Added Fructose - Trick or Treat?

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat? You get a little of both with fructose. Fructose from natural sources - treat! Fruits and vegetables rarely have much fructose and that fructose is bundled along with vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and good stuff we're only beginning to learn about. Fructose is present in much higher quantities in honey and maple syrup (closer to a 50/50 mix of fructose and glucose), but it also comes bundled with good stuff.

In small amounts, fructose may actually be good for you. In large amounts, the opposite is true. Too much fructose is implicated in many health issues such as high triglyceride levels and type 2 diabetes. Our bodies just aren't equipped to handle large amounts of fructose.

Obviously, we've given up HFCS (for more reasons than just free fructose these days), but what about added fructose? I wrote a post way back in the beginning that talked about how we were also avoiding products with fructose as an ingredient. If I'm concerned about the free fructose in HFCS, why would I not also be concerned about free crystalline fructose used as an ingredient? Recently I found out a bit about this ingredient.

Crystalline fructose is often marketed toward diabetics because of the low blood sugar response of fructose compared with glucose. Your liver is doing other things with fructose, however, that might negate any benefits from the blood sugar response.

What is crystalline fructose? Crystalline fructose (often simply listed as fructose on an ingredient list) is simply fructose in a pure, crystalline form. Crystalline fructose is a relatively new ingredient that has only been available since the late 1980s. Lovely images of fruit juice being concentrated and the fructose (aka fruit sugar) crystallizing out of solution pop into one's head with this ingredient, but that coudn't be farther from the truth. In America, crystalline fructose is almost always produced from...corn! Yes, crystalline fructose is a derivative of our friend high fructose corn syrup.

According to the Sugar Association, crystalline fructose is produced "by allowing the fructose to crystallize from a fructose-enriched corn syrup." The separated crystals are 98% fructose and 2% water and other trace impurities. case you missed it the first time, I'll say it again. Crystalline fructose is produced from high fructose corn syrup (aka HFCS)!

To be fair, in other countries where corn is not king, crystalline fructose may be produced from sugar. In Brazil, for example, where cane sugar rules the roost, I would expect that crystalline fructose would be produced from sugar. Being produced from sugar, however, does not make it a better ingredient.

Where is crystalline fructose found? So many places! I find fructose listed as an ingredient in lots of "health" foods that know HFCS as an ingredient would turn people away. Foods that wouldn't dare use HFCS will use crystalline fructose and then proudly declare themselves "all natural!" Hmm. That "all natural" designation really is slick marketing with no real meaning behind it.

Trick or Treat? Well, from where I sit, fructose as an ingredient is definitely a trick to be avoided. Worse yet, it's a trick that is touted as being an "all natural" treat.

Just as with HFCS, I've found that it hasn't been a big deal to rid our lives of added fructose. We avoid a lot of junk "natural" processed foods as a result. All you have to do is flip that package over and peruse the ingredient list for the ingredient "fructose" or "crystalline fructose."


Meatless Monday - Empanadas de choclo y queso (corn and cheese empanadas)

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

A big thanks to Meatless Monday for featuring my pumpkin muffin recipe this week! They've got a day's worth of pumpkin recipes for you to try this week in honor of Halloween. Using their recipes, you can have pumpkin for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert! I plan to put a little twist on my pumpkin muffins and turn them into pumpkin cupcakes for my son's class Halloween party by adding some vanilla frosting and a few decorations. I think that they'll love them!

I love going to our local Farmer's Market. It's always such a short-lived treat - good live music, delicious fresh produce, and fantastic food. This year there was a wonderful addition to the Farmer's Market scene - a group of Latina women serving "Authentic Latin Food." (If you're in the Jackson, WY area, they cater under the name A Fuego Lento.) I'm drooling a bit just thinking about their food - tortas, tamales (and we're usually not fans of tamales, but these were yummy), salsas, some dishes I can't quite remember, and empanadas...always empanadas. My kids and I struck up a love affair with their empanadas and bought some to munch on every week.

Our favorite empanada had a corn and cheese filling. Simple, but so good. A couple of weeks ago my stomach was growling for some of these delicious little hand pies, and I discovered thanks to Google and Google Translator that Empanadas with Corn and Cheese are actually a very traditional dish in the Latin community. And, even better, they're easy to make!

There are lots of different recipes for Empanadas de Choclo y Queso, but it seems that most have these basic components - white sauce, sweet corn (fresh preferably, but canned or frozen work in a pinch), cheese, and empanada shells. I bought my empanada shells (Goya brand in the freezer section), but the dough looks easy enough to make (see a couple of different recipes here and here). Empanadas are traditionally deep fried, but I opted to bake mine instead.

