Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When Cheese Isn't Cheese

 My wife's doctor told her to cut back on dairy products a couple of years ago.  It seemed like the end of the world.  After all, dairy is a part of a lot of the foods we eat every day.

In the end, it hasn't been that challenging and has even been rewarding discovery of new flavor and healthier options.

One of the things we replaced was traditional cheese in our house.  We did this with help from Galaxy Foods that prepare cheese-like products.

We replaced slices of cheddar block cheese with "Veggie Slices" cheddar flavor slices.  The other flavors include pepper-jack, American, Swiss, mozzarella, smoked provolone, and cheddar with jalapenos.

In every taste-test (grilled cheese or sandwich), nobody could tell the difference.  Our family and friends have had it on their sandwiches without notice.  The flavor and texture is great and it melts easily.

The base for this product is soy flour rather than milk.  It maintains a 3 grams of protein but without any cholesterol.

I recently purchased their "Vegan" version as it was on sale.  The protein is derived from peas rather than casein (a milk derived product) giving it a firmer texture and slight green color.  The first thing I noticed between the Veggie and Vegan options was the color and how much firmer the Vegan cheese slice was.

The Vegan cheese slice melts okay and the taste is similar, but using it cold will be a definite giveaway as it is not that flexible and has a different mouth texture.

If you are a first-time purchaser and can choose between the two options, try Veggie first.  I would recommend this product to anyone wanting to reduce their cholesterol intake or who is looking for a healthier option for cheese slices.

At health food stores, you can buy a package of veggie slices for $3.99, but our regular grocery store also carries them (by the bagged lettuce) for $2.99.  There 12 slices in a package for the Veggie slices and 10 for the Vegan version.

I have not tried Galaxy Foods other cheese-like products, but there are many.  Based on my experience,  I would think they would be really good.  The company also the Carbon Fund for carbon free shipping of their products.


Monday, January 30, 2012

World Nutella Day

Everyone has a favorite binge food.  Our son's is Nutella.  And I am okay with most of the ingredients.  The primary ingredients are skim milk, hazelnuts (also known as filberts) and cocoa.  Palm oil, soy lecithin and vanillin round out the list.  If it weren't for the vanillin (why not the real vanilla?), I would give it five stars.

I first tried Nutella on a missions trip to Spain many many years ago and distinctly remember wishing we had such a treat in the United States.  Since that time, it has become a regular on grocery store shelves.  We get our at Costco at a hefty discount over grocery store prices.

If you've never tried Nutella, your truly missing out on a great food pleasure with a uniquely addictive taste.  It's a guilty pleasure with a touch of healthfulness.  And now, those who love it so much can unite thanks to "World Nutella Day" slated for February 5, 2012.

The uses for this delicious treat are countless and people in its cult-like following have posted photos of their favorite concoctions using Nutella and offered hundreds of recipes.  Could there by a bad one?  The Nutella company offers no recipes other than to spread it on toast in the morning.

There's even a book, "The Unofficial Guide to Nutella:  history, stories and recipes" you can devour.

In brief, its history began in the 1940's when Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker, devised a way to extend the rationed cocoa supplies during World War II.  He used hazelnuts which were plentiful in the Piedmont region of Italy.  Originally named "Supercrema gianduja", it was renamed in 1964 at "Nut" (for the hazelnut) and "ella" as a soft-sounding filler to lengthen the name.

While it has been a favorite in Europe for 40+ years, the spread first arrived in the Northeastern United States in 1983 and has expanded nationwide since then.

You can easily recreate a Nutella-type spread using a Vitamix or food processor.  There are a number of recipes.  I have not tried them myself because the shelf-life is only a couple of weeks and we just don't consume enough to justify making our own.  But if you are interested, take a look at these trusted sources here and here for recipes on making your own Nutella-type spread.

This February 5, buy a jar of Nutella and spread some joy on World Nutella Day!

Update 01/31/2012:

I was told that Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter is also a very good and perhaps more nutritious option.  I haven't tried this yet but will in the future.  Has anyone else tried Justin's who can offer an opinion?

The ingredients for Justin's are:  Dry Roasted Hazelnuts, Dry Roasted Almonds, Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Natural Vanilla, Sea Salt.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Most Important Book for Parents

School lunches are often overlooked by parents.  Perhaps some parents really don't care, but for many others, school lunch is something never seen.

Our kids are not yet of an age where school lunch is an option, but it is a worry.  And it should be for anyone with OR without kids.  Kids fed well have better test scores and school attendance -- a major plus for society in the long-term.

