Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cooking for Christmas - NOT

I cook all the time. And because of the range of specialty diets in my household, I'm often cooking different meals at the same time. I love to cook. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the challenge and have become a home cook master of specialty diets.

But I don't want to spend my holidays in the kitchen.  

On Christmas Eve, we'll have pizza from a local pizzeria. We'll eat off paper plates and use paper napkins and drink from paper cups. I don't want to do the dishes. I want to open presents and play with toys.

For Christmas dinner, it's sandwiches. I'm sort of cooking, but will actually cook on Friday. I'm making Italian beef. It can then be reheated on Christmas evening. We'll have some fruit for a side dish.

There are hundreds of articles on holiday cooking, and you can learn how to cook elaborate meals including prime rib, crown rib roast, turkey, ham, duck, goose and all manner of side dishes and desserts. But try and find an article on not cooking for Christmas.

So for the holidays, I'll just wing it. I'll make a batch of cookies and that's it for me. This holiday, I'm putting my feet up and giving my kitchen the day off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wolfgang Puck and Kerry Simon: Celebrity Chefs and Dining in Las Vegas

The city of Las Vegas, Nevada is all about indulgences: gambling, entertainment and food. Lots of food. From Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, featuring southwest flavor with a New York twist, at Caesar's Palace to Tom Colicchio's high-end Craftsteak restaurant located in the MGM Grand hotel, anyone visiting Sin City is sure to find just the kind of food they crave.

We recently returned from our annual weekend trip to Las Vegas and this time around we ate at Wolfgang Puck's Bar and Grill and at the KGB - Kerry's Gourmet Burgers. Both were culinary experiences to be remembered.


Wolfgang Puck is the master of California cuisine. We're not talking sushi and sprouts, here; Wolfgang Puck is all about comfort food and classic dishes such as pizza, burgers and steak.

We had our Saturday brunch at Wolfgang Puck's located at the MGM Grand hotel. My husband had a meatball pizza (so off his diet!) and I had the Cuban style roast pork sandwich. Our son had an order of French fries.

The French fries were exceptional, served with a rich and tangy ketchup sauce. A simple plate of fries was elevated to a gourmet delight.

The pizza was a perfect combination of bread, sauce, cheese and meat, perfectly flavored with ribbons of fresh basil. The crust was crisp and light, the sauce sweet and tangy and the cheese golden and gooey. The meatballs, cut to just the right bite size, were so beautifully seasoned and textured, they excited the tongue with each encounter.
The Cuban style pork sandwich was served on a toasted bun that boasted grill marks but was still soft and sweet. The shredded pork was infused with spices; each bite was a like a chorus line of smoky spices dancing across my tongue. The melted gruyere cheese complemented the pork perfectly. It was neither too rich nor too wimpy.

Pizza, pork and fries can be a meal of greasy fat that sits on your stomach for days. But Wolfgang Puck's California touch made the meal lighter, fresher and left us feeling sated, rather than sluggish.

The night before, on Friday, we had a late dinner at the KGB. We kind of stumbled across the place as we wondered through the hotel in search of another restaurant, and it was a happy accident indeed.



The KGB -Kerry's Gourmet Burgers- is Kerry Simon's (an Iron Chef winner) casual restaurant located in the Harrah's hotel. He plays the KGB theme up; the decor reflects 1960's KGB idealism in a kind of anime way. But it is the burgers and shakes that makes this place the burger and fry joint to visit in Vegas.

Succulent. Tender. Meaty. Juicy. Both my husband and I had the All American burger and the preceding adjectives are almost insufficient in describing this classic sandwich. It was just the right burger for a late night dinner.

My son had a milkshake that was so rich, so creamy, so decadent, it was practically pornographic.

But that's what Las Vegas is all about: decadence and indulgence. Our forays into celebrity chef dining was a bit expensive, and the food a detour from our low-fat diet (my son did stay pretty much gluten free) but it was well worth every calorie.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Tips for the Contemporary Cook

Feasting is the fun of Thanksgiving Day, but when you and your family members, and some of your guests, have special dietary needs, cooking the feast may be more of a challenge.

Something as simple as turkey gravy is problematic. It's made from animal fat and a wheat flour roux. It's high in fat, includes animal product and gluten, so no one in my family can have the traditional turkey gravy.