We all loved my homemade Empanades with Corn and Cheese. My son actually packed two for his school lunch today. I added some green chiles to a third of the batter for the adults, and it was a good addition, but not necessary. We served our empanadas with Mexican rice and black beans. Empanadas come in every flavor under the sun - meat filled, spinach and cheese filled, etc. - so, as always, take this recipe and make it your own!

Empanadas de Choclo y Queso (Corn and Cheese Empanadas)

packaged frozen empanada shells (find in the freezer section)
2 TBSP butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 TBSP all-purpose flour
Lowfat evaporated milk (about 1/2 a can)
2 oz Monterey Jack cheese or cheese of choice
1 green onion, finely chopped
corn - 4-6 ears fresh or 1 can or 1 1/2 - 2 cups frozen (I used a bag of fresh corn that I froze last summer)
1 small can green chiles (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

White Sauce - Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender. Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute. Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk until your sauce is the desired consistency. Cook for a couple of minutes adding more evaporated milk if necessary. (My sauce at this point was very thick but pourable.)

Add in cheese, green onions, and corn as well as any other optional ingredients. Stir to combine well.

The filling (without green chiles)

Place a tablespoon or two of corn and cheese filling in the center of an empanada shell. Wet the outer edge of the shell with a little water and press edges together to make a sealed pouch. Place empanada on an oiled baking sheet. Continue until all of your filling and/or empanada shells are used.

Bake at 400 F for 10-15 min or until empanada bottoms are browned. (You can also brush an egg wash over the top of the uncooked shells to brown the tops as well.)

My recipe doesn't quite match that of A Fuego Lento, but I'm very happy with it and will definitely make it again. Next time, I might add a little more evaporated milk to make the final filling creamier, and I might also add a little queso fresco as well. A little cilantro would be a good addition. Or...I might just make it the same again.


A new POM Wonderul juice to try and more

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

But not here...head on over to A Life Less Sweet Reviews! to read my thoughts on the new POM Wonderful juice flavors. Definitely worth a try!

And then run on over to Fake Food Free to read my guest post where I wax poetically about why we gave up HFCS and what it has meant for our diet.


Meatless Monday - Homemade toasted ravioli

>> Monday, October 19, 2009

For lots more info on Meatless Mondays - news, tons of great recipes, information and links galore - don't forget about the official Meatless Monday site! It's a great resource!

This week's Meatless Monday recipe gets BIG thumbs up from my kids - toasted ravioli! I got the idea from Clean Eating magazine, but this is a recipe that is so easy to make your own. Pair the ravioli with the sauce of your choice and have fun dipping!

I used a very simple goat cheese and roasted red pepper filling for my ravioli. I'm a huge goat cheese fan, so these were right up my alley. The goat cheese is rich, so I think that next time I might try cutting it with a little pureed sweet potato or (if I want to stick with a cheese ravioli) some ricotta cheese. We paired our ravioli with a simple marinara sauce from a jar. The kids had a lot of fun picking up and dipping their ravioli - another plus to the recipe.

Take this recipe and make it your own! Simply replace my filling with whatever suits you (though, I must say, my filling is pretty darn good) - Pureed vegetables, your favorite cheese, whatever! You could even do a Mexican twist by filling your ravioli with Mexican cheeses, onion, and and a little cumin and dipping in salsa or guacamole. You're only limited by your own imagination!

Toasted Ravioli with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper Filling

1 package wonton wrappers
1/2 cup goat cheese
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 TBSP fresh basil, minced
chopped jarred roasted red pepper, water packed
grated parmesan cheese
Marinara sauce (we used Newman's Own Marinara)

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a bowl, mix the goat cheese, green onion, and basil together.

Spoon about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper. Add roasted red pepper to taste. I added just a little as the flavor of the peppers is intense. (If your wonton wrappers are too big to make a nice size ravioli, cut them to the size that works best for you.)

Dip your fingers into a little water and wet the edge of the wonton. Fold the wonton in half and seal the edges together. Place wonton ravioli on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with oil.

Spray tops of ravioli with a little oil (use a light hand with the oil) and top with grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 8-10 min or until the ravioli are golden brown. Serve with a small bowl of marinara sauce for dipping.

And for those nights when you just don't have the time or inclination to make your own ravioli, you can also buy ravioli and serve the cooked ravioli with a dipping sauce. My kids loved picking up the ravioli to dip! Be careful when buying premade fresh pastas, though. Many have hidden trans fat (in the form of partially hydrogenated oils). We've bought and enjoyed Cucina Fresca brand pasta - trans fat free!


