Millions of peaches, peaches for me

>> Friday, August 29, 2008

I have peaches on my mind - and in my stomach - today. I mentioned before that we have three boxes of peaches that were delivered Wednesday from Colorado, and they are absolutely delicious! Surprisingly, the Western slope of Colorado is a great place to grow peaches, and this year the growing season was ideal.

Besides being incredibly delicious, peaches are nutrient dense. One medium peach has about 11% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C for an adult. It also is rich in vitamin A and fiber. Peaches also have a reasonable amount of potassium, copper, manganese, and niacin - plus lower amounts of lots of other good stuff. All wrapped up in nature's candy!

So, what in the world are we going to do with three boxes of peaches? Well, we've already made a pretty good dent in the first box just eating them. My 2 year old loves them, but sadly, my 5 year old - the same one who would eat a whole peach for dinner when he was 2 - now won't even touch them. I'm on a mission to get him to eat a peach with an open mind but am failing miserably so far. Maybe next year.

Yesterday, I made peach bread (recipe to follow). It was a huge hit with everyone. This is another good place to add flaxseed meal. You could probably substitute some wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour, but I haven't tried that. This makes a very moist dessert type bread - kind of like banana bread, only moister and with peaches.

We had pork tenderloin with peach tomato barbeque sauce for dinner. We've been enjoying that recipe for years now. (And, yes, it's from Martha Stewart. You wanna make something of it? She's fussy, but man, that woman has some good recipes!) Sadly, I had to substitute apricot preserves for peach jam in the recipe because I could not find a single peach jam or preserve that did not have tons of HFCS in it.

We finished the night with a simple peach sauce over vanilla ice cream. Simply saute about 3 peaches in a little butter, about a TBSP of brown sugar per peach (or less if desired), a tsp of cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla to make the sauce. YUM!

This weekend, we'll be freezing peaches. We're going to try Alton Brown's method. (Speaking of that, can anyone tell me why he puts paprika on his peaches when he freezes them? Unless I hear a good reason, I think that I will not be adding paprika.) We'll also be making these ingenious little peach crisps and putting them in our freezer for later in the year. I think that we'll try this recipe from Dani Spies using peaches instead of strawberries. And, of course, we'll be eating them straight from the box - the best way of all! If you have a favorite peach recipe, send it my way - we could really use it!

I think that we can safely say that I am NOT a food photographer! Still, can't you see the peachy goodness in this bread? Look close and you'll see little peach chunks.

Peach Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 TBSP flaxseed meal (optional)
2 cups very ripe, mashed peaches (about 5 or so medium peaches)
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 TBSP butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup raisins or nuts (optional)

In a bowl, mix flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda. Put mashed peaches in a large bowl. Add beaten egg, melted butter. Stir in raisins or nuts. Stir in flour mixture. Pour into a 9x5" greased loaf pan. Let stand 20 minutes. Bake at 350 for 45-55 min. Cool bread in pan 15 min; remove from pan and finish cooling on wire rack.


Cookbook Review - The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle Cookbook

>> Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail asking me if I would be interested in taking a look at a cookbook aimed toward diabetics and reviewing it here. We don't have anyone with diabetes in our household (thank goodness), but since I know that recipes for diabetics often are good and healthy to boot (and I'll admit that the deciding factor was that the cookbook was free), I jumped on the offer. I did not realize at the time that the cookbook is actually a vegan cookbook for diabetics - an interesting little twist! So, my family has been boldly trying recipes from The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle Cookbook for the past week and a half.

First, a little background on the book. This cookbook is put out by The Lifestyle Center of America. Here's what they say about this book in their introduction: this book "destroys the myth that a high-carb, plant-based diet is bad for people with diabetes, and it reminds you that a diet primarily based on animal products is bad for people with diabetes." Their diet is based on 3 things: 1) it avoids all animal products (meat, milk, eggs, cheese, etc.), 2) it "focuses on the right kind of carbs," and 3) it considers the glycemic index of foods. The book offers general nutritional information as well as nutritional information specific to each recipe. Menus for a month of meals is also included. You can take a look at their website for more information on how they feel their diet will help those with diabetes.