Fortunately, neither my son the celiac nor my daughter the vegetarian likes gravy. So I just purchase a small jar of good quality turkey gravy and my husband and I cheat on our diets on Thanksgiving Day.

If you like gravy, though, and can't have gluten, make the gravy with cornstarch slurry instead of roux. Dissolve two tablespoons of cornstarch in one cup of warm water; that's your slurry.

Bring your drippings and approximately one cup of water to a boil, turn the heat back a bit and slowly, slowly stir in the slurry. If it thickens too quickly, add a little plain water to balance it out. It's still high in fat, but at least it's gluten free.

Need a vegetarian gravy? Make the cornstarch slurry. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add one tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan. Bring two cups of good vegetable broth to a boil and then turn back the heat a bit. Slowly stir in the slurry. That's it. You have vegetable gravy.

The vegetable gravy works well with mashed potatoes and meat-free stuffing, but you want to include a vegetarian main dish as well. Try stuffed acorn squash. Cut the acorn squash in half and clean out the seedy, stringy centers. Roast until just tender. Fill the centers with meat-free stuffing, sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar and place under the broiler just long enough to give the top a bit of crust.

If the celiac in your family likes stuffing, simply make a loaf of gluten free bread two days before Thanksgiving. Wrap it in a towel after it cools and leave it on the counter. The next day, slice the bread into thick slices and lightly toast the slices in the oven on low heat. Allow the slices to cool and then cut them into cubes. Put the cubes in a plastic bag to store until you're ready to make the stuffing.

Now, about dessert. My family isn't fond of pumpkin pie, but we do like my made-from-scratch gluten free chocolate muffins, which are made using pureed pumpkin. They're not fat free, but the pumpkin provides a better type of fat than butter or oil. It does include an egg, and if you don't eat eggs, you can use egg replacer or a 1/4 cup of rice milk. Watch the video to learn how to make these muffins. They're great for breakfast, for dessert, and for snacks.

Don't let the dietary needs of your family and guests make this Thanksgiving feast a chore rather than a celebration. And if you have any other challenges, let us know, and together we'll find a solution.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Does Serving Dinner at the Table Make You a Better Parent?

On the CNN site, there's an article entitled "8 reasons to make time for family dinner" by Sarah Klein. As you might expect, the article encourages the tradition of gathering around the kitchen table with spouse and kids and sharing the last meal of the day. The author cites studies and includes expert opinions.

According to this article, if you all sit down to dinner together, your kids will eat more veggies, say no to drugs and do better in school. You'll eat healthier, be less stressed and save money.

Wow.

When I was growing up the family dinner was a no-exceptions rule; attendance was mandatory. It was the time of day when our parents could tell us exactly how crappy their day was, and yell at us for making it crappier.

My husband has equally 'fond' memories of the nightly dinner table. His mom had one recipe: Open. Heat. Serve. A tall glass of whine often accompanied the meal.

When our kids were little, we didn't have a kitchen table, or a dining room table. We didn't have a dining room. We barely had a kitchen. So we ate around the coffee table in the living room.
When the kids were a little older, and we finally bought a house, my husband worked second shift. The kids didn't want to sit at the table unless we were playing games or painting or doing crafts. As my daughter once said to me, "Dinner tastes better with cartoons."

So be it. Throughout their school years, my kids ate healthy foods, said no to drugs and did reasonably well in school. Stress wasn't a problem because I didn't have to enforce a mandatory attendance at the table rule.

My kids are pretty much grown now, and if I do say so myself, my husband and I did a good job. They're good, kind, responsible people. And they're happy.

I've read other articles instructing parents to insist on the mandatory dinner table rule. I'm not against such dinners. We occasionally gather together and share a meal at the table. It's not a miraculous moment, though. It's just dinner.

What I object to is how these so-called experts insist on making ordinary people feel like they're doing it all wrong. The tone of these articles is that if you're not doing this thing, you're not a good parent. Your kids will grow up to be high-school drop-out druggies who don't know the difference between a carrot and a potato. Oh, and they'll be obese.

You'll be a stressed out, bitchy fool of a parent addicted to fast food. Because, you know, if you don't serve your meal at the dinner table, you're probably not cooking.

