Mighty Crumb Baking Company

Food To Live For™

Important Popcorn Update

I’m still learning about nutrition and health, reading articles daily.  Today I learned a disturbing fact about microwave popcorn in an article titled, “7 Foods You Should Never Eat”

published by the Health Freedoms Alliance. Chemicals including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) lining microwavable popcorn bags cause infertility, liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer.  When heated, they vaporize and infuse the kernels.  I felt uncertain about the “Snap,Crackle, Popcorn” recipe I included in my post called “When to Choose Organic Produce”, so I called the manufacturer of the popcorn I’d recommended in the recipe, Bearitos brand organic “No Oil, No Salt”, to ask about their bags. I was very happy to learn that they specifically do not use PFOA in theirs.  While I do feel better knowing this, the article was thought-provoking, and I am questioning the use of a paper bag in the microwave for any use since it contains dioxins, another cancer-causing chemical.  I never use any other paper or plastic products in the microwave so why would I use a popcorn bag?  My new popcorn kernel recommendations: Pop them in a microwave-safe bowl with a safe lid or dish over it; allow steam to escape by leaving a small gap.  Or, pop the old-fashioned way on the stove.

The other six foods to avoid that are included in the article are:  canned tomatoes as the acid in tomatoes leaches out even more bisphenol-A (BPA) (an estrogen-like hormone that can cause infertility, and breast and testicular cancers) than is present in most canned foods; corn-fed beef which is less nutritious than grass-fed; non-organic potatoes which, like all root vegetables, absorb fungicides, pesticides and herbicides through the soil, and are treated with even more chemicals so they won’t sprout once harvested; farmed salmon which is filled with contaminants; milk with artificial hormones; and conventional apples, the fruit with the highest pesticide residue.  You can read the article here:  http://healthfreedoms.org/2011/12/06/7-foods-you-should-never-eat/

Updated Coconut Popcorn

1/2 cup of organic, plain popcorn kernels

2 T coconut oil

1 t Himalayan salt

Melt coconut oil in saute pan.  Add kernels and cover, shaking pan and watching carefully.  Alternatively, pop plain kernels in microwavable bowl covered by dish leaving slight gap for steam to escape using popcorn setting; add melted oil to kernels afterwards if using microwave.  Add salt when popped.

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Wow, Cacao!

Revered for its health benefits since the 16th century as a Mayan cocoa drink, cacao the part of chocolate that comes from the cocoa bean, has recently been the subject of numerous studies.  The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value of cacao is higher than blueberries, strawberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, amazingly, cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids and phytonutrients than any food studied. Among the many health benefits, studies have found improved kidney function, increased insulin sensitivity and cognitive and mood enhancement. Research has also shown the following amazing cardiovascular benefits from its flavanols:

• dilated blood vessels  • lower blood pressure  • an anti-clotting effect similar to the daily aspirin benefit  • prevention of additional neural damage in the case of a stroke  • improved function of endothelial cells (cells lining the arteries)  • higher anti-oxidant levels in the blood  • lower levels of LDL-cholesterol – the so called “bad cholesterol”

Healthy Chocolate Choices

While chocolate is available in many forms, the types of chocolate vary according to the proportion of cacao used in each.  If you are into eating chocolate for its health benefits as well as its satisfying deliciousness, there are a few ways to get the biggest bang for the bite.

1. First and best is raw cacao in the form of cacao nibs. Raw cacao is an amazing superfood due to its high mineral and antioxidant content. Even the 40-50% fat found in cacao seeds in the form of cocoa butter is highly nutritious, sometimes used as a substitute for cod-liver oil and as a prescribed part of a diet during the last days of pregnancy. Since many of the special properties of cacao are destroyed or lost by cooking, refining, and processing, raw nibs offer the purest form of readily edible cacao.  How to use them?  See recipe ideas below.

