More HFCS-free ketchup options!

>> Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Memorial Day - a day to remember and honor those men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.  Take a moment to remember those people who gave their lives while serving your country where ever you should happen to live.

Memorial Day is also the traditional unofficial start of summer.  It doesn't matter that we were watching a parade in parkas and occasional spits of snow just two days ago, it's summer!  Tonight we will be firing up the grill and enjoying a slice of watermelon (my family's Memorial Day tradition).  For us, ketchup and grilling seem to go hand in hand, so I was thrilled to see that we have more ketchup options.

When consumers speak with their pocketbook, companies listen - at least the smart companies do.  Hunts is the latest company to remove HFCS from their products.  The entire line of Hunt's ketchups is now HFCS free!  Hunts' ketchup now consists of five simple ingredients:  tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and other seasonings - no HFCS, artificial ingredients or preservatives.  Hunts says that the switch is "in direct response to consumer demand."  We have a bottle of Hunts ketchup sitting in our fridge now, and it is a good ketchup. 

Once upon a time, the only ketchup we bought was Heinz ketchup.   My husband was in love with the texture and flavor of Heinz ketchup over all other ketchups.  Then we gave up foods containing HFCS, and Heinz was no more in our household.  Most Heinz ketchups still contain HFCS, but they now have two HFCS-free options.  The first has been around a while - Heinz Organic Ketchup, a good but expensive ketchup.  The second is a new offering - Simply Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  The ingredients in Simply Heinz are basically the same as Hunts - simple with no HFCS, artificial ingredients or preservatives.

Kudos to Hunts for changing it's entire ketchup line and Heinz for introducing another ketchup that is HFCS-free with simple ingredients!  


What kind of syrup do you buy?

>> Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back when we dined in blissful ignorance on HFCS-containing foods, our favorite syrup was Log Cabin. The first ingredient in Log Cabin's list at the time was HFCS. So, we switched to pure maple syrup.  I am happy to report that Log Cabin has since removed HFCS from it's syrups, but we've stuck with real maple syrup even though it is more expensive.  (If you're avoiding HFCS, read those ingredients!  Most artificial maple syrups still use HFCS.)

Using real maple syrup has its advantages.  First, it isn't nearly as viscous as Log Cabin and the other artificial maple flavored syrups, and with the thinner consistency a little maple syrup goes a long way - and that's a good thing because it's expensive! Second, did you know that maple syrup actually has some health benefits? It contains a ton of manganese and zinc - two trace elements and natural antioxidants that are good for your health. It's also loaded with calcium - the same amount as whole milk! That just blows my mind - in a good way.  Of course, hopefully you're not consuming a glass full of maple syrup, but it is nice to know that it's in there.   Last, it has fewer calories than corn syrup.  (Though it doesn't have fewer calories than the "light" artificial maple syrups out there.  That "light" designation often comes at a price, though, as the "light" syrups are often full of other artificial ingredients.) With all of that going for it, I can overlook the steep price, I suppose, and not feel so bad when we have a syrup laden breakfast.

You might think that maple syrup is maple syrup, but not so. There are different grades and different classifications within the different grades, and they all have different flavors.  When we first switched to maple syrup, I was used to the more subtle maple flavor of the artificial syrups.  The flavor of the Grade A Dark Amber real maple syrup that I could find in my grocery stores was too intense for my taste.  With just a little digging, I learned that Grade B actually has a stronger flavor than Grade A, and that Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Light Amber are most commonly used as table syrups.  It strikes me as funny that Grade A Dark Amber is what I can find in grocery stores.

Amazon came to our rescue, as usual.  We were able to order some Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup, which had a much less pronounced maple flavor that was just right.  We have since come to enjoy a deeper maple flavor and now buy Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup.  I won't lie, it is expensive.  I buy in bulk (a gallon at a time either through Amazon or directly from the farm) and store the extra in my fridge to save money.  A little goes a long way for us, so I don't feel bad paying the money for the real deal.

Just why is maple syrup so expensive?  Maple syrup has not always been so expensive.  Prices have gone up dramatically in the past five or so years.  The increase in prices isn't a conspiracy by the maple syrup producers.  We can blame the weather for the stiff increase.  Maple syrup is produced from sap collected from certain maple trees.  This sap collection depends on freezing cold nights and warm days.  Recent warm springs have played havoc with sap collection.  Add to this increasing demand for the real deal, and prices remain high. 

