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Zoe & Luca’s Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

ChocChip Oatmeal

At long last, here’s a healthier version of the beloved Chocolate Chip Cookie.

  • 1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons of Chia Seeds (optional)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup of coconut oil (if want to use less oil, substitute 1/4 cup oil for applesauce)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips (I used premium baking chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together dry ingredient in a bowl (except choc chips).  Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Gently fold the wet ingredients into dry, if batter seems too dry, add a little more coconut oil or applesauce). Fold in chocolate chips.  Place parchment paper on baking pan and make teaspoon or tablespoon size balls with dough.  Please 1″ apart on pan and bake for about 10 min.  You can easily double this batter as well.  Enjoy!

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Easter Cards (and Basket Tags)

I like to make cards for the kids instead of buying them because I think they are more special. Plus, I can use things I already have in my craft cabinet. What? It’s not like I forgot to buy Easter cards or anything. No way! So, I decided to make ribbon eggs and tie them to their Easter baskets. Too bad they will think the Easter Bunny spent an hour making them instead of good old mom!

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All you need is:

  • ribbon
  • white card stock
  • blank notecards
  • glue
  • scissors

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Simply cut your egg shapes from the white card stock and glue strips of ribbon on them. You could also use paint, stickers, markers, stamps, etc to decorate your eggs. Next, glue your eggs to the blank notecards and add a note from the Easter Bunny on the back of each card.

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Add your child’s name or initial to the card and these serve as both an Easter card and a basket nametag. Tie the tags to your baskets with some twine or ribbon and… voila!

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I Have Had Enough!

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 11.12.21 PMLast week, I came across this article on the dairy industry and how farmers are lobbying Congress to add ASPARTAME to milk so that kids would drink it more often, avoiding the need to add calories.  Yes, A-S-P-A-R-T-A-M-E in your child’s school lunch milk.  (Quick refresher, aspartame breaks down into various toxic chemicals in our body, one being formaldehyde)  Oh, and here’s the best part, they want special permission not to have to disclose that aspartame is in the milk!   And just to sweeten the deal, they included other dairy products in this “bill”, like yogurt, sour cream, half and half, etc.  So someday soon, you may go buy some yogurt for your child that has been sweetened with aspartame, but you won’t even know it, because it will not be on the label.

Two days after that disturbing piece, I read about all of the toxic ingredients in new KFC kids meals that are being marketed as “healthy”, but are loaded with chemicals — even the green beans have MSG.  Not to mention the insane amount of calories and sodium for a kids meal: 900 calories and 1000g of sodium!

Fast forward a few days to last Sunday night, and Dateline has a segment on all of the toxins in our home, such as BPA in cans and plastic; Phthalates in just about every product we use that says “fragrance or parfum”; and Triclosan, a controversial antibacterial agent used in everything from toothpaste to hand soap.  Triclosan is the antibacterial chemical used in the Dial soaps — even those cute Hello Kitty ones marketed at kids.  Here’s where it gets ugly, Triclosan penetrates the skin on contact and enters the bloodstream.  Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and when mixed with chlorine in our tap water, creates chloroform, a probable human carcinogen.  So, brushing your teeth or washing your hands with products that contain Triclosan and using tap water at the same time can cause cancer.  Are you kidding me!!!!

Since when did it become okay to “enhance” food with chemicals and toxins and feed it our kids?  Kids whose bodies are growing and need nutrition, not toxins.  Kids whose behavior and development are being affected by all of the awful things that these irresponsible food companies are putting in their food!  Why does the FDA allow “probable” carcinogens to be added to soaps and toothpaste that is made for and marketed to kids? Do the people that are creating these products not have kids themselves?  Do they just convince themselves that all the studies are incorrect?  At what point will these companies man up and take action?  When will they realize that the drastic increase in allergies, autism, ADHD and a slew of other childhood illnesses are not accidental?  These irresponsible companies are making our children sick.  Worst of all, they are making our children sick in order to make more money for themselves and their shareholders.  How did we get to point where profits are more important than our children’s health and well being?  Hey listen, I am an entrepreneur.  I get corporate profits.  But I also know that a company can achieve both — do what’s right for it’s consumer and for it’s shareholders.  Maybe their margins will be squeezed a bit, but so what?

Stop using Triclosan and all the other known toxins in health and beauty products. Stop (falsely) advertising food that is laced with a dozen chemicals as healthy.  Stop trying make the already unhealthy school lunches, even less healthy.  Stop putting your corporate profits above my child’s well being.  Stop lying to us. Enough.

