Thursday, July 31, 2014

More Info for Less Cholesterol - Refining Our Meals

These are few ways to refine our meals to reduce fat and cholesterol:

1.  Use fresh vegetables whenever possible.  If it is necessary to used canned or frozen, read the label to insure that the product does not contain saturated fat, such as lard, bacon fat, palm oil or coconut oil.  If the label lists "vegetable fat" without revealing the specific source, assume that it is palm oil or coconut oil and don't purchase the product.  (Now and then I can find fresh vegetables but we all know that during the winter months they aren't exactly fresh since they have to sometimes be shipped from other countries.  What I now do is buy frozen in the bags.  To me, they are better than canned and don't normally have anything added.)

2.  Use only those salad dressings made form olive oil or form an unsaturated vegetable oil (safflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame, soybean and sunflower).  Use homemade rather than commercial salad dressings for maximum control over the oil, salt, sugar and preservatives.  Avoid dressings made with cheese.  Serve dressings on the side as only 1 tablespoon can be 75 to 100 calories.  (This is a big one for me to change.  I simply love creamy dressings like Ranch or Onion or Poppyseed.  I've tried making these but they just don't taste the same so this is a gradual change that I'm trying to make.)

3.  Use soft tub-type margarine made form an unsaturated liquid vegetable oil in place of hydrogenated stick margarine.  Again, label reading is the key.  To be acceptable, the label must list liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient and show that the product contains twice the amount of unsaturated as saturated fat.  (Another tough one for me.  I love my butter and I love to cook with it.  Not sure how I'll handle this change.)

4.  Reduce the amount of margarine used on breads.  Even tub margarine made form an unsaturated vegetable oil is 99% fat and contains 95 calories per tablespoon.  Eliminate margarine as a sauce for vegetables, rice and potatoes; instead use herbs, spices, wine, lemon juice or flavored vinegars.  (I'm getting better at this one.  I cooked some frozen lima beans last week and where I would normally use either a piece of fat meat or butter to flavor them I used salt free bouillon.  They were delicious.  Gonna try this with my rice and potatoes too.  As for my bread, I've learned to enjoy spreading a little hummus over my toast.)

#5.  Avoid commercial bakery products and desserts that are high in saturated fat and calories. (No problem here.  If I eat desserts they are usually those that I make.  Now if I can just not cook them with too much fat I'll be ok.)

#6.  Increase the amount of complex carbohydrates (such as rice, beans, pasta) to satisfy in a low-fat manner and reduce the portion size of the entrĂ©e.  (I love my carbs so this is no problem as long as I season and smother them with the right sauces.)

So, on my quest to lower my cholesterol, I've found that I still need to make a few changes in not just my eating but also my cooking.  Some of these changes won't be easy but I'm getting there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More Info for Less Cholesterol - Poultry and Fish/Seafood

Now that I know I'm ok in the red meat dept. it's time to look at the meats that I do eat the most which are poultry, fish and seafood.  One of these may be the cause of my raised cholesterol level.  So here is what I found.

Skinless, white poultry is only about 20% fat.  Only 19% of the calories in trout are fat, and only 6% of those in water-packed tuna are fat.  In addition, poultry and seafood, with the exception of shrimp, are generally lower in cholesterol than red meat.  Although shrimp is high in cholesterol, many medical professionals now feel that the healthful benefits of fish oil allow shrimp to be eaten on a moderate basis.

A 3 1/2 oz. serving of cooked trout yields 55 mg. of cholesterol; halibut 60 mg.; and chicken 79 mg.  Four ounces of cod contains just 57 mg. and 3 oz. of tuna just 54 mg.   While 4 oz. of sirloin steak contains 107 mg.  (One of my favorite fish is the cod.  I usually buy the thicker 'choice' cuts which are a little more expensive but still cheaper than a prime cut of steak and a lot healthier.)

To insure that you lower your fat and cholesterol as much as possible, follow these steps:
1.  Reduce poultry and seafood portions in size.  Although lower in cholesterol than red meat, poultry and seafood are still sources of cholesterol.  (As much as I love a good piece of fish it's hard for me to keep the portions to 3 1/2 oz.  As for the chicken, I love chicken but to me chicken has no flavor of its own so I try to provide it with flavor which I'll have to be careful of so I don't increase the fat and cholesterol.  As for eating just 3 1/2 oz. that isn't a problem.  I often just bake my chicken with some herbs and add it to a good salad.)

2. Always cook poultry without the skin so that the fat in the skin doesn't drip into the meat.  (This is no problem for me since I almost always buy skinless chicken.)

3.  Select the white meat of the chicken or turkey rather than the dark meat, as the white is lower in cholesterol.  (This really isn't a problem since I don't like dark meat.  I know it does have a little more flavor and is juicy but I can't bring myself to eat a piece of dark meat.  Too many things still attached to the meat that you don't find in white meats.)

4.  Broil, roast, bake, steam, poach or barbecue poultry and seafood as these methods allow the fat to drip away during cooking.  (This is where my pan with the rack comes in handy.  I used to boil my chicken but found that even with seasonings added the meat was dry and lacked flavor.  I now place my chicken as well as my fish on the rack and bake.  It is juicier and cooks fairly quickly.  Yes the fat drips into the pan but it still comes out juicy.  This is also the way I make baked 'fried' chicken.  The rack allows the batter to stay crispy.)

5.  Use wine, herbs, lemon juice or flavored vinegar, rather than margarine, oils and sauces to flavor poultry and seafood dishes.  (I do use the herbs, especially rosemary, to flavor my chicken.  My fish I coat with an egg wash, dip it into Panko and then cook it in the oven using my baking rack.  It cooks quickly, comes out crisp and is delicious with a little Malt Vinegar sprinkled on top.)

