Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

MEMORY MONDAYS

It was a sunny summer Arizona day. I was a bored 13-year-old who had a serious hankering for something sweet. I had all day with nothing to do, most of my family were off doing whatever fun activities they had set up for themselves. I decided to attempt to make cinnamon rolls. My mom made them occasionally, so I dug out her recipe and was off on my very first yeast baking experience!

As I measured out the flour and kneaded the dough, I thought, “This is easy! I could make these everyday!” I left the dough to rise. The recipe said “double”. Forget the fact that I am horrible at visual estimation, I figured 20 minutes or so would be a good amount of time, so I could get them finished before my sisters got home. After about 25 minutes, it looked like it had risen a lot…maybe it was about double.

I rolled them out (Hmmm…how thick? How thin?). I spread the melted butter and did what the recipe said to do: sprinkled sugar and cinnamon. I rolled them up and cut them and put them all side by side in one 9×13 pan. Wait, I have to let the rise AGAIN? Sheesh…   *Sigh* By this time I am dying to eat these things, and it has already taken FOREVER to make them up to this point (remember, I’m 13…an age not known for it’s patience).

I let them sit for about 10 minutes and am delighted that they look all puffy and risen. I preheat the oven and pop them in. I’m so excited to pull them out of the oven, and top them with a basic buttercream frosting (yeah, I think my sisters and I all learned to make a chocolate buttercream frosting before we could talk) and EAT THEM! Mmmmm, these are amaz…amazi…amazingly hard. Like hockey pucks. And flavorless.

It would be many, many, many, many years before I would attempt to bake with yeast again.

Through my cooking and baking adventures, I commonly hear from people “I can’t make anything with yeast”. I completely understand. I had more failures than just that teenaged cinnamon roll disaster, and I finally just decided, “I’m not a yeast baker”. Somehow the yeast baking gene skipped over me.

In college, one day, I wanted homemade cinnamon rolls. I said to myself, “People make homemade cinnamon rolls all.of.the.time. Why in the heck can’t I?” I set out to follow a recipe to-the-tee and see if I could pull it off. I did. They were fabulous. They weren’t perfect, but finding a recipe with precise directions that I followed exactly helped me get a feel for yeast baking. Over the years, as I overcame my fear of yeast failure, I’ve become pretty darn good at it.

The key to yeast baking is experience. That means lots and lots of failure. Lots of hockey pucks and doorstops and fallen breads. The more you experience the dough, the yeast, and how they react in your environment and your oven, the better you’ll get at it.

This is turning out to be a super long post, so thanks for sticking with me. CINNAMON ROLLS (that was for those who skipped all the above part and wanted to get to the pertinent info). Here’s the thing with cinnamon rolls: patience. Make them on a day you have a lot of time, you’re not in a hurry. You need to make sure they are rising as much as needed. Second: roll them thin. You know those cinnamon rolls you get in the mall? They have a ton of layers, and they are nice and soft and gooey. That’s from rolling it super thin so that you get lots of thin layers. Third: do not over stuff the pan. You’ll notice in my pictures that I only put eight rolls in a 9×13 pan. Yeast rolls actually get three times to rise. First, when you double the dough. Second, after shaping, you let them double in the pan. Third, when they cook, they expand again. If you have extra space around them, it gives them lots of room to expand, which results in a softer end product. You also want to frost them hot, straight out of the oven. The frosting will keep the rolls soft as it seeps into the hot roll. Make sure every exposed surface is covered.

GOOEY CINNAMON ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

If you haven’t yet, take your eggs out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. In a bowl, or your stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until it is frothy. Meanwhile, melt your butter and let it cool a bit. Stir the butter into the yeast mixture, then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until  the dough just comes together. Do not add too much flour, or your rolls will be tough. Knead for 5 minutes with your dough hook, or for several minutes by hand, until the dough is soft, elastic and bounces back when you touch it. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough should stay on the hook and not stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. You may need to sprinkle extra flour in every so often to keep it from sticking. Place a towel over the bowl and let sit and rise until double, about an hour.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. This is easier said than done, it takes some practice, but don’t worry too much if it has uneven edges. The key here is not the measurement given above, but that it is rolled thin. It can be bigger that 16×21. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Use a rubber scraper to spread the soft butter across the surface of the dough. Leave a 1/2 inch border just on the side farthest from you, where you will seal the roll of dough, free from butter. Evenly spread the cinnamon mixture on top of the butter. Starting at the long edge, start to roll the dough. You want it fairly tightly rolled. I tend to stretch it a bit as I go, pulling the roll towards me as I go. It’s normal to have to do one side, then the other. This is a nice, soft dough and will take some finessing to get it to roll evenly. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided. When you get to the end, pinch the edge shut as well as you can. Place the seam side down. Cut the jagged edge piece off each side. Don’t throw them away, those are rolls, too! Now, cut your nice, neat roll into 12 equal portions. I usually cut the log down the middle, then in quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. You will see all sorts of tips on cutting cinnamon rolls. The only trick you really need is to use a serrated knife (the kind with a jagged edge), and “saw” the rolls, do NOT press down with the knife, or you will mash them. If you lightly saw them with a nice, sharp, serrated knife, you won’t have any problems.