 

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triclosan

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Easter Egg Birdhouses

So yesterday it was snowing. That’s right. It was snowing the week of Easter. Not only was it snowing, but my kids are also off from school this week. This meant trying to keep them occupied inside because it was too cold to go outside and ride their new scooters (bummer).

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A craft was definitely in order, but I didn’t feel like running to the store to buy supplies. I remembered seeing these peep houses and thinking how cute they would be to house Easter eggs. Can you believe that I already had everything I needed to make them in my pantry and craft cabinet? What are the chances? So I got out the paints, eggs, graham crackers, cookie icing, and sprinkles.

I decided to blow out the contents of the eggs instead of boiling them. Who has time for that? Plus, I was in the mood for scrambled eggs for lunch! Because the eggs shells are delicate, a few of our eggs “hatched.” Oops. Errr, I mean that was totally intentional. Instead of dyeing the eggs, I let the kids paint them, and I think the end result was pretty amazing.

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Next, I assembled the graham cracker birdhouses. I have to admit that I’m probably the worst graham cracker birdhouse builder ever. I’m too impatient to wait for the base to dry before putting on the roof, which means I have to rebuild each birdhouse about 20 times. And see all that drippy icing? These are what I like to call “rustic” birdhouses. You could even assemble them with peanut butter, decorate with birdseed, and put them outside after Easter for the birds. We have a peanut allergy in our house, so we stuck to the cookie icing version.

Once they dried I put a little Easter grass inside and a painted egg and put them on our fireplace mantle. Cute, right?! I think they would also look adorable as a centerpiece or grouped together on a cake stand.

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If we were going to decorate the mantle, we needed a garland to hang too. I picked up these flowers from the dollar bin at Target awhile ago with no purpose in mind…

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and realized they would be perfect for a festive spring garland. I simply tied them to some jute twine and hung the garland on the mantle.

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It may not feel like Spring outside, but it certainly does in our house!

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MEGAN MONDAY: Spring Cleaning – Some Toxic Weaning

laundryOK, so I know some of my articles have caused minor mom meltdowns, slightly freaking you out or making you think you need to HAZMAT your entire house.  While giving you a heart attack or major guilt trip is not my intention, but catching your attention to educate you on a few issues is, so here it goes with dropping the knowledge about something that we do on a daily basis – laundry and clean our house.  With spring already here (well, OK, maybe not weather-wise, but you get my point), many of you will want to start tearing apart your homes like rabid squirrels to wash away the winter nasties and purge whatever has been hoarded in every nook and cranny.  As tempting as it may be to blast every square inch with the heaviest duty cleaners out there, in addition to concocting acidic baths for your family’s clothes to bore out stains and smells, it’s time we all learned a bit about what these products are doing to our bodies…and more of a concern, the sensitive and growing bodies of our children who are exposed to all of our cleaning quandaries.

First up… LAUNDRY.  Now, if you grew up like I did, there was no question about what went in the washing machine: Tide detergent, Clorox 2, and Snuggle fabric softener (or similar brands).  I would recall my mother going into a frenzy if she realized she missed the rinse cycle to add the fabric softener.  It was like she had radar when it was about to hit spin cycle.  We’d even be out at the store and she’d turn pale white.  “Oh my God. I FORGOT to put the FABRIC SOFTENER in the washer.  Now I have to do the laundry all over again.”  I never really understood it as a kid, other than our laundry smelled nice and those towels better have come out of the dryer fluffy as could be, or they’d have to deal with my mother.  The Tide/Clorox 2/Snuggle gleesome threesome followed its way to college with me, then to every post I held as an adult since.  Until I became a health coach and realized that I was pretty much washing my clothes in chemicals that probably attributed to my lifetime of eczema and itchy, dry skin no matter how much lotion I slathered all over my body (which was also laced with tons of chemicals…hah…can’t escape it!).  As I mentioned in earlier articles, our skin is our largest organ, and well, our clothes cover most of our skin.  When we repeatedly wash and douse our clothes with chemicals that permeate the fabrics that mummify us, especially in winter months, we technically are exposing our skin to all of those chemicals, as they are absorbed through into our bodies.  An inquisitive child, I always wondered why babies got preferential treatment for their laundry; why did they get a special detergent?  I recall asking this of my aunt and mother when my cousin was born.  They answered, “Well, the other detergent is too harsh on the baby’s skin and can cause a rash.”  My brain started  ticking.  What made a baby’s skin that much different than my own?  A few years?  Well, as it seems after all of my research, we should all be treating our skin like a baby’s.