Ah, well.  I'm still content to be buying real maple syrup.  The benefits outweigh the cost in my household.


Meatless Monday - Roasted pineapple and sugar snap peas

>> Monday, May 17, 2010

Now that we are fully committed to eating meatless at least once a week, I bought a subscription to Vegetarian Times last December.  This past month there was a recipe that just jumped out at me.  It practically begged me to make it.  So...I did, of course.  The crazy thing about this dish, pulled from the book Supermarket Vegan:  225 Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free recipes for Real People in the Real World, is that it's main component is pineapple.  With it's natural sweetness, Hawaiian-Style Sweet-and-Sour Roasted Pineapple and Bell Peppers definitely stretches how I define a main dish.  Served over brown rice, it works.  The only change I made to this dish was the addition of basil as a garnish.  The basil was a great addition and kind of cut the sweetness a bit.  I think that cilantro would work well as a garnish too.

Step out of your dinner comfort zone, dear children.  This is a thought that I express to my kids often.  If they had their way, it would be pizza and macaroni every night.  Alas, mom has different ideas about dinnertime.  My son thought that this dish was so-so.  He didn't love it, but he didn't hate it either.  My daughter steadfastly refused to eat it, but once she took her mandated bite, she declared that she liked it.  (She still didn't eat it all, though.)  My husband and I liked this pineapple dish a lot and will have it again.

We served the pineapple dish along with some sauteed sugar snap peas.  My kids seem to like raw sugar snap peas better than the sauteed version, but I think that they're both tasty.  To saute, simply heat a little butter or olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the sugar snap peas and saute until they turn a bright green.  Don't over cook or they'll be mushy!  Add salt to taste.

Hawaiian-Style Sweet-and-Sour Roasted Pineapple and Bell Peppers
closely adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine

3 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 medium red bell pepper, cubed
1 medium red onion, cut into thin wedges
1 TBSP tasted sesame oil
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP sweetened coconut flakes (optional)
1 TBSP lime juice
finely chopped basil (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Arrange the pineapple, bell pepper, and onion on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with the sesame oil, olive oil, and brown sugar.  Add salt to taste.  Toss to coat

Roast pineapple mixture for 30 minutes or until lightly browned, turning once.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with coconut flakes and then drizzle lime juice.  Toss well.  Serve hot or at room temperature over rice.  Garnish with basil if desired.

Serves 6


Sweet potato in cookies? Really! And it's GOOD!

>> Thursday, May 13, 2010

You read the title right...sweet potato cookies!  These cookies get two big thumbs up from both of my kids.  Moist, delicious cookies that are LOADED with sweet potato.  It's a good match when you think of it.  Sweet potatoes do have a lot of natural sweetness, and the sweet potato's flavor is not so in-your-face.  It blends nicely with the rest of the ingredients, and you don't really realize that you're getting a hit of sweet potato.

Before you get too excited, these are still cookies in all of their sugary, refined flour goodness.  (Wait, is that an oxymoron?)  I'm with Cindy at Fix Me A Snack - sometimes a cookie just needs to be a cookie.  But that doesn't mean that you can't sneak some good stuff into it, right? 

If you remember seeing this recipe in the distant past, well, I've changed it ever so slightly.  I replaced just a little of the butter (ok, a whole 1/4 cup!) with applesauce.  I can't tell the difference.  I used a combo of cinnamon chips and white chocolate chips in my last batch, and only made half of the cookies with raisins (a nod to my raisin-hating little boy, who is actually slowly but surely making peace with dried grapes even if he will never be a fan of them).  I love the addition of the raisins.  While I think that a chocolate chip would overpower the subtle flavor of the cookie, feel free to use whatever chip or dried fruit makes you happy.  (And see my note at the very end about chips.)

These cookies are very moist, and they get their moisture from the sweet potato.  I go all out and use a full 3 cups of mashed sweet potato.  It's a forgiving recipe, so you can get away with as little as a cup of mashed sweet potato.  They get moister as they sit overnight, so put a layer of waxed or parchment paper in between the layers of cookies in your cookie jar.