I have one thing to say to these guys: Bite me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Can Dessert Bring World Peace?

When I was a kid, one of the best summer desserts was watermelon. One mom or another always had a watermelon, those big ones that could feed 20 people and had those really big seeds.

As the sun made its way down past the horizon, all us kids would gather on a porch -there were so many of us in that little neighborhood- each with a thick slice of watermelon. We were, all of us, joined together by this sweet and luscious dessert.

Throughout the day, in that little Midwest town where us kids ran wild all summer through the open fields and gravel streets playing the games of children, there were conflicts: border disputes, skirmishes, power struggles and political coup d'états. The little town that was our world was a microcosm of world struggles.

But at the end of the day, sitting on a porch eating watermelon, all the disagreements faded, and we were just a bunch of kids, eating thick wedges of watermelon and spitting seeds out onto the lawn, wondering if any of them would grow, seeing who could spit the farthest. (I was pretty good, but Glenn was better.)

October is National Dessert Month, and that got me to remembering how many times our collective parents served up watermelon, ice cream, hot chocolate or apple pie at the end of the day, and all us kids, no matter our differences, shared in the sweet joy of a shared dessert.

This month is host to National Food Day, today, on October 16th. And on this day, I would make a wish. I would wish that dessert could bring world peace. I would like to see all the world leaders gather together, perhaps on the front steps of the White House, and have dessert together.

Not all dressed up in expensive, politically correct clothes, but in play clothes, and sit on the steps, dirty from playing tag and baseball and from climbing trees and winging rocks. They should eat a whole bunch of desserts, share them all and get sticky and spit watermelon seeds out onto the lawn.

Then, at least for a day, there might be world peace.
I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011 www.blogactionday.org

Monday, October 3, 2011

Low Fat Stew, Safe at School and Portion Control

August and September have been tough months. We're undergoing a redecorating project that includes moving the office to another room in the house, so I haven't had much time to actually work.
But I have managed to write a few articles and would like to share these with you.

If your kids have food allergies, you know keeping them safe is challenging. With school back in session, you'll need some cooperation from your child's teachers and the school staff to help you protect him or her against exposure to her allergen.

Read Keeping Kids with Food Allergies Safe at School for tips on working with teachers, administrators and the school's food service employees.

Stew is winter comfort food, even here in Phoenix, AZ where winter temperatures may dip all the way into the 50s. Brrr.

But stew can be high in fat, so when I make these hardy meals I use a few techniques to reduce the fat and sodium content. Read my article, Cooking Tips for Making Low Fat Stew, to make your stews a bit healthier this winter.

Trying to keep your food costs under control? Read How to Use Portion Control to Control Your Food Budget and make your food dollars work more efficiently.

I've also spent a little time in the kitchen, working on a gluten free brownie recipe that's rich in flavor and high in omega-3 oils. But with temperatures hovering around 105 degrees, I haven't done a whole lot of cooking.

But the temperatures are dropping, the house is coming together and I've nearly perfected the brownies, so I'll be posting that recipe real soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Baking: A Review

Publisher: Alpha Books, The Penguin Group
Copyright: 2011 Donna Diegal

Donna Diegel is no stranger to vegan baking, and her new cookbook, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Baking" is a testament to her expertise.

Baking vegan means baking without butter and eggs, among other ingredients, and using such items as soy lecithin, flax seed and tofu as substitutes for these baking staples.

Think the cookies, cakes and breads are going to taste dull, flat, or worse, like hippie food? Guess again.

I made Ms. Diegal's Classic Chocolate-Chip Cookies and they taste very close to the cookies made with butter and eggs. And to demonstrate further how solid this recipe really is, I used gluten-free flour.

That's right. I made gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookies and they taste really good.

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Baking" is more than a collection of recipes; it's a resource guide to being vegan in the kitchen. Ms. Diegal explains, in easy-to-understand terms, why some ingredients shouldn't be used and why the substitutes will work. After reading the "primer" at the beginning of the book, I had a clearer understanding of how baking vegan works.

But what I like best about this book is the recipes are foods I actually make, like white bread and blueberry muffins and peach cobbler, foods my family will actually eat.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
And now, I can make them vegan. Vegan butter spread and egg substitute means lower cholesterol content, an important part of my husband's and mine dietary needs. And it appears that many of the recipes are adaptable to gluten free flours.