It turns out that all the fancy colors and fragrances that make mainstream detergents the way they are is due to all kinds of synthetic chemicals that not only destroy our water supply when they rinse down our drains, but they can really do a number on YOU.  Here is just a sampling of what’s in mainstream laundry detergents (SOURCE: Natural News):

Phenols: Deemed toxic by the National Health Institute, phenols can cause damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver. They are very easily absorbed into the skin, making them especially dangerous. Phenols have been linked to serious health conditions and even death.

Optical brighteners: These are a popular new ingredient in commercial detergents. They trick the eye by altering ultraviolet wavelengths to make clothes look whiter. The result may be a facade, but the chemical dangers from these products are very real. Studies have shown these agents are extremely toxic to fish and can cause mutations in bacteria. They can also trigger strong allergic reactions in humans when exposed to sunlight.

Bleach: A traditional household cleaner, bleach has harmful side effects that have been known for decades. Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is a leading cause of poisoning in the home. It is a strong irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. Bleach can also cause severe reactions if it comes in contact with the skin.

Surfactants: A surfactant is a substance which basically binds to oily particles and carries them away with water during washing. These are what make our clothes clean when we wash them. Surfactants can be natural or synthetic. Natural surfactants are generally safe for people and the water supply, but chemical surfactants are not. Commercial laundry detergents are loaded with synthetic surfactants.

Fragrance: Artificial fragrances in laundry products are a strong irritant. The chemicals in fragrance additives can cause itchy, watery eyes and stinging nostrils. But the effects go much deeper than that. Chemical fragrances can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate allergies. They can even affect your thinking, making concentration and coordination difficult. All of these irritations show their worst in sensitive individuals, although no one is immune to the effects of these chemicals.

Any one of these chemical additives causes plenty of harm on its own, but all of these substances are combined and can react with each other in laundry detergents, becoming even more dangerous together than they were by themselves.

And fabric softener and dryer sheets?  Yeah, don’t let that snuggly little bear on the bottle trick you.  This stuff is even worse, as it’s made with petroleum (SOURCE:  World-Wire):

Although they may make your clothes feel soft and smell fresh, fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around. And chances are that the staggering 99.8 percent of Americans who use common commercial detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and stain removers would think twice if they knew they contained chemicals that could cause cancer and brain damage. 

Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets:

  • Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
  • Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous      Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders
  • A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema,      and central nervous system damage
  • Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
  • Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
  • Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
  • Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
  • Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling — so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies … hence the need for even more hefty fragrances. 

Are “Soft” Clothes Worth It?
Fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for long periods of time. As such, chemicals are slowly released either into the air for you to inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. Dryer sheets are particularly noxious because they are heated in the dryer and the chemicals are released through dryer vents and out into the environment.

 

 

Health effects from being exposed to the chemicals in fabric softeners include:

  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Blood pressure reduction
  • Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract
  • Pancreatic cancer

Stain fighters like color safe bleach contain optical brighteners/UV enhancers, which are chemical dyes added that stick to clothing fabric and don’t rinse off.  These dyes are intended to actually bend light to make clothing appear brighter, even though not cleaner.  Color safe bleach products can cause residue buildup, are not readily biodegradable, and may bind irreversibly to skin.  The US military does not allow uniforms to be washed in a detergent containing brighteners because it makes them visible under a black light or by a night vision scope.

OK, so many of you are probably rolling your eyes at me and cursing me under your breath thinking, “Now what, jerk?!?!”  Well, like any suggestion, I try to have alternatives.  First, you need to adjust your expectations with laundry.  Not every piece of clothing is going to look super crisp white or smell perfect every time.  Just think of the cost of doing this (money and health risk).  Secondly, there are a ton of awesome “natural” laundry products out there that work well.   I have tried many.  Some of my favorites:

– Ecos (is citrus based and smells great…naturally).  I buy mine (a huge jug) in Costco for $12.  It lasts forever.

– Seventh Generation – has a whole line of naturally-derived and dye-free products

– Ecoever – has a line of laundry and cleaning products that smell nice, naturally

– Green Works – not the “most natural” – but much better than conventional mainstream soaps

– Charlie’s Soap (probably one of my all-time faves) – this stuff is no joke.  You need a tiny bit; it’s fragrance and                    dye free and cleans with a punch.  I buy gallon jugs of it online at amazon.com for like $25 and it will last                 months.  It gets stains out really well.

– Country Save – comes in liquid and powder and works well getting clothes clean.

– Vinegar – believe it or not, good old fashioned vinegar added to laundry blasts out smells and stains.