6.  Avoid packaged, canned or frozen poultry and seafood dishes.  (There again, after seeing the salt content on the package of most packaged foods, I've completely stopped buying them.)

7.  When ordering seafood and poultry in restaurants, avoid any sauces and gravies, and select only heart-healthy cooking methods.  (I normally order grilled chicken when eating out but have to admit that I do order fried fish.  I just have to have that kick now and then.  When I do order chicken that has been fried I always order the white meat and try really hard to eat just the meat and not the crust or skin.  Hard to do so I don't order this often.)

I haven't been able to bring myself to eat food that use ground chicken or turkey but I have made Chicken Chili and I have to tell you it is delicious.  I've even added a recipe for it on my site Think With Your Taste Buds - Chicken.  I'll continue to find healthier ways to eat my chicken, fish and seafood and continue to stay away form red meats.  Nest I'm going to investigate other ways to reduce cholesterol and fat through the substitution of oils and salad dressings.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yogurt Chicken Salad

1 baked, boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 Tbsp. Fresh Food Concept Spinach Dip
5 almonds, sliced

Cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Mix in dip.  Sprinkle with almonds.

Comment:  Recently I saw a Dr. Oz show where his guest talked about losing weight by not counting calories but by counting sugar.  Sucker that I am I bought his book, have been reading it and it does make a lot of sense.  With his program you're supposed to eat as few carbs and sugar as possible, like below 100 a day.  Didn't know if I could do this or not.  His plan has you eating a good bit of chicken but as I've said before - plain chicken simply has no taste. There has to be a healthy way to give it some taste.  So... I took my mid to the grocery store and started reading labels.  I was really surprised to find that there are many foods that are healthy and contain very little sugar.  One that I found was Fresh Food Concepts' Spinach Dip made with Greek Yogurt.  It contains 1g of sugar for 2 Tbsp.  That is the perfect amount to make a delicious, moist chicken salad using just 1 chicken breast.  This is one you really need to try even if you aren't trying to eat healthy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

More Info for Less Cholesterol - Red Meat

I got a call from my Doctor (yes, I have a rare doctor who calls me.)  He called to tell me my blood test results were back.  Good news, my iron count was up some.  Bad news, my cholesterol was up over 50 points or whatever they call them.  So I've started looking up information that will stop it from rising and hopefully bring it back down.  I'll be passing this information along to you with hopes it will help you too.

#1 - Reduce meat portions in size and increase complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes).  (I eat red meat maybe 3-4 times a month.  I'm just not a fan and besides, cows are cute.  But when I do eat red meat I eat very small portions so I'm ok here.)
#2 - Use only lean-grade meat and trim it of all visible fat before cooking.  (I actually quit eating red meat, especially ground beef, after learning what was actually in the so called meat.  Pink slime, by-products and fillers.  If you want a good education on what is in your burger, look these up.  When I do eat red meat I buy organic only.  The price is another reason I seldom eat red meat.)
#3 - Broil, roast, bake or barbecue meats as these methods allow the fat to drip away during cooking.  (I'm good here too.  I almost never fry anything but I have learned that you can coat a piece of meat with egg wash and bread crumbs (etc.), quick fry to brown the crumbs, place the meat on a racked baking dish and finish cooking in the oven.  This allows the grease absorbed while browning as well as what is naturally in the meat to drip out but still keep your meat crispy.)
#4 - Cook meat to medium or well-done to maximize the fat loss during cooking.  (I have to admit that IF I eat a steak I want it medium rare.  All other red meat I want well done.)
#5 - Avoid frying foods in hydrogenated margarine or animal fats; instead use chicken or beef broth, wine, water, flavored vinegar, or use a non-stick pan.  (If I do the quick fry I use canola oil so I'm ok there.  For any other cooking I've actually found that most red meat is so full of 'water' or whatever that you need to cook that out before you add any type of flavoring other than salt and pepper.  I actually brown my meat, such as a roast, without oil, place it in a slow cooker and when the liquid has cooked out, (shrinking the meat to half the size it was when I put it in the pot) I strain the liquid through a white paper towel removing all grease.  Then I add flavoring and cook until done.) 
#6 - Always de-fat meat drippings and broths by refrigeration (the fat coagulates and can be skimmed and discarded) before using in gravies or sauces.  (I have used this method of removing fat but like the straining better.)
#7 - Avoid packaged, canned or frozen meat dishes as their fat content  cannot be controlled.  (When I started reading labels I found the salt content in most canned meats was terrible so I don't buy packaged, canned or frozen meat dishes.  Due to this I have no idea how the cholesterol count may be.  And processed meats in the deli is another type of food I don't buy.  Look up fillers and by-products and you'll be careful about buying them too.  From what I've found there are 2 companies that states their deli meats are 85% real meat.  The others are from 16% meat and slowly up.)
#8 - Be careful of restaurant foods, especially fast foods, as their fat content cannot be controlled.  (Most of my eating out consists of 2 meats - fish and chicken.  I can't remember the last time I ate beef at a restaurant so I'm ok there too.)

My next research on cholesterol will be for poultry and seafood so stay tuned.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Resque

As many of you already know, I rescue books.  All books.  Any book.  I simply can't stand to see a book destroyed.  This started when I went to a thrift store and the owner told me her church had a room full of books.  She said there were over 1,000.  I ask if I could get permission to go through them and she said that if I had ask that a week before the answer would have been yes.  Since then, they had sent ALL of them to the recycle plant.