A year ago I received an empty school hamburger patty box for moving some household stuff.  I was grateful for the box, but was mortified that the ingredients said 80-some-percent beef.  What!?  Why isn't a hamburger patty 100% beef and what was the mysterious unstated filler?  McDonald's patties are 100% beef.  Not quality beef, but 100%.

The USDA determines what is acceptable for our kids to eat for lunch and private companies help fulfill those requirements through awkward pairings like pizza sauce being classified as a vegetable or a flavored ice-pop being classified as a fruit.

In a word. the food our kids get at school is pure junk or "rubbish" as Jamie Oliver says.

I read (in one night) a book titled "Fed Up with Lunch".  It is written from a Chicago school teacher who, for one year, ate school cafeteria food and blogged about it each day.  I think for many, the food selection will shock them.  I certainly think it will spur some people to action to try and find solutions for the woefully inadequate nutrition our kids receive.

If you really dig into how school lunches and the infamous food pyramid are developed, you will find a money-trail that leads from Congress back to the manufacturers/growers of certain types of food.  I find this disturbing.  Our health -- our kids health -- traded for profits and campaign contributions.

Solutions are not easy and regulations make many options unsuitable.  But, solutions start by being aware and I encourage everyone to read this book followed by Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and help find solutions to better feed our kids.

Additional Resources:

www.ecoliteracy.org
www.commonthreads.org
www.edibleschoolyard.org
www.farmtoschool.org
www.food-corps.org
www.growingpower.org
www.healthyschoolscampaign.org
www.thelunchbox.org
www.healthyschoolfood.org
www.organicschoolproject.org
www.healthyschoollunches.org
www.purpleasparagus.com
www.reapfoodgroup.org
www.schoolfoodfocus.org
www.schoollunchinitiative.org
www.schoolnutrition.org
www.veggiecation.com
www.betterschoolfood.blogspot.com
www.betterschoolfood.org
www.bravenewlunch.blogspot.com
www.jackiesschoolfoodblog.blogspot.com
www.thelunchtray.com
www.nhschoolfood.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 26, 2012

No More Plastic Spoons and Forks

I was reading a report in the latest issue issue of Consumer Reports magazine about chemicals, including BPA (a controversial toxin that has been linked to cancer, obesity, neurological issues, thyroid issues and a host of other ailments that are particularly detrimental to fetus' infants and toddlers), being pulled from plastics when they are washed in warm or hot water, microwaved, or contain warm/hot foods.  So, just about anytime you use them.

I've known this.  But here's what really got my attention, the article featured a photo of the exact brand of dishes and plastic-ware our kids had been using.  Needless to say, we stopped using that stuff pronto!

We already had white Corelle dishes that are virtually indestructible, so our kids immediately started eating from our dishes.

We replaced their plastic-ware with OXO spoon and fork sets that feature a steel eating surface.  The fork is also somewhat spoon-shaped (we call it a spork) that works really well with young kids.

For cups, we recycled the old plastic stuff and replaced it with a set of Preserve Products brand green and red BPA-free cups made from recycled plastic.  They have a great story and take extra precautions to ensure product safety.

If you haven't already, it may be a great time to re-evaluate what plastics you use for your baby or kids (or even yourself) and replace them with something other than plastic or certainly something that is guaranteed to be BPA-free.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sodium Nitrite and Nitrate Free Meat

All of the meat in our house is free of any preservatives or extra flavor/color enhancers.

In the past, I ignored such label ingredients as sodium nitrites/nitrates as merely a preservative and nothing to worry about.  It was the advertising of a local grass-fed beef producer of having no nitrates or nitrites in their meat that made me do some research as to why that would be of concern to some.

Sodium nitrate is a chemical compound used for fertilizers, glass, solid rocket propellant, food preservative, pottery enamel or more.  The health concern is that sodium nitrates form nitrosamines -- a human carcinogen known to cause DNA damage.  Nitrates convert to nitrosamines when exposed to heat and/or acid (stomach acid).  Since most people I know cook their meat and place it in their stomach, this may be of concern.  Exposure to nitrosamines seems to promote certain cancers.

Ascorbic acid seems to greatly reduce the formation of nitrosamines, so you will often find these listed together on an ingredient list (and is required by law).

Sodium nitrites help prevent botulism and alters the color of preserved fish and meat (often a more appealing color to the buyer).  Similar to sodium nitrates, the nitrites can break down under certain conditions and form nitrosamines.  In large quantities, sodium nitrites are toxic to animals and humans.  Because of its toxicity, nitrites are dyed bright pink so it is not mistaken for sugar or salt.

Both sodium nitrates and nitrites are approved for use in the EU, USA, and Australia with approved quantities deemed to be safe for consumption by the approving governments.