I know nothing about this center and very little about diabetes, so I cannot talk to the efficacy of this diet as it applies to diabetes. But, I can tell you what we thought of the cookbook in general and the recipes that we've tried thus far. As a vegan cookbook (though I don't think that I ever saw the word vegan used in the cookbook), a lot of the recipes are soy (especially tofu) and bean based. This made me a little nervous as I am not a big bean fan. It made my husband very happy, though, since he adores anything and everything with beans. We've tried about ten of the recipes so far, and amazingly, we've liked pretty much all of them! One was not a hit here (Lemon-Basil Kabobs), but of the rest, there are a few that are sure to become regular dishes around here - like Tasty Black-Eyed Peas, Golden Soy Oat Waffles, Southwest Soup, Pico Fresca, and Classic Lemon Pie. The Golden Soy Oat Waffles was a particular favorite. This recipe is for a flourless waffle - it uses soybeans (dry, soaked overnight) and oats as the main ingredients. I made it partly because it was one of the stranger recipes in the book, but it couldn't be easier, and it was so tasty that my almost 5 yr old asked for seconds. The Tasty Black-Eyed Peas recipe made even me like black-eyed peas, and that's saying a lot!

There is a lot to like about this cookbook. The recipes are simple - no fancy techniques that will leave you scratching your head - and the flavors are fresh. We've tried enough recipes for me to feel comfortable recommending this cookbook, and there are still so many good looking recipes that I have marked to try. (We have three boxes of luscious Colorado peaches heading our way today - YAY! - so it might be a little while before we eat any meals without peaches.) There are also quite a few recipes that I have absolutely no interest in trying, but that's the way it is with every cookbook. Useful descriptions - often with cooking tips - are above each recipe, and quite a few recipes have a nutritional factoid below. I actually originally discovered that raw flaxseeds should be consumed in moderation because of cyanidic compounds through this book.

There are some strange (at least to me) ingredients used in some of the recipes. I've been introduced to Bragg's Liquid Amino (see this blog for a little more info on this product. It's actually pretty good and tastes quite like soy sauce.) and nutritional yeast (which is different from brewer's yeast). I had to special order the nutritional yeast to try it. It's odd, but not unpleasant, and as it is quite nutritious, I may end up finding more places to use it. There are also quite a few vegan substitutes (like Nayonnaise for egg-laden mayonnaise). Those are great if you want to keep the recipes completely plant based, but one could easily substitute non-vegan ingredients if desired.

I'm really glad that we were offered this cookbook. I was more than a little worried that we would not like the recipes in this cookbook when I agreed to review it, and I'm happy to have been wrong! It's definitely not one I would have picked up at a bookstore, but it's one that I think will be used often in this household.

Oh - I should add that fructose (but NOT HFCS) is used as an ingredient in some of the dessert recipes. We've decided not to use crystalline fructose anymore, but I think that honey could be substituted in those recipes.


The Omnivore's Hundred - How adventurous an eater are you?

>> Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The blog Very Good Taste posted this list of 100 things that he felt every good omnivore should try at least once in his or her life a while back. It's a hodge-podge list of foods - some exotic, some common, some fine, some revolting. I'm not sure that I agree with all of his items as things that every good omnivore should try at least once, but it's an interesting list nonetheless. And, yes, there are at least a couple of items with the dreaded HFCS in it (and yes, sadly I've tried them).

Here's my list with the items I've tried in bold (and some of those I will not eat again!) and a few that I won't try crossed out. My husband is a much, much more adventurous eater than I, and his list would have more bold items than mine does. Take a look - how would you do with the list? I've included the original bloggy instructions with the list at the top of it if you want to keep the list going! (Thanks to Fake Food Free for her post that introduced me to the list.)

Copy this list into your blog, including these instructions.
Bold all items you've eaten.
Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare I just can’t do raw meat.
5. Crocodile Well, not crocodile, but alligator. Does that count?
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper My tongue couldn’t take it!
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a big fat cigar I just can’t hack a cigar.
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal I don’t think that my tongue could take extra-hot Indian curry.
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu Call me chicken…
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin This one confuses me. Kaolin as in dirt? Uh-uh. Not gonna happen.
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake


Why the fuss over Flaxseeds?