Books are becoming a thing of the past and I really hate to see that happen.  Everything is going to ebooks.  Don't get me wrong, I have a Nook and a Kindle and love both.  I can slip them into my purse, take them anywhere and enjoy reading my books even in the dark.  But I still love to hold a book in my hands and turn the paper pages.  I also love the smell of a library.  But, as I said, that is becoming a thing of the past.  So many book stores are and have closed.  Libraries are closing.  Our reading is now done on our little devices after we've ordered our books using the same device.

So, my quest is to save as many books as possible.  I find them through Estate sales, thrift stores, and yard sales.  At the moment I have about 700 books in bookcases that actually cover one of the walls in my bedroom.  I love to read these books and even cook from them.  Some are old and if you follow my blog you may have noticed some of the older ones that I've modernized.  But... as I found out a year or so ago, all good things must come to an end.  That is why I started an Ebay store that I call "Book Resque."  Since then I've found homes for about 300 books.  I buy them cheap and sell them cheap just to keep them in circulation.  So, if you love books as much as I do, check out my store and help me find homes for those that are lucky enough to be rescued and not sent to the recycle plant.

Most of my books are cookbooks but I've started picking up children books and am always on the lookout for those really old ones.  Some of my books are over 100 years old and need a good home.  Oh yeah.  I do throw in a few stamps and older small items now and then that need a home.

Chicken Quesadilla

cooked chicken, shredded
flour tortillas

Quesadillas are some of the easiest dishes to make, especially if you have a panini press, Foreman grill or even a waffle iron.  After eating a delicious chicken quesadilla at one of our local hamburger places, I noticed they had used some sort of creamy sauce.  I never really found any chunks of chicken so I'm assuming that since it was called 'chicken' quesadillas there had to be some in there somewhere and all I could do is guess it was ground into the creamy sauce.  Well, the sauce was delicious and I had no idea what it was actually made from.  Well, I opened my refrigerator and spotted a container of Hummus.  I then remembered what the sauce looked like and it hit me... it looks like Hummus.  Probably isn't but looks like it.  No matter, decided to make my own Chicken Quesadillas.  I heated my Foreman (indoor type).  Sprayed the bottom of a flour tortilla with cooking spray.  Placed it on my hot Foreman.  Spread it with a nice coating of Hummus.  Topped that with shredded chicken, cheese and another tortilla.  Spray the top of the 2nd tortilla with cooking spray and close the lid.  This only takes about 3-4 minutes to heat everything and melt the cheese.  When done, cut into wedges.  Here's a tip that I've found.  Cut your Quesadillas with a Pizza Wheel.  Works great!

I love my Hummus and what I had on hand was with Pine Nuts.  I want to make this using some of the other flavors and also other meats.  This is one of the quickest, easiest, dishes you can make.  And the best part is that you can have several meats, cheeses, and humus on hand and please everyone's taste.

Now, did my Hummus taste like the sauce?  Close.  I have a feeling one of the spicy flavors will come closer but no matter, Hummus is great in a Quesadilla.  I did serve mine with sour cream but it really wasn't needed.  Good just as it is.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Calcium

OK, if you watch the Dr. Oz shows you know that he is constantly telling us that we need Calcium.  Well, I personally, don't want to take any more pills than I have to so I started checking out why we need calcium, how much and how we can consume it without taking pills.  Here is what I found - yes, through Weight Watchers.

You need substantial quantities of calcium to keep your bones strong and to regulate your heartbeat and muscle and nerve function.  Eight out of ten American women suffer form a calcium deficiency (Sorry guys but it didn't tell me how many of you have a deficiency.).  A diet rich in calcium consumed during the childhood and teenage years is the best insurance against osteoporosis, the debilitating brittle-bone disease that strikes many older people.  Calcium also helps guard against periodontal disease and may have a protective effect against high blood pressure.   (In today's world these 2 statements worry me.  I see so many kids running around drinking juice boxes - some 100% juice some not.  I can't recall the last time I saw a kid drinking a milk box, not even chocolate.  When I was a kid we didn't have these little boxes to carry around with us but we did have milk - whole milk - at almost all meals.  What are we doing to supplement the calcium in our kids?)

Calcium is absorbed slowly, so it's best to consume it throughout the day, rather than trying to get your daily allowance all at once.  But... calcium absorption is inhibited by an excessive intake of dietary fiber.  For instance, if you eat an all-bran cereal with milk, you will miss out on some of the benefit of the milk's calcium.  (I am guilty of this.  Most of the cereal I eat is of a brand type and I've never even considered this possibility.)

The phosphoric acid in soft drinks displaces calcium, so don't drink soda with calcium-rich food.  (This I never knew.  What else is this phosphoric acid displacing?)

Both the natural sugar in milk (lactose) and the vitamin D added to it aid in calcium absorption.   So, if lactose intolerance prevents you from drinking milk or eating cheese, you can still get your calcium from yogurt and form vegetables and legumes.  (I do not have lactose intolerance but I've switched almost completely to Almond Milk.  The brand I buy (Blue Diamond) has 50% more calcium than milk, contains no cholesterol and has only 60 calories.  Taste wise - I buy the coconut blend and love it.  And no it isn't sweet so I even use it in my coffee.)

So, where, other than dairy products, can you get calcium?