Here are a few more laundry suggestions:

Soften Your Clothes Safely With These Tips:
Not only are they safer for you, your family and the environment, but they’re much more economical too:

  • Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash cycle      to soften fabric
  • Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to rinse to      soften fabric and eliminate cling
  • Check out your local health food store for a      natural fabric softener that uses a natural base like soy instead of      chemicals

Next up: HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS.  It’s likely that fabric softeners and dryer sheets aren’t the only toxic products in your home. Many household products that consumers regard as safe are also full of toxic chemicals.  Take a look under your sink.  I bet if you read the labels on most of what you have, there would be some warning or another.  Again, like laundry products, we use harsh cleaners to “disinfect” and get rid of streaks, stains, and smells.  Only problem is, all of these chemicals leave their nasty little trail behind them.  Wiping tables, counters, toys, etc. with chemicals leaves it a hosting ground for skin contact, which eventually leads to chemical exposure.  Ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, a common solvent, can damage internal organs when it is absorbed through the skin.  Sodium hypochlorite, a component of bleach, causes skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation. Fortunately, safer natural alternatives are just as effective at cleaning your home — and considerably cheaper. Homemade natural cleaning solutions are often made from foods and cooking ingredients such as baking soda, which means they’re nontoxic.  Before you gauge my eyes out, here are some recipes for homemade cleaning products:

Items you will need:

  1. 1.       Clean, unused spray bottle
  2. 2.       Distilled vinegar
  3. 3.       Newspaper
  4. 4.       Clear castile soap
  5. 5.       Baking soda
  6. 6.       Microfiber cleaning cloths
  7. 7.       3-cup container with lid
  8. 8.       Spoon
  9. 9.       Vegetable glycerin
  10. 10.   Tea tree oil

Glass Cleaner

Step 1:

Pour 1/4 cup distilled vinegar into an unused spray bottle.

Step 2:

Fill the bottle to the top with tap water and shake gently to combine the liquids.

Step 3:

Spray the mixture on windows or mirrors. Polish with crumpled newsprint.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Step 1:

Mix 2 tablespoons of distilled vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon liquid castile soap in a clean, unused spray bottle. Castile soap is natural and vegetable-based — traditional versions are made with olive oil — and does not contain detergents, perfumes or animal products.

Step 2:

Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda. When the foaming stops, add 2 cups warm water. Shake gently to combine the ingredients.

Step 3:

Spray this mixture on counters and other hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Wipe clean with a microfiber cleaning cloth.

Step 4:

For especially dirty surfaces or dried-on messes, spray the area and let the cleaning solution soak in for several minutes before scrubbing clean with a microfiber cleaning cloth.

Abrasive Scrub

Step 1:

In a 3-cup container, use a spoon to mix 2 cups baking soda and 1/2 cup liquid castile soap.

Step 2:

Stir in 4 teaspoons of vegetable glycerin and 5 drops tea tree oil. The glycerin is a natural preservative and will keep the mixture soft. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties.

Step 3:

Add a small amount of the soft scrub mixture to a microfiber cleaning cloth and scrub sinks, tile and bathroom fixtures.

Step 4:

Rinse with hot water and polish with a dry microfiber cloth.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I could give to keep bacteria and germs out of your kitchens and bathrooms is to ditch sponges.  If you ever looked at what grows on/in/around sponges, you’d puke.  The bacteria present would be enough to populate a country.  Ditch the sponges and get some kitchen cloths (or better yet, rip up old towels, t-shirts, etc. to repurpose them.  Using old underwear probably wouldn’t be too fun).  These cloths dry out and can be washed frequently.

 

While this article may not have left you happy if you want to go out and get rid of all of your laundry and cleaning detergents, just consider some of the points brought up and then look at your darling children and think about them (well, not the messes and nasty laundry they create…).  I hope this helps and makes a difference.  Oh, and did I mention that since I switched from using my “gleesome threesome” of laundry chemicals, my eczema went away and my skin isn’t dry or itchy anymore (and that could be in conjunction with the coconut oil and shower water filters I use).  Happy Spring (cleaning)!

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Easter Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie

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The calendar may say it’s Spring, but Mother Nature clearly didn’t get the memo.  Instead of temperatures in the 50’s or 60’s, we are experiencing temperatures in the 30’s with the chance of flurries in New Jersey!  For those of us still pulling out the winter coats, gloves, hats, and scarves, let’s turn up the thermostat, pretend it’s a balmy 75 degrees, and celebrate Spring’s arrival with a smoothie.  For the rest of you lucky enough to have abandoned the heat in your homes, be sure to enjoy your smoothie outside in the sun and know that we are very envious.

