Friday, August 10, 2012

Let Mother Nature Help Satisfy That Sweet Tooth...

We all have a sweet tooth in some fashion, for myself it comes in the form of an Oreo Cookie Cupcake from the team over at CupCake Mojo here in town. Two of these little beauties makes for a great dinner on a weekend where it is just myself and the Mrs. While sweets are good in moderation, a steady diet of all that processed and refined sugar is a very bad thing indeed. Having written about some of those issues in the past, I decided to leave them out of today's posting. If you want to go back in time and read more about some of the harmful effects of sugar, start with this older post  To Drink Soda or Not To Drink Soda or the follow-up piece We Are What We Eat. What I did want to write about today is a natural replacement for sugar inside of everyones' diet that is a healthy alternative without the use of any chemicals. That product is Honey!!

Honey, nature's very own sweetener is a great alternative to refined sugar. It can be used in baking, grilling and even as a sweetener for everyday things like water, coffee or tea. It is a carbohydrate that contains water and a whole host of enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids. It has zero added ingredients and is not broken down and processed through chemical means like table sugar. A side by side comparison of the calories in both sugar and honey yield some interesting results.

Honey, has 64 calories per tablespoon and refined or table sugar has 46 calories per tablespoon. So right out of the gate most consumers would quickly dismiss honey as being better for us than regular sugar. Honey has the advantage when you look just past the numbers, it is sweeter  then sugar which allows people to use only about a 1/3 of the amount they would typically use with sugar. Here is some calorie math to help illustrate this point. 3 tablespoons of sugar in the morning along with cereal or coffee would equal 138 calories. Using honey as the alternative gives us only 64 calories. Average that out over a day with coffee breaks, a trip on the way home for some delicious ice coffee from Dunkin Donuts and you start to see a vast difference in the intake of calories from sugar vs that of honey. In addition Honey has the vitamins B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin and Niacin as well as minerals like Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium.

Let's get technical for a little bit when discussing honey and sugar. Both are made of Glucose & Fructose. With sugar, these two components are combined due to the refining process making the body work harder to break it down into energy. The body does this by utilizing it's own enzymes and because of this, energy is not released in a timely fashion and the sugar is converted into fat stores. Honey does not go through a refining process like sugar and the Glucose and Fructose are not combined because of an enzyme added by bees during production. Having the two being separate allows the body to absorb them more quickly converting it into energy that is delivered over a longer period and not stored as fat. The body also does not have to utilize many of its own resources to break honey down as it does with sugar. Taking a culinary journey and experimenting with honey both light and dark is a great way to have some fun and eat healthier at the same time.

Now before we get into the real fun stuff and look at some honey recipes, I went online and sifted through some Honey Facts that I wanted to share with everyone...things like singers using honey to soothe the throat have been known for many many years, while other ones are a little on the humorous side.

~  Grabbing some carrot sticks for a snack is a great idea. Some light cream cheese mixed with a few tablespoons of honey makes an amazing dip.

~  Honey is not only fat free but it has zero cholesterol.

Yup, honey is used for lots of great stuff!!
~  Looking for a way to boost the immune system? Honey has all natural antibacterial and antioxidant properties which can help improve the digestive system, help you stay healthy and help you fight off diseases and infections. Try this quick and easy cleanse each morning to keep the energy high and the body happy. 1 tablespoon of honey mixed with the juice of half a lemon along with 8 ounces of warm water.

~  Have one too many drinks last night and fighting a hangover? Honey contains a mix of natural sugars that are known to speed up the oxidation of alcohol by the liver. If you need a quick cure then try mixing 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey with 2 ounces of orange juice and 2 ounces yogurt. Mix in a blender for the ultimate hangover smoothie.

~  Having trouble sleeping? Honey and warm milk is supposed to calm you down and allow you to sleep better.

New ideas and uses come up for honey everyday and what is here really only scratches the surface. Try some of the ideas out for yourself and see if cutting back on the sugar and stirring in some honey works for you!!

~ Smashed Blueberry Bread ~

2 Cups Fresh Blueberries, rinsed and drained
1/2 Cup Honey
1/2 Cup Buttermilk, use a lower fat version if the store carries it
1/3 Cup Greek Yogurt, Plain or Vanilla
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Tbs Cinnamon
1 Tbs Orange Zest

~ Bread Glaze ~

4 Tbs Orange Juice or Lemon Juice
3 Tbs Honey

~ Baking The Bread ~

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place 1 cup of blueberries in a medium size bowl and using the back of a fork or spoon, mash the blueberries into a thick paste. Add the remaining blueberries and stir in the honey. Mix in the Buttermilk, Greek yogurt, Vanilla Extract and the egg. Set the batter aside for now.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir all of the dry ingredients until well blended. Blend in the Orange Zest last.