>> Monday, August 25, 2008

Flaxseeds seem to be popping up everywhere these days, so I thought I would do a little exploration to find out what makes these little seeds so desirable.

Flaxseeds and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Flaxseeds big claim to fame is the presence of an Omega-3 fatty acid – specifically alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because our bodies can’t produce them. We have to get these fatty acids from external sources like fish, flaxseeds, nuts, and other seeds. They’re important for cell membranes, blood pressure regulation, and other body functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with all sorts of good body effects – including anti-inflammatory benefits (so they may help reduce inflammation associated with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and migraines), high blood pressure prevention and control, lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar, and lowering the risk of certain cancers.

Alpha linolenic acid is a type of plant-derived fatty acid. It’s also a precursor to eicospentaenoic acid (EPA), which is one of the beneficial fatty acids found in fish oil. ALA can be converted to EPA in the body through an enzymatic process. The enzyme that drives this conversion is less available or less active in some people, so ALA conversion to EPA is different from person to person. While it is clear that ALA consumption does have benefits, it is unclear whether the ALA itself is the beneficial actor or if it is the ALA that has converted to EPA and the subsequent EPA that produces the benefits. It does appear that higher amounts of flaxseeds or flax oil must be consumed to provide the same benefits one would get from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

Other Benefits of Flaxseeds In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a good source of lignans as well as both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fiber can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Flaxseed is also high in manganese and has a good amount of magnesium folate, copper, phosphorous, and vitamin B6.

Which form to use? There are three forms of flaxseed available for consumption – whole flaxseeds, flax meal, or flaxseed oil. Whole flaxseeds are not easily digested by our bodies and are likely to pass through undigested, which means that none of the nutritional benefits are realized. For this reason, ground flaxseed is recommended. Flaxseed oil is a good option for the omega-3 fatty acids, but it doesn’t have the beneficial fiber and lignan that the seeds have.

Ways to use flaxseed To get more flaxseed in your diet, try adding a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed meal to your baked goods. The flavor is fairly neutral and will blend right in. I add it to everything I can think of - cookies, bread, even spaghetti sauce. You can also add raw flaxseed meal to cereals, smoothies, yogurt, etc. (but see Flaxseed concerns below).

Flaxseed meal can even be used as an egg replacer. There are several different different ways to do this, but here's what I generally do. Mix 1 part flax meal (ground fresh in a blender from raw flaxseeds) with 3 parts water. Boil until the mixture becomes kind of thick and slimy. Use about a 1/4 cup to replace 1 egg. The mixture will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Flaxseed concerns Raw flax seed contains the hydrogen cyanide or cyanogenic glucosides, which can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. But, raw flaxseed can still be very safely consumed in moderation – 2 tablespoons is a safe amount for most people. Cooking flaxseed rids it of the offending compounds completely.

Care should be taken when consuming flaxseed while on oral medication, as the fiber content in flaxseed can interfere with the effectiveness of some oral medications. Omega-3 fatty acids can result in thinner blood, so talk with your doctor about the continued use of any omega-3 supplements (whether fish oil or flax) before a medical procedure.

Bottomline For me, it boils down to this – I’m adding flax meal to my baked goods whenever possible. There are just so many benefits to using it. I am not, however, replacing my fish oil consumption (mainly in the form of supplements for me) with flaxseeds.


Friday Mish Mash

>> Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm doing something a little different today. I thought that I'd pass along links to a few of the blog posts that I enjoyed this week. Maybe you'll discover something new!

First up, another chewy granola bar recipe at Super Healthy Kids. I haven't tried this one yet, but it looks yummy. At the very least, I'm going to try the little chocolate drizzle she uses on my granola bars.

Fatfighter TV has a good article on Two Angry Moms. My son will be starting kindergarten next year, and the thought of school lunches gives me the heebie-jeebies. These women deserve a standing ovation for bringing much needed attention to this subject!

My Family Doctor tells why mayo in potato salad shouldn't be villainized.