Smoothies are a great way to pack in the vitamins and are a surefire hit with the little ones.  Bonus?  You’re not even hiding the fruits and veggies from them!  I found this recipe for a carrot-pineapple smoothie and thought it would be the perfect simple Spring snack or addition to Easter breakfast.  Not only does it look festive and include the Easter Bunny’s favorite root vegetable, but it also contains plenty of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6 and fiber.  Hopefully your little bunnies will enjoy this smoothie as much as the Easter Bunny himself would.

So sit back, think warm thoughts, and enjoy.  Just try not to get a brain freeze.

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie (recipe from Real Simple)

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  • 1/4 cup carrot
  • 3/4 cup pineapple
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (I used orange-mango juice)
  • 1/2 cup ice

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth and frothy.

Cheers!

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Adorable Easter Basket Ideas

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I love making Easter baskets for my kids, nieces and nephews, but now that I am a mom, I cringe at the thought of a basket filled with sugary chocolate bunnies and marshmallows oozing with artificial color.  Don’t get me wrong, I still throw in a few treats that are cringe worthy, but, I try to make theme baskets without all the junk food.  They’re just a fun for the kids, and make life easier for the adults so we don’t spend the next two weeks negotiating how much candy can be consumed in a single day.

This year my theme for baskets is Gardening, I am filling baskets with seeds, gardening tools, gloves, etc.  You can use a watering can as the actual basket to make it even cuter!  Here are a couple of mine in their early stages:

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For the younger crowd, I am filling baskets with healthy snacks (incl Granola Bites, shameless plug), cracker, jelly beans, sippy cups, bubbles and stickers.  I’ve even decorated the packs as bunny rabbits (yes, I am artistically challenged, but hey, I try).

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Some other basket themes that I love are:

– For the beach lover beach pail, swimsuit, lotion, beach toys

– For the artist with water colors, glue pens, coloring pencils, stencils

– For the cook, apron, rolling pin, cookie cutters, cookie decorating kit

– For the athlete, jump rope, head band, wrist bands, water bottle

Come back for more Easter ideas in the coming days!

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Happy Spring! Out with the Old, In with the New (Produce)

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Happy first day of Spring!  What’s not to love about this season?  The days are longer, the air is warmer, the kids can finally play outside again, and the farmers’ markets will be overflowing with fresh produce before you know it.  Good riddance to the root vegetables, apples, and pears of winter!  It’s time to make room for asparagus, spinach, broccoli, greens, beets, peas, lettuce, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cabbage, cucumbers, summer squash and corn (to name a few).  I may be getting a little ahead of myself with some of those, but the thought of fresh spring/summer produce really excites me.

Local produce at farmers’ markets is not necessarily organic, and I’m certainly not trying to start a war over local vs. organic, but I think local is the way to go when you don’t have access to organic.  The shorter the distance your fruits and vegetables have to travel to reach your plate mean the fresher they are, the less fuel they consume, and the less pollution their journey creates.  I also think it’s important to support local farmers, whether that’s at your local farmer’s market or through a CSA share, so that they don’t become obsolete.  Hopefully you are able to get the best of both worlds at your local farmer’s market by finding organic local produce.

Speaking of local, right now our west coast friends are enjoying artichokes, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, mushrooms, oranges, and tangerines while we are patiently awaiting the arrival of asparagus and spinach in April on the east coast.  (I’m kind of thinking I need to move to California now!)  Do you know what the growing season is in your neck of the woods?  Epicurious has a great interactive seasonal ingredient map that provides you with a list of in-season produce by month based on your location.  It also allows you to click on the produce for descriptions and recipe ideas.  Check it out here.

What fruits and vegetables are you most looking forward to cooking with again?  Please share your favorite seasonal recipes in the comments section below!

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Southwest Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Bulgur Burgers

I rarely sit down and enjoy lunch unless I wait to eat until my boys are napping because I’m usually busy making my rounds from the high chair (cutting up food for my 1 year old), to the fridge (getting more grapes for someone), and then to the floor (cleaning up spilled milk or food).  If I do lunch with them I am eating while standing, and my “meal” usually consists of nibbles or this or that, leftovers from the night before, a piece of cheese, or the food my kids left on their plates.  The past few days, however, my kids have been sick with a stomach bug and not up for eating, so I decided to make myself a real grown up lunch that I could enjoy while sitting down.  Lunch took a little longer for me to prepare and dirtied a lot more dishes than usual, but it was totally worth it!  I savored every last bite of my big girl lunch knowing that tomorrow (hopefully) my boys will feel better and I will be back on waitress duty during lunchtime.