2.  Cocoa powder is the nonfat part of the cocoa bean.  The cocoa we know and love is usually combined with sugar, cocoa butter, and soy lecithin. Adding milk to chocolate counters the health benefits by blocking the activity of the phytochemicals responsible for the powerful antioxidant activity of cacao.  Hence my new favorite healthy chocolate drink–the “Tcho shot”. Tcho chocolate in San Francisco produces a fabulous drinking chocolate that retains the fruitiness of the cacao bean. When combined in small doses with boiling water, the ensuing shot of hot chocolate is the richest, most delicious chocolate drink I’ve ever tasted.

3. Dark Chocolate – In order to get the health benefits from edible chocolate, seventy percent cacao or higher is the optimal amount. Make sure “70%” is disclosed on the package and be wary of the term “dark chocolate” which, for some brands, can actually be as low as 35% cacao as the U.S. has no standard requirement for dark chocolate.  In cooking, dark chocolate is synonymous with semisweet, and extra dark with bittersweet, although the ratio of cocoa butter to solids may vary. There are many great choices of high-end chocolate bars boasting 70% and higher.  For my Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato Antioxidoodles™, I use a delicious 70% chocolate chip packaged for the consumer under Whole Foods’ own brand.

Moderation is key.  
Try to make a little go a long way: research shows you get maximum benefit with fewer ill effects from just one or two squares a day.
• A small bar contains about a quarter of the recommended daily calorie intake for women.
• Chocolate contains saturated fats, the ones closely associated with heart disease.
• A survey of people’s dieting habits revealed that chocolate derailed the best intentions of 48 per cent of female dieters and 32 per cent of male dieters.
Uses for Cacao Nibs
Add them to salad, trail mix, granola, blend into smoothies, sprinkle on ice cream.
Four Flavors Salad
4 c arugula
1-2 chopped avocados
1 pear, peeled and sliced (I prefer Comice pears for their sweetness)
1/4 c cacao nibs
freshly ground pepper to taste
Vinaigrette dressing, whisk together:
1/4 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 t Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Quinoa–A Gluten-Free Grain for Every Healthy Foodie

The other day, a friend asked me how to make a healthy vegetarian meal.  It got me thinking about the magic of quinoa.  Because it is so nutritious, quinoa is a regular at our gluten-free table with or without meat.  With a 17-year old athlete in the family, it is important to be sure he’s getting enough protein and that he feels satisfied even after a meatless meal.  How can quinoa, a miniscule grain–about the same size as the tip of a ballpoint pen–pack such a wallop of nutrition?  It is  loaded with protein, and not just any protein, but “complete protein”, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids.  This makes it great for vegetarians, vegans, athletes…all of us who need adequate protein intake.  Quinoa is also abundant in many health-supporting nutrients.  One of its particularly copious amino acids is lysine, which is necessary for tissue growth and repair. And, because quinoa packs a big dose of manganese and is a good source of magnesium, folate,  calcium, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin (vitamin B2), it can help prevent and alleviate migraine headaches, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and arrhythmias. Whew!

Quinoa’s Versatility

Quinoa is available as a grain, a flour and flake.  The grain form is golden or red, the red being slightly firmer and higher in fiber.  Either can be cooked just like white rice–even in a rice cooker–and eaten with veggies, sauces, in soups, stews and as a side dish to accompany meats.  For an every day quinoa side dish, use a 1:2 ratio of grains to water or broth, and boil well-rinsed grains for 15 minutes.  Add  Himalayan salt and pepper to taste.  For a delicious, healthy, gluten-free twist on Moroccan cous cous, see below.  The flour form of quinoa is used in commercially available quinoa-based products like pasta.  I use the flour instead of wheat for gluten-free baking either on its own, or combined with other gluten-free flours such as garbanzo, brown rice, sorghum and tapioca flours.  For breads, cakes and pie crusts, this requires the addition of xantham gum, a natural bacteria that mimics the sticky, chewy, glutenous qualities of the absent gluten.  I use 1/2 teaspoon for every cup of flour.  On the quinoa flake box is a recipe for a warm cereal which I think has an unappealing, raw flour-like taste.  Perhaps toasting the flakes first would help, but I have a different interest in these little gems.  I use them to make gluten-free, healthy alternative matzoh balls at Channukah, Passover and any time of the year.  For a nutrient-amped version of an old classic, see recipe below.