Spray your pans with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil. I typically use one 9×13 pan and one slightly smaller oblong pan that fits six rolls (remember, you have the two edge ‘reject’ rolls). You can use a 9×9 pan and ditch the reject rolls if you want, or depending on their size, combine then into one roll and place it in the middle of the 9×9 pan. You want to only put 8 rolls in the 9×13 pan, and the remaining 4-6 rolls in whatever other pan you choose. Cover each pan with a towel and let rise again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes, until light brown and moist, but not doughy on the inside (just use your psychic abilities, or use a fork to kind of pull the middle of one roll to one side to see the texture of it).

While the rolls are baking, or while they are rising, or whenever (you could pre-make this frosting and freeze it, if you want), whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Immediately frost after removing them from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes, so you don’t scorch the inside of your mouth (this is the hardest part of the recipe).

If you want fresh baked rolls for breakfast (we have them every Christmas morning), you can make these and freeze them after shaping (just get the disposable foil pans and put 6 in each pan). Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost and slowly rise in the fridge all night. Pull them out of the fridge when you wake up, preheat the oven and bake. for best results, bring to room temp before baking, but even if you don’t do that, they’ll still be amazing.

See? Not perfect! Still amazingly yummy!

Lots of space for these guys to rise.

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Spicy Honey Lime Shrimp

Do shrimp intimidate you? They used to intimidate me. I would only buy them cooked and pink, because the raw ones scared me a little. I eventually started cooking them on occasion to figure them out and discovered that they are one of the easiest and quick cooking protein sources to make. I mean, come on, they’re SHRIMP, even their name tells you how easy they are to conquer.

One thing about shrimp…the “vein”. Just so you know…that’s not a vein. It a digestive track. Yep. Think about it for a sec. Got it? Yessiree…That’s poop. No worries, though it’s contained in a little membrane and it comes out really easily. In fact, most raw shrimp that you buy is already deveined for you, and really, the poop is mostly dirt.

Shrimp are sold by the size. The number you see on the package tells you how many shrimp you would expect to see in a pound. Plus, they give each size a name. So, small shrimp have 51-60 shrimp per pound, and extra jumbo has 16-20 shrimp per pound. When you look at your shrimp to pick a size, remember that shrimp shrinks a bit when cooked. You have two choices when buying shrimp: cooked or uncooked. Cooked shrimp is pink. If you are selecting shrimp to cook and serve hot, I suggest you use raw. Shrimp cooks very fast, and gets rubbery quickly if cooked too long. Cooked shrimp is perfect if serving cold, in a salad or with cocktail sauce. Raw shrimp is typically just the tail, deveined and the shell is cut, then it’s frozen. To defrost it, leave it in your fridge overnight, or leave it under running COLD water for a while until it’s defrosted. Remember, it only takes a little heat to cook shrimp, so hot water will start to cook it, so will defrosting in a microwave. To remove the shell, hold it by the tail end and pinch it while you pull the meat out. Pinching the end should make the meat pop right out.

Now for the question: are shrimp REAL food. Well, of course. Right? Unfortunately, most shrimp you find in the store is coated with preservatives to keep it fresh, including sodium bisulfite, sodium tri-polyphosphate and sodium metabisulfite. You can read more about preservatives here. To find preservative-free shrimp, buy fresh (if you’re lucky enough to live on a coast) or buy from a natural foods market, like Whole Foods or Trader Joes. Be sure to read labels and ask questions.

Spicy Honey Lime Shrimp

2 lbs raw large, extra large or jumbo shrimp, rinsed, shelled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ” piece fresh ginger, grated (For info on grating ginger: check out this post)
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 TBS chili garlic sauce (find in the asian section of your grocery store)
1/8 cup olive oil
2 TBS cold water
1 TBS cornstarch

Be sure your shrimp is defrosted, if you bought it frozen. Under cold running water, remove shells and devein them, if necessary.

In a large bowl, place garlic, grated ginger, honey, lime juice, chili garlic sauce and olive oil. Mix well. Add shrimp, cover and place in refrigerator to marinate for 1-2 hours. The lime juice will cook and toughen the shrimp if left too long.

In a pan over medium heat, place the shrimp and marinade. Cook until shrimp are pink and opaque, about 4-6 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a platter with a slotted spoon. In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Bring the sauce in the pan to a boil and add the cornstarch, stirring continuously until thick. Pour over the shrimp and serve hot. Salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

REAL food alert: buy preservative-free shrimp. Check your chili garlic sauce for preservatives.
FREEZER alert: you can freeze this sauce and skip the marinating step, just cook shrimp and pour the reheated sauce over it.

