What’s THAT?: ‘Xanthan gum’?

I am fairly new to having this in my pantry. I bought my package back in September…I think…and even though I’ve been slowly using it (when the recipe calls for it!), I still have most of the package left. That is because when a recipe calls for it, I only have to use 1/4 teaspoon or less!

So what in the world is this stuff?

Xanthan gum is a fancy little ingredient that food companies put in products to make the ingredients bind together. It’s in salad dressing, crackers, chewing gum, toothpaste, spices, ice cream, etc, etc. You get the point? It’s everywhere!

In short, it’s the sticky stuff that holds your food together.

Why is it in your pantry?

Well, in regular wheat flour baking, gluten holds the bread, muffins, etc. together. But in gluten-free baking, there is not much holding the baked product together. By adding xanthan gum, it helps stabilize your cookies and make them chewy…without all the crumbs.

How much do I use?

One of my books, “Simply Sugar and Gluten-free” by Amy Green, says: “My general rule for using xanthan gum is 1/4 teaspoon per 1 cup flour when making cupcakes, cookies, and muffins, and 1/2 teaspoon per 1 cup flour for cakes.”

If you add too much to your recipes, you will end up with a rubbery sort of mess. So it’s kind of a chemistry project!



What’s THAT?: Hydrogenated Oils (Part 2)

(photo credit: healthyls.blogspot.com)

Yesterdays post was on hydrogenated oils. Today, I’m going to clear up some loose ends on hydrogenated oils and explain, more in detail, what hydrogenated oil is.

What exactly is “hydrogenated oil”?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, lard and butter were quickly going out with the dinosaur and this new thing was coming in: margarine. This new invention brought in a new process also, hydrogenation. Food companies used this process to be able to take liquid oils and fatty acids and bombard them with hydrogen molecules. When they did this, it converted the liquid oils into more of a solid form. The more hydrogen, the more solid. Fully-hydrogenated oils are not found in foods, because they are too hard. So, the invention of “partially-hydrogenated oils” came about, which is fully-hydrogenated oils lacking some hydrogen molecules.

“Trans-fats are the result of partially hydrogenating oils to reach a semi solid state at room temperature.” (quote from fooducate.com)

What is the process?

Livestrong.com explains the process:

“In the process of hydrogenation, a vegetable oil is heated and set aside in a container with hydrogen gas and a metal that acts as a catalyst to incorporate the hydrogen into the oil. The hydrogenated oil solidifies.
When an oil is fully hydrogenated, it is converted into a saturated fat but when it is only partially hydrogenated, it turns into a trans fat. Trans fats are considered more dangerous to your health than saturated fats or any other type of fat.”

What should I be looking for in the ingredient list so I can avoid it?

  • Check the labels! …I know I say this a lot, but it’s really the only thing you can do to know what is in what you are eating.
  • Avoid things that say “partially _____ oil” or “hydrogenated _____ oil.” The blank is for the many various kind of oils that are out there…..vegetable, palm, soybean, etc. When they are hydrogenated, they are not good.

Read more:


What’s THAT?: Hydrogenated Oils (Part 1)

We all have heard the buzz on the dreaded “hydrogenated oils.” Or maybe you haven’t. You may be thinking to yourself, “What in the world is this girl talking about?”

According to WiseGeek: “Hydrogenated oil is oil in which the essential fatty acids have been converted to a different form chemically, which has several effects. Hydrogenated oil is far more shelf stable, and will not go rancid as quickly as untreated oil. It also has a higher melting point, and is often used in frying and pastries for this reason.”

Why does it matter if I eat these?

Hydrogenated oils have been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the realization of the negative health effects were realized. Consuming hydrogenated oils can lead to:

  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Inflammation
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

According to the Harvard School of Public Health: “the risk of cardiovascular disease rises 23 percent for every 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats consumed every day.”

