Wednesday, September 23, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup

There has been a lot of information in the past few years on the evils of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and it's contribution to childhood obesity. And you would not believe how many products list HFCS as an ingredient: breads, crackers, cereals, juices, yogurts, even pickles and ketchup! The biggest culprits seem to be the processed snack foods that make your life easier when packing school lunches or throwing something in your purse or diaper bag. Ah, the irony.

DO NOT DESPAIR, I've done some legwork for you and have found some substitute products that are still "convenience foods" but contain no HFCS.

As a general note, products labeled ORGANIC do not contain HFCS. If you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's near you, you'll hit the jackpot with HFCS-free products galore, especially snacks and cereals. Not all of their goods are HFCS free, but most are. Products labeled "natural" are often big, fat hairy liars. Check the labels and you may find HFCS. Wah, wah...

Thomas' English muffins have taken out the HCFS in their products. Check out Arnold Sandwich Thins (our family favorite) and any organic bread. Try Costco's Kirkland Organic bread. It still has the squishy-ness of fructose laden breads so you don't even notice the difference!

Check the labels. Many cereals have it but many don't!

Who doesn't love Ritz crackers? But yes, they contain HFCS. Alternative brands: Late July Organic brand has the same buttery Ritz flavor without the chemicals. The good news-Cheez-its, Triscuits and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish do not contain HFCS. Also Annie's Naturals line of sweet and savory crackers are HFCS free.

Mott's makes a Natural line as well as Musselman's "Totally Fruit" line of applesauces. Canned fruit-check the label. The "light" versions usually don't contain HFCS while the ones packed in heavy syrup do.

Crunchy, salty snacks:
Regular pretzels or Pretzel Thins, Stacy's Pita Chips, Pirate's Booty, potato chips, popcorn are all HFCS free.

Granola/Breakfast bars:
Try Quaker's Simple Harvest line or Nature Valley granola bars. Trader Joe's makes the softer breakfast bars that are also good. Our whole family is addicted to the Clif Kid Organic Z bars.

Instead of Dannon or Yoplait, try Stonyfield Farms yogurt Smoothies or Horizon Organic yogurt Tuberz.

Eggo and Aunt Jemima products contain HFCS. Van's Belgian Waffles do not. Alternatively, make a big weekend batch of pancakes from scratch and put them in the freezer. Use them the same way you would the store-bought frozen kind, just microwave for 30-40 seconds! Buy real 100% maple syrup to avoid HFCS.

Smuckers and Welch's why must you torment me so? Chock full of HFCS. Any jam or jelly labeled 100% fruit is good, i.e. Polaner All-Fruit. The "boutique" brands of jams & preserves are HFCS free too: Stonewall Kitchens, Bonne Maman.

Take a look in your fridge and pantry and see what is full of HFCS that you can live without or substitute. There are more and more alternatives every day that could make a difference in your diet and the future health of your family.

P.S. I won't hate on you if you keep a few. I confess, I'm still doing the walk of shame with my French Vanilla coffee creamer and my Heinz ketchup. A girl's got to have a few vices.

School Lunches

September is not even over and you may already be out of creative lunch ideas for your kids. Or maybe your kids are saying "peanut butter and jelly, AGAIN?"

In the race to be SuperMom, all of our current knowledge is not helping. Will you get the evil eye at the next PTA meeting if you don't have BPA-free plastics only? Will you continue add to landfills with your flagrant excessive use of ziploc bags? Will you continue to poison little Sally & Johnny with high-fructose corn syrup? Organic or conventional fruits and veggies? Processed or unprocessed? HELLLPPP!!!

Here are some ideas that might help you to think out of the box or expand your repertoire.

1.Sandwich Thins/Deli Thins-Made by Arnold, Orowheat, Pepperidge Farm
These are round breads/buns, small enough for little bellies, only 100 calories, no high-fructose corn syrup and NO CRUST for your crust-phobics. I love these.

2. Muffin tins are your friend. If you're making pasta for dinner save some of the cooked pasta and sauce. Combine the sauce and pasta. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or oil. Pack the muffin tin with scoops of your pasta (sneak in some veggies) and top with cheese. Bake at 350 until bubbly (about 10 minutes). Put these in the lunch box, they will be delicious at room temperature.

3. Do the same thing using eggs, leftover veggies and cheese and make mini-frittatas. Use cupcake papers in the muffin tins for these.