Mark Salinas, MN talks about stretches and shows some good ones. I am pretty clueless when it comes to stretching so am loving this article!

Eating Well Anywhere has a really neat looking recipe for Peach Crisps in a Jar. Can't wait to try it!

And last, Mark Sisson talks about juicing in moderation and why it shouldn't replace whole fruit consumption in his Daily Apple blog.

Relating to my own lovely blog, I want feedback, dear readers! Is there a topic that you would like to see here? I've had a few suggestions (thank you!) and will have posts on some of them in the future. I'd love to hear your ideas - products you want reviewed, foods you're having trouble finding non-HFCS versions of, anything that I can geek-out on and get all scientific with. If you have a suggestion, e-mail me or leave a comment!

Good stuff coming up - new surprising HFCS food of the week, cookbook review, recipes, a discussion about flaxmeal, and more!


Surprising HFCS food of the week

>> Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Continuing with the pickles theme, this week's surprising HFCS food of the week is sweet pickles. When cleaning out our pantry of HFCS foods, I discovered that our Claussen sweet pickle relish had high fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient. Upon investigation, every single sweet pickle product at our grocery store has high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. I’m sure that there’s an exception out there somewhere, but not at my grocery stores!

Fortunately, dill pickles are generally HFCS free. The one exception to that rule that I’ve found is Claussen’s Kosher Dill Sandwich Slices. I’m not exactly sure why they have HFCS in them, but they do. (Vlasic Kosher Dill Stackers do not have HFCS in them.)

If you’re craving a sweet pickle but don’t want the HFCS, there is an easy fix - simply add sugar to regular dill pickles. This is a trick I picked up from my grandmother years ago. She would add sugar to dill pickle slices to make a tasty treat. I recently tried adding sugar to dill pickle relish because I needed sweet pickle relish for a recipe, and it worked wonderfully. And, if you’re not into refined sugar, I’m sure that you could use honey instead.


Fresh cucumber pickles

>> Monday, August 18, 2008

Recipe time! I grew up with these on the dinner table in the summertime but never appreciated them until now. This is a great, easy way to use fresh cucumbers. These quick pickles have a light vinegar flavor when freshly made that intensifies upon sitting. I like them better with the light vinegar flavor, and Ken likes them better when they've sat overnight in the fridge and have picked up a stronger flavor. Even better, my 4 yr old loves these!

Cucumbers are not the most nutrient packed vegetable, but they do have a few things going for them. The flesh is mostly water, but it also contains a good amount of vitamin C. If you leave the peel on, which sadly I usually don't because I tend to find it bitter, you'll also get a good dose of dietary fiber and silica, which is important for connective tissues like muscle. The peel also contains potassium and magnesium. (Man, I wish I didn't peel my cucumbers!)

Give these a try - they're a refreshing summer treat!

Fresh Cucumber Pickles
1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp dill seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
cucumber, sliced
onion, sliced (optional)

Combine vinegar through sugar. Add cucumber and onion so that they're covered with liquid. Let set for about half an hour and enjoy!


Surprising HFCS food of the week - or Gatorade double talk

>> Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One of the “foods” that we were able to keep when we cleared our pantry of all HFCS was powdered Gatorade. Ken loves to have a big glass of Gatorade after cutting the grass, so we were very happy about that. Surprisingly (though maybe it shouldn’t be), liquid Gatorade does have HFCS in it. In fact, it’s the third ingredient after water and sugar. (The powdered Gatorade uses dextrose in place of HFCS.)

Here’s the thing that gets me, though. I went to Gatorade’s website to check out the ingredients and info online. I couldn’t find an ingredient list online – not surprising since products containing HFCS often don’t make their ingredient list available on their websites (at least in my recent experience – there are exceptions, of course). But I did find this Q&A on the official Gatorade FAQ:

Why doesn't Gatorage contain fruit juice?

Fruit juice contains fructose in levels which slow gastric emptying and may result in intestinal upset when athletes drink it during exercise.