I came across this recipe years ago and I wish I knew where
it originally came from. It has never failed to impress and the
taste is just amazing
Pour the blueberry mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix together with a spoon or spatula. Do not over mix the batter. The goal is to have the blueberries suspended in the mix. It should take only 10 to 15 seconds of blending.

Spoon the batter into 2 or 3 (5 3/4” x 3 1/4” x 2”) greased mini loaf pans.

These can be purchased at almost any supermarket or you can invest in a ceramic type. Bake each loaf for approximately 30 to 35 minutes.

Prepare the glaze while the bread is baking.

When it is finished remove the bread and baste with the glaze. return to the oven for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Cool each loaf on a wire rack.

~ Honey & Cranberry Barbecue Sauce ~

2 Cups Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
1 1/2 Cups Honey
1 1/2 Cups Ketchup
1 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbs Lemon Juice, fresh
1 1/2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium to large sized sauce pot. Allow it to come to a boil, then quickly reduce the heat and cover for about 20 minutes. Continue to simmer with the cover off and allow the mixture to thicken slightly. This will take an additional 15 minutes. After it has cooled, puree the mixture until smooth. This makes for an excellent glaze over chicken or turkey

That finishes up our time in the valley of sweetness!! Hope you enjoyed the read and as always feel free to comment or make suggestions. Thanks to everyone who stops by, it is a fun ride from where I sit behind the computer and I hope that as time goes on the blog just keeps getting better and better.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going Gluten Free With Your Diet

In a world where everyone is trying to be healthier, people will do almost anything to lose weight. We follow fad style diets, cheat at counting calories, engage in extreme aerobics and will even go as far as trying the cookie eating plan for weight loss. These will all work, at least for a short time and until our bodies rebel against what we are doing. Very few diets will ever get us to that all important goal which we set while standing on the scale in the bathroom. The better or more practical way to achieve true success is not a 'diet' but more aptly put, as a change in lifestyle, which includes eating better. A gluten free diet is primarily used for people with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause extremely painful stomach and digestive problems.

Pizza is not off the menu will just have to make
your own crust using rice flour
Going gluten-free is something that has been gaining a true following for the last few years. Many Hollywood A-Listers actively push people to be gluten-free. This is in fact not some new age fad diet.Cutting gluten out of the diet is practiced by thousands of people everyday and has been going strong for years! Eliminating gluten from your diet isn't all that easy, despite the numerous health benefits of doing so. To begin with you will need to understand what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye. It is also used as an additive in processed foods in the form of flavoring, as a thickening agent, and as a modified food starch. This means that some of the most common foods are off limits with a gluten free diet. Foods like...


Did you know that there are a few beers on the market
which are now gluten free?
For an item to be labeled as gluten-free, we get into a somewhat gray area. Back in 2007 the FDA established guidelines on what is considered an acceptable level of gluten for a product to contain, while still being labeled as being gluten-free. This resulted in a conclusion that less then 20ppm(parts per million) was an acceptable level. As a consumer however, we don't have a full- fledged lab to be able to test our food. We have to learn what foods are acceptable and how to read labels in different ways. If a product does not state on the label that it is gluten-free and you are not sure...look for items that are gluten based such as the elusive and mysterious 'modified food starch'. Gluten is hidden in many foods which you may not suspect of having it...Ice Cream, Salad Dressings and even candy!! Taking the steps to eliminate Gluten from your diet is not an easy undertaking and is a commitment to a complete change in lifestyle which I mentioned earlier. While initially difficult because of the cravings for processed products, a gluten-free diet has an almost endless amount of benefits...

Increased Energy, cutting out the processed foods in a diet greatly reduces the levels of harmful chemicals inside of the body which we don't need. The addition of all fresh ingredients gives the body positive elements which fuel our cells and allow us to do more.

Weight Loss, the change towards a diet rich in those healthy foods allows the body to lose weight which was gained through processed foods that included sugars, chemicals and fat. It also eliminates un-needed carbohydrates.

Gluten free diets have been shown to have positive effects on other diseases/disorders including Thyroid Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism and Multiple Sclerosis. Studies for some of these are not conclusive in their findings and should not be considered as a universal cure. Although the idea of having a gluten-free diet, which could help with the rapidly growing increase in autism amongst children, would be a check in the win column for everyone.

Being on a gluten-free diet does have some drawbacks. Many of the products that are available on the market as gluten free can be expensive and most are not fortified or enriched with certain nutrients and vitamins. Folate, Iron, Calcium, and Fiber are just some of the things which can be lost by eating gluten-free. To replace those elements in your diet it is recommended to eat foods which compensate for this loss.