If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, need to watch your cholesterol, and/or suffer from food sensitivities to dairy, this cookbook is for you. And if you are vegan already, this cookbook is an excellent addition to your cookbook collection.

The only drawback to this book is the absence of photos of the finished foods, but that's not such a problem. Contemporary cooks are familiar with these recipes already, so really, we're just learning how to make them for the vegans in our life.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author for review. This in no way influenced my review. The book is awesome.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kid Friendly Meatless Meals

Young children don't often appreciate the tastes and textures of vegetables. Steamed veggies may be too mushy and raw and quick cooked vegetables lack the sweet and creamy tastes young children prefer. If you have young ones that don't yet eat veggies, try a few of these meatless meals.

These meals have been vegetarian tested by my daughter. You can make the mac and cheese gluten free by using gluten free pasta. Use the gluten free Bisquick mix for the pancakes.

Classic Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese qualifies as vegetarian because it doesn't contain meat, but it doesn't contain any vegetables either. For a vegetarian version, add finely chopped zucchini. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off several long strips of zucchini. Slice the strips into small pieces. Boil the pasta and drain when cooked. Add the zucchini into the pasta and toss. Add the cheese to coat the pasta and serve. The steam from the pasta cooks the zucchini just enough to bring out the natural sugars without losing nutrients.

Veggie Burgers
Veggie burgers made from potatoes have a softer texture and a creamy taste. Boil the potatoes for approximately 10 minutes, drain and mash with a potato masher. Heat a small pan and quickly cook shredded carrot and finely chopped mild onion, one to two minutes, and mix the veggies into the potatoes. Shape the potato mixture into round patties and coat with a light dusting of flour. Heat a pan and cook the patties for several minutes, turning to brown both sides. Serve with a slice of cheese, if desired, on a whole wheat bun or gluten free bun.

Zucchini Pancakes
One of the more endearing qualities of zucchini is its compatibility to chocolate. Entice your kids with a bit of breakfast food for dinner with chocolate-zucchini pancakes. Add shredded zucchini and a small amount of mini-chocolate chips to a thick pancake batter. Cook the pancakes on a hot griddle and serve with melted butter. The trick here is to keep the chocolate chips to a minimum, so that when your kids do get one in a bite, it's a treat. They're getting more zucchini than chocolate.

Vegetable Hash
As your kids become accustomed to the taste of vegetables, try this vegetable hash. Par boil a few potatoes and allow to cool slightly. Finely chop a portion of sweet onion. Chop carrot, celery and sweet pepper into 1/4 inch size pieces. Heat a pan and add vegetable oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and cook for two to three minutes. Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces while the onions cook and then add to the pan. Add a pat of butter and toss to coat. Cook for three to four minutes and add the carrots, celery and sweet pepper. Add a bit more butter and cook until the vegetables are just tender. Place the hash into a serving dish and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Hodgson Mill is a family owned company dedicated to supplying boxed mixes made with whole grain flours, including gluten free products such as pancake mix, apple cinnamon muffin mix, bread mix, cookie mix and a chocolate brownie mix.

Hodgson Mill also has boxed flax meal, a product I've used for several years now, including it in homemade gluten free breads, muffins and cupcakes.

I thought I would give their brownie mix a try, based on my past experience with the flax seed product, and that the brownie mix was on sale.

One other factor played into my decision to spend part of my grocery budget on the mix; it's a low sodium brownie with less fat per serving than other gluten free brownie mixes. That means my husband and I get a little less salt and fat in our diet when we scarf these down.

Gluten free baking, and subsequently pre-packaged gluten free products, is higher in fat, salt and sugar than wheat based baked goods, mostly because the fat, salt and sugar boost the cohesion as well as flavor of the non-gluten flours.

So a boxed brownie mix that is not only gluten free but lower in sodium attracts my attention.

But the important part is taste. It doesn't matter if something is better for you if it doesn't taste good.

Hodgson Mill gluten free brownies taste good. They taste like regular brownies, except they do have a slightly nutty aftertaste that borders on bitter. This did not deter my husband, my son, my daughter or me from finishing off the 8x8 pan of brownies by the next day, however.