Salmon, canned, pink, with bones - 3 oz. calcium 181
Cooked Broccoli - 1 cup calcium 178
Cooked Collard greens - 1 cup calcium 148
Orange - Navel - 1 med calcium 56
Cooked Spinach - 1 cup calcium 244
Tofu (Processed with calcium sulfate) - 3 oz. calcium 574

These are just a few of the possible ways to intake your calcium.  I did read further and found that if you must use a supplement keep this in mind.  Calcium is best absorbed when consumed in food, but if you know that calcium carbonate, one of the most effective supplements, is usually the least expensive.  Calcium carbonate-based antacids may supply as much as 550 mg of calcium per tablet.  But avoid supplements containing dolomite or bone meal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Cholesterol

If you're like me you have high cholesterol. I don't take meds but am really supposed to watch my diet.  That's good but what actually does watching my diet mean?  Here is what I found out, again, through Weight Watchers.

What is cholesterol?  This fat-like, waxy substance, produced mainly by the liver, is essential to the body:  It forms part of cell membranes, insulates nerve fibers, and is a building block for hormones.  (This I didn't know.  I've really only heard of it being spoken about in as a negative.  I also didn't know that it was produced by the liver.)

What's the difference between blood cholesterol and dietary cholesterol?  Blood cholesterol, produced by your own body, circulates in your bloodstream.  Two important forms of blood cholesterol are LDL (so-called "bad cholesterol"), which can build up on artery walls and narrow them; and HDL ("good cholesterol"), which carries away these damaging deposits.  Dietary cholesterol, found in the foods you eat, does not go directly into the blood, although consuming too much dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol.  (OK, I've always had a problem keeping these 2 apart due to there letter names being so close.  I think I'll label them LDL with the 1st L standing for lousy and HDL with the H standing for healthy.  Now maybe I can keep them apart.)

What are other causes of high blood cholesterol?  Heredity and obesity are important contributing factors, but the greatest controllable risk factor is a high intake of saturated fat, which is found in meats, butter, whole milk products, and coconut and palm oils.  (I eat very little red meats but have to admit that I do love my butter and cheese.  I don't use coconut and palm oils and rarely fry anything so hopefully I'm doing pretty good in this dept.)

How much cholesterol is it safe to eat?  The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 300 milligrams.  (Yes, this requires reading labels before eating as well as a bit of educated memory that can be used when eating out.)

What foods contain cholesterol?  Only foods from animal sources - meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.  (All of the foods I really enjoy!  I can now see why it is healthier to be a vegan.)

What is a normal blood cholesterol level?  A reading of under 200 is considered desirable for adults;  240 and above is high.  (Mine is barely over the 240 so I'm considered high.  I would like to live to be 100 so I plan on getting this down.)

How can I lower my blood cholesterol?  Lose weight if your're overweight; eat less saturated fat (substitute monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil); and eat more soluble fiber (found in many fruits, oats, barley, and dried beans and other legumes).  (I do fit the overweight so I need to work on that.  I do use olive and canola oil so I'm ok there, but I don't eat enough fiber.  Since I love fruit, oats and dried beans this shouldn't be a problem to correct, as long as I use a seasoning for my beans that doesn't come from meat.  One of the recipes I posted on Martha's Recipe Cabinet is for a bean soup that I used a sauce to make.  I didn't look at the nutrition info on the package but it gives me the possible seasoning solution of using sauces to season my beans.)

What this all boils down to is that we all need to watch our cholesterol and the only way to do that is through educating ourselves on how much cholesterol different foods actually have.  Here are some examples:

1 oz. of:
Bottom round beef braised - 27mg
Ham, cured, roasted - 17mg
Chicken, dark meat, roasted - 27mg
Turkey breast, roasted - 20mg

4 medium shrimp steamed - 111mg
2 oz. Cod, baked - 31mg

Yolk - 272 mg
White - 0mg

3/4 oz. cheddar - 23mg
1/3 cup 2% cottage, lowfat - 6mg
1 cup whole milk - 34mg
3/4 cup nonfat, plain Yogurt - 3mg

Fats and Spreads 1 tsp.:
Butter - 11mg.
Vegetable oil, all types - 0mg

Sweets and Snacks:
2 oz. homemade pound cake - 117mg
1 oz. milk chocolate - 7mg

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Fat

After reading the following information in a Weight Watcher's cookbook I've decided to give FAT a closer look. 

Did you know... 
That 8 ounces of potato chips is the equivalent of an 8 oz. baked potato with 12 to 20 pats of butter on it?  
That a "healthy" granola bar may contain as much as 12 grams of fat?  Read the label!
That butter, margarine, lard and "light" olive oil are all virtually 100% fat?
That all of the fat (and cholesterol) in an egg is in the yolk?   And that you can substitute egg whites for whole      eggs?

According to WW's information in their section Nutrition and Health it is stated that no more than 30% of your calories should come from fat - preferably less.  Americans average about 37%.  This means that if you consume 1,500 calories per day, your maximum fat intake should be 50 grams. 

Have you ever wondered why fat is so fattening?  Well... it supplies 9 calories per gram, protein and carbohydrates only 4.  So an ounce of cheese packs a lot more calories than an ounce of turkey breast or an ounce of bread.

If you're trying to lose weight or just eat healthier, cutting down on the amount of fat you eat is simply a matter of making choices.  You can buy low or nonfat dairy products, lean meats, and sensible snack foods.  When possible, opt for reduced fat ingredients in cooking.  although such substitutions may not work in every recipe, it's worth experimenting for the substantial amount of fat you can eliminate.

Here are just a few examples of fat contents:
1/2 cup heavy cream - 45g vs 1/2 cup skimmed evaporated milk - 0g
1 cup 4% fat cottage cheese - 10g vs 1 cup 1% fat cottage cheese - 2g
3 oz. regular ground beef 18g vs 3 oz. extra-lean ground beef -15g
1 fast-food bacon cheeseburger - 39g vs 1 fast-food hamburger - 13g
4 oz. fast-food fries - 19g vs 4 oz. baked potato - 0g
1 oz. potato chips - 10 g vs 1 oz. pretzels - 1g
1 oz. milk chocolate - 9g vs 1 oz. jelly beans - 0g

These are just a few of the possible substitutes you can make to reduce your fat intake.  Check around and you'll find many more.  For myself, I've found that would rather have the substitutes.  I'm not a chocolate lover but I do love jelly beans, and I would take a baked potato over fries any day.  Now I just have to watch what I add to my potato.