Sweet Potato Cookies

1-3 cups sweet potato, cooked** and mashed
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup margarine or butter, cold
1/4 cup applesauce
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 or white chocolate chips to taste (optional)
2 TBSP flaxseed meal (optional)

Cream 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.

Note on chips:  Be careful when you buy your chips!  White chocolate and cinnamon chips so often contain trans fat (in the form of partially hydrogenated oils).  I used Ghirardelli's white chocolate chips and King Arther Flour's cinnamon chips.  Both are blessedly trans fat free!  So, flip that bag over and check the ingredients before buying your chips.  It would be a shame to ruin an otherwise wonderful cookie with a dose of trans fat!


Meatless Monday - Greek Wheat Berry Salad

>> Monday, May 10, 2010

Some of my favorite family-friendly Meatless Monday go-to meals - pizza, nachos, egg dishes, and pasta or grain salads.  Today I want to reshare my favorite pasta/grain salad.  This salad is great made with wheat berries, pasta, rice, or even quinoa, and kids and adults alike love it!  Hope you enjoy learning (or maybe relearning!) about wheat berries, and definitely give the salad a try!

Do you know what a wheat berry is? It's the whole wheat grain - what they grind to make whole wheat flour. It's also delicious cooked in its whole form! I have been eying recipes made with wheat berries for a while now, but only tried using unground wheat berries last week. Wheat berries turn out to be surprisingly simple to cook and they taste quite a lot like brown rice. In fact, I couldn't convince my son that it wasn't brown rice!

Uncooked soft white wheat berries

Before heading to this week's recipe, I want to take a moment to explore the humble wheat berry. First, what makes the wheat berry desirable? Well, it's a whole grain. All of the nutrients and good stuff (like fiber) remain inside the little berry. Unlike brown rice, wheat berries stay good for a long, long time. I've read reports of wheat berries that were stored in a cool, dry environment that were good as many as 20 years later! That might be a little extreme, but stored in a cool, dry location they will indeed last many years, and stored in a freezer they will last indefinitely. This is in contrast to ground wheat berries - aka whole wheat flour - which has a relatively short shelf life. Keeping the berry whole keeps all of the good stuff inside of the berry stable and secure.

I'm sure that there are many, many different variety of wheat berries, but I'm only going to talk about a couple of them - red and white wheat berries. Hard red wheat berries (I'm going to talk about both Spring and Winter wheat together) is the type of wheat that is used to make traditional whole wheat flour. It's also used to make all-purpose flour, though white all-purpose flour is made from only the endosperm with the nutritious bran and germ removed. (As an aside, non-whole wheat flour is often "enriched, " meaning vitamins and nutrients that were lost when the germ and bran were removed are added back in. Whole wheat flours are not enriched because those vitamins and nutrients haven't been removed in the first place.) Hard red wheat has a relatively high protein content. There is also a soft red wheat that has a softer endosperm and a lower protein content making it good for pastry and cake flour.

White wheat berries are a relatively new variety, having only been added as a market class in the US in 1990. White wheat and red wheat are nutritionally equivalent. The main difference in the two wheat varieties is that white berries have fewer phenolic compounds and tannins in the bran resulting in a milder flavor. White wheat is lighter in color than its red cousin and has a sweeter flavor. White wheat comes in both a hard and soft variety, just like red wheat. The two flours can be used interchangeably. (For a great comparison of the performance of the two flours, check out this article at The Fresh Loaf.)

The great thing about white wheat is the flavor. I have great success substituting white whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour in my baking because it doesn't really change the flavor. As with traditional whole wheat flour made with red wheat, baked goods behave a bit differently when cooked with whole wheat flours, so all-purpose flour is still a good thing to have around. I'm not much of a baker, but I find that I can substitute 1/2 - 3/4 of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour and have good results, depending on the recipe. Using white whole wheat instead of all-purpose doesn't change the flavor of the end product appreciably, but it may change the texture. If you haven't tried white whole wheat flour yet, buy some and give it a try!

Back to whole wheat berries and the recipe... I used soft white wheat berries for this recipe, but you can use whatever variety you have on hand. My grocery store only recently started selling wheat berries in their bulk bin section and carry both hard red wheat and soft white wheat berries. I'm giving you the recipe basically as I prepared it, but like most of my recipes there's a lot of flexibility. Feel free to increase or decrease the amounts of any of the ingredients to suit you taste. We served this salad as a main dish at room temperature, but it's also good cold. Make the recipe your own and enjoy!