Southwest Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Bulgur Burgers with Avocado Corn Salad

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Makes 4 large burgers

  • 2 roasted sweet potatoes
  • 1 can black beans
  • ½ cup cooked bulgur
  • ½ cup red onion (diced)
  • 2 garlic gloves (minced)
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1/8 t cumin
  • 1/8 t coriander
  • 1 T molasses
  • ½ t chipotle sauce, plus extra to drizzle

Roughly mash sweet potatoes and black beans.  Add all other ingredients and stir to combine.  With wet hands, form mixture into patties, then let them chill in the refrigerator (for as long as possible).

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Disclosure: I’m going to be totally honest with you here.  This part is not that fun.  These are made out of sweet potatoes, so they are soft and will want to fall apart (obviously).  You have to babysit them a bit while they are in the pan, reshaping them with a spatula from time to time.  Now that I got that out of the way…

Heat some coconut (or olive) oil in a pan and cook patties for about 5 minutes on each side.  Remember my note above?  Flipping can be a little tricky too (just keep reshaping them if they fall apart a bit).  I then like to stick them under the broiler for another 5 minutes per side to get them a little crispy.

To make the avocado corn salad:

Are you ready for this?  Avocado + corn + lime juice + salt = AVOCADO CORN SALAD

Top each burger with some of the salad, a dollop of greek yogurt, and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.  Delicious!

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Flour Power – Healthy Alternatives to the “White Stuff”

flourI figured this would be an interesting topic for the week for two reasons – one based on recent chats with Katie about ingredients for future awesome MySuperFoods products and the other based on my recent trips to Whole Foods and the local grocery store to find a sea of available “flour” products. Choosing flour alternatives in cooking and baking has its benefits for many reasons (I’ll get into that soon), and something I started doing several years ago when I embarked on my food revolution. However, it seems as if each time I enter the “flour” aisle, more and more white flour substitutes are lining the shelves. There are flours made from everything, it seems – garbanzo bean flour, amaranth flour, rice flour, coconut flour…and the list goes on. I am leery sometimes to see what will appear next…..but most of all, what the heck do you make out of these finely ground concoctions?
I recall a few times when I would get daring and buy a few flour alternatives that seemed interesting to try. Many times, I would make recipes up and then quickly wished I hadn’t when it looked like the Apocalypse was happening in my oven, no or less even what my experiments tasted like. Baking is funny like that. It’s an extremely unforgiving art – one I am not so much a master at. (After doing my research on www.wheat-free.org here is an excerpt regarding that…hah):
Wheat flour contains gluten which is the protein that strengthens and binds dough in baking. Because of this, when baking with wheat free flours, you may need to source alternative binding agents.
Wheat free recipes using flour substitutes usually have been carefully formulated to get the best possible result taking into account the problems associated with lack of wheat gluten, therefore substitution can be a risky experiment. If you try substitution, then be aware that you may get a failure, so don’t do it for the first time if cooking for an important occasion.
It is important to be aware that there is no exact substitute for wheat flour, and recipes made with wheat free alternative flours will be different from those containing wheat.
It’s always best to store flours in airtight containers, in a dark cool place to avoid them turning rancid. The www.wheat-free.org kitchen actually stores its wheat/gluten free flours in bags in the freezer to maintain their freshness.

Nonetheless, the whole challenge didn’t/doesn’t deter me from trying new things. If anything, I am pleased to find recipes where some other genius found a way to replace these flour alternatives in many of my favorite baked goods, etc. What I have discovered is the new versions taste better, are healthier, and something I would not think twice to serve my 1 year-old. With the rise of gluten intolerance and sensitivity amongst many individuals today (not to mention carbohydrate overloading and childhood & adult obesity), finding alternatives to good ‘ol processed flour makes sense. Besides, you can have fun standing in the flour aisle staring at the plethora of choices looking like you’re about to get sucked into the unknown. Thanks to sources like: http://www.thewholisticchef.blogspot.com, http://www.chefs.edu, and www.wheat-free.org, here is a little compilation of the different flour alternative choices out there, their health benefits, and some recipe links so you can knock yourself out trying some new things (you know, because I am sure you have a ton of free time on your hands to do that).

• Almond flour (one of my favorites!) – is made by grinding blanched almonds into a fine powder (skins removed). The consistency is more like corn meal than wheat flour. You can find extra fine Italian Almond Flour which has more flavor, but can be very pricey. Baking with almond flour requires using more eggs to provide more structure. Use it in cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods. You can make it yourself by placing blanched almonds in a Vitamix or high power blender.