Monday, July 14, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Eggplant

I never ate eggplant as a kid and have only had it, I believe, once in my adult life.  The dish I ate was Italian, I believe.  The eggplant was sliced very thin, stuffed with a cheese mixture and covered with a tomato sauce.  I do remember it being quite delicious, even to the point that I went back later for seconds, which I didn't even bother to heat.  I don't know why, but I've just not tried ordering eggplant dishes while dining out nor have I tried cooking with it.  After reading this information, I just might give it a try.

According to a 1982 cookbook titled The Silver Palate the eggplant originated in tropical Asia and was gradually adopted by Near-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, where it is now very much at home.  This rich, dark purple, due to its subtle and elusive flavor is best when combined with stronger-flavored vegetables and seasonings.

Eggplant is versatile and available year-round but buy only those that are firm, shiny and free form wrinkles and blemishes.  Store them for no more than a day or two.  They contain a lot of moisture which can be bitter and the eggplant has a tendency to soak up tremendous amounts of oil or butter when sauteed.  Salting or occasionally blanching, will eliminate both problems.  Cut the eggplant as directed in each recipe; there is usually no need to peel it.  Layer into a colander, salting generously as you go.  The eggplant should stand for about 1 hour while it exudes its juices.  Rinse off the salt and pat it thoroughly dry on paper towels before processing with the recipe.  Blanching for a minute or two in boiling salted water is faster; while more tender eggplant is the results, it can reduce the vegetable's already subtle flavor.

When sauteing eggplant, use only as much oil as directed in the recipe, or the minimum necessary to coat the skillet, and be sure the skillet is quite hot before the eggplant is added.  Toss or turn the pieces as you add them to coat all sides evenly with oil.  DO NOT ADD ANY MORE OIL.  Even after the salting procedure, eggplant can absorb an amazing amount of oil and the resulting dish could be greasy.  If the skillet seems dry, merely stir or turn the eggplant more frequently until properly browned.   Drain on paper towels and proceed with the recipe.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Chilling Out - Cookies

I probably make more cookies and cakes than any other food, because they are so versatile.  Most of my cookies are drop or those that are rolled into balls and flattened.  I've often wondered how I could make my dough easier to work with and this is what I found.

Many cookie recipes call for chilling the dough in the refrigerator before shaping, slicing, or rolling.  This helps to stiffen the butter or shortening and makes the dough more manageable.  It also makes the finished product better because chilled dough needs to be worked less than an unchilled dough.  (This is exactly what I run into.  My dough is sticky and hard to work with so I actually find myself either wetting my hands to form the balls or just doing drop cookies.  This isn't good because I feel sure I don't need to add the extra liquid that is on my hands and I also know that making drop cookies with dough that was meant to be shaped into balls or rolled out don't cook evenly.)

Chill all cookie dough made with butter or shortening in the refrigerator for the time recommended in the recipe.  If you're using margarine for shaping or sliced cookies, you should quick-chill the dough in the freezer for about 1/3 of the refrigerator chilling time.  Do not quick-chill cookie dough made with butter or shortening in the freezer;  it will become too firm.  (I've gone back and looked at a lot of my cookie recipes and most do not suggest refrigerating the dough but they do use a good amount of butter.  Since reading this I've made cookies that use butter and have started refrigerating them for 30 minutes.  This has made them a lot easier to work with, I can roll them into balls easily, and they do seem to cook more evenly.)

For rolled cookies made with margarine, refrigerate the dough at least 5 hours or freeze for 2 hours before rolling.  (I seldom roll out cookies for cutting but if I do, this will come in hand.)

Now, with the holidays just around the corner I hope this information will help you too have some fun times making cookies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Did You Know This? - Beating Eggs

I frequently find recipes that call for 'slightly beaten eggs' and now and then one that calls for 'soft peaks' so I knew how to do them but rarely find one that calls for 'stiff peaks' and 'beaten egg yolks.'  If I did I would probably have to do a bit of research to see how they are different.

Here's how to beat whole eggs, egg whites, or egg yolks to the right consistency called for in recipes:

Slightly Beaten Eggs - Use a fork to beat the whole egg until the yolk and white are combined and o streaks remain.

Beating Egg Whites Until Soft Peaks Form - Place the egg whites in a clean glass or metal bowl (do not use plastic).  Beat the whites with an electric mixer on medium speed or with a rotary beater until they form peaks that curl over when the beaters are lifted out.  Any speck of fat, oil, or yolk in the bowl will prevent whites form developing the necessary whipped consistency.

Beating Egg Whites Until Stiff Peaks Form - Continue beating egg whites, now on high speed until they form peeks with tips that strand straight when the beaters are lifted out.

Beating Egg Yolks - Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes or until they are thick and lemon-colored.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Cooking Lasagna Noodles

Info from Lasagna Classic and Contemporary Favorites by Jack Bishop

There are several important things to remember when precooking noodles for lasagna.  Always boil noodles in an abundant quantity of water and stir frequently to prevent sticking.  One gallon of water is usually sufficient to cook 1 pound of noodles, but 5 quarts will really insure the noodles don't stick together. Do not add oil to water, this will make the noodles slick and difficult to retrieve but do add your salt for flavor.
(I've always added a little oil to all of my pasta to prevent it from sticking but I have noticed that not only will the oil make the pasta slick it will also prevent the sauce you're using from sticking to it.) 

