Monday, May 24, 2010

shopping guides

I just came across this detergent shopping guide from Organic Consumers and it's so important that I knew I had to pass it along.  It has a list of all of the soaps/detergents that use 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen that can cause a host of health problems.

This seemed like a good opportunity to pass along a couple of other good resources that are available online.

The Environmental Working Group Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group Safety Guide to Children's Personal Care Products

The Environmental Working Group Shopper's Guide to Safer Sunscreen

The Food and Water Watch rBGH-free Dairy Guide (search by state)

The Non-GMO Shopping Guide

crockpot snack mix

I recently made a batch of Christine's Crockpot Granola.  I really like making it as it's very easy and it tastes great.  While my overnight crockpot cereal is a huge hit you can only make enough for a couple of days.  With the granola I can make enough for a week or more (depending on how fast we eat it).  I posted the fact that I was making a batch of granola on my FaceBook Fan page and got a comment from Sandy who didn't know that you could make that in a crockpot.  Well folks, yes you can.  You can actually make a lot of things in a crockpot, one of the reasons I love mine so much.

I own two.  A small 2 quart and a larger 5 quart.  I've considered getting a 6 quart but have no idea where I would store it in the kitchen.  First things first, let's clear up the terminology.  A crockpot is the same thing as a slow cooker.  Crockpot is simply a brand name from the Rival Corporation.  Slow cooker is what everyone else calls it because crockpot is trademarked.  I call mine a crockpot because I happen to own a Rival brand and that's what I've been calling it for 30 years.

I got my first crockpot, which is my 5 quart when I was in college  (and yes, I'm still using it 30 years later, that sucker works like a charm).  I went to a college where you needed to feed yourself on the weekends because the kitchen closed down. After a couple of weeks as a freshman I called my Mom and told her that I needed a hotpot and would she please buy me one.  She asked me what I wanted it for.  I said to make soup, sauces and things like that.  I came home a few weeks later and there was a crockpot sitting on my bed.  I was, needless to say, thrilled.  She asked if that was what I wanted.  I replied that I had been looking for a hotpot which cost about $6.  She offered to return the crockpot and buy me a hotpot (better deal for her). I hugged the box to my chest and announced that I would definitely be able to use this.  And indeed I did.  For four years I was very popular on the weekend as several of us would pool our food and make soups or a huge pot of spaghetti sauce and eat together.  It was great.

After college I married my husband and learned that a crockpot is a lifesaver when you have two working professionals, you come home and dinner is ready.  It became one of our most used kitchen appliances.  Then we started having kids and it became even more important to plan meals that would be simple, easy and fit into our increasingly busy schedule.

Now I have two adult children and just one left at home.  But we still use the crockpot a lot.  And I'm still learning new recipes and new uses all the time.  I realized that perhaps I needed to share with folks just how versatile a crockpot can be.

Dry cooking in a crockpot can be tricky.  Because the point of a crockpot is to seal in moisture, thereby reducing the amount of moisture you need to cook with and creating a slow braising effect, you need to adjust for dry/low moisture recipes and/or leave a wooden spoon in the crock propping the lid open.  You also need to make things that won't burn or stick.  Snack mixes are a good choice.  You get a tasty, crunchy treat where you control the salt, sugar, fat and flavor content without all of the chemicals, preservatives and artificial colors of store bought snack mixes.  Although I use cereals as the base for these mixes I tend to buy only cereals that do not have any objectionable ingredients.  I also use raw or soaked nuts and add sea salt as needed for flavor.  I prefer not to use roasted nuts because they are not as healthy for you.

I make this by mixing all of the ingredients into the crockpot, turning it on low for 3-4 hours, propping the lid open with a wooden spoon and stirring every 30-40 minutes.  When it is done (the liquid is all gone and the stuff seems very dry), I uncover it and let it cool completely in the crockpot.

Here are our favorites:

Tropical Snack Mix

3 C. rice squares cereal
2 C. oat squares cereal
1 C. dried banana chips, unsulfured
1 C. dried pineapple, unsulfured
1 C. macadamia nuts, raw and unsalted
1 C. shredded coconut, unsulfured and unsweeteend
1/2 C. coconut oil, organic, melted
1 T. honey, raw and local preferred
1 t. cinnamon
1 T. sucanat
1/2 t. sea salt

Tex-Mex Snack Mix

3 C. corn squares cereal (choose organic)
2 C. rice squares cereal
2 C. corn chips (frito-type, not tortilla - choose organic)
1 C. peanuts, raw and unsalted
1 stick melted organic unsalted butter
1/2 t. Hot Sauce
1 T. Penzey's Taco seasoning

Asian Snack Mix

4 cups rice squares cereal
1½ cups sesame crackers
1 C. cashews
1 C. dried peas with no artificial color (these are hard to find)
1 stick melted organic unsalted butter
1 T. Tamari sauce
1 t. Chinese five spice
1/2 t. sea salt