But the label says ‘trans fat free’ so I’m not consuming any trans fat

Trans fat Misconception!: “The FDA required food labels to list trans fat content in 2006, but many consumers are confused by products that state “zero trans fats” when they contain partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. The FDA allows foods with less than 0.5 percent of trans fat per serving to be labeled “zero trans fats.” If the serving size is small, a person eating several servings of this food could actually be consuming a large amount of trans fats.” (www.livestrong.com)

So, in other words, if you eat anything that contains:  “partially hydrogenated oil”….you are consuming TRANSFAT!

What products have hydrogenated oils in them?

  • Margarine
  • Commercially made baked goods: tortillas, bread, cakes, cookies, and donuts
  • Non-dairy products: non-dairy whipped topping, commercial frostings, and non-dairy creamer
  • Peanut butter
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate candy
  • White bread
  • Cake mixes
  • Waffles
  • Crackers
  • Frozen entrees
  • Crisco
  • Various boxes processed food items (check the labels!!)

Hydrogenated oils can be put into anything and just because the label says it’s healthy does not mean it is! Always, turn the box or package over to uncover the truth. “100 Days of Real Food” found “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list on the package of oatmeal marked “heart healthy.” It makes me upset that they can advertise this, with obvious ingredients in it that would be the opposite of “heart healthy.”

(photo credit: “100 Days of Real Food.”)

Read more:


What’s THAT?: Meet Kale

Meet Kale. It may not be that weird, but it was weird to me when it was first mentioned that I should eat it. WHAT? It’s strange looking and not what usually shows up in my salad.

My trainer, Jenn, had added it in to my meal plan, and when I saw it, I quickly replied: “Um, can I just eat spinach.” She let me substitute it, and it wasn’t until I saw the movie Forks over Knives that I realized it was a superfood that everyone should be eating everyday!

Joel Fuhrman, author of many nutrition books including “Eat to Live” puts kale as 1000 on the list of the most nutrient dense foods! Translation: probably THE most important, nutritious foods we can eat.

Joel Fuhrman’s list of nutrient dense foods

Here is another poster I found that explains why kale is a superfood to us humans:

Whew, that’s some good stuff!

Okay, so taste part and what to do with it for us “normal people.”

It is a very bitter vegetable. It’s nothing like eating iceberg or happy little romaine. It is beyond me why God would create such an awesome vegetable but then make it taste like dirt. Maybe there are people out there that do like the taste of kale, but for me, it was tough getting down the first few times. But now, after giving it a few tries, I’ve gotten used to the flavor and ways to make it to sneak it into my food.

Here are a few ways to eat it:

  • Make kale chips
  • Eat it raw: remove stems, and put it into a bowl with olive oil and a little bit of salt (takes away the bitter taste)
  • Mix it in with something: like “Bubble and Squeak”!
  • Buy baby kale (which is less bitter), and mix it in with your romaine salad
  • Juice it! It goes pretty well through a juicer, and then you can add an apple to take away some of the flavor.
  • Blend it! This is what I do for my kids: In a blender, mix kale, blueberries, almond milk, and strawberries…you will never taste the kale, trust me, kid approved! 😉
  • Saute it! In a pan, mix together olive oil, salt, and kale. Cook lightly until soft.

Kale is found at most all grocery stores. I always thought it was one of those “special vegetables” that only came from Whole Foods. Well, I was wrong; kale is pretty much everywhere I’ve been, and it’s not a special Whole Foods vegetable. It’s about as common as iceberg.

I’m still learning how to cook with kale, anyone have any favorite recipes or uses? Would love to hear from you, please share! 🙂

Happy kale eating!


What’s that?: Quinoa

“What is this stuff? It sounds weird…” This is what I said a year ago when my trainer told me try it. I didn’t even know where to buy it, let alone what the stuff was. Plus, I was constantly mispronouncing it. (It’s pronounced: “KWIN-wah”) Fancy, huh!?

What is it?

Straight from Wikipedia: “Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seed. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family. Quinoa is closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds.