Prepping for School

Did you miss me? This is the last week of summer for three of my four kids, and the first week my teacher husband was back to work. We spent all last week shoving every activity we planned to do this summer into a week-long family activity fest. I have several recipes coming down the pike that I made this summer, but I thought I’d change things up and use this post to tell you how I’m prepping for school to start.

The last two years, my kids have eaten hot lunches at school. It made me cringe every time they would come home and tell me what they had for lunch. Last year they even ate breakfast at school. First, let me say that our school serves above-average tasting food. They also allow for unlimited salad and fresh fruit, which is great. Our district also follows our state health policy for lunches. You know, so many servings of vegetables, “low” sugar content, a certain fiber content, etc. I acknowledge that it’s a valiant effort, and it’s definitely better than nothing. But, there are a few problems with it, in my opinion. First, the almighty Dairy Council (cue either angelic singing or a morose funeral durge, depending on your opinion) has lobbied and succeeded to make flavored milk exempt from the sugar content rule. Did you know that flavored milk has at least as much sugar as soda? Your child’s chocolate or strawberry milk has 27-31 grams of sugar per serving. Second, I believe strongly in training a palate. It’s one reason that dieting using processed foods (like, low-fat instead of full-fat pizza) will never succeed in the long run. In my family, I cook home-made, from-scratch, nutritious, flavor-packed meals. I tend to make ethnic foods from all walks of life and expect my children to experiment with taste and enjoy trying new things. My third son’s favorite meal when he was 2? Baked salmon and asparagus. The problem I have found is that within a month of eating school “healthy” food, they lose their adventurous palates and start refusing to eat my dinners. Can you blame them? They are eating processed chicken nuggets and pizza and french toast sticks for breakfast and lunch. Yeah, the pizza has a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese, and the nuggets are baked and not fried…but it still trains their palate to want to eat that type of food.

So, we decided, NO MORE! We are a processed-food-free family, I have to admit that the decision was difficult. We qualify for free meals at the school, so this is an expense we would not normally have, but we believe it is worth it. Both for the health of our kiddos, and for the peace of mealtime, the extra effort is worth it.

This post is how I am planning to do breakfast and lunches for my kids, to give them choices and give me less of a headache.

First: breakfast. I would love to say that I plan to get up and make my kids breakfast every morning. But, I’m a realist. Maybe some days I will, but in general, I just know it won’t happen. We stopped eating cereal when we stopped getting raw milk. Cereal is one of the worst breakfasts you can have. Milk has a naturally high sugar content, and cereal is mostly empty carbs (yes, there are whole grain cereals that are better). I find when we eat cereal that our blood sugar is raised, it gives us great energy, then we crash mid morning. Days that I have cereal for breakfast, it sets me into a mood swing cycle that is hard to recover from. Protein is key for us for breakfast. I have one child who won’t eat protein for breakfast, my goal for him is to lower his sugar intake for breakfast. Even though milk has protein, he responds better to oatmeal for breakfast than cereal, for some reason. We’re not fans of processed milk here, anyway, since two of our littles have dairy allergies (only to processed milk, raw milk they have no issues with. That is a post for another day…)

Three options for breakfast on days I don’t make something fresh:

#1: Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

#2: Breakfast Burritos: Scrambled eggs and natural sausage (no msg or perservatives: Jimmy Dean just came out with natural sausage that is super good!) wrapped in a tortilla and frozen. Microwave for 40 seconds to heat

# 3: Oatmeal packets: My oatmeal kid’s favorite type is apple cinnamon. I pre-make oatmeal packets using snack-sized ziploc bags. In each I put 2/3 cup whole oats, 1 TBS sucanat, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, about 1 TBS dried apple, cut into small pieces with kitchen shears. Use these just like regular oatmeal packets: add water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. I’ve also made strawberry ones, using dried strawberries. You can make whatever kind your kids like, and control the sugar amount and type yourself.

Lunch. The trick to lunch is going to be keeping them from getting bored. The plan is each lunch will have a main dish, a piece of fresh produce, a savory snack, and a sweet snack.

The sweet snack is a family favorite. The recipe is flexible and for a sweet snack, healthy in the way that it has no processed sugars, it’s low in sugar, and it’s chock full of healthy fats for energy and brain function. They are called energy bites, and the recipe is below. I make 3-4 batches and freeze them. For school, I placed 3 in each snack bag and froze the bags. Yes, it’s a lot of plastic bag waste, but I’m going for convenience here. Maybe someday I’ll be superwoman and do it all. for now, I’m satisfied feeding my kids healthy, unprocessed foods. Oh, and the reason I put them in individual bags is because it stops my kids (or me) from taking 20 every day, which they would do. They are that good.

The produce will be anything they choose from the array we have at all times, typically apples, mini carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and whatever in-season snack fruit is on sale (right now, peaches and berries).