But, none of this is necessary and there are options to avoid it all together.  We sometimes buy meat products from a local/organic farmer and avoid any kind of additive, but at a traditional grocery store, we look for brands like Coleman NaturalSausages by Amylu or Jones Dairy Farm for items like bacon, sausage, chicken or hot dogs that have NO preservatives.

We choose to not take risks with added food chemicals.  One meal probably won't harm anyone, but prolonged exposure to poor quality meats can.

As a rule, the cheaper the meat you buy, the more likely it is to have the preservatives and fillers that cause us harm.  Aren't some things worth a couple extra bucks?  Read the labels.

P.S.  The food our school systems feed our kids (if you can call it food) is atrocious and one of the greatest concerns for me and my kids.  There are options.  Coleman Natural is able to supply schools with real, preservative-free meats.  Check here to see if your school is on the list!  If your district isn't on the list, request better food from Coleman here.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Starbucks VIA Easily the Best Instant Coffee

Starbucks Via is on the Right
We occasionally reach for an instant coffee when time is tight and we just don't feel like going through the process of french press coffee-making. (our usual method)  I also use instant in baking and cooking to help bring out the earthier tastes.

Ultra-fine Starbucks Via
We recently purchased Starbucks VIA brand Christmas Blend, a break from our traditional leading national brand.  I'm impressed.  While not quite a true Starbucks coffee taste I would get from a local Barista, it comes close.

The Large Granules of the Leading National Brand
The flavor is great, but it's the way it so smoothly blends in the hot water that is the deal clincher for me.

Leading National Brand with No Stirring
On a white plate, you can quickly pick out the dark-roast Starbucks.  But look even closer and you will see the huge difference in granule size.  The ultra-fine granule of the Starbucks brand makes stirring close to unnecessary and blends well into baked goods while the course nature of the leading national brand always leaves floating pieces on a cup of coffee.

There are thirteen flavors and varieties of VIA from which to choose ranging from light to dark roasts and a few flavor options too.

I also like supporting Starbucks because they are outwardly committed to issues of sustainability, diversity, ethical sourcing and community.

VIA does cost more, but it may be worth an occasional splurge.
Starbucks Via with no Stirring

Monday, January 23, 2012

There's Gluten on my Shredded Cheese?

I did a double-take when my wife first came home from the Dr.'s office and said she needed to be gluten free and that things like shredded cheese were off the list.

Did I hear that right, cheese?  I thought cheese was a product derived from milk, not wheat.

That's when I learned that a bag of pre-shredded cheese has more than just cheese in it -- something I had previously not recognized.  The added ingredient was traditionally flour.

Why the addition?  If you've ever shredded your own cheese before, you know that the shreds can stick together.  To prevent this from happening, companies add an ingredient or two to prevent the shreds from sticking.

That was a couple of years ago and many cheese companies have found different ways other than glutenous products to prevent the natural stickiness.  But, you should still be aware of this new addition to your cheese.

For instance, instead of flour, the Sargento cheese company uses a few different things in their shredded cheese, including wood pulp or cotton.  Yep, wood, on your cheese.  You won't find wood mentioned in the ingredients, instead it will read "powdered cellulose" or microcrystalline cellulose.  The other items in this brand could include potato starch and calcium carbonate.  The good news is that these don't have gluten.  The bad news is that you may just not want to eat it though they are presumed to be safe.


The other large national brand, Kraft, had nothing on their web site regarding their shredded cheese, but I found numerous blog posts that mention similar/same extra ingredients.

What we do to solve our issue is buy block cheese and shred what we need with a nice microplane grater.  There are a few of benefits to this including knowing where your cheese comes from (perhaps you want cheese made from grass-fed dairy cows), that there are no added by-products, and saving a bit of money by not having your cheese pre-shredded.

Even if you're not concerned with gluten, get yourself a nice microplane grater (I got mine at World Market for $9.99), some nice cheese and start shredding.  I think you will like having more control.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Organic Packaging Surprise

I wanted to make some fresh hummus for lunch today and reached for a can of garbanzo beans (chick peas).

We don't have many canned items in our house because they leach BPA into the food, but we do have some canned beans (in case I miss the 12-hour window of soaking time) and some tomato products (really just an excuse for not getting around to canning them last fall) on hand.

I was met with two options of garbanzo beans when I opened the pantry.  I don't know the reasons, perhaps I picked up the non-organic one by accident, but I had one can of organic garbanzo beans and one that was not -- by the same grocer brand name.

I thought a bean is a bean, except one is organic, right?  I was surprised by what the labels disclosed.