4. I recently used these little pie crusts and made mini-quiches using all sorts of leftovers: sun-dried tomatoes, salami, feta cheese, veggies, etc. I used the following egg custard recipe to make 12 mini-tarts:

3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4t salt
1/2 t pepper
Then I pre-baked the shells at 375 F for 15 minutes. I let the shells cool, added my ingredients and poured the egg custard into the shells. I lowered the oven to 350F and baked until the eggs were set, about 20 minutes.
These are great at room temp too. And what kid doesn't want their own "pie"?!

5. Finger foods or appetizers. Kids will eat almost anything if it comes with a "dip", skewer or is individually sized. We're kickin' it old school lately with deviled eggs. If you your kids like egg salad, try deviled eggs. When I pack these in a lunch, my kids are swarmed by other kids and teachers saying "oooh, deviled eggs!" Also cucumbers, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks, snow peas with salad dressing on the side.

6. Instead of the same old sandwich, how about sending tuna salad with crackers on the side. They can then dip it themselves. Or make mini-sandwiches on the crackers instead of bread to compete with their Lunch-ables schoolmates. Or make a wrap using tortillas, lavash or flatbreads.

7. Behold, the thermos. Leftovers are your friend. Soup is your savior. A thermos can be filled with last nights stew or pasta, soups, mac and cheese, even mashed potatoes and gravy. I fill the thermos with hot water while I'm heating up the soup. Empty thermos and add your hot food. My kids report that everything is still warm by lunchtime too.

8. Who says lunch=sandwich? Skip the sandwich. Today I packed my munchkin a container of hummus with carrot sticks and pita chips, grape tomatoes, cheese and a plum and yogurt--plenty of food without a sandwich.

9. Get them involved in the planning. If your little gourmand is complaining about their lunch, have them plan the menu. Write out what will be packed for the week so they know what's coming. They are less likely to complain if they have chosen it. Take them grocery shopping to help select their favorite fruits, bread, snack, etc.

10. Try new things. They may refuse to eat 90% of them but they just might find something new to love. Have you tried: almonds & dried cranberries mixed together; edamame; frozen grapes; flavored mini-rice cakes; a banana sliced down the middle (but not all the way) with peanut butter spread inside; mini Baby Bel wrapped cheese rounds; cream cheese and jelly on a mini-bagel; popcorn; dried fruits; yogurt smoothies, etc.

Please add on your inspired ideas in the comments!

Coming next: A shopping list of convenience foods without high fructose corn syrup...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Crafty Cake

I wish I were crafty. Cooking and baking, yes. Crafts, not so much. Even Halloween costumes stress me out if I have to put an effort into them. I own a sewing machine and a glue gun and if I ever sell them on Ebay I will be able to list them as NEW IN BOX.

Recently, I had an order for a Hannah Montana-ish electric guitar cake for a lovely young lady named Alison who is turning 5. This is a yellow butter cake with chocolate ganache. It's covered in fondant with the details made out of gumpaste. I made the guitar strings with jewelry wire. I added butterflies for additional girl power and a purple flower to replicate these beautiful flowers the birthday girl always wears as pins or hair accessories (all made by her crafty mom, Betsy).

I'm sure the favors for Alison's party will be uber-crafty and all made by Betsy, sigh. Well, we all have our talents. My kids may have the lamest Halloween costumes but you can bet they'll have the best lunches in town!

Coming up soon...a post on lunch ideas for your peeps and minions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chocolate and Caramel and Sea Salt, Oh My!

I don't believe that you need a ton of gadgets, accessories and thingamabobs to be a good cook. But then just because a girl could get by on one pair of shoes does not mean she SHOULD.

I've had my eye on this little baby for a while. It attaches to your KitchenAid stand mixer and mixes all the batter that is usually left in the bottom of the bowl, unmixed. I luurve it! It's the SideSwipe Mixer Blade.

Previously, I'd been using this trick: attach your paddle but instead of pushing it all the way up, twisting it and locking it into place, just hold it there and raise your bowl. Now the bottom of the mixer bowl will be in contact with the bottom of your paddle attachment, thereby holding it in place and scraping the bottom of the bowl when you turn it on. Disclaimer: I'm sure Kitchen Aid doesn't endorse this method but it's worked for me. That being said, I think my new SideSwipe is less risky.

Here's something I made with my nifty new gadget. This cake has been responsible for many oohs and aahs around here. It's very rich so slice it small and feed an army.