Um, hello? They won’t use fruit juice, but they will use HFCS? Granted, fruit juices aren’t all that great – they’re loaded with fructose (especially apple juice – apple juice can have more fructose per ounce than a can of HFCS-containing soda!) with few of the beneficial goodies in the original fruit (sticking with apples – the juice has none of the pectin and fiber and only about 3% of the wonderful vitamins and minerals in the original apple). Fruit juice, for the most part, really is junk food in disguise. (There are exceptions here too. Orange juice and cranberry juice have a lot to offer, for example, but you’re still much better off eating the original fruit!)

So, yes, fruit juice does have a lot of problematic fructose in it, but HFCS is no better! It really is slick marketing on Gatorade’s part to give this explanation of why they won’t use fruit juice. It implies that they don’t use HFCS either. I wrote to Gatorade and asked them why they won’t use fruit juice because of the fructose content, but they will use HFCS. It’s been about a week, and I haven’t heard back from them. I suspect that they use HFCS but not fruit juice because it’s easier to control the fructose amount in HFCS than in fruit juice, and, let’s not forget, HFCS is cheaper.

Both Gatorade and Powerade (another popular sport drink) have HFCS as their third ingredient (after water and sugar). Propel, another drink from the Gatorade company, does not contain HFCS. And if you like Gatorade, you can get a HFCS-free fix by mixing it yourself using the powdered Gatorade mix.


Link love

>> Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This blog made a list! We made's list of Top 100 Women's Health Blogs. I really don't know anything about this site, but I've seen some of their past lists (like this one on food blogs) and found some pretty nice health related sites thanks to those lists. I'm happy (and maybe a little surprised) to be included on this list and can't wait to explore some of the other sites on the list.

So, check it out!


True North Nut Crisps review

>> Sunday, August 10, 2008

I recently bought some True North Nut Crisps based on this review, and boy, they are good! We tried the peanut and pistachio nut crisps. The crackers are crisp and pleasantly puffy. The peanut cracker had an intense peanut flavor. It really tasted like someone had taken peanut butter between two crackers from a snack pack and smashed all the flavor into just cracker form. And the pistachio (my favorite) has a very strong pistachio flavor. Surprisingly (at least in my jaded mind), pistachio is the first ingredient in the ingredient list (and the same for peanuts in the peanut crisps). You can actually see the nut pieces in the cracker. The ingredient list for both crackers is pretty innocuous and, of course, HFCS free.

True North is one of Frito-Lay's new healthier food companies. (Flat Earth is another, and their chips are also pretty good.) I haven't seen the other nut products offered by True North in our stores yet, but I'm intrigued and will be looking for them - especially given the success of these crackers.

Sadly, neither of my kids cared for these crackers. They both like peanuts and pistachios, so I kind of suspect that they chose not to like them because they're something new as they often do. Ken and I both thought these were good crackers worth getting again. If you like nuts, give these crackers a try!


What about table sugar?

The question of the day is if we are giving up HFCS, why are we still consuming table sugar (aka sucrose) with abandon? It's a question (posed by me to myself) that I've thought a lot about lately.

Good ole table sugar is a plant-produced sugar. Major sources are sugar cane and sugar beets, and minor sources include sweet sorghum and sugar maples. Sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose - 50% glucose and 50% fructose held together by a glycosidic bond. Sucrose readily breaks down into the sugars glucose and fructose in weak acidic solutions. It's also enzymatically digested to glucose and fructose in our stomachs. While it does have to go the extra step to release the fructose, our bodies really do that quite readily. (See Wikipedia for a pretty good and basic discussion of sucrose.) Everyone knows that you shouldn't eat too much sugar. Overconsumption of sucrose can result in health problems - tooth decay, obesity, and blood sugar regulation problems to name a few.

So, there lies the rub. Why is it that we're bothering to give up HFCS but not sucrose? Sucrose has as much fructose as HFCS, and though it is bound to glucose and takes an extra step to release the fructose, our bodies can do that fairly easily (though some sucrose can pass through the highly acidic environment of our stomachs intact). Is HFCS as evil as it is made out to be or does it get a bad rap because of the types of foods it is in and the quantity that we consume those foods? (You'll remember that excessive HFCS consumption has been linked to high triglycerides, diabetes, obesity, and other health ailments.) I've struggled a little with this.

