Friday, March 27, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

MERCURY. Mercury, you say in high fructose corn syrup? Egad, yet another source of this toxic metal, and yet another reason to avoid this processed sweetener. Found in not only obviously unhealthy foods such as soda, high fructose corn syrup is also found in yogurt, soups, ketchup, cereals and even breads, almost any processed food and unfortunately, in foods kids love and eat every day. Mercury intake seemed controllable when we only had to worry about how much, how often, and what types of sea food we consumed, but when it starts to show up in our staple foods, how can we know how much our kids are consuming? Change the staple foods you buy. Vote with your consumer dollars and refuse to buy foods with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list, especially those foods your kids consume in quantity. For example, it might be hard to find a super market ketchup that contains sugar, but given the small amount your kids consume at one time, it is of less concern than say, yogurt. Next time you buy yogurt, look at the label, see what you are actually buying, is it filled with corn sweeteners, thickeners, and things you cannot pronounce in an ingredient list more than an inch long? My yogurt has two ingredients: organic whole milk and live active cultures. If we want to sweeten it, we add honey, and as far as I know, that's mercury free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group recently updated their list of the Dirty Dozen- those fruits and vegetables that have the highest levels of pesticide residue. Very little changed since last year's list. Kale and Carrots replaced Spinach and Potatoes. That's not to say that Spinach and Potatoes are now on the clean list. They just fell off the top 12 and are now the 14th and 15th most contaminated. Click on the title of this post to find the full list and see how your favorite vegetables ranked.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One-Day Whole Grain Bread

My Grandma used to make a bread called "colonial bread" that was similar to a peasant bread in that it contained mostly all-purpose flour with a little whole grain for added flavor and texture. In this case, the whole grain was corn meal and whole wheat and rye flours.

The rising food prices of last summer provoked me to unearth my bread maker, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to work right anymore. The bread was not rising, so I would end up with a heavy loaf that was about half the size it was supposed to be. I was using the same recipes I had in the past, so I bought new yeast, retested the recipes and again ended up with the same disappointing results. The breadmaker was about ten years old, so perhaps it had made its last loaf. I decided I didn't need a bread machine and dug out my bread books and favorite recipes and resolved to make bread the old fashioned way- using my KithenAid Stand Mixer.

I came across my grandma's colonial bread recipe and noticed a very unique step in the process she used. It started with boiling water. Boiling water can be a disaster in a bread recipe if you add the yeast at the wrong time. Water at boiling or even close to boiling temperature will kill yeast and leave you with an unleavened lump of a loaf. To prevent this from ending in disaster, the recipe calls for an equal amount of COLD water to be added before the yeast is finally mixed in. To contrast this method, I found that many of the breads that contain a whole grain (at least one that has not been milled to a flour), start with a soaker consisting of a grain and some liquid that stands overnight. According to Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, "Its purpose is to activate the enzymes in the grains in order to break out some of the trapped sugars from the starches. It also softens the coarse grain." The boiling water method my grandma used seemed to shorten the time needed for "soaking" the coarsely milled grains, allowing me to make bread the same day I set my mind to it, which makes it that much simpler when your trying to work around naptimes.

The following recipe has evolved from what I have on hand in the freezer, so feel free to supplement other grains as desired. This recipe calls for use of a stand mixer, but you'll need a larger mixer fitted with a 5 or 6 quart bowl. (I have the professional 6) If you have a smaller stand mixer, such as an Artisan the recipe can easily be halved to make one large loaf. If you do not have a stand mixer, use a large mixing bowl to soak the whole grains and then add the flours, cold water and yeast and mix with your hands. Then finish by hand kneading on your counter top. It'll be much harder work, but you may find it to be therapeutic!

One Day Multi-Grain Bread
Makes 2 ten inch or 3 eight inch loaves

In a small bowl, mix together, then set aside:
1/2 cup warm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast

In a 5 or 6 quart bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl) combine and let stand for 10 minutes:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flax seed meal
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt or 2 Tablespoons table salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups boiling water

Fit the bowl onto your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the following ingredients (or work the remaining ingredients in by hand in a large mixing bowl):

4 cups whole wheat flour
5 + cups all purpose or bread flour
2 cups cold water

Mix with the dough hook until combined and the dough is just warm and no longer hot, then add the yeast dissolved in the 1/2 cup of warm water. Continue to knead with the dough hook on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, adding additional all purpose or bread flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. It should stick slightly to the bottom but clear the sides. When finished kneading, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the risen dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two (or three, depending on the size of your loaf pans) equally sized pieces. Form round balls, spray them with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Season your loaf pans with a thin coating of spray oil, then lightly flatten the balls and roll into a loaf shape pinching the loose seam-end into the dough and place each loaf into a prepared pan seam-side down. Spray the loaves lightly with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of your oven, about 30 to 35 minutes for 3 eight inch loaves or 45 minutes for 2 ten inch loaves. They should be lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped.

Cool on a cooling rack in the pans until they can be handled, then remove from the pans. I would tell you to allow them to cool before eating, but this never really happens in practice, and there is nothing like fresh baked bread straight from the oven, so enjoy!

The extra loaves freeze very well. I usually use one immediately and freeze the second. Allow them to cool completely (overnight if necessary), then bag and freeze.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Chai Latte

Chai means "tea" to much of the world, but to the English speaking, coffee house frequenting set, Chai has come to mean spiced tea. Enjoyed for centuries in South Asia, Masala Chai is the Hindi term for what is usually black tea with a mixture of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and nutmeg. Our neighborhood coffee houses along with the corporate chains have all popularized chai with their own version of a "chai latte" or "chai tea latte". Similar to a traditional cafe latte consisting of espresso and steamed milk, a chai latte replaces the espresso with concentrated black tea and spices. Over the past few years, I've managed to try quite a few chai lattes and they range from a spicy, rich, creamy, sweet concoction to what tastes like watery tea with milk.

Chai has also made it onto our grocer's shelves with instant powdered mixes as well as pre-made drinks you just pour and heat or pour over ice for a iced chai latte. I've purchased some of the instant powdered mixes and have used my espresso machine to make freshly frothed milk recreating the rich, creamy coffee house experience to a T for a fraction of the price and in the comfort of my own home, when I want it (often at naptime). In fact, I've seen the coffee houses use some of the same instant powdered mixes. Unfortunately, these mixes include one unacceptable ingredient- non-dairy creamer. The opposite of everything that is good and wholesome, non-dairy creamer is derived from corn and in my opinion, is an unnecessary ingredient in a world with cows. The mixes also contain nonfat dried milk, which allows them to be mixed with water to produce a milk based drink. Neither of these ingredients were necessary for my purposes as I was frothing fresh milk for my chai latte which would give me a milky, creamy latte. I therefore decided to concoct my own mix using instant tea and only the necessary ingredients, none of the fake stuff. I purchased a jar of unsweetened Nestea, sold as an instant iced tea mix, it's only ingredient is tea and it comes in regular or decaffeinated. To tbe instant tea, I added a mixture of sugar and spices, tasting for sweetness and the correct spice balance. The first batch, I found to be a little too strong with cloves, but the second time, I halved the cloves and found it to be exactly what I was shooting for.

Chai Latte Mix
1 cup unsweetened instant tea
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Stir all ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.
To make a latte, mix 3 spoonfuls (or more or less to taste) of the mix with 8 ounces hot or steamed milk. Enjoy!

Note- If you prefer to use an alternative sweetener like agave syrup or honey, (of course I don't mean a fake chemical one) you could omit the sugar and add your preferred sweetener to taste when you make your latte.