The directions offer the option of a larger pan, up to 11x7 inch. The brownie may be less dense and cake like, which could eliminate the slightly bitter taste. In an 8x8 inch pan, these brownies are pretty thick. The primary flour is brown rice flour, which can have a slightly bitter flavor if not cooked for a long time.

In baking, size matters. I'd recommend using the larger pan for these brownies, but if you don't have one, go ahead and use your 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

You can visit the Hodgson Mill website at www.hodgsonmill.com, and take a look at their product line and shop their online store. The company includes non-gluten free products as well, such as organic pasta, whole grain cereals and baking goods.

Disclaimer: I did not receive this item as a promotional gift. I paid for it myself.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fresh Pineapple

Through the magic of globalization and greenhouses, you may be able to get fresh pineapple any time of year. If you've walked past the big leafed fruit in the produce section an moved onto the canned fruit aisle because you're unsure how to get that damn peel off, take a few minutes to watch the video, "How to Peel and Chop a Fresh Pineapple." After tasting the intensely sweet-sour delight of fresh, canned will taste like a tinny imitation.

What to Do With Pineapple


You can, of course, simply eat the chopped pieces of pineapple; it makes a great snack. Grill the pineapple rings on a grill pan for a side dish to chicken bratwurst sandwiches. Or you can give the pineapple chunks a quick sauté in a hot pan with a bit of oil. Barely brown the outside. This takes two or three minutes tops.
Skewer the pineapple chunks along with chunks of watermelon, drizzle with a bit of oil and cook them on the grill.

But one of my favorite recipes is pineapple sauce.

Pineapple Sauce
Though I've used canned pineapple for this, fresh is still better. In a food processor, pulse one to two cups of chopped pineapple, depending on how much sauce you want, just until the pineapple is broken down. Add one or two chopped jalapeno peppers per cup, depending on how much heat you want. Add a little salt, a bit of honey if you want it sweeter and a teaspoon of olive oil. Pulse again until the sauce is a smooth consistency.

For a chunkier sauce, omit the olive oil and pulse with the chopped peppers just enough to break down the pineapple.

Serve it with roasted pork loin, grilled chicken breast or grilled tofu. Add a bit of chili powder to the tofu before grilling. The combination of heat and sweet is great.

Use the sauce in desserts. Chill it and pour a little over ice cream (low fat, of course) or serve it with berries.

 Pineapple Salsa
If you want a little something to freshen up your fish dinners, try a pineapple salsa. Mix together a cup of chopped pineapple, one or two chopped jalapeno peppers, a quarter cup of finely chopped red onion and a tablespoon of cilantro. This salsa is great with fish, chicken and yes, with grilled tofu as well.

So go ahead. Peel a fresh pineapple. It's easy. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Food Sources for Phytosterols

Fruits and Veggies are sources
of phytosterols
Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that resemble the chemical make-up of cholesterol. Plant cholesterol, though, can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels in the human body. Phytosterols help prevent the bad cholesterol from accumulating in the blood stream by blocking absorption of the fatty substance, resulting in less cholesterol entering the bloodstream. Certain foods are naturally high in phytosterols and food manufacturers are fortifying products with phytosterols to make them more heart friendly.

Nuts

Pecans, cashews, walnuts and almonds contain high concentrations of phytosterols. Add these to your diet as snacks and include them in stir fry dinners. Peanuts are also high in phytosterols, but are actually a legume or bean. Include unsalted peanuts in your diet anyway, because they taste good, but do so in moderation.

Whole Grains and Seeds

Cereal grains, such as whole wheat and barley, contain phytosterols. Substitute processed white breads, pastas and baked goods made from refined flour for whole grain products to increase your intake of phytosterols. Seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are high in phytosterols. Add these to homemade whole grain quick breads for heart healthy snacking.

Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are part of a heart healthy diet, but they contain lower concentrations of phytosterols than nuts, legumes and whole grains. Nonetheless, they should be included as a source of these cholesterol fighting compounds. The positive effects of phytosterols are cumulative, so eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day can supplement your intake.

If you are allergic to nuts or unable to eat whole grain foods due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, fruits and vegetables, along with seeds, may be your primary sources for phytosterols.