Organic Canned Garbanzo Bean Ingredients
In the organic beans I found the ingredients:

  • Organic Garbanzo Beans
  • Water
  • Sea Salt

Traditional Canned Garbanzo Bean Ingredients
In the traditional beans I found the ingredients:


The only other significant difference was in sodium.  The organic garbanzo beans had 100 mg per serving versus a much larger 330 mg of sodium in the non-organic beans.

This helped make clear that decisions are not simply as easy as organic or not.  Organic or not also affects the handling and packaging too.  And organic clearly wins.

I pledge to read labels more carefully when shopping.

As for pricing, the non-sale prices were $.88 for the non-organic beans versus $1.25 for the organically grown beans.
Vitamix Makes Hummus
in About 15 Seconds

If your interested in making a great hummus dip, here was my recipe for today:

  • 15-ounce can of organic garbanzo beans drained and rinsed and placed in blender/food processor
  • 1/2 cup filtered water (more or less depending on how smooth you want the final product)
  • 1 larger organic clove of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon organic lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons of organic olive oil
  • Sea salt (to taste)
  • 2 small pieces of fire-roasted red pepper (optional)

*blend until smooth

Enjoy!
Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Butter from Grass?

As a family, we have largely shifted away from dairy in favor of spreads, milks and "cheese" from plant sources for largely health reasons (and a few environmental).

When I was shopping at Costco the other day I noticed tubs of Kerry Gold brand butter.  I have always heard about the legendary taste of this imported butter from Ireland and was pleasantly surprised to read "from grass-fed cows" on the package.

The price is about double that of traditional butter but I thought it was worth a try.  A 17.60 ounce package was $5.99 and I opened it today to sample on a slice of homemade banana bread.  My first impression was how deep yellow the butter appeared.  Some butters and spreads in the US have colorants added to give it the missing yellow color, but here it comes naturally because the beta-carotene and other nutrients from the cows' diet shines through.

Why does grass-fed matter?

  • Cows are created to eat grass, this typically happens on small family farms and in most other countries around the world.  It is the American CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feeding Systems) that force cattle to consume corn and other grain their digestive system can't handle, causing poor health and forcing their premature aging, disease and early death.
  • Dairy cows from the CAFO system produce cheap milk and meat, but to the detriment of our health.  Butter from CAFO cows (almost all of what you find on our grocery store shelves) has reduced Omega 3's (the healthy fat), has 3-5 times fewer CLA's (conjugated linoleic acid) known to have anti-cancer properties and help maintain a healthy body weight.  CAFO dairy also offers fewer antioxidants, selenium, vitamins E and A and beta carotene.

Compare this to the treatment cows get in Ireland where they munch on some of the world's greenest grass -- of which the nutrients get passed to us through the dairy products produced.  See a brief video on Kerrygold farmers below.




Butter from grass-fed cows is simply better for the animal, better for our planet and better for our health.

Sadly, there are few butter grass-fed butter options in the United States.  The few options I have found include Grass Point Farms (Wisconsin), Pastureland (Minnesota), and Organic Valley Pasture Butter.  However, Pastureland is temporarily unavailable because of distribution issues and no buyers of their organic skim milk.

There are a few imports that are more readily available -- mostly because they never altered their systems from the traditions of butter-making and have a solid distribution network for butter from animals fed on grass.

The price is a bit steep, but compared to what?  I find myself occasionally falling into this mental trap of wanting to choose food based on lowest price but knowing I should buy the better food option.

Most of us would value health, quality of life and more time (longevity of life) as being a top priority.   Yet many of us gladly fork over extra cash for the next step-up in our "stuff".   Things like cars, cell phone plans, television plans, video game systems and electronics.  Many talk of not being able to afford to eat healthy even though they know what the best choice is, myself included.  Isn't it really a matter of priorities?  We tend to skimp on spending extra on the very thing that will truly bring us more value?  It's a skewed values system.  What "stuff" would you be willing to trade for a healthier and longer life?

Health and environmental benefits considered, $5.99 starts to not look like such a bad deal after all.  Just a thought.  Enjoy your better butter.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Macaroni & Cheese by Candlelight

When was the last time you ate a candlelight dinner in your home?  How about with the kids?  Yes, kids!

Tonight we had macaroni & cheese (Annie's organic, of course) by candlelight.  We've had candlelight dinners frequently the past couple of weeks and discovered that we quite like it.  It all started one very snowy evening when we decided we could watch the snowflakes best with the lights off.  The only option to see our food and the snowflakes was candles!

We found that things are a bit calmer, conversation a bit better, and the entire mood a bit more calming.

Safety?  I think people are born with an appreciation for what fire can do.  Our kids watch the flame in amazement, but have never tried to touch it.  They respect the flame.  Of course, we keep the candles a safe distance from their place setting as well.