Adapted from David Lawrence via The Vanilla Bake Shop

Serves 12

1 c sugar
1/4 c water
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c unsalted butter, diced
1/4 c sour cream or creme fraiche
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine sea salt

3/4 lbs. chopped bittersweet chocolate (71 % cacao)
3/4 lbs. chopped semi-sweet chocolate (62 % cacao, not chocolate chips)
2 T corn syrup
2 c heavy cream

2 c sugar
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot, strong coffee

Directions for Caramel:
Stir sugar, water and corn syrup in deep saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Turn up heat to high and let mixture cook, undisturbed, until syrup turns an amber color. Do not stir the mixture or touch it. Take off heat and add cream. Mixture will violently bubble. Whisk in the butter, sour cream and lemon juice. Add a generous pinch of sea salt. Cool to room temp, then cover and chill.

Directions for Ganache:
Finely chop chocolate and place in a large bowl with the corn syrup. Heat cream in a saucepan until a few bubbles appear around edges of pan. Do not let boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Whisk gently until chocolate and cream are combined. Cool to room temp.

Directions for Cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350F. Line bottoms of 3 9-inch round cake pans with parchment. Spray with Pam Baking spray (or butter and flour).

Mix dry ingredients in bowl of stand mixer until blended. Add milk, eggs, vanilla and oil and blend at low speed until well mixed. With mixer running, slowly add hot coffee until incorporated. Batter will be very thin. Divide among cake pans and bake until toothpick inserted into center come out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of pans and turn out cakes onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.

To Assemble:
Place 1 layer of cake on cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of room temperature ganache. Put 3/4 cup of ganache into a pastry bag or ziploc and pipe a ring of ganache around the edge of the cake. This will be your wall. Fill the center of the well with 1/4 cup of room temperature salted caramel. Top with second layer of cake and repeat with ganache and salted caramel. Top cake with 3rd layer and spread remaining ganache over the top and sides of cake. Drizzle top with some remaining caramel and sprinkle a large pinch of sea salt over the top of cake. Cover with cake dome and chill. Let cake stand at room temp 1 hour before serving.

Note: I made mine a two layer cake with only one layer of ganache and caramel in between.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Gratitude Breakfast

When a friend who has known you forever brings you a gift of Bouley bread with pistachios and apricots inside.

When you've found Vermont Butter and Cheese Company butter on sale, yup, ON SALE, people!

When the jam lady at the Farmer's Market makes the best apricot jam ever.

What's a girl to do but give thanks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Last Drop of Summer Cocktail

Does anyone else feel summer slipping away?

I'm desperate to work in summer produce at every meal, loving all the "no oven" options the season brings. I'm counting the days until school starts...most days sadly. It's bittersweet.

I know there's nothing that says you can't sit on your porch or patio or stoop in the autumn enjoying a twilight cocktail. But it's just not the same. Try this lovely libation as we wring every last drop out of summer. It's light and refreshing with a whisper of herbal mystery and you could try it with a gin or vodka. And here's another thing: you may want to double the Rosemary Lemon Simple Syrup recipe as you can leave out the vodka and serve a wonderful non-alcoholic lemonade fizz to those who prefer that.


1 cup Rosemary Lemon Simple Syrup (recipe below)
1/2 cup lemon vodka (can use gin instead)
1 litre soda water or seltzer

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 4-inch sprigs of rosemary

Bring sugar and lemon juice to a simmer in a sauce pan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat, add rosemary and cover. Let steep until syrup is cooled to room temperature. Remove rosemary and discard (strain if you have rosemary leaves in the syrup). Refrigerate.

For cocktail:
Mix 2 parts rosemary lemon syrup with 1 part vodka and top with soda water. (Start by using a tablespoon as measurement.) Serve over ice.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tis The Season

That's right, it is fresh fig season! Fig season is so short (August-October) don't let it pass you by. If you happen by my house during fig season, you will very likely be served this luscious snack. This is a "no-recipe" recipe. The kind that you just throw together for friends or family and as their eyes roll back in their heads you say, "Oh, this? It's nothing..." But oh, is it something.

And if you enjoy this outside, early on a summer evening with a chilled glass of wine, you can thank me later.


1 loaf of crusty French bread
spreadable goat cheese
fresh figs, sliced

Slice bread and spread with goat cheese. Pile on the prosciutto. Top with sliced figs and drizzle with honey.