Fresh noodles should be cooked four or five at a time for about 2 minutes.  It's very hard to taste large noodles, so rely on this time guide and remember that fresh noodles can easily be overcooked but are hard to under cook.  Use a large slotted spoon to retrieve noodles and transfer them to a bowl of ice-cold water.  After noodles have cooled (about 30 seconds), drain them and place on a clean kitchen towel to dry.  Repeat the process with remaining noodles.
(I have bought refrigerated "fresh" noodles at the grocery store but never knew they were to be cooked differently from dried.  I also never knew that they should be put in cold water.  I did know to lay them out after they've cooled but I normally use either a piece waxed paper.)

Dried lasagna noodles can be cooked all at once.  Cooking instructions for individual brands are a good guideline, but shave off 1 minute of cooking time.  Again, it's hard to taste large dried noodles as they cook.  If there are small scraps of broken pasta in the box, they can be retrieved from the pot and tasted to give you an idea of how the noodles are progressing.  When dried lasagna noodles are just beginning to become al dente, drain them in a colander and then transfer them to a large bowl of ice-cold water.  Drain again and place on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
(Again the cold water.  I normally just run cold water over mine but I think I'll give this a try.  I have a feeling I've been doing it wrong with all of my pasta so I'm going to to the ice-cold water dip with them too.)

Cooked noodles, both fresh and dried, can be covered with towels and set aside for about 1 hour before use.
(This I didn't know.  I've always tried to use them quickly to prevent them from drying out.  I will say that I've tried the no-boil noodles and DON'T like them.  I've tried them twice and they always seem to come out chewy.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pasta Descriptions and Uses

Some of these I knew, others I didn't.  How about you?


Alphabets - tiny pasta alphabet - used in soups
Anelli - tiny pasta rings - used in soups
Conchiglie - smooth or ridged shell-shaped pasta in several sizes - used in soups or stuffed
Ditali - large pasta "thimbles" with ridges - used in casseroles, salads, soups or with sauces
Elbow Macaroni - curved tubes in a variety of sizes and lengths - used in casseroles and soups
Farfalle - pasta shaped like bows in a variety of sizes and colors - used in soups and stuffings
Lumache - small to medium size snail-shaped pasta - used in casseroles, salads or with sauces
Macaroni - pasta tubes in a variety of sizes and shapes - used in casseroles or soups
Mostaccioli - medium-size pasta tubes with diagonally cut ends - served with hearty meat or tomato sauces
Orzo - tiny pasta resembling oats - used in soups or cooked like rice
Rigatoni - slightly curved small tubes - used in casseroles or soups
Risini - tiny rice-shaped pasta - used in soups
Ziti - short, smooth tubes - used in casseroles


Fettuccine - about 1/4" wide ribbon noodles, straight or in coils - used buttered or in a rich meat sauce
Lasagne - wide pasta, sometimes with curly edges - used in baked dishes
Noodle Flakes - very fine egg pasta sheets cut into 1/4" squares - used in soups
Tagliatelle - 3/4" wide egg noodles - used in casseroles or with sauces


Bucatini - typical spaghetti but hollow instead of solid - used with sauces
Capellini - thin, often coiled, spaghetti - used with sauces
Fusilli - strands of spiral-shaped pasta - used with sauces
Linguine - flat, narrow, long - used in casseroles or with sauces
Spaghettini - long, fine-cut strands of spaghetti - used with sauces
Vermicelli - straight or folded strands of very thin spaghetti - used with sauces

Miscellaneous Pasta:

Cannelloni - 4 to 6 inch pieces of large, fresh pasta rolled around a filling - used baked with sauces
Manicotti - large smooth or ridged pasta tubes - used cooked, filled with cheese or meat and baked
Ravioli - pasta dumpling filled with spinach or ricotta cheese or meat and herbs - used served with sauce
Won Ton Skins - thin soft squares of noodle dough wrapped around or folded over filling of meat, vegetables or seafood - used deep-fried, boiled or steamed


Cellophane noodles - hard, clear white noodles made from mung beans:  turns translucent when cooked in liquid, puffy and crisp when deep fat fried - used in Oriental style dishes
Rice Sticks - thin, brittle white noodles made form rice powder - used softened in liquid, then stir-fried or deep-fat fried in Oriental style dishes

Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Animal Protein and Soy Protein

I've never really eaten soy in any form, maybe because it just doesn't sound nor look that appealing.  But after reading this article I might have to start eating soy!

The basic differences between animal protein and plant proteins are:

Animal protein, in the form of meat, chicken, and fish, is complete all by itself, while vegetable proteins need to be combined with other foods to create complete proteins.  In other words, animal protein provides all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) for tissue growth and repair, while most plant proteins do not.
But... Soybeans are unique because they are high enough in amino acids to provide adequate nutrition in the absence of meat and dairy products, and they are cholesterol-free and very nutrient-dense.  How do you obtain complete protein form vegetable sources?  Cultures around the world, from primitive to advanced, have known the answer to that question for ages; by combining beans with grains.  When consumed together, they provide all the necessary amino acids for complete protein.  Soy foods made this especially easy, since they synthesize more protein than any other type of bean or legume, especially when combined with wheat or rice.