We found eating dinner by candlelight by a large bay window with big snow flakes falling is amazing.  And a discussion of history is bound to come up when your kids ask something like, "Why don't we always eat with a candle?"  And you can respond with a , "well, that's how it used to always be because the lightbulb was only created in 1879."  They love to hear stories about the past and our four-year-old has found a new friend in Thomas Edison!

Of course, with small kids like ours, this is really the only time of year we can do this as they start getting hungry around 5 and darkness begins to fall around the same time.

So don't delay if you have little kids and try it today.  You might just like it.

Sidenote- the candle in the picture was moved closer just for the picture- we don't let the kids eat that close to the flame!

Comment on your results.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's in a Grocery Store Hot Dog Bun?

I had a hot dog bun the other day from a large and widely distributed bun manufacturer in the Midwest.

I glanced at the ingredients listed on the bag and read this shocking ingredient list for my hot dog bun:
  1. Enriched wheat flour
  2. Water
  3. Corn syrup
  4. Soybean oil
  5. Yeast
  6. Salt
  7. Wheat gluten
  8. Mono and diglycerides (see ingredient 9)
  9. Ethoxylated Mono and diglycerides (emulsifier or fat substitute generally recognized as safe in the United States, but banned for use in foods in Europe.  
  10. Sodium stearoyl
  11. Lactylate
  12. Ascorbic Acid
  13. Calcium Peroxide (a bleaching agent)
  14. Polysorbate 60
  15. Azodicarbonamide (a synthetic compound used as a bleaching agent)
  16. Calcium Propionate (a preservative that is slightly toxic)
  17. Monocalcium Phosphate (agricultural fertilizer that is also a leavening agent)
  18. Calcium Sulfate (industrial chemical)
  19. Ammonium Sulfate (inorganic salt and artificial soil fertilizer)
I almost always make homemade buns for our family.  I will provide the recipe below at the end of the post, but check out my ingredients:
  1. King Arthur Bread Flour (not bromated or bleached)
  2. Water
  3. 1 organic, cage-free egg
  4. 2 tablespoons organic butter
  5. 1/4 cup organic sugar
  6. 1 teaspoon sea salt
  7. 1 tablespoon instant yeast
I would add links to explain all of my ingredients above, but I think you get it!

Without the added preservatives, I use the bun(s) I need at the moment and immediately freeze the remaining in a freezer-grade Ziplock bag for future use.  About 30 seconds in the microwave and they are good to go when I need them.  They keep in the freezer for up to six months, but never last that long.

I freeze our breads this way too.  After the loaf cools, I pre-slice the loaf and freeze the individual slices.  The slices come back to life nicely in the microwave for a few seconds or can go straight from the freezer to the toaster.

Now for the recipe.  This is a recipe originally posted by Ellen Dill on bakingcircle.com called "Beautiful Burger Buns".  While the recipe calls for the making of hamburger buns, it is easily adapted to hot dog buns too and will make about 12 hot dog buns rather than the 8 hamburger buns mentioned. And, of course, you will want to shape them as a hot dog bun.  Keep in mind the dough will almost double in size as it rests before baking.

Beautiful Burger Buns:


  • cup water
  • tablespoons butter
  • large egg
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • teaspoon salt
  • tablespoon quick-rising yeast
  • teaspoon onion powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes (onion)

Directions:

  1. 1
    Combine all the ingredients and mix and knead them together, by hand or by mixer, until you have a soft, smooth dough.
  2. 2
    Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour.
  3. 3
    Divide the dough into 8 pieces and shape each piece into a flattened ball; place the buns on greased baking sheets, cover and let rise 30-40 minutes, until they're puffy.
  4. 4
    Preheat oven to 375°.
  5. 5
    Bake the buns for 12-15 minutes, until they're golden brown; remove from oven and baking sheet and cool them on a rack.
  6. 6
    Split and use for burgers or sandwiches.
  7. 7
    For burgers, butter the split sides and fry them, buttered side down, until they're golden brown and warmed through.


Monday, January 16, 2012

"spindrift: a fresh take on sodas"

According to an article in February's issue of Fast Company magazine, the average American drinks 50 gallons of soda annually.  A lot of that soda is made with up to 55% fructose (an ingredient linked to health troubles) and a host of artificial colors and flavors.

The article highlights a fresh new approach and company to the soda industry.  Enter Spindrift.  Made of soda water combined with fresh squeezed fruits with nothing artificial.

