I choose meals now that I know will give great nourishment to my family.  (Of course, I think they're pretty tasty too.)  I honestly thought I was doing that in previous years, but there is so much information that is hidden in the food industry and I have learned a great deal this past year.  I love my family so much that their health and well being is extremely important to me.  I am so excited about all of the new things I have learned, and I am eager to share.  I figure that by sharing in this blog I can keep myself accountable, have a convenient place to keep my favorite recipes, and share helpful information with those who are interested in reading.  I hope you enjoy.

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