Not only is Soy Cholesterol free but by including whole wheat flour, soy flour and other soy derivatives in your diet, you will automatically increase the amount of fiber that you need to maintain good health.  Plus most soy foods contain relatively low amounts of sodium.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is the most tender cut of pork (In beef, it's what is called filet mignon.)  At the butcher shop or grocery store, choose pork that's pale pink.  The older the animal, the darker the meat.  It should have a bit of marbling and white, not yellow fat.  When you get the meat home, remove it from the package.  Exercise care as with any uncooked meat and wash everything that touches it.  Refrigerate it, wrapped loosely in fresh plastic or wax paper for no more than 2 days.

Now did you know this?

When a recipe says to allow the meat to "rest" it means to delay cutting the meat for a few minutes after taking it out of the oven.  During this time, the juices settle into the meat fiber.  Without this resting period, the juices run out too freely when the meat is cut and some of the flavor leaches away.

Also, a tinfoil tent keeps the meat from cooling too much while it rests.  In a pinch, if you don't have tinfoil, make a tent from a torn-open paper bag.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wine Cookery

We've gone through what all the sloshing, swirling and spitting wine is all about now I'm going to give you the information I found on Cooking with wine.  These tips are just generalizations about cooking with wine to help you get into the swing of it.

1.  When cooking with wine, bring the dish to the boiling point, and do not cover - this allows the spirits to evaporate, leaving the essential flavor behind, but do not boil.
2.  When you marinate meat in wine (for flavor and/or as a tenderizer), dry the meat well before cooking or it will not brown.
3.  Meats that will eventually have wine added to their cooking sauce should be well browned at the start of their cooking period, before wine is added.
4.  White wine is best for fish - the only part of the old rule that should be adhered to;  red wine is too assertive a flavor, and will also stain the flesh of the fish an unpleasant color.
5.  Delicate dishes (fillet of sole, for example) can take only a little wine, while more robust ones can stand more.
6.  If a recipe does not call for wine, but you would like to substitute some for part of the liquid, add only a very little at a time, tasting as you go.
7.  Be sparing with sherry, which has a strong flavor; make certain what you use is dry sherry, not one of the sweet varieties;  soup is the exception, where cream sherry may be used.
8.  When you are making a very tart or a very highly, spicily seasoned dish, omit wine.
9.  Taste as you cook - never add so much wine that it drowns out the flavor of the dish's chief ingredient; in dishes with very saulty ingredients, add salt to season only at the end of cooking time, if needed.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Xylitol and Dogs

This is an article that I received from a site called Healthy Pets.  If you're a pet lover this is something you really need to know if you don't already.  I never knew how dangerous this would be to my Jesse and will be extremely careful to make sure he never gets into this deadly ingredient.