Cooking Oils

Cooking oils, such as olive oil and vegetable oil, contain naturally occurring phytosterols by way of their ingredients, though some of the concentration of phytosterols, and other beneficial fats, may be reduced through processing and high cooking temperatures. Some companies are opting to fortify their products with phytosterols to increase the heart-healthy benefits of using their oils. Use sunflower, safflower and canola oils as well in your cooking, as these not only diversify the flavors in your dishes, they offer higher concentrations of phytosterols.

Fortified Dairy Products

Phytosterol fortified milk, cheeses, butters and margarines are available in supermarkets and other food outlets. Just as with cooking oils, companies that produce these products incorporate phytosterols into the production process to make the foods more heart healthy. If you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, use vegan friendly products, such as Earth Friendly butter substitute, soy or rice milk, and soy-based cheeses.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May is Celiac Awareness Month

The point of such a thing, of course, is to raise awareness of celiac disease, a condition in which the body does not tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, a condition that affects 1 out of every 133 people in the U.S. alone.

May is also Digestive Diseases Awareness Month, Food Allergy Awareness Month, National Arthritis Month, and National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.

That's a lot of diseases...And a lot of awareness.

All of these conditions are food related, even osteoporosis. Those with celiac disease are at higher risk for developing osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones thin and become brittle. It's not just an old lady disease, as was once thought.

There's a school of thought that certain forms of arthritis are symptomatic of food allergies; the inflammation of the joints is an allergic reaction. Before you dismiss the idea, consider that in celiac disease the small intestines become inflamed when exposed to gluten, and other food allergies result in inflammation of the esophagus, the throat, the face... why not the joints?

A friend of mine's grandson has eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). He is sensitive to corn, dairy, soy, sugar, gluten and fruit, among other foods. Foods you and I would consider good for us -and good for our kids, like applesauce- put this kid's esophagus into inflammation hell.

So many aspects of our health pertain to food. And one man's healthy diet is another man's toxin. My mother lived to be 90 years old. She ate eggs almost every morning of her life. She salted all her food. And fat did not scare this woman.

My husband, at 48, had a triple by-pass and the doctor told us, straight out, that if he continued to eat as he had been (heavy on the fat and salt, light on the fruits and veggies) he would die.

Contemporary cooks need to be more than just meal makers. They need to understand how food affects each member of the family. They need to balance the desire for good tasting foods and the need for foods high in nutritional value. And if they are dealing with food allergies and special dietary needs, these cooks need to master the art of culinary diversity.

My friend with the grandson with EE - his mom learned how to bake without eggs or butter, without wheat flour, corn syrup or granulated sugar. Now that's culinary diversity.

It's May. It's a month for making people aware, aware of how food affects your health and theirs. Do your part. Make something good to eat and share it with your family and friends.

For more information, visit The Celiac Disease Foundation Website

The Low Salt Diet Puts You at Risk for Heart Disease Study

It's all over the internet. A study published in the May 4th edition of the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA) claims that following a low-sodium diet now puts you at risk for heart disease.

It makes for a great headline. All these years the doctors, dieticians, nutritionists, and the medical community at large have warned against foods with high sodium content, telling us that too much salt in the diet may lead to hypertension, a condition associated with fatal heart disease.

Now, in 2011, suddenly a study, published in the respected JAMA magazine, says otherwise.

The Harvard School of Medicine newsletter, "The Nutrition Source",  disputes the findings, calling the study flawed. Dr. Walter Willet, who chairs the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, couldn't resist the pun when he is quoted as saying, "Take this study with a huge grain of salt, and then dispose of it properly."

The sampling for the study, titled, "Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion"  consisted of only 3,681 participants, none of which could be considered a part of the "at risk" group: over 40 years of age, overweight, and leading a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, the study group was made up of what should have been the control group.

The methodology is also faulty. The researchers didn't monitor the participants' actual salt intake on a daily basis, nor did it account for height and weight differences, among other standards in such studies.

Out of the 3,681 people studied over an 8 year period, 84 people died of heart disease. That's 2 percent. Since all the participants were on a low sodium diet, the researchers concluded that a low-sodium diet leads to heart disease.

And this was published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association".