But here's the up HFCS is a BIG step in the right direction. By giving up HFCS, we're cutting out a lot of junk and refocusing our eating energy toward healthier stuff. HFCS seems synonymous with junk food, and for good reason. It seems to turn up in the worst of foods (and rarely in really healthy food) - in large part because of its ease of use and cheapness.

We could, I suppose, decide that we are going to eat HFCS-containing products in moderation, but that is a slippery slope for us, especially with two young children who are very good at nagging until they get what they want. I'm proud that we've been able to purge it from our diets, especially since I know that my kids still get plenty of junk containing HFCS from other sources. Not having that junk at home (while still providing tasty substitutes) makes their junk consumption a little more bearable for us as parents.

Our ultimate goal is a healthier diet. That goal includes reducing our overall sugar consumption. We won't eliminate refined sugar - that goal is too daunting and really not realistic for us with two small children (and my insatiable sugar tooth), plus I don't think that it's necessary - but by moving toward whole foods and healthier processed foods, we will hopefully be reducing the amount of our total sugar consumption in foods over the long term.

There you have it. HFCS is gone from our house for good. Science is unclear as to whether HFCS is the culprit or if it is our enormous consumption of fructose (in the form of HFCS and sucrose) in general that is causing the escalation of health problems, but it is clear that giving up HFCS eliminates a lot of foods that we shouldn't be consuming anyway. So, keep reading! Lots more information and reviews of HFCS-free foods to come!


Sweet potato cookies - yum!

>> Thursday, August 7, 2008

I hinted at these cookies a little while back. You must try these cookies. They're easy, delicious, and loaded with sweet potato. I don't feel guilty giving my kids an extra cookie when they beg for one because of all of the hidden sweet potato.

My 4 year old son will usually eat sweet potato without complaining, but my 2 year old little girl will no longer so much as look at sweet potato unless it's fried, and I don't do much frying. Sweet potato is such a nutrient packed vegetable that I use it a lot. Some facts about sweet potatoes: it's the richest low-fat source of vitamin E. Sweet potatoes are packed with complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B6. It's also a good source of copper, potassium, and iron. That's a lot of good stuff in a little brown package! And sweet potatoes are, well, sweet, so they're easy to hide in foods. Try mixing a little mashed sweet potato into macaroni and cheese, taco meat, and spaghetti sauce. Your kids will never know the difference, and I think that it actually improves the flavor. (Take a look at the cookbook Deceptively Delicious for more hiding ideas.)

A few things before I give you the actual recipe. First, the cinnamon chips. They weren't in the original recipe, but it's an addition I made to make the cookies more appealing to the kids. They're great cookies without the cinnamon chips, but with the cinnamon chips they become kid magnets (and, yes, a little less healthy). The original recipe (that I changed a bit to suit our tastes) called for raisins. Raisins would be a wonderful addition to this cookie - especially in place of the cinnamon chips - but my 4 year old son won't touch anything with raisins in it. I've made peace with that and have moved on.

Second, these cookies are moist because of all of the sweet potato, and they seem to get moister overnight. My son and I like the moistness. My husband prefers them when they're fresh and not quite as moist (though he also seems to have no problem eating them when they're a few days old and at their moistest). When you store these cookies, make sure that you have a layer of parchment paper or something between the cookies or else they'll stick together and become one big lump of a cookie.

Last, I added a couple of tablespoons of flax meal for the first time with this last batch. I couldn't taste it and think that it's a good addition. I think that wheat flour could be substituted for some of the all-purpose flour to make it a little healthier - and the slight wheat flavor would probably be a nice addition. I haven't tried that yet, but I plan to with the next batch.

Sweet Potato Cookies

1-3 cups sweet potato, cooked** and mashed (I usually end up putting 3ish cups of mashed sweet potatoes in the cookies. If you use less, it would probably cut down on the moistness a bit.)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup margarine or butter, cold
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup raisins (optional)
cinnamon chips to taste (optional)
2 TBSP flaxseed meal (optional)

Mix butter and sugar together. Add eggs and dry ingredients. Mix in mashed sweet potato and then any optional ingredients. Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper without grease). Bake at 350 F for 10-12 min. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.