Curried Snack Mix

4 C. rice squares cereal
1 C. cashews, raw and unsalted
1/2 C. chopped walnuts, raw and unsalted
1/4 C. candied ginger, diced finely
1 C. shredded coconut, unsulfured and unsweetened
1 t. curry powder
1/2 C. ghee
2 t. Tamari sauce
1/2 t. sea salt

Store in an airtight container.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

banana oat pancakes

We love pancakes in our house.  They are a great, easy to make, healthy, whole grain breakfast.  Throw in some fresh fruit and maybe a little homemade Greek yogurt and it's the perfect meal to start your day...filling, nutritious, blood-sugar balancing, and, most importantly, delicious.

I love it when I find a recipe that is so perfect it doesn't need anything else.  This recipe is one of them.  From my King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book it's a recipe that is a consistent favorite.  I love the fact that it's made from whole grains.  Although I make my own oat flour by grinding oat groats you can easily make it at home by placing old fashioned oats in the food processor or blender and blending it until it reaches a fine consistency.  If that's more than you are willing to do you can also just buy it, both Arrowhead Mills and Bob's Red Mill sell oat flour or you can get certified gluten-free oat flour from Legacy Valley or Cream Hill Estates.

As a quick side note, oats do not have gluten in them.  However they tend to be grown near, stored with or transported with other glutinous grains, most specifically wheat.  Certified producers grow and process only oats, guaranteeing that there is no cross-contamination.

One of the things that my family likes so much about this recipe is that it is very fluffy.  You don't realize that these are whole grain oat pancakes they are that light and airy.  The bananas combined with the cinnamon and nutmeg make it a delicious way to start your day.  I also like having another great recipe that allows me to use up any almost over-ripe bananas.

King Arthur Flour's Banana-Oat Pancakes

3 small bananas mashed
2 T. unsalted butter melted (use organic)
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. sugar (I reduce this to 1 t. as the bananas when they are this ripe have a lot of natural sugars)
2 eggs
1 C. oat flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg

Stir together the mashed bananas, butter, lemon juice and sugar in a medium bowl.
Beat in the eggs.
Whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a small bowl.
Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.
Stir the batter just until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
Check to be sure the batter is thin enough for your pancakes; you may need to add a touch of milk or water (I never do)
Let the batter sit 10 minutes before using.

Heat a nonstick griddle or heavy skillet.
If your surface is not non-stick brush it lightly with vegetable oil.
When the surface is ready spoon batter 1/4 C. at a time into the pan.
Let the pancakes cook on the first side until bubbles begin to for around the edges, 3-4 minutes.
When the pancakes are just beginning to set flip then and let them cook on the second side, about 1 1/2 minutes more.

KA suggests you can sprinkle toasted walnuts over the batter just before cooking as an extra treat.

Sources for oat flour:


agua fresca

Spanish for fresh waters this is a refreshing summer drink with origins in Mexico where it is sold by street vendors.  Sometimes you can find agua fresca in large containers in South and Central American stores or restaurants where it is ladled out by the glassful.  A great drink for warm weather it's a hydrating and satisfying thirst quencher that is much better than soda or over-sugared bottled drinks and fountain drinks.

Agua frescas are usually made with fruit, lime juice, sugar and water.  Watermelon, canteloupe, strawberry, pineapple, and tamarind are popular flavors.  When you make them at home the ingredients can be adjusted to account for the sweetness of the fruit you are using and for personal taste.  I rarely add sugar because I find that the fruits are sweet enough on their own.

I love using watermelon in agua frescas.  Luciano Pavarotti once said, "Watermelon, it's a great fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face."  High in vitamin C  and lycopene watermelon is also rich in the electrolytes potassium  and sodium which makes it a fabulous choice for summer time when we tend to lose a lot of electrolytes through perspiration.

Today I'll be making a watermelon-strawberry agua fresca, here's my recipe:

Agua Fresca
(makes 4 servings)

2 C. strawberries, dehulled
3 C. watermelon, removed from the rind and pitted
juice of 1/2 a lime
1/3-1/2 C. of ice cold water

Place berries, watermelon and lime juice in a blender
Blend until well mixed
Strain through a medium sieve colander to remove any chunks or seeds that escaped the pitting proccess
Add water until you reach a consistency that you prefer

Some people like it a little sweeter. Taste carefully before adding sweetener, you should not need more than one or two tablespoons of sugar or a few drops of liquid stevia.

photo courtesy of Steve Evans | Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

making homemade jam

Josh wrote in and wondered, "We just made some strawberry jam. Best jelly I've ever had. Do you know if you have to use such a huge amount of sugar? The basic recipe we used was adamant not to adjust or the jam would not set properly."

