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There’s AntiFreeze in WHAT?

October 29, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the week of Halloween and, of course, fear is celebrated. Recalls, news media reports and a host of others proclaiming antifreeze in our FOOD! An announcement of a recall of Fireball whisky generated the topic.

Propylene glycol has people queasy. Like comments made by the FoodBabeArmy, not all is what it seems. Let’s ask – and seek – answers to a few basic questions.

What is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol, also called propane-1,2-diol, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C3H8O2. It is a viscous colourless liquid which is nearly odourless but possesses a faintly sweet taste.

So…despite the scary sounding name, it’s organic. 3 carbon, 8 hydrogen, 2 oxygen. Food manufacturers and processors “hiding something” isn’t really a case as there’s not much to hide. Many things are added to foods to make them more visually appealing because that’s what consumers want. Bright colors, appealing textures, lack of separation.

An ingredient can be versatile, and many more familiar ingredients are also used in a variety of ways. Water and salt, for example, are needed in our diet, but an excess can be fatal. In order to ingest enough of the propylene glycol in Fireball Whisky to harm you, it’s certain you would die from alcohol poisoning long before propylene glycol was a factor. Obviously, testing that is not recommended!

Why is it in food?

Propylene glycol USP/EP is the ideal carrier of a large variety of flavours that give most of today’s food and beverage their distinctive taste. The substance itself is colour-, taste- and odourless, and it does not react on its own, which means that it can perform its function without impacting on other product attributes.

This product has been confirmed safe, and provides unique inherent properties with regard to holding/attracting both water- and oil-based substances. In food, it is used to retain food colour pigments and provide for homogeneous distribution within the mixture. Propylene glycol USP/EP is approved for use as a food additive under E-number E 1520 (with strict maximum limit of 1 g/kg in human foodstuffs). Direct food contact uses include:

  • solvent and carrier for flavour and colour in food and beverage manufacturing processes, for drinks, biscuits, cakes, sweets

  • thickener, clarifier and stabilizer in food and beverage such as beer, salad dressings or baking mixtures

OK but it calls for other uses – it’s in antifreeze and everyone knows antifreeze is poison!

Most antifreeze is an alternative ingredient, ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is toxic. Sounding similar doesn’t make something the same. Propylene glycol is frequently used as a substitute for ethylene glycol in low toxicity, environmentally friendly automotive antifreeze. This is an industrial use, not food grade use, of a product that is fed to pets and livestock as well as a food additive.

But it didn’t used to be….wait. It did. It’s been used for five decades in a variety of products from ice cream to dog food to livestock feed to paint to – yes – non toxic antifreeze. Environmentally sound options. It is, I learned, a danger to waterways not from poison but that when combined with water it reduces the oxygen in the water. It smothers, not poisons, fish.

P6150727Of course, many people will not be convinced. It is possible to avoid propylene glycol in foods – buy fresh direct and process everything yourself, no matter what the appearance is. Create everything you do yourself, including the storage factor if not wanting to make your days revolve around food production and processing.

Modern convenience takes ingredients that we don’t use on small scale at home.

Do You REALLY Want USA Made? Act!

October 28, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany like the supporting the home grown idea. Not just local grown, but USA made, USA grown and other labels that allow USA farms and food processors to keep more of the food dollar. Unfortunately, a “Made in USA” doesn’t always mean it’s a USA product. It might be from out of the USA ingredients.

Does it matter? Does accuracy matter? If it doesn’t what good are labels?

Recently I was looking in a ‘farmer’s market’ section of a popular website. What was currently there and did I want to be involved? In Alabama was a handful of entries. For coffee.

“A very dark blend of Central American coffees, Higher Ground’s French Roast is one of the darkest roasts available. The cup is bold and nutty with a smooth and slightly smoky finish. “

Stop and read carefully…emphasis is mine above. It carried a Made in the USA logo. Coffee is not grown in the USA. Clearly this was purchased and blended here, but a true USA product can be argued.