• Amaranth flour – Amaranth flour is made from the seed of the Amaranth plant, which is a leafy vegetable. Amaranth seeds are very high in protein, which makes a nutritious flour for baking. Alternative names: African spinach, Chinese spinach, Indian spinach, elephants ear.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Arrowroot flour – Arrowroot flour is ground from the root of the plant, and is very useful for thickening recipes. It is tasteless, and the fine powder becomes clear when it is cooked, which makes it ideal for thickening clear sauces.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Barley flour – Barley only contains a small amount of gluten, so is rarely used to make bread, with the exception of unleavened bread. It has a slightly nutty flavor, and can be used to thicken or flavor soups or stews. Blended with other alternative flours it is also fairly versatile for cakes, biscuits, pastry, dumplings etc.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Brown rice flour – Brown rice flour is heavier than its relative, white rice flour. It is milled from unpolished brown rice so it has a higher nutritional value than white, and as it contains the bran of the brown rice it has a higher fiber content. This also means that it has a noticeable texture, a bit grainy.
It does have a slight nutty taste, which will sometimes come out in recipes depending on the other ingredients, and the texture will also contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. It is not often used completely on its own because of its heavier nature. It can also be used to thicken soups and stews. The higher fiber content will contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. Due to the grittiness of the flour, it is best when combined with other flours like sorghum, potato flour and tapioca starch. Bulk buying is not recommended as it is better used when fresh, store in an airtight container.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Buckwheat flour – Buckwheat flour is not, despite its name a form of wheat, buckwheat is actually related to rhubarb. The small seeds of the plant are ground to make flour. It has a strong nutty taste, so is not generally used on its own in a recipe, as the taste of the finished product can be very overpowering, and a little bitter. Alternative names: beech wheat, kasha, saracen corn.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Chia flour – Made from ground chia seeds. Highly nutritious, chia seeds have been labeled a “superfood” containing Omega 3, fiber, calcium and protein, all packed into tiny seeds. Also known as “nature’s rocket fuel” as many sportspeople and super athletes such as the Tarahumara use it for enhanced energy levels during events. If chia flour isn’t readily available, then put chia seeds in a processor and whizz up some. If used in baking, liquid levels and baking time may need to be increased slightly.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Chick pea flour (also known as gram or garbanzo flour) – This is ground from chick peas and has a strong slightly nutty taste. It is not generally used on its own.
Wheat free Gluten free

• Coconut flour (one of my personal favorites!) – This flour made from the ground meat of the coconut is ideal for both types of dieting. It contains no gluten and is nearly carbohydrate free. It’s a delicious alternative to wheat and other grain flours. It is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and a good source of protein. It gives baked goods a rich, springy texture but needs a lot more liquid than other flours. Replace up to 20% of the flour called for in a recipe with Coconut Flour, adding an equivalent amount of additional liquid to the recipe. You will not need as much sugar when using this flour as the coconut has a natural sweetness.