So who is singing praises to these faulty findings? The Salt Institute, the trade association for the salt production industry. Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute, in light of this stunning study, calls on the government to "[]stop their population-wide sodium reduction agenda and amend the Dietary Guidelines on sodium[]." She makes this proclamation against the governments War on Salt from the institute's website.

Because, you know, she's not biased or anything.

A low-sodium diet doesn't mean no-salt. It means monitoring your sodium intake, and keeping it below 2400 mg a day, but no lower than 500 mg a day. And if you are over 40, overweight, and tend to be a body at rest for a good part of the day, eating foods high in sodium and salting everything you eat is going to put a lot of pressure on your heart. Plain and simple.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cookbooks and Blogs

Salads are my favorite summertime go-to meals. Here in Phoenix, summer starts in April and lasts until October, so we eat a lot of salads.

That's why I had to buy "The Everything Salad Book" by Aysha Schurman the first day it hit the market in mid-April. Ms. Schurman's book offers 300 salad recipes, so it's destined to be my go-to cookbook throughout the summer. And since our winters resemble springtime in the Midwest, I'm likely to use this book all year round.

Ms. Schurman divides her salad book into chapters, and chapter 1 details a bit of history, a few techniques, and a few bits about substitutions and storage.

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on salad dressings and starting with chapter 4, the salad recipes are divided by types, including green, fruit, potato, seafood, gourmet and more.

From the crisp simplicity of a Mediterranean Tomato salad to the more complex flavors of the Eggplant Arugula salad, Ms. Schurman's got it covered.

The book is well-organized, the listed ingredients easily found in local supermarkets and each recipe includes nutritional stats. I would have loved to have seen photos of the salads, but the lack of visual aids has not deterred me from loving this cookbook.

Ms. Schurman, in her opening letter to the reader, defines her idea of heaven as "a diverse buffet of fresh salads and fruity desserts." And it is the diversity of her approach to these recipes that encourages readers to achieve diversity in their diet.

Blogger Shaun Bevins, author of the blog, "Fitness for Smart Poeple," shares that philosophy. From her April 6, 2011 post, "Choosing Nutrient Dense Foods - A Diet Revolution," she writes about a more holistic approach to dieting:

"Instead it is a system that rates a food or even your diet on its overall nutrient density, the amount of nutrients it supplies compared to the amount of calories it contains."

This is what the Contemporary Cook strives for: diversity of flavor and texture; nutrient rich foods that offer those flavors and textures; and an array of foods to offer to those with restrictive diets. What we want is good food to feed to our friends and family.

And in these contemporary times, we cooks have books and blogs to help us achieve our culinary goals.

I did not nor do I now receive any compensation for reviews of any books, products or sites.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gluten Free Cookie Mix Video

Betty Crocker makes a great gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix. I made a video demonstrating how to make these cookies to share with you. This is my very first video, and there are flaws, but posted it because I wanted to show how even with a mix, baking gluten free does have its quirks. And I make a tentative promise that forthcoming videos will be better.

video





Thursday, March 3, 2011

Udi's White Sandwich Bread

One of the basic foods of life is bread, and for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance finding bread that tastes as sweet, as soft, as smooth as wheat-flour bread is a challenge. Commercial gluten free breads are often dry, crumbly and the taste resembles cardboard covered in sand.

Udi's White Sandwich Bread has raised the bar for manufacturers of gluten free packaged bread. This bread is light, moist and tastes as close to wheat-flour bread as any gluten free bread I and my son have ever tried- and that includes my homemade bread.

Udi's White Sandwich Bread comes in a 12 ounce loaf and is available for between $5 and $7 a loaf. It is soy free, nut free, gluten free (of course) and dairy free, making it an option for those allergic to soy, nuts and dairy. That's right- no eggs, no soy flour or soy derivatives and it tastes delicious.

It's available online and in some supermarkets and specialty stores such as Sprouts. You'll find it in the frozen foods section.

We keep it in the freezer, and since it's pre-sliced, my son can remove two or three slices from the package and pop them in the microwave for a minute before slathering them with peanut butter or hazelnut spread.

The slices do not get soggy or flat-tasting after being nuked, which means I can buy as many loaves as I can get my hands on and store them in the freezer. My kid loves bread, and he can go through a loaf of Udi's White Bread in a less than a week.