Consumers who want USA products need to dig deeper. Where was it grown, what are details that indicate the seller – especially in a *farmer’s market* situation isn’t a dealer/reseller? Many don’t want to give up their coffee, and some will give up food choices in order to afford coffee, which is not a USA grown product.

There are many marketing options now that larger companies want to appear to be small in order to get that market. Some are more blatant than others in how they frame the marketing. Does it matter?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you pay extra in order to purchase direct from the farm, what is the breaking point? A penny? A dime? A dollar? At what point do you feel mislead if it’s not what it was claimed to be? To me if someone’s reselling, be honest. There’s still a market, as there are many who don’t care.

Others do. Make your decisions about food and follow up! Unfortunately with the quest for more labels, labels don’t mean much anymore, and not what people think.

If you want heirloom tomatoes does it matter that you’re really getting a hybrid variety? If you want sweet peppers does it matter if hot peppers are slipped in? Isn’t that what honest transparency addresses? Many aren’t so honest, and if folks think about it they would realize it but the disconnect is large.

In Chipotle’s cartoon “Back to the Start” it shows someone deciding to go back to buying from farmers with a few chickens and a small garden. Many like that idea….but is it the idea or the reality that matters? The reality is Chipotle needs volume, and for just three restaurants that means 20,000 chickens on hand at all times. That’s not a few chickens and a garden! Would it matter if the chickens have 2 square feet per bird, and if so does it matter if that’s inside or outside? Does it matter that the beef is imported?

Does it matter if a company promises to do something about ingredients in 3 years? How about if it could be done in one year? How serious does that sound like they are? Meh – we’ll get there when we have to.

Made in America, certified organic, as well as a host of others, should be clear but isn’t. If you are instituting food choices, make sure you’re supporting what you think you are. There are small farms out there needing the sales and market in order to survive. There are others appearing to be small farms that might have better marketing, more volume and lower prices but are large companies just trying to be organic/small/USA/local.

If it doesn’t matter to you then anyone will do. If it does, insure you are dealing with the farm direct.

Because it sure matters to us!

 

Homemade Hot Chocolate For Home or Giving

October 27, 2014

Hot_chocolateHomemade hot cocoa can bring warmth of a different kind with control over what is in your cocoa. Homemade cocoa can also be a nice but inexpensive gift for those trying to stretch the budget this year for gift giving.

There are several variations of basic cocoa mix recipes online but the one I like to use is in bulk so it can be divided for packaging for gifts or, alternately, stocking up for the cold season.

Get a large clean mixing bowl and collect 2 pounds each Nestle’s Quick (or other cocoa powder), powdered creamer, powdered sugar and 16 quarts dry milk. Alternate the layers in the bowl can help it mix a little easier with the volume. Carefully but thoroughly mix together and pack into your containers. Make a pretty tag or card if you’re giving as a gift and attach to the jar the directions to use 1/3 cup of the mix in 9 ounces of hot water. This allows for large cups of hot cocoa on cold winter days

If you aren’t interested in that amount of homemade hot chocolate mix a smaller amount uses 2 cups powdered milk, ¼ cup cocoa and 1 cup powdered sugar along with 1/3 cup creamer. Use 4 tablespoons per cup of boiling water.

Both of these are good on a chilly winter morning or sitting in a sunny window trying to capture warmth in the winter.

A variation I’ve used, with mixed results, is cutting back slightly on the cocoa powder and adding chocolate chips to the mix. This can add richness to the cocoa but sometimes they settle out to the bottom of the mix and end up not mixing in the water well. The result is the top half of the mix isn’t very “chocolatey” and the bottom half has chocolate melted globs in the bottom of the cup. However, if you remember to stir to disperse the chocolate chips evenly through the mix, this can be a nice addition.

Homemade hot cocoa is a very easy thing to make. If you’re packaging for gift giving use jars that are very well cleaned and dried. If shipping use plastic jars instead of glass. Clean ‘recycled’ peanut butter jars work excellent and are less likely to break or tear open than plastic zip bags, which can work very well too. If you’re using the large sized recipe for home use you can also use a washed out plastic 4-5 quart ice cream container.