Strawberries are very low in pectin so you do need to add a fair amount of sugar to get them to set. If you use less sugar they will not set. You can try using some strawberries that are not fully ripe and still have the white tips but I have had hit-or-miss success with this method.

One way to vary the amount of sugar, especially if you are not using pectin, is to mix the strawberries with a higher pectin fruit such as apples, blackberries, crab apples, cranberries, gooseberries, grapes, or citrus peel.  This works for any low pectin fruit such as apricots, blueberries, peaches, pears, rhubarb, and raspberries.

If you are willing to use pectin you can use a commercial variety, and there are some low sugar ones out there, but another option is to make your own homemade pectin using apples or lemons. There are excellent directions in the book "Preserving Memories" by Judy Glattstein (who I confess is my mother and an excellent canner).

There are recipes that talk about using honey or other sweeteners but I find that most of them call for gelatin which I prefer not to use.

aromatherapy field trip

Steve and I recently took a trip into Houston.  We were headed for the Museum of Natural Science but would up making a little detour before visiting the museum.  Across the street from the Museum, located at One Hermann Street, is a garden that is open to the public.  One part of the garden is an Aromatic Garden.  Filled with raised beds of mints, culinary herbs, rosemary and other aromatics it is truly a delight for the senses.

We wandered through the beds delighting in the plantings and stroking the different plants to release their scents, admiring how many different kinds of mints and basils and thymes, and more there are.  The smell, the texture, the setting all combined to make a very relaxing and delightful stroll.  I confess that my hands smelled quite delicious by the time we were done.

Next door to the Aromatic Garden is the Rose Garden.  Abounding with blooms of all sizes and colors we wandered from bed to bed exclaiming over the different colors and scents.  Some of the showiest roses had no scent at all while some were so overpoweringly perfume-y that one small sniff was more than enough.  

I could feel my blood pressure dropping and a sense of calm envelop me as we enjoyed both of these gardens.  It was a moment of mindful meditation.  Even now, thinking about them as I write I find a peaceful feeling rising forth.  Such is the power of scent and beauty that it can help us to slow down and enjoy the moment.  Not for nothing do we have the phrase "take time to smell the roses."

While I have aromatic herbs in my garden I'm now considering adding some roses to I can recreate a small dose of the experience we had this morning for those days when I can't get all the way into the city.  If you have a small corner of your garden available you might want to consider doing the same.

photo courtesy of Stan Shebs | Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 10, 2010

grinding flour

Claire wrote in and asked, "I have a question re: grinding your own flours out of grains, say brown rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, etc. When you do it, do you soak the grains/beans before you grind it? I soak everything over night (my grains, beans and nuts) before I cook it. I learned this from my Natural Chef class as soaking deactivates the phytic acid that acts as enzyme inhibitors and makes it more digestable. Cooking alone helps to some extent, but not as good as soaking. I am just wondering if I do soak it first, do I need an extra step, say, using a dehydrator to dry it before I grind it.

The reason I'd like to get the model Super 5200 from Vitamix, is that in addition to a wet container that's good for processing wet goods, there is an additional dry container that has a special set of blades that are designed for grinding flours. Then it follows that do I need to also get a dehydrator before I can even grind it?"

I'll start by saying that yes there is another container that can grind grains and beans into flours.  I use a Wondermill which does a great job and can grind to several different levels of fineness.  You cannot grind wet or oily items (flax seeds, wet sprouts, nuts, etc.) in the electric version.

As far as soaking goes there are a few different ways to do it.  The first is to soak, dry (either in a dehydrator or in an oven set to very low temp for a long time) and then grind.  Another is to sprout, dry and then grind.  The picture above shows flour made from sprouted wheat and sprouted spelt; you can see that the texture is no different than if you use the whole grain.  The third is to grind your grains into flour and then soak the flour overnight before using it, this is the method that I use most.  Any of these methods will work well, it's up to you to determine if you want to use the oven method or purchase a dehydrator.

Using fresh ground flour is an excellent idea because many nutrients are stripped out by commercial processing.  Additionally, if you use fresh ground flour you are getting the full benefit of the germ, which is where all of the beneficial oils are.  It is important to note that using fresh ground flour may require a modification to your recipe because the extra fiber can retard the rise of gluten (requiring a longer rise time or the addition of leavening agents such as vital wheat gluten, lecithin, ascorbic acid or others) and the moisture content may change as the fiber soaks up more liquid.

There are several excellent books that deal with whole grain flours:


Thanks for your question, I hope this helps.

photo courtesy of Jaaq | Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, May 9, 2010

strawberry contamination

Recently it has come to my attention that the State of California has approved methyl iodide for use as a pesticide on strawberry crops.