Greek Wheat Berry Salad

2 cups wheat berries (I used soft white wheat berries)
6 cups water
1/2 tsp salt (or chicken bouillon)
2 cups chopped grape tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 TBSP white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work well too)
3 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp pepper

Boil wheat berries in water with 1/2 tsp salt (or chicken bouillon) for 40-60 min or until they have reached the desired tenderness. (Desired tenderness is subjective, hence the big window.) Drain in a colander.

Combine wheat berries, tomatoes, green onions, olives, basil, and feta and mix well.

In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, remaining salt, and pepper. Use a whisk to emulsify a bit. Pour over the wheat berry mixture and mix to coat the salad well. Serve and enjoy!

Serves - 4


What do you know about "the silent killer"?

>> Thursday, May 6, 2010

High blood pressure - the silent killer.  How much do you know about it?  Did you know that up to 1 in 3 people have high blood pressure and only about 75% even know it?  High blood pressure, aka hypertension, often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms, but it can still wreak havoc on your body if not treated.  Side effects of untreated high blood pressure can include:

  • increased risk of stroke,
  • kidney damage,
  • coronary artery disease,
  • heart failure,
  • cognitive impairment,
  • and on and on.
Take a look at the website for a very nice and easily digestible look at hypertension facts and risks.

Here's the good news...high blood pressure is preventable!

I recently had a chance to review a book geared toward people struggling with high blood pressure - Bringing Down High Blood Pressure by Chad Rhoden, M.D., Ph.D.  Now, I do not have high blood pressure, but I still found this book to be informative and useful.  I think that it's just as useful as a comprehensive guidebook for preventing high blood pressure in the first place.

The book starts with a chapter explaining the basics of blood pressure, what causes high blood pressure, and risks associated with it.  The scientist in me actually wanted more information in this chapter, but it gives a decent overview of the subject.  The author then quickly moves on to talking in depth about lifestyle changes that help many people bring their blood pressure down to normal levels.  Guidance on effective changes in diet and exercise is provided, including recipes.  (Take a look at the end for one of the recipes from the book.  There are actually quite a few good looking recipes.)  Stress management is discussed (though I would have liked to have seen more on this can be a weak point in my household).

And for those who still can't bring their blood pressure to a normal level using lifestyle tools, the role of medication is discussed.  Each of the major groups of blood pressure medication is presented along with what they do, cautions, and side effects.  This book is not the end all resource in discussing these medications, but I found the chapter on medications very useful in understanding the different types offered a little better.  Medication questions not answered in this book are better discussed with your doctor regardless.

There is even a chapter on alternative high blood pressure treatments - the good, the bad, the unproven, and the unsafe.  The author treats this chapter with a refreshingly open mind.  The focus is on using alternative therapies to compliment traditional ones.

Should you read it?  If you've been dealing with high blood pressure for a while and have it under control, it might not be anything new to you.  If you have recently been diagnosed with hypertension or are in the pre-hypertension category and are looking for a comprehensive resource to help you understand what is going on and what steps you can take to lower your blood pressure, I would recommend this book.  A lot of this isn't rocket science - sensible diet advice, exercise more, stress-reduction advice - but the book provides a plan for people to follow.

On to the recipe!  We made this recipe and really enjoyed it.  It makes a great light side.  The book has several other good looking recipes - like crispy edamame and omelet casserole.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 cup corn
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 TBSP fresh lime juice
3 TBSP cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 TBSP canola oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped peanuts

Place sweet potato in a large saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Once the potatoes are tender, add the corn kernels.  Cook another 30 seconds.  Drain in a colander and halt the cooking with cool water.

In a large bowl, mix together the mustard, lime juice, cilantro, and garlic.  Slowly whisk in oil.  Mix in salt and black pepper.

Add the dressing, cucumber, and onion to the sweet potato mixture.  Toss well.  Serve at room temperature or cooled.  Toss the peanuts in just before serving.

Serves 6

Many thanks to PTA Interactive who kindly provided a copy of the book Bringing Down High Blood Pressure for review.  All opinions expressed are my own.


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