Above is a picture of Quinoa growing. It is a seed not a grain, although cooks and tastes more grain-like than seed-like. It is known as the “little rice” of Peru.

Where do I buy it?

I have found quinoa to be at every grocery store I’ve been to, which includes Randalls, HEB, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Tom Thumb, Safeway, and Kroger. Is that enough places to say it’s everywhere?

It is not in the main-viewing area of shopping, usually. Although, it is growing in popularity. If you are trying to find it, look low and look high on the shelves. More than likely it is down the same aisle as rice. In the grocery store I shop at the most, I’ve noticed that they usually only have 1 row of about 8 boxes on the shelf. Pretty small compared to the 20 rows of various rice flavors and such. Anyways, look hard, it’s there!

Why would I want to buy it and eat it?

Quinoa is very high in its protein content (18%). It is also a source of complete protein. Other things it’s a good source of is dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and iron. It is also gluten-free and is considered easy to digest.

So, your not sold yet? It has a grain-like flavor to it as the carb content it similar to rice and pasta. I use it frequently as a side dish, or it could easy be served as part of a main dish….stir-fried chicken and veggies over quinoa,  or marina sauce with veggies served over quinoa…. The ideas are endless. Basically, I think of it as a healthier option in substitution for rice or pasta.

How would I prepare it?

Place two parts water or stock to one part of quinoa in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer the quinoa for about 15 minutes or until it becomes translucent and the white germ forms a visible spiral on the exterior of the quinoa grain. Quinoa will be soft, in the same way as pasta, when done.


Ch, Ch, Ch, CHIA!

Anyone remember that commercial back in the late 80’s? So catchy!

I have mentioned, in my past posts, about using Chia seeds in my smoothies.

WHAT? The same stuff? Yup, the same stuff from the commercial is healthy for you to drink in your smoothie!

To our family, it is a new product. In the past month I’ve been researching and hearing more and more about Chia seeds and the benefits of using them. People have been using Chia seeds for thousands of years. Long before someone discovered, if spread on a plastic dog shape and then watered….”Ch, Ch, Ch, Chia!”

mychiaseeds.com claims that eating them helps you loose weight, and curb your cravings, blah, blah. I tend to not buy into all that, because there is WAY more to both of those than just simply adding some seeds into you diet. Anyways, on the list is some good benefits though:

  • Balance blood sugar
  • Add healthy omega-3 oil into your diet
  • Bake with less fat

This is what first grabbed my attention….“bake with less fat.” What? How?

I am not a vegan, nor do I know any vegans or have any knowledge of vegan based meals. So, if your in the same boat as me, maybe this is new to you too. Get this, Chia seeds are used as an egg replacement for vegan baked goods. I know this may sound weird, and I kept thinking “well, who cares about a dumb egg replacement!? I’m pro-egg!”

I have been baking with alternative ingredients for almost a year now. I have tried many recipes, many recipes have failed, and have invented a few along the way. I decided to put my family up for the challenge of replacing egg with the chia seeds. Why? Because I’m always looking for new and healthier ways to bake for my family.

(*Note: before replacing the egg, you have to make the chia replacement gel. 1T. chia seeds to 9T. water. Mix. Let sit for 10-15 minutes and then add 1T. of Chia gel per egg replaced. Example: recipe calls for 2 eggs. So, simply replace with 2T. chia gel. You can store the unused prepared gel, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.)

For my experiment, I decided to start with a recipe I had made…um, about 10 times already. Granola Bars. My kids love this recipe and I’ve shared with you all. The recipe calls for 1 egg also, so an easy replacement. Bake them, cooled them, served them….YUM! No difference in texture or flavor. It went through the kid test, so chia seeds are a go!

My next experimental place was my Nut Butter Bars. Another SCORE!

Whew, this momma’s on a roll!!! Anyways, I will keep you posted as I find new a fun ways to add the cute little seed in.

Anyone else use Chia Seeds?