The savory snack is typically cheese sticks or bags of pretzels. Sometimes, I may make Soft Pretzels, but I typically reserve those for an after-school snack.

The main dish, for right now, will be a choice of dinner leftovers, bean burritos (my homemade beans, cheese and salsa in a tortillas and frozen) or “Hot Pockets”, which is my Breakfast Pockets recipe, but each one is a slice of cheese and 1 slice of natural lunch meat (we like Boars’ Head Ovengold turkey breast, and Hormel’s naturals, which has an uncured ham and I just discovered an uncured salami, which has made my 11-yr old’s year).

I calculated costs and figured that it’s costing us about $2 per lunch per kid. Not too shabby.

So, whether your kiddos are back to school this week, next month or in September, you can start prepping those healthy lunches and snacks now!

ENERGY BITES

makes 35-40 bites, depending on size

1 cup natural peanut butter (check the label, the ingredients should only be peanuts and salt, or just peanuts.)
1/2 cup raw honey, or agave syrup if you prefer
2 cups whole oats
1 cup shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix the peanut butter and honey well. Add dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Roll into balls, or use a small cookie scoop (I found this to be easiest). You can refrigerate these and use within a week (Ha! They won’t last more than 2 days), or freeze.

REAL food alert: check the chocolate chips for artificial flavors.
HEALTH alert: to keep these healthy, you really need to use unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened coconut, otherwise, you might as well make cookies.
ALLERGY alert: the peanut butter can be substituted for any nut butter, like almond, or sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). You can eliminate or swap any of the add-ins (like the coconut, flaxseed and chocolate chips). You can use dried fruit, nuts, chia seeds, or anything else your imagination can come up with (try cocoa!).
VEGGIE alert: These are naturally vegan, depending on the add-ins. Eliminate the chocolate chips and add in dried fruit or vegan carob chips.

Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots

Chewy Cinnamon Ginger Cookies

TECHNIQUE TUESDAY

(okay, technically Wednesday…I’m a day behind)

So, I was recently told by a friend that I didn’t have any cookie recipes on my blog. What?!? She’s craaaaazzzzyyyy… when I was a teenager, the one thing I always made while I fantasized about being on my own cooking show was cookies.

Then I checked. Seriously? How has my blog survived for this long without a cookie recipe? Sheesh!

So, here are some IMPORTANT tips about making cookies. Seriously. Learn them. Love them. Live them.

Rule #1: Margarine, or butter spread IS NOT butter. Butter is only the stuff that says “Butter” on the label, and the ingredients are cream and salt. Or just cream, if it’s unsalted butter. Nothing else will work if your recipe calls for butter. And, to be honest, only recipes that call for butter are worth making. Sorry my vegan friends…

Rule #2: In all baking recipes that call for butter, what they mean is UNSALTED butter, unless designated. Personally, I almost always use salted, then cut the salt measurement in half. In my recipes, I tend to note salted butter, because I’m a rebel.

Rule #3: Okay, another one about butter…the butter should be room temp. It should be soft, but not melty. I take my butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before making cookies. You can take your eggs out at the same time, as I have read countless remarks by professional bakers that eggs should always be room temp (though I have made thousands of cookies with cold eggs in my lifetime that were pretty dang good). You should be able to press into the butter easily, but it should not completely collapse or fall apart when you touch it. If you HAVE TO use the micro, zap it for 6 seconds or so, then whip it with your mixer until it’s smooth and has no lumps before adding your sugar.

Rule #4: MIXING: This is KEY to tender cookies. When mixing in the dry ingredients (quick lesson on cookie making: it will almost always go like this: Beat together sugar and butter, add egg and vanilla, mix in “dry” ingredients, then fold in chunks). DO NOT over mix. (YES, I realize that I MAY be overUSING my caps button…But these things are IMPORTANT! I take cookie baking VERY seriously).

For perfect cookies that aren’t tough, mix dry ingredients just until the flour almost disappears…so you still see some remnants of flour (not big chunks, but sprinkling throughout) in your dough. Stop mixing (especially if you are using a stand or hand mixer). Now is when you add your chunks: fruit, chocolate chips, nuts (heaven forbid…nuts do not belong in cookies, you crazy person). Then  finish the mixing BY HAND. Do not overmix the dough.

Rule #5: Pull the cookies out when the outside is cooked, but the inside is still moist. They will still be cooking when you pull them out of the oven, and will finish cooking as they cool. I posted pictures on this. You should still be able to see a glistening of moisture in the cracks, but the outside is cooked and the edges are firm. If you are a novice to cookie baking, this takes some observation and practice. Pretty soon, you’ll know exactly how they should look when it’s time to take them out.