This is how they are different from every other soda maker:

  • They never use juice from concentrate.
  • They never use artificial sweeteners.
  • They never use preservatives.
  • They never use artificial colors.
  • Each bottle contains 50-100% juice portion.
  • Juice fibers are maintained which helps your body.
  • They use FDA-certified "fresh" nectar from four suppliers.
  • They refrigerate their product once made (it's required with fresh ingredients unlike the syrups that are shelf-stable at room temperature for months).
  • They contract delivery of the finished soda with distributors of fish, produce and cheese because traditional soda distributors only deliver with warm trucks.
  • *And one of my favorites.  They are members of 1% for the Planet, a collection of environmentally aware companies that donate 1% of their sales (not profits) to non-profit organizations that preserve and protect the environment.  In this case, Spindrift donates their money to the preservation of water resources nationally and globally.

I have yet to find any flavors in Michigan and the article said there were only 200 retailers at the time of print.  But it will be coming and I look forward to writing a follow-up to this post.

For now, here is a list of the flavors from their web site:

  1. Sparkling Grapefruit (1/4 of a fresh squeezed grapefruit and fresh squeezed lemon)
  2. Sparkling Blackberry (8 whole blackberries and fresh squeezed lemon juice)
  3. Sparkling Mango Orange (1/2 of a fresh squeezed orange and alfonso mango puree)
  4. Sparkling Lemonade (1 whole fresh squeezed lemon)
  5. Sparkling Half & Half (Half fresh squeezed lemon and half fresh brewed tea)
  6. Sparkling Cranberry Raspberry (Made with 16 raspberries; 9 Vermont cranberries and fresh squeezed lemon juice)

I presume you will find these in the refrigerated section of your grocery store -- if you're lucky enough to have it as an option in your neighborhood.  To find the location nearest you, click here.

Since I can only applaud the how and why this new product is made and not the taste, I will rely on those who have tried it.  Please comment on this post and let us know what you think of the taste, where you found it, how much it cost, etc.

The owner has a great story of being raised on only natural ingredients and lots of homemade food right down to the making of their own butter.  He is now raising his own kids in this tradition, but found a contradiction to this lifestyle with his frequent consumption (described as an addiction) of Diet Coke.

He sought to create a fresh, non-syrup, solution to traditional soda and ran into a few entertaining bumps.  Read the full story here.

P.S.  If your curious what spindrift means, dictionary.com defines it as "spray swept by a violent wind along the surface of the sea".

Here's to hoping the spray from a violent wind hits the shores of Lake Michigan soon!  Strong hints go out to Meijer, D&W and Spartan Stores along with West Michigan restaurants and hotels.

UPDATE:  01/18/2012

I received this message from owner Bill Creelman on the current locations to find this soda:


Hi!

Thank you for your store locator inquiry to Spindrift Soda. Unfortunately we are not sold in your area. Today Spindrift is only sold in New England, New York, and select parts of the eastern seaboard. We are starting to make our way around the rest of the east coast so stay tuned for further details!

We are always looking for other passionate partners so if you have any amazing cafes, bakeries, burrito shops, or a favorite sandwich spot, please forward them along and we will reach to introduce our product.

In the mean time, you can purchase product from our website or follow us onhttp://www.facebook.com/spindriftsoda or www.twitter.com/spindriftsoda for frequent new store openings.

Thanks again for your Spindrift inquiry!

Best wishes,
Bill

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Easy Homemade Peanut Butter

Your favorite peanuts + a high-quality blender (with a tamper) = amazing and healthy peanut butter!

We ran out of peanut butter this morning, so I took some of our favorite peanuts from Costco (I'd prefer organic peanuts, but their harder to find than a Santa in July around here -- but that's another post) and threw them in our Vitamix for a quick spin.

Once the peanuts were in, I turned the machine on high and used the tamper to keep things moving.  Within 30 seconds, I had a fresh and warm batch of peanut butter.

In a nutshell (pun, yes!), choose your favorite raw, dry roasted or oil roasted peanuts.  If your from New Mexico or Georgia, your selection should be much better with organic options.  Throw them in your blender.

I usually add about a tablespoon of peanut oil to keep things loose.  You don't have to use any oil, I just like a looser product for easier spreading.  If you decide to add oil and don't have peanut, any other low-flavor oil such as Canola will work too.

Add a touch of salt if you wish.  The peanuts I used were pre-salted and that works for me.

Then turn on your Vitamix (or other high-power blender) on high-speed blend until you get a creamy base.

At this point, you can get creative.  I tend to be a peanut butter purist and leave it alone, but in this case I added about 3 tablespoons of raw honey from a local apiary to make honey-peanut butter.  I have also added a teaspoon or two of organic molasses in the past that darkens the spread and adds a nice taste.  Others have added various spices or cocoa, but you can experiment with what you like.  Add it in and continue spinning until smooth.