Methyl iodide is a potent carcinogen, it is used to induce cancer in lab animals because it is so effective.  Back in 2007 dozens of well respected scientists (many of them Nobel winning scientists) urged the EPA to ban this substance because it was such a dangerous chemical.

I find it disturbing and appalling that any organization, governmental or otherwise, would knowingly approve use of a substance virtually guaranteed to cause cancer in consumers.   I plan to watch this issue closely and, if methyl oxide is approved, will no longer be eating strawberries from California.  I will then be watching further to see if they approve it for other crops which I will then also no longer eat.  

The State is now seeking public comment on the issue before they implement it, you have until June 14th to let them know how you feel.  Please take a moment to stand up for your rights as consumers to non-carcinogenic foods.

Photo courtesy of Henning 48 | Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, May 8, 2010

colcannon mushrooms

I was watching an episode of Cooking Up A Story where they made Irish Twice Baked Potatoes and it looked so good that I just had to make some for dinner.  Casting around my kitchen I realized that we only had one very large baking potato.  But we had two medium sized sweet potatoes.  Thinking back to  my childhood I remembered how my mother would make Mixed Twice Baked Potatoes by mixing together mashed sweet and baking potatoes and then restuff the shells.  I decided that this would be a good alternative to plain twice baked potatoes and it would give me two very stuffed halves of the baked potato.

Rummaging around in my fridge revealed some of the Russian Red River Kale from this week's farm share.  I also had one last onion from the farm share.  I made the stuffed potatoes and still had a fair amount of stuffing left over.  Back to the fridge I found three good sized portobello mushroom caps, cleaned and stuffed them and popped everything into the oven. The sweet potatoes added so much flavor that I didn't need nearly as much butter as the original recipe called for.  I also left out the buttermilk and didn't feel that I needed the cheddar cheese on top.  Oh my goodness was this good.  So good in fact that the next time I make it I am thinking of bypassing the stuffed potato part altogether and just stuffing mushroom.  Yes it takes time, but trust me, it's worth it.  (Apologies for the awful picture.  These were so delicious they disappeared before I could get another shot.)

Colcannon Mushrooms

Based on the recipe from Cooking Up A Story

6-8 leaves kale
1 medium onion
mushroom caps (how many depends on what size they are)
2 T. organic butter
2 T. olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F
Wash and prick with a fork one large baking potato and two medium sweet potatoes
Bake one hour or until done

30 minutes after you start the potatoes:

Wipe mushrooms with a damp towel to clean them
Dice the onion
Cut the kale into medium-fine chiffonade
Add 1 T. olive oil to a large pan
Saute onions on medium heat until golden brown
Add remaining olive oil and kale
Saute until kale is wilted
Add salt and pepper to taste

Remove potatoes from oven
Peel and mash with butter
Add in onion and kale mixing well
Stuff mushroom caps and bake 30 minutes


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

turmeric, the word of the day

I just got back from the annual conference of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.  It was a fabulous two day event, lots of wonderful conference sessions, catching up with friends, making new ones, and great food (of course, what else would one expect at a conference of nutrition professionals).

I attended sessions on a wide range of diverse topics from "Dietary Triggers of Pain and Inflammation" to "Nutrigenomic Regulation of Adaptive Stress Response" to "Fermentation Around the World" and I was struck by the fact that one word kept coming up over and over again.  Turmeric.  It truly was THE word, not just of the day, but of the weekend.  One seminar that I took with Agnes K. Green of The Healer Within Us even referred to turmeric as a "major mojo" herb.  I think she's right; examining all the wonderful benefits of turmeric it's easy to see why it is gaining such popularity.

Made from the root of the Curcurma longa plant, turmeric is a power anti-inflammatory herb.  It has uses ranging from treating flatulence, colic, jaundice, and bruises to being helpful for IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and is now being researched as a powerful anti-cancer ingredient.  High in manganese, B6, iron, and potassium it gives a pleasant kick to recipes with it's warm, distinctive flavor.  Although most commonly thought of for curries, it goes well with many dishes, such as egg salad, rice salads, lentils, soups, pickles, and relishes.

Some folks even use turmeric to make a tea.  According to Dr. Andrew Weil, Okainawans, noted for being remarkably long lived, "drink copious quantities of turmeric tea."  In addition to the other health benefits mentioned above studies are showing that turmeric has some effect on reducing the inflammation of brain tissue associated with Alzheimer's.  Major mojo indeed.

Although I like turmeric and use it in my cooking, I'm beginning to believe I may not be using it nearly enough.  I've added the following books to my wish list:


and plan to start experimenting more in the kitchen.

If you've got any particularly tasty recipes that you'd like to share, please feel free to pass them along, we could all use a little more of this beneficial herb in our diet.

Be well.

photo courtesy of Sanjay Acharya | Wikimedia Commons