Rule #6: This is a bonus baking rule that popped into my mind while writing the above rule. The time given in a recipe is an ESTIMATE. Everyone’s oven is different, everyone lives in a different climate (well, except for those who live in the same climate as you, you know what I mean…), the ingredient measurements will vary slightly, different pans cook differently, etc. You should use the time as a guideline, but your nose and your eyes, and sometimes your hands, have the final say on when something is done. I always trust my nose. As soon as I start to smell whatever I’m baking, I go check on it. If you’re making a cake or quick bread, use a knife or wooden skewer or toothpick to see if the inside is done. For cookies, start checking 2 minutes before the designated time. so, for these cookies, start checking at 8 minutes. They could go as long as 12 minutes, depending on your oven, etc.

Speaking of THESE cookies…

These are a crowd pleaser. They are something different when you don’t have chocolate chips and aren’t in the mood for peanut butter cookies or snickerdoodles. They are crisp on the outside and perfectly chewy on the inside and have just the right amount of spice and sweetness. They are perfect with a tall glass of cold milk. (But, who am I kidding, aren’t all cookies)?

CHEWY CINNAMON GINGER COOKIES

1 cup salted butter (or you can use unsalted and add 1/4 tsp of salt), room temp
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 TBS molasses
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 TBS cinnamon
1/2 TBS ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a stand mixer, beat your butter and sugar for 3 minutes until it’s fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and molasses and mix well. Add in your flour, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Mix only until the flour is mostly incorporated. Finish the mixing by hand, and stop immediately when the flour disappears. Drop by heaping spoonfuls on a foil- or parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack.

Technique Tuesday: Whipping Cream

When I was a little girl, I didn’t know cool whip existed. Every Thanksgiving, my mom would make fruit salad with whipped cream. I grew up knowing the tricks: chill the bowl, make sure it’s clean, etc. Nowadays, they add stabilizers to the cream we buy in the grocery store that helps it whip and stay whipped, but I still think knowing the old school tips is important to avoid a runny mess instead of billowing peaks of sweet cream.

First, when you go to the store to buy whipping cream, you’ll notice a few different types. There is “Whipping Cream” which is 30% butterfat. It will whip just fine if you use the tips I’ll share, but it takes longer, and doesn’t hold up as well in the fridge (like for leftover pumpkin pie). It tends to deflate and separate a little. But, it still works. Heavy Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream has a higher butterfat content. It whips easily and hold up better for longer lengths of time. You may see “Bavarian Style” Heavy Whipping Cream. This is Heavy whipping cream with added sugar and vanilla flavorings. You may also see a difference in pasteurization. Cream comes in pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized. The better choice is pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized is not as stable once whipped, but can stay in your fridge for longer. Unless you plan to buy cream in bulk and store it in your fridge for many months, there is no reason to buy the ultra-pasteurized. Also, the normal pasteurized has better flavor and texture.

When it comes to whipping, it’s all about two things: cold and clean. Any oil in your bowl or on your beaters will impede the cream from whipping. Also, the colder your cream, bowl and beaters, the quicker the process. If you have a metal bowl, you can stick it in the fridge or freezer while prepping other food item to speed up the whipping process. It’s important to watch the cream while whipping. If you whip it too long, it turns to butter (yep, that’s what butter is, churned cream). If real whipped cream is new to you, understand that it is not sweetened (unless you get the bavarian style). You can add powdered sugar to it, a little at a time, while whipping, until it’s desired sweetness. You can also add honey or liquid extracts while whipping to flavor it.

On to the whipping!! Easy: pour it in a bowl, beat on highest speed until thick. Knowing what “thick” means is the trick, and comes with practice. Hopefully, my pictures will help you.

Pour cream into your bowl (clean and cold). Be sure you have a large bowl. Cream can up to quadruple it’s volume when whipped.

Turn your beaters onto the highest speed. Following are pictures taken at various stages:

At this point, you may think it’s done. Keep going until it looks like this:

See how strong the structure is? It piles up in little mounds, but isn’t butter (yet). That’s what you want it to look like.

Here is another view of how it looks on the beaters:

It’s thick, but still “drips” in it’s form.

The form is right, it’s mounding instead of dripping, but is still pretty soft.

See the difference in the thickness? It holds it’s shape, and doesn’t fall through the beaters. that’s what you want. The trick is to not keep going and make butter. If you do, throw some salt and honey in it and make cornbread for dinner!

 

Technique Tuesday: Cutting a Mango

We love mangos. They can be a pain in the tush to eat, though. You can peel them and gnaw the flesh off the seed while juice drips down your chin and fibers get stuck in your teeth. You can peel them and then attempt to slice the flesh off while it slips out of your hands over and over again and soon your counter top is awash is sticky orange goodness. How in the world do you eat these things?

