Thursday, May 20, 2010

Muffins for Everyone

While still learning how to bake gluten free, I attempted muffins. They were overly crumbly or undercooked or the centers caved in. I just couldn't get it right. This was a great loss to all of us, as we all loved muffins.

Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix came to the rescue. Using the mix along with 1/2 cup of yellow corn meal and a few other ingredients, I made the most delicious strawberry muffins of my entire cooking life.

The recipe, which is actually for blueberry corn muffins, is posted at a site called Live Gluten Freely, a goldmine of information on eating gluten free. I merely substituted strawberries for blueberries, chopping the berries into small pieces and adding it to the batter.

I also used Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix to make carrot cake. That, to, was delicious. That recipe can be found on the Betty Crocker website, courtesy of Live Gluten Freely.

As I collect recipes and tips to meet the diversity of diets in my household, I always have in mind that what I do is more than just cook. For my son, his diet is the only treatment for his celiac disease. There are no medicines available to prevent the damage the gluten protein can do to his body. A gluten free diet is his only option to obtain and maintain good health.

For my husband, a low-fat, low-salt diet is the primary element in maintaining a healthy cholesterol level, along with prescription meds. Because he cannot tolerate statins, the synthetic pharmaceuticals often prescribed to control cholesterol, the right diet is as important to his health as it is to my son.

My daughter, the vegetarian, is a healthy young woman. Her decision to follow a vegetarian diet is as much about her own moral compass as it is about good health. As her parent, I honor and respect her decision.
As more people become aware that their diets are tied to more than just "What's for dinner?" more of us become contemporary cooks, having to diversify our meals to meet everyone's dietary needs.

Thank goodness for Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Yellow Cake mix. The fat and salt content for prepared muffins is reasonable so my husband can eat them. They're gluten free so my son can eat them. And my daughter isn't vegan, so she can eat them as well. For this chief cook and bottle washer, that's one easy fix.

Disclosure: The author is not affiliated with Betty Crocker or received any compensation or free samples from Betty Crocker.
Further reading:
Live Gluten Freely Muffin Recipe
Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Recipe
How to improve HDL cholesterol levels

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Forget the Salt and Add the Herbs

Salt is thought of as the ultimate seasoning and if you watch Food Network, you'll see the chef hosts tossing quantities of salt into their dishes as they cook, and then again when plating them up.

"Good Lord," I mutter, "That much salt would kill us."

The human body requires a certain amount of sodium, about one to two teaspoons a day. That may seem like a very minute amount, but to your kidneys, it's just about right. Your kidneys may eliminate excess sodium, but if you're consuming five to six teaspoons a day, your kidneys won't keep up. Water retention sets in, resulting in high blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to heart and kidney problems.

After my husband's heart surgery, the doctors and nutritionists warned us off salt. I feared the food I served would be bland. My husband salted food even before he tasted it. I would have to wean him off salt.

Well, thank heavens for herbs.

The only salt in my homemade chicken noodle soup is in the broth. That's less than a 1/4 teaspoon because I make my own chicken broth to control the fat and salt content. Instead of salting the soup, I add dried thyme. Thyme enhances the natural flavor of foods, including broth. It's a natural substitute for salt.

Sage, shown in the photo to the left, has a pungent aroma and a strong, earthy flavor to it. Dried sage rubbed into a pork roast before cooking means no salt necessary, during cooking or when it's served.

A dried herb mix of sage, rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley is the perfect seasoning blend for Italian meatballs. Add the herbal mix to the raw ground turkey and bread crumbs, cook the meatballs in the slow cooker in a homemade red sauce and serve up a low sodium plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

I grow a selection of herbs in my garden: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, parsley, dill and lemon balm. I dry the herbs myself. This not only saves me money, it ensures the food I serve won't be bland.

My husband no longer salts his food, not only because I will nag if he were to do so, but because he no longer wants that salty taste. In his own words, "Salt is too salty. You can't taste the food."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Olive Oil Cake and Cereal

Baked goods are usually well received in my household and I like to try new things. I recently tried to bake an olive oil cake, a cake supposedly better for us low-fat dieters because there's no butter in it, just a healthy dose of olive oil.

Well, I made the cake and had a hell of time getting it out of the pan, but did manage, though it was a bit broken up. When my husband, that less-than-tolerant food tester, tried it, he said it was all right but tasted like it needed butter.

I did not consider the cake a success. This is something I've learned over the years, that to be a good cook you need to accept that not all your efforts will result in good stuff to eat. And you just have to let that go.

On the gluten-free front, General Mills is looking to get its share of the food sensitivity market. In stores now, you can find gluten-free Chex cereals. We tried the Cinnamon Chex, made from whole grain rice. It's very good and if you're not a fan of cinnamon, there's gluten free Corn Chex as well.

As the mainstream companies move in on these markets, I noticed that the mainstream supermarkets devote a little less room to the smaller pioneering companies' products, with one exception. Sprouts Farmers Market does not carry Betty Crocker mixes or General Mills cereals.

The convenience of having gluten-free packaged foods in the supermarket is undoubtedly a boon for us contemporary cooks who need to provide specialized diets for our loved ones. But are these giants of the food industry going to hurt the pioneers who so diligently worked to provide convenient mixes that are preservative and additive free?

What happens to these smaller companies, now that the Big Dogs are moving into the marketplace?