Many people don’t drink coffee but hot cocoa is something that warms the spirit and the body on chilly days.

Food Journals Help with Weight Loss

October 24, 2014

800px-Flowering_cherry_treeA food journal can increase the success of a new eating regimen. Food journals offer insight of things we sometimes don’t think about which, in turn, when seeing and realizing where changes are needed, can be an effective means of losing weight. This need not be a fancy journal but to be effective should be portable so choose something you can easily carry with you. An effective food journal documents several key points.

The first thing it records is what you eat. Write down everything that you eat. If it’s a nibble on a handful of popcorn or a bite of something you “just have to try” record it. With keeping a written record you can chart what is coming into your body. Keep track of drinks too including that tea with a spoon of sugar which can add up. Get in the habit of measuring your food. If a serving is cup accuracy for a cup is important. If you eat two cups it is doubling the nutritional calories and intake.

Record the calories from those things you ate. There are often hidden calories’ in snacking because we think of meals, not snacking when we look at calories. The body, however, makes use of everything and doesn’t differentiate between the two. Recording this is a food journal helps keep track of these sources. Also when snacking keep track of how much you eat. A fun sized’ candy bar and a giant sized is not the same!

Note the time of day that you eat. Some people need a mid afternoon snack or eat a light breakfast then are hungry mid morning. Eating between meals, during meals and charting when you eat can give clues to further control. If you find you’re eating dinner then falling asleep perhaps eating earlier with a short walk afterwards can help.

How hungry are you? On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being “have to eat NOW!” really how hungry are you? With recording and charting rate it between 1-3 with 1 being very hungry and 3 not really hungry can result in healthier substitutions, drinking water or other alternatives to consuming calories.

Where are you? Does what you eat dictate this in what is available? Are you home, in the car, at the office, at lunch or between appointments? Where are you when the urge to eat strikes? By documenting you might, in time, notice a pattern.

Are you alone or with someone else? If with someone, record who it is. Does one person have a distinct association with food? If so can you alter your behavior such as drinking a half hour before hand to curb hunger cravings?

How are you feeling as you eat? Are you lonely or bored? Are you seeking something besides food?

It is important to understand the mindset of a food journal also. Keep it positive as much as possible! It is not a punishment or a listing of wrong-doing. It’s a statement of fact that empowers you to, in time and observation, take control of your eating habits. It helps balance your food and liquid intake.

Sometimes observations and changes are easy. If you consume too much soda and would like to cut back, and you find you drink a 20 ounce bottle on the way home you can seek changes. Substitute a 20 ounce bottle of water even if it’s refilling a soda bottle with water. This increases your water intake and lowers the soda intake at the same time.

In the same way if you see a pattern of mid afternoon snacking, have available at your desk a 100 calorie snack instead of that 400 calorie monster from the vending machine. With a 300 calorie difference five times per week that’s 1500 calories in one change!

This is not difficult to do but does take persistence. It can help you meet that goal of shedding 20 pounds or even 50 pounds. Consider this if someone says “it’s only 50 pounds” hand them a bag of dog food to carry around for the day! It’s only 50 pounds!

Many people find it’s not major changes that make a difference but rather the little ones. It’s parking another 50 feet from the store and making small changes that mean long term success. A food journal can help insure this with documented encouragement of those little things we’re forgetting.

Eating Slow, Historical With Ark of the Taste

October 23, 2014

399px-Chickens_2Many folks say food just doesn’t taste like it used to. In some ways, that’s true. Recipes change, selection of ingredients change. Few think about the changes in agriculture. This isn’t all a bad thing – food choices are plentiful! We can get a burger for what some families in some countries live on. For the many that depend on low prices, American agriculture has provided. For the many who want something easy, tasty and convenient, American processing companies have provided. For those who want something different, there’s organic, local, grown at home.

Then there’s Ark of the Taste. This is a difference in a big way, using heritage and heirloom varieties of plants and animals to provide food. Some are endangered and in an ironic twist, the way to save them is to eat them.