First, info on mangoes: with all produce, you know if it’s good by smelling it. That’s what you hear all of the time. The problem is, in our crazy society, they refrigerate produce in order to extend its life and ship it to places it doesn’t grow. When I go to my grocery store to buy mangoes, they almost always are fairly cold and you can’t smell any scent coming off of them. That makes it difficult to find which ones are ripe and which ones are just bruised. First: color is not always an indicator of ripeness. It can be mostly green on the outside and still ripe. There are also different varieties that are different colors, from green and red, to orange and yellow. You want to avoid mangoes with blemishes or dark spots. Gently press and feel if it’s soft, but not mushy. That indicates a ripe mango. Mango season is summer, so try to make your mango dishes then, when the mangoes are the freshest.

On to the cutting! The mango is oblong. A long skinny seed runs most of the length of the mango, and it’s about 1/3- 1/4 of the width. Start by setting your mango on end on a cutting board. Cut through the skin and as close to the seed as you can (without nicking the seed), slicing off one side.

I tend to cut concave, not straight, to get as much of the flesh as possible. Next, do the same for the other side.

Now, take each half-moon side and score the flesh to the desired size. I like big chunks, but you can cut small dice size if you need to.

From here, I push the skin up (see pic) then use my fingers (but you can use a spoon, if you’re so inclined. I’m lazy and don’t like washing extra dishes) to dislodge the pieces from the skin. The last step is optional, and depends on your mango. Sometimes it’s not worth the effort, but there is still flesh attached to the seed, mostly along the sides where there is still skin attached.

To get that yummy goodness, first, cut through the last piece of skin and peel it off (like above). Then, slice off any remaining flesh from the seed. I tend to do this at an angle, so you’re not cutting chunks of seed off.

Repeat until you’ve cut off all of the flesh you can. The closer to the seed, the more fibrous the flesh is, so you can totally skip this step if you want. I don’t like to get too close to the seed, personally. I’ve also had mangoes that don’t have much left over. This one was very ripe and had plenty.

I would say that you’re done, but then I’d skip my husband’s favorite part of cutting mangoes: gnawing what’s left off the seed. We never throw the seed away until hubby or a kiddo gets their paws on it and chews every last fibrous piece off the pit. (I spared you that picture). Did I mention we love mangoes in our house?

Our journey via an elimination diet…

People have various paths to changing to an all-real food diet. Sometimes it’s for health, sometimes it’s a more global reason, and many times it’s because your body or your child’s body seems to be off and you’re desperately trying to figure out what’s going on with it. Lately, many people have been asking me our story.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, he started kindergarten. We started having issues with the teacher. When he was in preschool, I knew he was different, and he started stuttering over words, but it was sporadic, and my mommy intuition told me something was different and off, it wasn’t just a speech issue. He had days were he was insanely impulsive and energetic, and his eyes seemed glazed over. Other days it was like my child was “back”. I could see him clearly. I started feeling like there was a food connection. I don’t know why, just instinctively I started asking him what he ate for lunch on days he was “glazed over”. It wasn’t long before the teachers were suggesting “ADHD”, and I was researching for hours online. We started noticing odd vocalizations, a coughing noise, tongue clicking, a squeak. I discovered the terms “spirited” and “sensory processing disorder” as I started listing things that set him off (odd textures, windy days, standing or sitting too close to someone, bright light, loud noises). Finally, because we had an obstinate kinder teacher who refused to work with us or him (the kid started kindergarten already reading and she expected him to quietly sit and color princess coloring sheets, can we at the very least get some super hero ones? No wonder he’s acting out…), we decided to take him to a pediatrician. I knew I would not put him on meds and searched for a pediatrician who I felt would work with us. We were insanely blessed to find an Integrative Medicine Pediatrician who specialized in treating kids with “ADHD” who didn’t want to be medicated. The very first thing he did was put him on a fish oil supplement, and start him on a multiple food elimination diet, to see if the behaviors were food-related. Then he referred us to a neurologist for a possible Tourette’s diagnosis.

To know if your body is allergic to a food, there are blood tests that can be done, or prick tests. These tests are not extremely reliable, they produce both false negatives and false positives. If the reaction to a food is behavior based, the only sure-fire way to determine if it’s food related is to systematically remove foods from your diet and see if the symptoms subside. This is very time consuming if you take one food out at a time. Also, if your body reacts to multiple foods, you’re wasting your time. The best way to determine what foods you are reacting to, is to remove most possible foods at once, the reintroduce them. This is called a multiple food elimination diet. The one we used, and have shared with countless others suffering from behavioral issues, spectrum disorders, eczema, rashes, chronic stomach trouble, chronic allergies or colds, IBS, GERD and other issues, is listed below. Essentially, you remove all major allergen foods for 2-4 weeks, until the symptoms subside. Within two weeks, our son emerged, and stayed with us. No more glazed over eyes, no more angry outbursts, and a dramatic reduction in impulsivity and energy level. He still had tics and still has sensory issues, and did receive diagnoses for both Tourette’s Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder. But, once we separated his food-related behavior from the other two, we could begin to give him the tools he needed to overcome and thrive with his TS and SPD. We discovered through the diet that he was especially sensitive to artificials, especially MSG and Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite. In addition, he was allergic to soy. As long as we kept soy and additives out of his diet, his “ADHD” behavior was gone. Many doctors re now suggesting kids with “ADHD” or on the autism spectrum eat a gluten- and dairy-free diet. Personally, I feel that many people see success with this either because the child is, indeed, reacting to either gluten, wheat, or dairy, or because with that diet, most processed foods are eliminated, which eliminates a host of other possible allergen foods. To me, it makes more sense to TEST your child and figure out what they personally react to.