**For those that aren't cooking inclined, there are lots of different ways you can cook your sweet potato. You can roast in the oven, unpeeled, at 425 F for about an hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Or you can peel and boil or steam sweet potato chunks until tender. Or you can cut into small cubes and microwave the cubes with about a 1/3 cup of water in a microwave-safe container for about 12 min.


HFCS-free bread and buns review

>> Sunday, August 3, 2008

One thing that we have lamented since giving up HFCS is the loss of nice, soft buns and nice, soft bread. In fact, unless you make it yourself, it's very hard to get soft bread that doesn't contain HFCS. We didn't succeed in finding Wonder-Bread-soft bread, which is what I like, but we have come across some HFCS-free bread options out there that suit us.

First, a little science-lite lesson. There are lots of reasons that HFCS is so valued by mass-market bakeries. Here's what (a pro-HFCS site) has to say about HFCS in baking:

HFCS gives a pleasing brown crust to breads and cakes; contributes fermentable sugars to yeast-raised products; reduces sugar crystallization during baking for soft-moist textures; enhances flavors of fruit fillings.

HFCS pretty much does not go bad, which is very desirable in baking and leads to very long shelf lives. It also helps to retain moisture in baked products so that they don't dry out prematurely. And, let's not forget, HFCS is cheap! Because of all of that, almost every sandwich bread and bun on the bread aisle of your local grocery store has HFCS as an ingredient in it. There are exceptions, but those breads are usually heavy and not as soft. They're generally the breads aimed at the "health food" crowd.

Luckily, the one thing that we've done right as a family is to eat wheat - as opposed to white - bread, which is a little surprising because I prefer bland white bread. That makes our task of finding replacement buns and sandwich bread a bit easier. Even so, we do like our bread and buns soft, and that's been harder to come by since giving up HFCS.

We've tried a few, and the sandwich bread that we like the best so far in this adventure is Standish Farms Honey Whole Grain Bread. (Beware, because not all Standish Farms breads are HFCS-free.) It's fairly soft (though if you're looking for Wonder Bread soft, this isn't it! I haven't found Wonder Bread soft in a store-bought, HFCS-free bread yet.) and has a pleasant, wheaty taste. Best of all, it's in the traditional square sandwich bread shape that I prefer instead of the large rectangular shape like so many of the HFCS-free breads. We also liked the Sara Lee Hearty and Healthy Whole Wheat bread that I talked about earlier, but it's in the larger rectangular shape that makes sandwiches too big for little ones and has wheat berries throughout. The wheat berries might be healthy, but I really kind of like my sandwich bread to be crunch free.

HFCS-free hot dog and hamburger buns are a lot harder to come by than sandwich bread. For hamburger buns, we've been carefully reading ingredient lists and buying HFCS-free rolls. It's different at every store, but we've found store-made rolls at both of our grocery stores that don't have HFCS. Some have been nice and soft, some have been hard duds. And they often are completely out of the HFCS-free rolls.

We've had better luck with hot dog buns because we recently discovered Rudi's brand breads. We tried Rudi's Wheat Hot Dog Rolls late last week and were pleasantly surprised by them. They're not as soft as the HFCS-containing hot dog buns (guess you can't have everything), but they are fairly soft and they have a wonderful flavor. I mean, seriously, the flavor is so good! I would buy these even if we were still eating HFCS.

Rudi's also sells hamburger buns, a variety of breads (including sandwich breads), tortillas, bagels, English muffins, and granola - and everything they sell is HFCS free! We'll be trying their hamburger buns the next time we have hamburgers, and I also plan to try their sandwich bread when we run out of our current loaf. I'll let you know how we like them.

It looks like Rudi's sells their breads in most every state, but know that their "Where to Buy" list is not completely accurate. We drove across a mountain pass to buy their buns at a store they listed as a distributor - only they didn't have any of Rudi's bread. Meanwhile, our local health food grocery store wasn't listed as a distributer but does sell them.

For you Western folks, a reader commented earlier that the brand Wheat Montana also makes a good HFCS-free bun, but this brand is only sold in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. (Thanks for the tip, Hil!)


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