When finished, spoon your peanut butter out into a storage container.  I like to use a caning jar for ours.  If you will eat it within three months, store it in your pantry.  If you need it to keep for 6 months, place it in your refrigerator.  Just keep in mind that a refrigerated product won't spread quite as easily unless brought to room temperature.

If you like a crunchy peanut butter, chop some extra peanuts up and set them off to the side.  When you are done making your peanut butter, throw in the chopped pieces and stir.

Enjoy your homemade peanut butter.  It will taste better and probably be better for you.  If you aren't convinced check out the ingredient label on your store-bought peanut butter.

Joe Plows my Drive

Nope, not Joe's Plow Service -- But "Snow Joe".  And I finally got to use my old friend again this weekend as we got our first real snow of the year.

See, I had the really crazy idea last winter to purchase a different kind of snow blower.  It's electric (gasp!), it's compact, it requires no gas or oil, it's highly dependable and always starts, and it really throws the snow -- It's Snow Joe.

No snow blower is perfect.  This one can get clogged if the snow if wet and heavy and I do have to drag around a 100' cold-weather electric cord, but it's worth not having the hassle of mixing gas/oil, trying to get the gas motor to start each year (I've watched neighbors spend 20 minutes or more trying to start theirs), smelling like gas when the work is done, and having the added benefit of simply giving the environment (and my lungs) a breather.

This blower is great for nearly everyone.  It's lightweight, compact, can be stored anywhere (no oil or gas to drip), and costs much less than the traditional blowers.

As for severe weather, this actually did a very nice job last winter when we were blasted with days of deep snow.  Snow Joe kept up with all the neighbors and their big rigs.  Unless you have snow dumps that are feet deep, this should work just fine for you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eat Your Chia Pet!



Our kids' Chia dog.
Well, eat the seeds anyway (or the sprouts).

Our kids joined the ranks of millions before them this past Christmas and planted (or pasted) chia seeds on their Chia Pet, but the exact same seeds on their Pet are packed with nutrients and have been consumed for thousands of years in some cultures.
Chia seeds are quickly being recognized as a superfood.

Formally known as salvia hispanica, it is a flowering plant in the mint family.  It's name, Chia, is derived from a word meaning "oily".  In fact, it's the oil that makes it rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Chia is an ancient food grown today in Mexico (where it was first cultivated), Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Australia and Guatemala.

It's nutritional qualities are amazing.  According to the USDA, one ounce of chia contains 11 grams of dietary fiber (42% daily value), 18% daily value of calcium, 4 grams of protein or 9% daily value (a complete protein that offers all of the amino acids essential to humans,  and also contains B-vitamins, iron, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, sodium, fiber antioxidants and the anti-inflammatory flavonoid quercetin.

So how do you use these nearly tasteless seeds?  In liquid, the seeds form a gel-like substance making them ideal for drinks, smoothies or oatmeal.  Ground, they make a great addition to baked goods.  Or eat the sprouts from your Chia Pet or add them to a salad.  The ideas are endless.


We bought a large bag of chia seed at Costco for about $7, but there are plenty of other grocery or health food store providers or look on Amazon.

Grow them, have fun with them, but certainly consider eating them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Best Pizza Crust and Sauce

We've made homemade pizza for years, but the crust also seemed a bit soggy in the middle of the pizza while sometimes being overdone on the sides.

I've limped along using various crust recipes and thicknesses with mediocre success (no matter what, it's hard to replicate commercial or wood-fired ovens) until last night.

I spent a few days doing research on what pizza is like in the birthplace of pizza -- Italy -- and made a few adjustments to my pizza making method that paid off huge!

There are plenty of tidbits of information on making a traditional Italian pizza and the origins and pizza scattered throughout the Internet, but I found all I needed in our Jamie's Italy cookbook.

Jamie Oliver took some time traveling Italy and learn the secrets and compiled them in a great Italian cookbook with authentic recipes.  I've had this little secret in our possession all this time, but only now used it.  Ugh!