Since doing the diet, six years ago, I’ve spent a good portion of my time cooking our meals from scratch. After strictly eliminating soy from my son’s diet for several years, he now can eat most everything, except for soy sauce and straight soybeans. We still attempt to eliminate additives and artificials and eat as clean as possible, but he has more flexibility in his eating, which is great for a social pre-teenager. Our pediatrician moved to California a little while after we started our journey, and I just discovered that he published a book to help parents of kids with “ADHD”. We will forever be grateful to him for his help on putting us on our path to better health, and our son’s path to success.

This diet will work with absolutely any condition you think may be food related. Within a few weeks, you’ll know for sure if it is (well, if it’s any of the foods you are removing). It can be difficult, especially for kids. There can be absolutely NO cheating, not even a little bit, for it to work. We find it’s easiest to do when the kids are out of school, and try to work it around holidays.

ELIMINATION DIET

Eliminate the following foods completely from your diet for up to 4 weeks, or until the symptoms completely subside. If the symptoms don’t go away, they are not due to a food allergy (at least for these foods, which are all of the common allergens). If they do go away, and you have been on the diet for at least 14 days, bring one food back in to your diet. If the symptoms are still gone after 5 days of eating the new food, it is safe to bring in another food. Do this for each food item. If the symptoms return after introducing an item, that may be the culprit. Eliminate that item again until the symptoms go away again. Continue to bring in the other foods on the list one by one to see if any other foods may also be causing the problem.

Dairy (including Casein)
Gluten
Yeast
Wheat
Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit)
Corn (including corn starch and other corn products)
Nuts (including peanuts-even though it’s really a legume)
Eggs
Soy (including soy lecithin)
Seafood
Artificial additives : avoid all artificial color, flavor, preservatives and sweeteners
Any meat you eat should be uncured (you can tell cured meat by the ingredients ending in “nitrite” or “nitrate”: typically ham, hot dogs, bacon, sausage and some deli meats)

Eat as “clean” as possible. Eat organic when possible. Check ALL labels. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Eat rice pasta, rice bread, Boars Head brand deli turkey and chicken, a lot of fruit and veggies, lean natural meat.

A Small Request

You may have read my previous post on preservatives. Not included in that list are other toxins that are in the packaging that our food comes in contact with. One of those which has received attention lately is bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that is used to make plastic containers and to line metal cans (including baby formula cans). Research has shown that some of it may leach into the food that comes in contact with it, especially acidic foods, like canned tomatoes. Research has also shown some evidence linking BPA exposure to various health concerns, including neurological problems, endocrine disruption (this involves hormones, especially problematic in fetuses and infants), insulin resistance and cancer.

Click here to send a form letter (super easy!!) to the president of the FDA.

Your kids will thank you.

Preservatives

Today I was cleaning out my pantry. In my bread basket, I found a package of english muffins. I was horrified.

I really don’t have anything against english muffins. I love, them, actually…straight out of the toaster smothered in butter and peanut butter…mmmm…

I was horrified because I had purchased these particular english muffins more than a month earlier…and they were still “fresh”…no mold to be found. Ick. How many chemicals did they have to pump into those english muffins to accomplish that? Horrified.

Preservatives are added to foods to extend its life, by preventing bacterial or fungal growth or preventing oxidation, which leads to discolorization or rancidity. Preservatives are also used on some produce to delay spoilage.

Some Common Preservatives You Should be Aware of:

BHA/BHT: Used in foods high in fats, cereals, baked goods, chewing gum, potato chips and meats. Keeps meat from discoloring, keeps food from going rancid. These cause cancer in lab animals and the U.S. Dept of Health classifies it as being “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Some countries have restricted or banned their use in food.

Potassium Bromate: Used in baked goods, specifically bread, to improve texture and make it rise higher. It is also used in the production of malt barley. Its is a known carcinogen that has been banned in several countries. Its use in the U.S. is restricted, and bakers are “encouraged” to voluntarily not use it. (!!) This is justified, because under the right baking conditions, it is used up when the bread is baked. However, fluctuations in temperature or baking time means that it may still remain in the baked product. Also look for “bromated flour” in the ingredients on your bread…or make your bread from scratch. 🙂

Propyl Gallate: Used in high-fat foods. It is also used in cosmetics and toothpaste. It inhibits oxidation in oils. This is a suspected carcinogen that has been banned in many countries. It also increases estrogen levels, can create stomach irritation, skin irritation, and asthma attacks.