To some this makes no sense. By eating them, it provides a financial ability for small farms to keep them. They are not commercial varieties for various reasons – it might be size, or color, or many other reasons. It might be that they  just don’t adapt to the modern confinement system or consumer demand. With the rise of Slow Food, these antiques have found a place on the plates of those looking for something different and willing to seek it out. In short, “foodies”.

These are for people who want something different. The Bull Nose pepper or American Chinchilla rabbit or Midget White turkey are different in appearance and in taste.

Buying Ark of the Taste options provides an income for small farms that keep these heirlooms. They don’t compare to the modern high production counterpart. Depending on perspective, that is a good thing, a bad thing or just a different thing! Perhaps it’s a way to TASTE what a Depression era meal might have tasted like.

Different isn’t what everyone wants. A full sized dressed heritage chicken is going to taste much different from the fast food fried chicken people are used to. They may be a firmer texture, and not as ‘juicy’ from leaner birds. In a blind taste test of food experts, the Dominique chicken ranked high over other chickens raised the same way and prepared the same way. The flavor of many heritage breeds is much leaner – if not considered that difference it can translate to dry, chewy and a bad experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we prepare a Giant Chinchilla rabbit we find it’s more a light pork taste than chicken many compare rabbit meat to. Ark of the Taste isn’t just about animals. Bull Nose or Beaver Dam peppers and a wide range of other tastes are out there to be explored. Increased demand for the end product provides a market to keep them going year after year. That takes effort not just among those growing, but it takes those willing to eat them too.

Alternatives are good. Ark of the Taste – check it out!

Whether heritage or conventional – here’s a recipe to tuck aside for holiday leftovers! Check out the book The Healthy SlowCooker for more yummy and easy ideas that can feature Ark of the Taste selections. A bonus – they’re healthy and gluten free seekers will love the variety.

Turkey stock – break the carcass into manageable pieces and place in slow cooker stoneware. Add 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 each carrots, celery stalks, onions (quartered) plus 8 whole peppercorns. Add 12 cups water. Cover and cook, on low  for 12 hours or high for 6. Strain, reserving the liquids and discarding the solids.

Southwestern Turkey Chowder

10 cups turkey stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 onions, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns

1 1/2 cups long cooking gluten free whole grains, soaked, rinsed and drained

1 can (28 ounce) diced tomatoes including juice

2-3 ancho, guajillo or mild New Mexico dried chiles

2 cups boiling water

1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves

2 cups diced cooked turkey

2 cups corn kernels

 

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, oregano, garlic and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add whole grains and toss until coated. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to boil.

Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Add turkey stock and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours, until grains are tender.

In heatproof bowl, 30 minutes before grains have finished cooking, combine dried chiles and boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes, weighing chiles down with a cup to ensure they remain submerged. Drain, discarding soaking liquid and stems, and chop coarsely.Transfer to a blender. Add cilantro and 1/2 cup of stock from the chowder. Puree. Add to stoneware along with turkey and corn. Cover and cook on high until corn is tender and flavors meld, about 20 minutes.

Tip – use Thanksgiving leftovers, putting stock on to cook while you enjoy time with family. Use leftover turkey, corn.

 

Peanut Butter Cookies at Christmas or Anytime

October 22, 2014

800px-Cookies_1Peanut butter cookies are a favorite any time of year but especially at Christmas. Many family favorite recipes involve peanut butter cookie recipes.

A favorite in ours is a basic recipe that can be varied. Mix together a half cup each softened utter and peanut butter then add a half cup flour, ½ cup packed brown sugar, an egg and ½ teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder and vanilla. Mix together thoroughly then add another cup of flour until well combined and easy to handle. Make into one inch balls, flattened with the tines of a fork gently. Bake at 375 for 7-9 minutes taking care to not burn the bottoms. Cool on wire racks.