Very Important:  Never Let Your Dog Get at Any Product Containing This...
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol extracted from certain fruits and vegetables. Because of its sweet taste and plaque fighting benefits in humans, xylitol is a common sugar substitute found in a diverse assortment of products. These include sugar-free gum, mints and other candy, baked goods, nicotine gum, chewable vitamins, certain prescription drugs, and dental hygiene products. Nontoxic amounts are even included in some pet dental products.
Because xylitol has a low glycemic index, it's also sold in bulk as a sugar substitute for baking and in-home use -- which is why the Pet Poison Helpline has fielded calls from owners of dogs that became very sick after eating homemade bread, muffins and cupcakes made with xylitol.
Where Else is Xylitol Found? 
According to the Pet Poison Helpline (PPH), xylitol – which as many pet owners know is quite toxic for dogs, causing hypoglycemia and hepatic necrosis – is showing up in an ever-increasing number of surprising places. New products on the market, including some nasal sprays, over-the-counter sleep aids, multivitamins, prescription sedatives, antacids, stool softeners, and smoking-cessation gums, contain "unexpectedly large amounts" of xylitol, according to Dr. Anna Brutlag of PPH.
Dogs who sample these products get a double dose of toxicity, first from the active ingredient in the product, and secondarily from the xylitol. This potentially deadly combination can greatly complicate the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for these animals.
According to Dr. Brutlag, the following "atypical" products contain xylitol. Some may surprise you…
Over-the-counter medications:
  • Axia3 ProDigestive Antacid (flavored chewable tablets, propriety amount)
  • Children's Allegra Oral Suspension
  • Fleet Pedia-Lax Liquid Stool Softener
  • Umcka Cold and Flu chewable tablets (homeopathic product)
Dietary supplements, vitamins:
  • KAL Colostrum Chewable, Vanilla Cream (chewable tablets)
  • KAL Dinosaurs Children's Vitamins and Minerals (chewable tablets)
  • Kidz Digest Chewable Berry from Transformation Enzyme
  • L'il Critters Fiber Gummy Bears
  • Mega D3 Dots with 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 per "dot" (dissolvable tablet)
  • Stress Relax's Suntheanine L-Theanine chewable tablets
  • Vitamin Code Kids by Garden of Life (chewable multivitamins)
  • Super Sleep Soft Melts by Webber Natural (dissolvable tablets)
Nasal products:
  • Xlear Sinus Care Spray
  • Xylear Nasal Spray (for adults and children)
  • Xyliseptic Nasal Spray
Prescription drugs:
  • Abilify Discmelt Orally Disinteg­rating Tablets (aripiprazole)
  • Clonazepam Orally Disintegrating Tablets, benzodiazepine
  • Emtriva oral solution (emtricitabine), HIV-1 reverse transcriptase inhibitor
  • Mobic Oral Suspension (meloxicam), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
  • Neurontin (gabapentin) Oral Solution
  • Riomet (metformin) Oral Solution, antidiabetic agent
  • Varibar barium sulfate products, liquids and puddings for swallowing studies
  • Zegerid Powder for Oral Suspension (omeprazole), proton pump inhibitor
Foods with xylitol as the primary sweetener (excluding gums and mints):
  • Clemmy's Rich and Creamy ice cream products
  • Dr. John's products (hard and soft candies, chocolates, drink mixes and so on)
  • Jell-O sugar-free pudding snacks
  • Nature's Hollow jams, syrup, ketchup, honey and so on
  • SparX Candy
  • Zipfizz energy drink-mix powders
Toxicity of Xylitol Is Species- and Dose-Dependent 
While xylitol is safe for human consumption, the same can't be said for pets. In 2011, the FDA released a consumer alert on the dangers of xylitol ingestion in certain animals. The sweetener's effect varies by species. In people, rhesus monkeys, rats, and horses, intravenous (IV) xylitol causes little to no insulin release. However, it has the opposite effect on baboons, cows, goats, rabbits, dogs, and ferrets. Its effect on cats is unknown.
Humans absorb xylitol slowly, and the sweetener when ingested orally is absorbed at from about 50 to 95 percent. However, in dogs, xylitol is rapidly and completely absorbed within about 30 minutes. Just a small amount of xylitol can cause a dangerous insulin surge and a rapid drop in blood sugar.
The toxicity of xylitol in dogs is dose-dependent. The dose required to trigger hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) is approximately 0.1 grams/kg, while the amount needed to cause hepatic necrosis (liver failure) is approximately 0.5 grams/kg. As a point of reference, most chewing gums and breath mints typically contain .22 to 1.0 gram of xylitol per piece of gum or per mint. This means just a single piece of gum or one mint may cause hypoglycemia in a 10-pound dog.
Determining the Amount of Xylitol in a Product 
Product manufacturers aren't required to list the quantity of xylitol on package labels, and while some companies will reveal the amount in their products, many are reluctant to do so. Incredibly, some have even asked veterinarians to sign a confidentiality agreement before divulging how much of the sweetener is in a particular product.
Fortunately, the Pet Poison Helpline has been working to get this information from manufacturers, and has been relatively successful. So if you need to know the amount of xylitol contained in a specific product, the Helpline suggests you call them first at 1-800-213-6680.
In some cases, you might be able to use the placement of xylitol on an ingredient list to estimate how much is in the product. In the U.S., ingredient lists for foods must be organized in descending order based on weight. The ingredient that weighs the most is at the top of the list. According to Dr. Brutlag, in most chewing gum ingredient lists, xylitol appears in fourth or fifth place, making it clinically insignificant. She says if it appears as one of the first three ingredients, however, extreme caution should be taken.
I'll go a step further and recommend that dog guardians avoid or very carefully secure any product that contains any amount of xylitol, no matter how small.
When it comes to medications and dietary supplements, U.S. regulations do not require manufacturers to list xylitol by name on package labels. This is because the sweetener is often categorized as an "inactive" or "other" ingredient, and such ingredients don't have to be listed in order by the amount contained in the product. To confuse matters further, when xylitol is named in these products, it is often part of an alphabetized list, which could lead pet owners to assume – perhaps in error – that there is a very small amount in the product.
So I'll repeat my recommendation to dog owners to either avoid or very carefully store any product that contains xylitol in any amount.
Symptoms of Xylitol Poisoning and Required Treatment 
Symptoms of xylitol intoxication in dogs include vomiting, weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, and collapse.
Hypoglycemia is usually evident within an hour or two after a dog ingests xylitol, but symptoms are occasionally delayed for several hours. Treatment depends on how quickly it is given. Vomiting is induced in cases where the xylitol has just been ingested. Once a dog develops hypoglycemia, IV dextrose must be administered until the animal can self-regulate his blood glucose concentrations, which typically takes from 12 to 48 hours.
In dogs who ingest enough xylitol to cause liver toxicity, liver enzymes must be closely monitored, as evidence of hepatic necrosis can show up one to two days after ingestion. Should the liver begin to fail, the dog will require IV fluids, dextrose, hepatoprotectants (substances to help support and repair the liver), and regular monitoring of blood clotting activity.
When xylitol exposure is caught early in a dog and treated effectively, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. The prognosis for dogs that develop hepatic failure is less optimistic.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Indoor Grill Tips

I know you don't end up with the same flavor as you would if you used an outdoor grill but the indoor grills are still great, and healthy too.  I enjoy mine and when I ran across these tips I decided I would share.  And they come from the expert too... George Foreman!

Tip #1 - Food Comes First - Whether you're stocking the fridge for the weekend, or shopping at the supermarket on the way home from work to pick up things for the evening supper, train to win by developing a food-shopping strategy.  The great thing about indoor grilling is that it helps you get dinner on the table with only a few simple ingredients, so plan ahead to have those ingredients on hand and come out swinging when the dinner bell rings.

Tip #2 - Boneless is Best - A bone-in piece of meat takes longer on the grill, since the meat closest to the bone takes longer than the rest of the meat.  Not only does boneless cook faster, it cooks evenly and is juicy throughout.

Tip #3 - Thin is Better Than Thick - And not just when it comes to waistlines.  When buying meat or fish for the grill, leave the double-cut pork chops or thick slab of tuna for the outdoor grill.  For meat that's juicy on the inside and crisp but not too crisp on the outside, use the cuts recommended in the recipes.

Tip #4 - Add Flavor First - Don't leave seasoning to be done at the table - take a lesson from championship chefs and make it a round-one event.  Marinate, rub with spices, or simple season with salt and pepper, but do it before the food hits the grill for the best cooked-in flavor.

Tip #5 - Keep it Neat - Set out your ingredients ahead of time, next to the grill.  Use a tray to park things until needed and then keep a platter on the other side of the grill for the finished food.  A mini assembly line keeps things moving fast and easy.