Meatless Monday - Chewy granola bars

>> Monday, October 12, 2009

Flu, cold (both weather and head), and company - all in the same week! Because of that, I'm whipping out an old favorite for Meatless Monday today - Chewy Granola Bars.

This recipe is a favorite in my house. Better yet, I've had several friends make this recipe, and everyone has loved it! I started making these bars after discovering HFCS in my son's favorite granola bars. Lots of premade granola bars also have partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. You know what that means? Trans fat! These bars are super easy to make and just as tasty as store-bought bars, in my opinion. (A caveat, though...don't expect these to taste quite like store-bought granola bars! They aren't as sweet and stick as most store-bought bars.)

I like that I can control the ingredients that go into the bars. I like to add just enough chocolate chips to make it appealing to my son. You could always skip the chocolate and add dried blueberries or raisins or your favorite dried fruit - or add some dried fruit in addition to the chocolate chips. And I often add a little wheat germ in place of flax meal. Both are great additions that boost the nutritional value of the bars a bit without appreciably changing the taste or texture.

Give these bars a try! Easy and delicious!

Chewy Granola Bars

3 cups rolled oats (I used quick oats for a finer texture, but coarser oats would be fine too)
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup and 3 TBSP butter, softened
1/3 cup honey
3 TBSP and 1 and 3/4 tsp packed brown sugar
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (or more if you'd like)
3 TBSP (or more! I think that it could handle more.) flaxseed meal or wheat germ (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9"x13" pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking soda, vanilla, butter, honey, and brown sugar (and flaxseed meal or wheat germ if using). Stir in the chocolate chips and any other additions.

Firmly press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 F for 20 min or until golden brown. Let cool for 10 min and then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving. On hot summer days, might want to store in the fridge so that they're not as crumbly and the chocolate doesn't melt.


Meatless Monday - Delicious, sophisticated nachos

>> Monday, October 5, 2009

For all of you with kids who might be afraid of taking on the challenge of eating a meatless meal once a week, today is a reminder that there are so many ordinary, kid-friendly foods out there that easily lend themselves to being meatless. Pizza, pasta, soups, and - today's subject - nachos, just to name a few. Heck, this is probably a good reminder for some of you kidless adults out there too. Don't let the meatless moniker scare you off! There are plenty of easy, comforting foods that are absolutely meat free.

We made nachos last week. I've got a couple of great nacho recipes. The one I made last week is an adaptation of a nachos recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine. (See another wonderful nacho recipe here.) This homemade salsa is fantastic, and the tomatillo sauce is a nice foil for the salsa. Top with your favorite nacho toppings - green onions, sour cream, guacamole, cheese - and maybe add a few beans, and you've got a fantastic and easy meatless meal!

A disclaimer - I think that these nachos are very kid friendly. My kids, however, would disagree. What can I say? They're picky creatures. So, my husband and I dig into our more sophisticated nachos, and I make very basic nachos for my kids - often just beans, cheese, and chips, though they do have to try a bit of the salsa and tomatillo sauce by the rules of the table. If your child isn't quite as picky as mine are, let them try the whole shebang. It's so good!


Roasted Salsa
2 lb Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 cups onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup lime juice
up to 1/4 cup jalapenos, seeded and diced, optional (I leave these out as I don't want the heat!)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine tomatoes through salt in a 13x9" Pyrex baking dish. Roast for 45 min. Coarsely mash the roasted vegetables using a potato masher. Add cilantro and remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.

The finished roasted salsa. Yum! Keep going for the tomatillo sauce...

Tomatillo Sauce
1 - 16 oz jar of salsa verde (I use Herdez Salsa Verde)
3 TBSP butter
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour to make a roux; cook 2 min, stirring often. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly to prevent sticking. Cook until think, about 10 min. Stir salsa verde into the sauce. Simmer to heat through.

Layer corn tortilla chips with tomatillo sauce, roasted salsa, and whatever toppings you enjoy. Serve with a side of beans (or beans on top!) for extra protein.

This recipe makes a lot of salsa and tomatillo sauce. Unless you halve the recipe, you WILL have leftovers! For us, that's a good thing as all of the components reheat beautifully.

For more on Meatless Mondays, check out the For Your Family article at Kiwi Magazine's Moms Meet website! I'm looking forward to finding more kid-friendly meatless meals in their recipes section.


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