Sodium Benzoate: Used in beverages, pickles, salad dressings, jams & jellies, margarine, pre-made burger patties, fast food hamburgers. Although research is currently inconclusive, some evidence shows that when sodium benzoate combines with vitamin C (found in many soft drinks and jellies), it forms benzene, which is a carcinogen. It has been linked with hyperactivity in children, as well as DNA damage.

Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite: Used in cured meats, including bacon, smoked sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, etc. Prevents bacterial growth and discolorization. Nitrate is a natural salt. Synthetic nitrite is nitrate that is chemically processed.  Nitrite is more worrisome than nitrate, it is a known toxin in high amounts. Both can combine with chemicals in the stomach to create nitrosamine, a highly carcinogenic substance. They also create nitrosamine when charred, like when you grill your hot dogs. It is also possible that the curing process itself turns some of the nitrite/nitrate into nitrosamine. Nitrite has been linked to migraines, COPD, neurological conditions, diabetes and behavior issues in children. Synthetic nitrite is allowed to contain heavy metals, lead and arsenic. If you have a history of cancer in your family, you would be wise to avoid this.  It is important to note that nitrite does naturally occur in some foods, especially vegetables. You can find “uncured” hot dogs, sausage and bacon that instead use celery juice in the curing process. These are still cured, but do not use the synthetic nitrates. There is still a possiblity the body reacts the same way to the natural nitrites as the do the synthetic…but if you MUST have bacon (and…sometimes we must), “uncured” bacon is definitely a step or two up.

Sulfites (Bisulfites/Metabisulfites/Sulfur Dioxide): Used in wine, dried fruit, dried potatoes, and bottled lemon juice.  It inhibits bacterial growth and fruit discolorization. Some people are allergic or highly sensitive to sulfites. It may cause breathing problems in those who are sensitive. It is also known to destroy vitamin B1, which is needed to metabolize carbs and alcohol. If you have weird reactions to various foods, sulfite sensitivity may be the culprit.

TBHQ: Used in oils, high-oil foods, and frozen fish. It is shown to have negative affects on lab animals in high doses, such as DNA damage and tumors. Studies contradict and more studies are needed before it is labelled a carcinogen. There is strong evidence that it is related to stomach cancer.

Monosodium-Gross-amate

MSG. We hear a lot about it. Many people think ‘Chinese Food’ when they hear it, because there was a lot of hoopla about added MSG in Chinese food years ago.

So, what’s the deal? What is it? Is it bad for us?

Monosodium Glutamate is a naturally occurring chemical compound. What? It’s natural? Yep…so is arsenic.

Basically, it is an amino acid that reacts with brain chemicals that tells your brain “this stuff tastes amazingly good” when you eat it. It’s similar to what salt does, but at a much higher degree (about five times, from the research I’ve read). Glutamate is naturally occurring in various foods. Monosodium Glutamate is an additive that is added to packaged food and some meats. It is created when the amino acids in protein are broken down and separated. This is generally done through microbial or bacterial fermentation, or through use of hydrochloric acid. The bacteria is typically genetically engineered, and beets or corn are common crops used.

So, what’s the problem?

First, MSG spikes glutamate levels in the blood very quickly, unlike naturally occurring glutamate in foods. This means that the same amount of the additive is not processed the same way as the same amount as the naturally-occuring substance. This could propose a problem in regards to how the body processes the msg, and it may create a toxicity problem in the brain.

Second, MSG is considered an “excitotoxin”, which is basically a toxin that stimulates the brain to the point of possible damage. When the excitotoxin levels that stimulate a neuron do not decrease after a period of time, or increase, the neuron actually kills itself. You can see how this is a problem with MSG, but not naturally occurring glutamate, since the levels spike quickly, instead of slowly processing over time.

The FDA has classified MSG as “generally regarded as safe”, which means that it is safe for the general population, under ‘normal’ use. That excepts those with glutamate allergies or sensitivities. One problem is that no standard of safe amounts has been determined for MSG, and the amount being eaten by those who eat a large amount of processed and fast food has greatly increased since the FDA classification back in the 1950’s. Because each person reacts differently, it is difficult to set a limit.

MSG has been linked to neurological conditions, heart conditions, and diabetes. Many parents of kids with neuro conditions, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD have seen positive changes in their kids when removing MSG from their diets. Personally, it is one additive we avoid like the plague.

MSG and other additives that act like it in the body go by various names:

monosodium glutamate

glutamic acid

hydrolyzed protein (anything that says “hydrolyzed” is probably going to be an excitotoxin)

autolyzed yeast extract

disodium inosinate

disodium guanylate

amino acids

natural flavor (yeah, this is a biggie, you never know if it’s msg or not)