Brown Rice
Fresh Meats, Poultry and Seafood (not breaded, batter coated or marinated)
Fruits and Vegetables
Rice Flour and Xantham Gum, for making really good and simple gluten-free bread

Like I said earlier in the article, going gluten-free is not an easy task and before making this choice I would recommend doing some more research and even talking to your doctor. Foods in this area are all made fresh and sometimes the simplest things like cold cuts from the deli are now off-limits!! It can be done and is being done by thousands everyday. Remember it is not a diet, but a change in lifestyle. Give it some thought and in the meantime try out this pair of recipes that might help with your decision. If you have more questions or need recipe ideas and advice on what to eat or how to find out if your favorite foods are gluten free...drop me an email at

 Gluten Free Bread

~ Dry Ingredients ~
2 1/2 Cups of Brown Rice Flour
2/3 Cup Cornstarch
2/3 Cup Dry Milk Powder
1 Tbs Xantham Gum
1 tsp Salt

~ Wet Ingredients ~
1 3/4 Cup Warm Water
1 Packet Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
2 Tbs Melted Butter
2 Eggs 

In order to make this bread, it requires a stand mixer. Using a hand mixer is not the easiest way to make bread, as the dough will always slide up on the beaters. Using the stand mixer will give great results every time. The other rule I break when making any baked item, nothing gets weighed. I use measuring cups for all my baking. I have found that not only myself, but most people don't have a small digital scale at home for baking and the ones that do...well they probably don't need me to show them how to bake!!

Start off with the wet ingredients first. Combine in a small bowl the water and the yeast. Stir it well to combine and allow the yeast to dissolve before using.

While you are waiting on the yeast, combine your dry ingredients together in a bowl, whisking them together. Add in the yeast mixture followed by the vegetable oil, butter and eggs. Using the flat paddle attachment on the mixer, allow to run on medium to high speed for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft, thick and sticky. It will not form a perfect ball, but will be slightly loose.

Lightly grease a bread pan, for most bread recipes use a pan that measures 9x5 inches. Spread the dough evenly into the pan. Cover the dough with a piece of greased plastic wrap. Cover loosely as a tight wrap will not allow the dough to rise. Allow the dough to rise for about an hour. Check to see that it has risen slightly over the top of the pan. If so, then it's ready to go. Keeping the dough covered, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and bake in the oven for about one hour, checking around 45 minutes. The bread temperature should read around 205 degrees internally. If the crust begins to brown to early, remove and cover with foil. this will allow the bread to continue baking, while not allowing the crust to burn. Remove the bread when done and flip it out onto a wire rack to cool. Allow the loaf to cool completely and slice to enjoy!!

Quinoa and Vegetable Salad

This next gluten free recipe relies on the use of a super food known as Quinoa. With a nutty taste and a chewy texture this was once prized as a sacred seed by the ancient Incas. Quinoa is packed with proteins, high in fiber, full of calcium and best of all it is a complex carbohydrate that contains zero gluten. The recipe below also requires you to read labels carefully and select products that are listed as gluten free. In some supermarkets, you will find aisles now dedicated to providing gluten free, organic and natural products. Read all of the labels carefully and if you are unsure ask someone at the store. While trying not to endorse any particular company, I will say that WholeFoods Market has some of the highest trained employees anywhere and they are always willing to help and share their knowledge of products. The Quinoa in the recipe is also not cooked. It is prepared similar in style to rice, just follow the manufacturers recommended cooking times which will vary due to the size of the bag you purchase.

1 Cup Quinoa, not cooked
2 Tbs Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Chopped Fresh Basil
1 Can, Garbanzo Beans, whole and gluten free also drained and rinsed
1 Can, Whole Sweet Corn Kernel, gluten free also drained and rinsed
1 Can, Diced Tomatoes, gluten free also drained and rinsed
1 Cup Fresh Chopped Red Pepper
1/3 Cup Pitted Kalamata Olives, cut into quarters
1/2 Cup Feta Cheese, gluten free and crumbled

Follow the directions on cooking the Quinoa, allow to cool completely. In a small glass bowl combine the lemon juice, olive oil and basil. Mix well and set aside as the dressing. In a separate larger bowl combine all of the ingredients, tossing gently. Pour dressing over the top and toss gently again to mix. Before serving, sprinkle salad with the feta cheese.

Well another article is in the bag and the week is just getting started!! Thursday, I have a smaller piece on the benefits of Honey and then this Friday brings out Part 2 of Sushi...hope everyone is enjoying the read so far. Please feel free to comment, offer suggestions or just say hello!!