Anyway, here is what you will need to make this in your home:
  • Pizza Stone (Jamie recommends having a slab of marble or granite 1" thick cut for use in your oven)
  • Pizza Peel
  • Mortar and Pestle (Can do without, but easier if you have one)
  • Semolina Flour (Try to not skip this ingredient)
  • Quality White Bread Flour
  • Fine Sea Salt (I used a celtic sea salt)
  • Active Dried Yeast (If you can find SAF instant yeast, use that)
  • Golden Caster Sugar (Caster sugar is unrefined sugar.  A Sugar-in-the-Raw type product, but ground finer.  I used the powder from my recent purchase of Piloncillo.)
  • Mozzarella Cheese (I grated a store-purchased block.  Try buffalo mozzarella for a true authentic cheese.)
  • 28 oz. Can of Crushed Tomatoes
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Basil (or dried if off-season)
  • Fresh-Cracked Black Pepper
Here are the recipes straight from Jamie's book (followed by my pictures of how I made ours):

Pizza Crust (Pg. 52) (This recipe will make five or six decent size pizzas.  The dough can be separated, wrapped and frozen for up to six months or kept in the refrigerator and used within three days):
  • 1 3/4 pound strong white bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups fine ground semolina flour OR strong white bread flour
  • 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 oz. envelope active dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
  • just over 2 cups lukewarm water (and some more yet during the dry Northern winter months)
Place all the dry ingredients on a clean surface and create a large well in the center.  Mix the sugar, water and yeast in a separate bowl and wait 5 minutes.  Pour the liquid into the well and blend by pulling the sides of the flour mixture into the liquid.  When the ingredients start to stiffen, use your hands to knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

When you have a smooth and elastic dough ball, lightly flour and wrap in plastic wrap.  Let it sit 15 minutes and divide into pizza dough balls.  Roll each ball being used into a super thin (about 1/4") crust.  Place on a pizza peel dusted with semolina flour to help it slide onto the pizza stone.

Top with a little of your tomato sauce and few select toppings and a little mozzarella cheese.

Set your stone on the lowest level of the oven and preheat the oven and stone to 500 degrees.  When it has reached 500 degrees, slide your pizza off the peel and onto the stone.  Bake for 7-10 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Use the pizza peel to lift the pizza off the hot stone and enjoy!

Tomato Sauce:
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finally sliced
  • a bunch of fresh basil (*dried if not in season will work)
  • 1 14 oz. can of good-quality plum tomatoes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Place olive oil and garlic in a pan.  Heat until the garlic just starts to turn brown and add basil, tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Heat through and continue smashing the tomatoes until smooth (about 20 minutes).  Taste and add additional seasoning if necessary.

Garlic Bread: This is a Jamie Oliver recipe using the same pizza dough recipe above and a delicious treat.
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Smash the garlic up to a paste in a mortar and pestle (we own the Jamie Oliver mortar and pestle and find the size convenient and the quality amazing) and drizzle in 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Smear over the pizza base and sprinkle with fresh parsley.  Make vertical cuts through out and pull the cuts apart to reveal holes.  Sprinkle a touch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper and place in a preheated oven and pizza stone at 500 degrees until golden brown.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, cut and enjoy.


Here is my making of our amazing pizza captured in photos:

Start with a good bread flour and don't skip using the semolina flour.

Weigh the ingredients using a food scale to get the right amount.

Use a quality yeast.


Add a quality fine-ground sea salt.

Add caster Sugar to the liquid bowl of lukewarm water.

Then in goes the yeast.

I keep a little flour bowl to the side to keep my hands dusted while kneading.

This is what it looks like when the liquid has been added to the well.

Stir together using a fork being careful to not break a wall and let the liquid out.

When the liquid has been absorbed, start forming a ball with your hands.

The ball will look something like this.

Start the kneading process (like giving a great massage) for about 10 minutes.

Lightly dust the finished ball, wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

The tomato sauce ingredients.  I used a 28 oz. can of crushed Roma tomatoes.

Add the garlic and oil first until the garlic starts to brown.

Add basil, tomatoes, salt and pepper.

Place your stone on the lowest level of your oven and preheat to 500 degrees.

Get your rolling pin ready.

Throw down some semolina flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Cut a chunk of cheese from your mozzarella block.

Grate using a Microplane grater (for ease).

The cheese is ready for melting!

Roll your dough super thin.

The odder the shape the better!  It means it's real.

Get the dough rolled to about a 1/4" thick.

Place on a peel that's been dusted with more semolina flour.

Add your sauce.

Add the toppings (just cheese in this case).

Slide onto your preheated stone.

9 minutes later -- perfection!!

Look at that cheese!

The kids loved it too!  A crisp crust all the way through!

For the garlic bread we crushed the garlic cloves and olive oil in the pestle and mortar and brushed it on the dough.  Make a few slashed and pull apart for crispy baking and easier slicing when it's done.

Top with fresh parsley and sprinkle a bit of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper on top.  Slide onto your preheated stone for about 7 - 9 minutes.

Cut and serve.  Delicious!

So simple, but so amazing.

I think you will find this absolutely amazing.  I know we did.

This is obviously not gluten free.  I am still working on trying to master that one.  If you have any idea son gluten free crusts let us know.  Or, if you try this pizza recipe, let us know how you liked it!