• Corn flour – Corn flour is milled from corn into a fine, white powder, and is used for thickening recipes and sauces. It has a bland taste, and therefore is used in conjunction with other ingredients that will impart flavor to the recipe. It also works very well when mixed with other flours, for example when making fine batters for tempura. Some types of corn flour are milled from wheat but are labeled wheaten corn flour. Alternative name: cornstarch.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Cornmeal – Ground from corn. Heavier than corn flour, not generally interchangeable in recipes.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Hemp flour – Made from ground hemp seeds it has a mild, nutty flavor. Hemp flour needs to be refrigerated after opening.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Maize flour – Ground from corn. Heavier than corn flour, and not generally interchangeable in recipes.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Millet flour – Comes from the grass family, and is used as a cereal in many African and Asian countries. Millet flour adds a subtle flavor, creamy color, and more vitamins and minerals than other grains. Substitute 1/4 cup millet flour for an equal amount of unbleached white flour in any baked good. This flour can be a little gritty, like rice flour and contains no gluten, so is best to substitute around a 1/4 millet flour for other flours when baking. It can be used to thicken soups and make flat breads and griddle cakes. Because it lacks any form of gluten, it’s not suited to many types of baking.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Oat flour – Ground from oats this flour is not gluten free. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that it is sourced from a non-wheat contaminating process. Absorbs liquids more than many flours, so may need to increase the liquid content of any recipe it is added to. Oat flour readily substitutes into many cake and cookie recipes. Oat flour goes rancid very quickly, so either buy small amounts and use it quickly, store it in the fridge/freezer, or make your own using a food processor.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Potato flour – is made from dehydrated potatoes. It’s used in bread, pancake and waffle recipes and as a thickener for sauces, gravies and soups. It adds smoothness and moisture in gluten free baking. It is high in carbohydrates and lacks fiber which makes it necessary to use it along with other flours as a mixture. This flour should not be confused with potato starch flour. Potato flour has a strong potato flavor and is a heavy flour, so a little goes a long way. Bulk buying is not recommended unless you are using it on a very regular basis for a variety of recipes as it does not have a very long shelf life.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Potato starch flour – This is a fine white flour made from potatoes, and has a light potato flavor which is undetectable when used in recipes. It’s one of the few alternative flours that keeps very well provided it is stored in an airtight jar, and somewhere cool and dark.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Quinoa flour (pronounced ‘keen wa’) – Quinoa is related to the plant family of spinach and beets. It has been used for over 5,000 years as a cereal, and the Incas called it the mother seed. Quinoa provides a good source of vegetable protein and it is the seeds of the quinoa plant that are ground to make flour. It’s regarded as one of the more highly nutritious flours, containing more protein, calcium and iron than other grains. It has a light nutty flavor, but is not recommended to use alone as it does not contain any gluten. Best when substituting 1/4 cup for another type of flour.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Rye flour – Rye flour is a strongly-flavored flour, dark in color. Breads made with rye flour are denser than those made with wheat (for example, pumpernickel – which is virtually black). Rye flour has a low gluten content, but it can also be used for recipes such as pancakes and muffins.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Sorghum flour – is an annual grass originating in Africa and a popular cereal crop worldwide. It has a higher protein content than corn and about equal to wheat. It is neutral in flavor which allows it to absorb other flavors well. It’s created by grinding sorghum grain, which is similar to millet. The flour is used to make porridge or flat unleavened breads. It is an important staple in Africa and India. This flour stores well under normal temperatures.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Soya flour – Soya flour is a high protein flour with a nutty taste. It is not generally used on its own in recipes, but when combined with other flours, is very successful as an alternative flour. It can be used to thicken recipes or added as a flavor enhancer. It needs to be carefully stored as it is a high fat flour and can go rancid if not stored properly. A cool, dark environment is recommended and can even be stored in the refrigerator.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Tapioca flour – Tapioca flour is made from the root of the cassava plant. Once it is ground, it takes the form of a light, soft, fine white flour. Tapioca flour adds a sweetness and chewiness to baking and is a good thickener. Tapioca flour is an excellent addition to any wheat free kitchen. It’s a fairly resilient flour, so storing at room temperature is no problem. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per recipe to lighten and sweeten breads made with heavier flours like brown rice and millet.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Teff flour – Teff comes from the grass family, and is a tiny cereal grain native to northern Africa. It is ground into flour and used to prepare injera, which is a spongy, slightly sour flat bread. It is now finding a niche in the health food market because it is very nutritious.
Wheat free Gluten free
• White rice flour – This flour is milled from polished white rice, so it is very bland in taste, and not particularly nutritious. White rice flour is ideal for recipes that require a light texture. It can be used on its own for a variety of recipes and has a reasonable shelf life, as long as it is stored in an airtight container to avoid it absorbing moisture from the air.
Wheat free Gluten free

• Xanthan Gum – is a natural, complex carbohydrate made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris. Using about 1/4 tsp in bread and other gluten-free baked goods adds volume and viscosity which usually comes from the gluten in wheat. It is also used as a thickener and emulsifier in dairy products, salad dressings, and other foods.

According to theholisticchef.blogspot.com:
**My favorite blend for gluten free baking is 1 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1/2 cup potato flour, 3/4 cup sorghum flour. Mix flours and keep in an airtight container and replace for an equal amount of flour in your recipe of choice. Sometimes I add a little quinoa or millet flour as well. These flours come out best when there are eggs in the recipe and do not come out as good with egg replacers.

For ideas of what to do with Coconut and Almond Flours, check out Elana’s Pantry at http://www.elanaspantry.com. She uses them exclusively because of their higher protein content.
Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com) produces all of the flours above in a plant dedicated gluten free.

Now go throw some flour on your face and look like you’ve been busy in the kitchen. I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion over all of the flour alternatives out there (or if you’re reading this thinking you were never confused in the first place and really could care less about flour alternatives, maybe I’ve piqued your interest a little?!?). If anything, realize there are healthier alternatives out there than the standard refined white flour. You can make all kinds of goodies for your family and not feel like you’re pumping them full of processed mayhem.
Other recipe ideas can be found here (be sure to sift through them all and be sure to use your healthy-goggles to scan out the ones that may not be so “healthy” despite being made with alternative flour):
http://www.sheknows.com/food-and-recipes/articles/3520/cooking-with-almond-flour
http://www.coconutflourrecipes.org/
http://nourishedkitchen.com/baking-with-coconut-flour/
http://www.cookingquinoa.net

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