Tips: Figs-take good care of these little babies. They don't last long so try to eat them the day you bring them home or refrigerate to avoid mold. I used Black Mission figs which have dark, purplish skin when ripe. Use any variety you can find. If you don't have goat cheese, you can use mascarpone cheese or even cream cheese. Want to gild the lily? Use an exotic honey like Truffle Honey.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cantaloupe with Salsa Verde

Look what was in abundance at the Farmer's Market. Cantaloupe. Or do you call it muskmelon?

When I was a girl we used to eat wedges of these with a little salt sprinkled over them--a sweet, slurpy, salty, taste of summer. We ate this a lot and inevitably, by the end of August my stance on cantaloupe was, "OVER IT!

If that sounds like you, it's time to bring in some other ingredients and change it up a little. I had a lot of fresh herbs on hand, my Serrano peppers that finally were ready for picking and some lovely walnut oil. How about a salsa verde? Salsa verde literally means "green sauce" and contains fresh herbs, an acid (usually vinegar), aromatics (shallot, red onion, capers, chili flakes) and oil. It's delicious on grilled meats, fish, bread so why not fruit!

Serves 8

1 ripe cantaloupe, seeded and cubed
3 T minced red onion
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, tightly packed
1/4 cup Thai basil or regular basil leaves
1/3 cup of walnut oil
3 t grated ginger
1/8 t salt
2 T lime juice

Chop mint, cilantro and basil leaves. Combine with minced onion, ginger, walnut oil, salt and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour over cantaloupe. Chill and serve.

*Variations-add toasted pumpkin seeds and cubed feta cheese

Buy a knob of ginger, which is cheap, cheap, cheap, by the way. Peel it with a spoon. Use the edges of the spoon to just scrape that skin off. Then use a microplane or grater on your ginger instead of a knife. The stringy fibers are hard to cut finely. Then put it in a freezer bag and pop it in the freezer. The next time you need ginger, use it frozen. Peel it with the spoon and grate what you need and back in the freezer. Don't let it defrost before using, just use it frozen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Make What The Good Lord Gave Ya...

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's the story of her family's year long experiment of eating locally and seasonally. They ate only what they or their neighbors could grow or raise in their county.

Now given my shaded backyard and my serious lack of a green thumb, my people would starve if we attempted this. But some of her points really hit home. If you eat what is grown near you and you eat it when it naturally grows it will be a food at it's fullest potential. A pale, February grocery store tomato will never compare to the taste of a ripe, juicy August tomato.

There are social and eco-friendly reasons why this is a good thing too-supporting local farmers, not contributing to the fossil fuel consumption it takes to store and ship food nationally and internationally, etc. but those are bigger discussions. The bottom line is this: Food "here and now" will be some of the most delicious food you will experience.

So, if I may be of is a list of some of what is
ripe in late July/early August:
Summer Squash

And here is a source to find a farm or farmer's market in your area:

I double-dog dare you to go shopping without a list. See what looks ripe and fresh, buy it and then decide what you're cooking this week. I'll do it too and I'll share my recipes with you, because I'm a giver.

Friday, July 31, 2009

My Gift To You

You must make this salad. There, I said it. This is a great salad anytime of the year. It is especially great for summer because it contains no mayo, cream or dairy to decompose at the neighborhood picnic thereby poisoning your community and ruining your rep.

Another bonus, it holds up well in the fridge a day later.

Serves 8-10

2 c wild rice
6 c water
3 T rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 t cardamom
1 1/2 t soy sauce
1 t ground pink peppercorns
1 t ground white peppercorns
3 T Maple Syrup
1/3 canola oil
3/4 c chopped celery
1 c dried cranberries
1/2 c finely chopped scallions
3/4 c chopped pecans (I like Trader Joe's Sweet & Spicy Pecans)

Bring water with a pinch of salt to a boil. Add rice and bring back to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low and let simmer about 30 minutes. Look for some of the grains to have opened but others should still have a bite. Drain and return to the pan. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Chill rice.

Combine rice vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, ground peppercorns, cardamom, maple syrup & canola oil. Add to rice along with pecans, scallions, cranberries and celery. You can double the dressing recipe if you like it really saturated or save the rest of the dressing for salad.

*Variations: Instead of the cranberries, substitute a crisp apple like a Granny Smith or Fuji in the fall & winter. You can also try other nuts if you don't like pecans. Also, while the pink AND white peppercorns are not essential, they add so much to the dish and are worth seeking out!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Holy Grains, Batman!

