Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FALLING OFF THE WAGON


There comes a time when even the most die-hard healthy eater falls off the wagon—present company included, of course! My tipping point is definitely dessert, usually a sumptuous, insanely caloric confection involving copious amounts of chocolate (the darker, the better).

When this cataclysmic and potentially catastrophic event occurs, I follow one rule: Whatever decadence tumbles me out of my wagon must be AMAZING. Otherwise, it’s not worth the calories and the unavoidable blood-sugar spike.

I know a few people (I happen to be married to one of them) who can’t be trusted around what I refer to as “junk” candy—M&M’s, Snickers, Twizzlers, Mike & Ikes and the like. That stuff doesn’t interest me in the least. I say if you’re gonna splurge, go for something that’s really grand and truly special. Worth cheating for!

For me, that means gathering the flour, sugar and butter and getting busy. Nothing can compare to homemade!

This week I found myself with an abundance of lovely, exceptionally sweet local blueberries weighing heavily on my hands and my brain. What to make with them? It just so happens that my friend and neighbor, Karen, a fantastic cook, turned me on to a fabulous Martha Stewart recipe for classic blueberry crumb cake. Oh, my my my, is it ever delicious. And dangerous. Amazing for breakfast….. inspiring after lunch….iresistible post-dinner. And did I mention it’s the perfect midnight snack?

Here’s the recipe. Bake at your own risk!

CLASSIC BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE
Makes one 9-inch cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Blueberry Crumb Topping 
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS

  1. STEP 1

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. STEP 2

    In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Addeggs, one at a time, until well combined. Add vanilla, and beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture and the sour cream, and beat just until well combined. Fold in 2 cups blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Toss remaining cup blueberries with the crumb topping. Sprinkle crumb topping over cake. Bake until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
TOPPING:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

DIRECTIONS


  1. In a medium bowl, combine cinnamon, salt, sugar, and flour. Cut in the butter using your hands, two knives, or a pastry blender until well combined and crumbly.

A couple of notes: I've made this cake twice, and both times I baked it for at least an hour--even 10 minutes longer. However, be careful not to overcook. The center may look underdone, but as long as a skewer or toothpick holds wet clumpy crumbs, it's done. Also, this cake is at its best when freshly baked and still warm. Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"What the Heck is it" WEDNESDAY



This sandwich bread looks innocent enough, doesn't it? But there it is, lurking in the fine print: 

CELLULOSE FIBER.

Folks, it's difficult to escape this odd-sounding ingredient. You'll find cellulose in its many forms-- like "powder" and "gum"--in an astonishing range of products: toothpaste, yogurt, bread, ice cream, frosting, makeup, hair and bath items and shredded cheese, to name a few. And get this--cellulose is found even in organic foods! For example, Organic Valley adds powdered cellulose to its shredded cheese products. (However, note that products labeled as "organic" can utilize only cellulose powder, which is its least manipulated form.) 

So, what the heck is it, you ask? Simply stated, cellulose is derived from the cell walls of woody plants and cotton. The plant cells are broken down with acetic acid to form a viscose gum that's used as an emulsifier. 

Next question: should we avoid it? Along with the FDA,  the EU (European Union) also permits cellulose as a food additive. That leads to yet another question: is it really that bad? 

Actually avoiding it may be easier said than done, as you've probably figured out by now. 

Here are some factors to consider in order to make an informed choice:

- Cellulose is listed by Reader's Digest as one of their "27 foods to you should never buy again." They liken ingesting cellulose to "eating wood pulp." 

http://www.rd.com/slideshows/foods-you-should-never-buy-again/

- Even though cellulose has fiber, it can't be digested and passes through the digestive tract. So, nutrition labels of cellulose-containing products can be misleading as they include it within the dietary fiber count. 

- Chemical are used to break cellulose down into gum. How safe are they?

Here is a link (yep, sure is a long one!) to a very good Wall Street Journal article about cellulose:


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916?mg=reno64wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html

Cellulose fiber is an ingredient in the sandwich thins pictured above that my hubby is so fond of. I'll be scoping around for a "cleaner" alternative that he'll (hopefully) deign to eat. Wish me luck!

Lisa


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Better Olive


Kudos to PEARLS!

I was very excited to find these fresh cured green olives in my local supermarket. Ferrous gluconate-free…and absolutely delicious! They've gotten rave reviews from the hubby and assorted family members. Flavorful but not too salty. Give 'em a try.

This week watch for another eye-opening edition of "What the Heck is That?" I'll be examining another "mystery" ingredient that has us barking up the wrong tree….

Happy Eating!

Lisa


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WELCOME TO "WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?" WEDNESDAY


FERROUS GLUCONATE

There it was, lurking in a can of otherwise innocuous, run-of-the-mill (or so I though)"black" olives (keep reading and you'll soon know why "black" is placed in quotes): a suspicious-sounding ingredient:  ferrous gluconate. 

So, you're thinking, ferrous = iron. Correct! But gluconate? What the heck is that?? According to Mirriam-Webtser, it's "a salt or ester of gluconic acid." Gluconic acid?? Found this on a government website: "Gluconic acid, the oxidation product of glucose, is a mild neither caustic nor corrosive, non toxic and readily biodegradable organic acid of great interest for many applications." Applications?? Is that what food is--an application?? 

Ferrous gluconate is added to the brine the olives bathe in. 

Why, pray tell? Read on.
Well, I thought, in the giant scheme of things, it doesn't sound all that bad. But here's another layer: What is the source of the glucose? Upon further research, I've concluded that it's most likely derived from potato or corn. You know where I'm headed with this..if it's corn, you can bet it's been genetically modified. Yick!

So why, you ask, is this stuff added to canned black olives? Because black olives are NOT REALLY BLACK…they're DARK BROWN!!

Ferrous gluconate TURNS them BLACK!! See below, from a very interesting site, Zingermans.com. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Zingerman's, is named "One of the 25 world's best food markets" by Food & Wine. They really know their olives:

The color of an olive indicates the stage of ripeness at which it was picked. Green olives are olives picked before they are ripe, usually in September or October. They should have a firm texture and nutty flavor. What we refer to as "black" olives actually run the gamut from light brown, to beautiful shades of red and purple, all to way to deepest black. As a general rule, the darker the olive, the riper it was when it was picked. Black olives are usually picked in November and December, sometimes as late as January.

The lone exception to this rule is the "olive" which more Americans eat than any other-the canned "black-ripe" olive. These olives are picked green, then (for reasons unknown-greater marketing appeal?) pumped with oxygen to turn them black, their new color fixed in place with ferrous gluconate. Since they taste like no other black or green olive (in fact, they have almost no taste at all), it is impossible to put them in the same class as you would any other olive. "Black-ripe" olives are to a hand-picked Kalamata olive what Wonder Bread is to a great loaf of double baked rye.


Gotta love that last sentence!!

More, from lindsayolives.com:

Ferrous gluconate is water soluble iron salt combined with a reduced sugar acid. It is used to fix the black color on the olive and the iron reacts with the tannins in the olive skin and helps to hold the black color. Lindsay Naturals do not use ferrous gluconate which produces a chocolate brown olive. There are no allergens, glutens or proteins in ferrous gluconate, even though it's from a corn or potato acid.

I wasn't able to find Lindsay Naturals at my local Shoprite. 

Somebody, please enlighten me-- Who decided that jet-black olives would be more attractive to consumers than chocolate brown?? 

I'm going to look for better quality, NOT BLACK olives from now on. Happy ferrous gluconate-free olive-eating! 

Lisa