Some variations can include substituting a half cup honey for the brown sugar, adding ¼ cup oatmeal or chocolate chips or butterscotch chips or chopped nuts. Another alternative is using chunky peanut butter instead of creamy. You can also vary by instead of flattening pressing an unwrapped chocolate kiss into each cookie. Another option is rolling each ball in sugar. This is a way to offer several varieties with the same basic recipe.

Still another variation is pressing a thumbprint into each cookie and using jam to fill the thumbprint after baking.

Another recipe is similar but the ingredients different amounts. Sift 2 ½ cups flour with a teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt. In a large bowl combine ¾ cup butter and a cup packed brown sugar. Add a cup of chunky peanut butter, an egg and teaspoon vanilla. Combine the flour mixture with the peanut butter mix to make a stiff dough and put in refrigerator for a half hour. While chilling melt 6 ounces chocolate pieces with a teaspoon butter and let cool. Take your dough and divide in half. Roll into an 8×10 rectangle between two pieces of waxed paper and remove the top sheet to spread each with half of the chocolate mixture. From the long side roll each half tightly like a jelly roll, removing the waxed paper as you roll it up, and pressing the edges to seal. Wrap seam side down in plastic wrap at least 8 hours, but this can keep for a week to slice and bake as needed. Bake at 375 after cutting in ¼ inch slices- bake for 8 minutes or until light brown.

Both of these are an easy way to get a tasty peanutty treat for the holidays.

3 Quick Breakfasts From Your Sandwich Maker

October 21, 2014

Sandwich_toaster_openHow many admit to seldom using those small appliances that we get then put in the cupboard? Then something happens…the stove goes out and a different one isn’t in the budget. You don’t want fast food, but what to do?

Dig out those small appliances! Think outside the sandwich and use the sandwich maker for tasty, quick and good for your breakfasts that take minutes and skip the drive through!

If you explore a little bit with books like 150 Best Breakfast Sandwich Maker Recipes you might not want to go back to the stove! Quick heat up and easy clean up just wiping it down most of the time and you’re out the door before coffee is ready.

Sausage and Egg on Hash Browns

2 frozen round hash brown patties, cooked in microwave

1 slice sharp cheddar cheese

1 frozen cooked pork sausage patty

nonstick cooking spray

1 large egg

Place a cooked hash brown in bottom ring of sandwich maker. Top with cheese and sausage.

Lower the cooking plate and top ring. Lightly spray the plate with cooking spray, then crack the egg into the ring. Pierce top of egg yolk with a toothpick or plastic fork, place the other hash brown patty on top of the egg. Top with sausage.

Gently close the cover (do not push it down onto the hash brown) and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until egg is cooked to your liking. Rotate cooking plate away from sandwich maker and lift rings. Use a plastic or nylon spatula to remove the sandwich and serve immediately.

Egg and Sharp Cheddar on a Golden Biscuit

Preheat breakfast sandwich maker.

Place one biscuit half, split side up, in bottom ring of sandwich maker. Top with cheese.

Lower the cooking plate and top ring. Lightly spray the plate with cooking spray, then crack the egg into the ring. Pierce top of egg yolk with a toothpick or plastic fork. Season with pinch of salt and pepper. Place the other biscuit half, split side down, on top of the egg.

Gently close cover and cook for 4-5 minutes or until egg is cooked to your liking. Rotate cooking plate away from sandwich maker and lift rings. Use a plastic or nylon spatula to remove sandwich.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWestern Omelet

Preheat breakfast sandwich maker

1 large egg

1/4 cup crumbled cooked bacon

‘1 tablespoon  diced tomato

2 teaspoons finely chopped onion

2 teaspoon finely chopped green bell pepper

pinch salt and pepper

In small bowl, gently whisk egg. Stir in tomato, onion, pepper,seasonings.

Lower the cooking plate and both rings of sandwich maker. Lightly spray the cooking plate with cooking spray. Pour the egg mixture into the top ring.

Gently close the cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until omelet is cooked to your liking. Rotate cooking plate away from sandwich maker and lift rings. Use plastic or nylon spatula to remove omelet. Serve.

Check the book out for lunch and dinner recipes.

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