Udi's also offers a Whole Grain Sandwich Bread, which is just as tasty, as well as bagels, pizza crusts, muffins and granola. I use the granola to make gluten free Sorta Rice Krispie Treats- but that's another post.

I did not receive this product as a promotion- I paid for it myself.

Further Reading
The Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Udi's Website

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crunchy Cookies and Chocolate Muffins

The featured recipe on justaz.com this month is General Crunch Cookies. This cookie dough offers a lot of opportunity for variety. You can add dried fruits such as apricot to the mix. Use grated orange peel and a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg for a little spicier version. One of our favorites here at home is spreading a bit of hazelnut spread onto the just-out-of-the-oven cookies. So sweet!

It's a basic gluten free cookie dough and my son named it General Crunch- general for its proximity to basic, and crunch because the cookies are crunchy.

It's the kind of gluten free cookie dough that lends itself to experimentation. Try a few variations of your own and let us know which are your favorites.

Notice those chocolaty cupcakey-looking muffins behind the cookies? Those are a take-off the Hungry Girls Guilt Free brownie muffins: cake mix and pureed pumpkin. That's it. Mix a 15 ounce can of pureed pumpkin with a box of cake mix (one that yields an 11x13 inch cake) and pour into a muffin tin. Bake as directed and you have egg-free, oil-free, practically fat-free chocolate muffins.

For a gluten free version, use a gluten free chocolate cake mix (Betty Crocker or Cherrybrook Kitchens both work), 7 to 7.5 ounces of pureed pumpkin, and 4 ounces of applesauce. The gluten free mixes yield 8 inch round cakes, so you need less pumpkin. The applesauce adds moisture and flavor.

Stir together - it takes a few minutes- and pour the mixture into a 12 muffin tin. Bake according to the directions on the box and you'll have chocolate muffins that are at once sweet and savory and perfect for breakfast, a mid-morning snack, and dessert. Gluten free and low in fat - What more could a contemporary cook ask for.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Health Benefits of Gluten Free Buckwheat Noodles

Buckwheat is a fruit seed harvested from the buckwheat plant, and it does not, as the name may imply, contain wheat or the gluten protein. Buckwheat is a wheat free grain. The seed can be ground into buckwheat flour and used to make buckwheat noodles, sometimes referred to as soba noodles. Buckwheat noodles have numerous health benefits due to its high content of flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, and to its pre-biotic activity.

Nutrients
Buckwheat contains high concentrations of vitamins B1 and B2, along with the minerals manganese, tryptophan and magnesium. Compared to rice, buckwheat noodles contain approximately twice the proteins. None of these proteins, however, are the gluten protein. Buckwheat noodles, made without wheat flour, provide protein, vitamins and minerals in high concentrations to those who suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Rutin, a flavanoid compound, is also found in buckwheat. Rutin aids in blood flow, which in turn keeps blood platelets from forming. This results in lower levels of LDL, otherwise known as bad cholesterol.

Bacteria
Omega 3 is a fatty acid that aids in cellular growth and function as well as cognitive function. Buckwheat noodles contain pre-biotics that “spur” probiotic action. These compounds create a friendly environment within your gut so good bacteria can flourish, otherwise known as gut flora. When good bacteria is present in the gut, digestion and liver function improve, bad cholesterol is more easily processed as waste, and valuable fatty acids are formed, such as omega 3. Other wheat-based noodles such as wheat pasta may not stimulate probiotics into producing healthy gut flora and subsequently omega 3 fatty acids.

Fiber
Though fiber is usually associated with wheat products such as bread, wheat-free buckwheat noodles provide fiber without the presence of the gluten protein. The fiber found in buckwheat noodles aids in digestion as well as lowering fat levels in the blood stream. By reducing the amount of fat that enters the blood stream, fiber essentially cleanses the system, thereby reducing cholesterol levels. Buckwheat noodles provide fiber without the fillers found in bread.

Though ideal for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, gluten free buckwheat noodles provide more health benefits than many wheat noodles or pastas. And just as a fun fact- gluten free buckwheat noodles have a high concentration of choline. Choline has the unusual characteristic of neutralizing the negative effects of alchohol; it helps the liver process excess alcohol. So if you over-indulge, a bowl of buckwheat noodles may help that hangover.