I love buying things at the grocery store that I have no experience with. Ostrich egg, sea beans, dragon fruit, purslane. At a restaurant, I always order the most exotic/unusual thing on the menu. My husband orders the chicken.

For all of the "chicken" people out there let's demystify some of the whole grains that are available in most supermarkets. These little guys rock! They are whole grains which means healthy but they are similar enough to rice, pasta and orzo that your family will probably try these without a revolt.

Whole Wheat Couscous
Think of it as your training bra of whole grains. Why? Because it takes 5 minutes to make and is versatile enough to add any refrigerator or pantry ingredients to it and call it a one dish meal.

-Use a 1 to 2 ratio, i.e. 1 cup of couscous to 2 cups of water or stock or fruit juice + 1/2 teaspoon salt = 3 cup yield

Bring liquid to a boil, put in a pinch of salt and add couscous. Stir once, cover and reduce the heat to low and cook for one minute. Turn the heat off and leave covered until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Then, FLUFF WITH A FORK. Do not stir with a spoon. Trust me.

Add a vinaigrette, broccoli, grape tomatoes & rotisserie chicken
Add olive oil & lemon juice, feta cheese, cucumber & tomatoes
Add walnut oil, orange juice, toasted walnuts, celery & shrimp
Add dried cranberries, orange zest, raisins & pine nuts

A little heartier than couscous, best known for it's appearance in tabbouleh. It comes in 4 different sizes/grinds from fine and medium to coarse. The following directions are for fine and medium bulgur identified on packages as grind #1 or grind #2.

-Use a ratio of 1 cup of bulgur to 1 cup + 1 tablespoon of water or stock or fruit juice + 1/2 teaspoon of salt = 3 cup yield

Bring liquid to a boil, put in a pinch of salt and add bulgur. Cover and turn off heat. Let steam for 10 minutes. Fluff up and serve. If serving cold, spread on baking sheet to cool.

-Add chopped tomato, red onion, olive oil & lemon juice, mint and parsley
-Molds well using bowls or ramekins for a nifty presentation (yes, I said nifty).
-The course grinds (#3 and #4) make great pilafs but need a grain to liquid ratio of 1 to 2 and need to cook for 10 and 20 minutes, respectively.

Farro is hot right now. Everyone wants to date her. I've seen a number of farro recipes in food mags in the last 2 months. Why? It's has a nice chew, a nutty taste and it's easy to prepare. Are we sensing a theme here? It also holds in the fridge well without getting hard or gluey.

-Use a ratio of 1 cup farro to 1 3/4 cup water + a pinch of salt = 2 1/2 cup yield

Bring water to a boil in a kettle. In a dutch oven or saucepan toast the farro over dry heat for 3 minutes or until toasty and fragrant. Add boiling water gradually, then add salt. Return to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat 20-30 minutes until tender. Check doneness by cutting a grain in half. It should be one color throughout the grain. Turn off heat and keep covered for 10 minutes. Drain any excess water. Fluff and serve.

-Try it with apples, dried cranberries, and an apple cider vinaigrette
-Add chickpeas, green peas, salami & a Dijon vinaigrette

Quinoa is the superhero of grains. It is a complete food with twice the protein, less carbs then other cereal grains with a bonus gift of the right amount of healthy fats. Boo-yah!

-Ignore what the packages say. Cook quinoa like a pasta, in a large amount of water, i.e. 1 cup of quinoa in 2 1/2 quarts of water = 3 cup yield. Add salt to taste after cooking.

Put quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water until water runs clear, not cloudy. Quinoa has saponin which can leave a bitter, soapy taste if not rinsed first. Bring water to a boil. Add quinoa to boiling water and boil uncovered until there is no longer a white "dot" in the center of the grains, about 10-15 minutes. Taste for doneness. There should be a little crunch to it. Look to see if the little white comma-like threads have unfurled--a sign of doneness. Drain and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff and serve warm or spread on baking sheet to cool for cold salads.

-add dried blueberries, feta, arugula, red onion & almonds with olive oil and lemon juice
-add cilantro, corn, black beans, mango & avocado with lime juice and olive oil
-add currants, roasted butternut squash & pine nuts

Try a new grain this week, let me know if the two of you hit it off and in the comments share your ideas on how to trick them out.

For more recipes and info on whole grains, I highly recommend Lorna Sass' book Whole Grains: Everyday Every Way.

And by the way, all of these grains go with chicken.
Quinoa with pear-braised chicken, scallions & chile