Gluten-Free, Supercharged Moroccan Quinoa “Cous Cous”

3/4 c shallots, chopped

1 t coconut oil

3 c broth (chicken or vegetable)

1/2 t Himalayan salt

1/2 t pepper

1 1/2 c quinoa grains, rinsed well

1/4 c currants

1/4 c pine nuts, toasted

In saucepan, saute shallots in coconut oil for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Add grains and boil 15 minutes on a medium heat. When done, turn off heat and stir in toasted pine nuts and currants.

 

Quinoa Souffle “Matzoh” Balls–This recipe is a gluten-free, updated twist on a fabulous gourmet matzoh ball recipe from Chef Jeff Nathan.

3 eggs separated

1/4 c canola oil

1 t Himalayan salt

1 t freshly ground pepper

1 t parsley, chopped

1 c quinoa flakes

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t xantham gum

1 t onion flakes, optional

Fill large pot with water and put over high heat to boil.  Meanwhile, mix yolks with oil, salt, pepper and parsley.  In a second bowl, whip egg  whites to soft peaks (not stiff, dry peaks). In third bowl, combine last four dry ingredients.  Stir yolks into dry ingredients.  Next, fold egg whites into “dough”.  Let dough sit 20 minutes.  Using a teaspoon, scoop dough and form into small balls about 1 1/2″ wide; they will expand as they boil.  Drop into boiling water.  Turn balls after a few minutes to be sure both sides are evenly cooked.  Boil for 20 minutes. Voila!

 

When to Choose Organic Produce

Did you see “Food Inc.”?  Has it changed your supermarket behavior?  It did mine.  Having followed Michael Pollan’s sage advice since, I buy organic foods whenever possible in my local supermarket, specialty markets and farmer’s markets.  According to Pollan, buying produce grown in healthy soil “benefits not only your health (by, among other things, reducing your exposure to pesticides and pharmaceuticals), but also the health of the people who grow the foods as well as the people who live downstream and downwind of the farms where it is grown.”  I’ll take my local farmer’s produce over Monsanto’s any day.  That said, this is an expensive choice.  Another option is to become informed about which organic foods are most worthy of your hard-earned money. 

When to choose organic?  The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit aiming to protect public health and the environment, published a shopper’s guide to the “Dirty Dozen”–12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. The EWG reviewed close to 100,000 produce pesticide reports for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and found that several fruits and vegetables contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving. This produce is more susceptible than others because it has softer skin which absorbs more pesticides.  According to the EWG you can reduce pesticide exposure by up to 80% by choosing the organic version of these Dirty Dozen:

1.Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Domestic blueberries
6. Nectarines
  7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Spinach, kale and collard greens
9. Cherries
10. Potatoes
11. Imported grapes
12. Lettuce

Potatoes, Corn (recipes below) and Soy: These three foods are on my list of organic musts.  Of the 12 Dirty Dozen offenders, potatoes are the one we often peel.  However, it’s important to know that peeling won’t remove the bulk of pesticides; a study by the USDA showed that 81 percent of potatoes still contained pesticides, even after being washed and peeled. Corn and soy, while not on the list of offenders, are on my list of organic musts because they are often genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  We just don’t know enough about the long-term consequences of GMOs.  And, since one of the goals of genetically modifying seeds is to enable them to withstand more pesticide use, I’ll take mine without, thank you very much.  According to the EWG, “Commodity crop corn used for animal feed and biofuels is almost all produced with genetically modified (GMO) seeds, as is some sweet corn sold for human consumption. Since GMO sweet corn is not labeled as such in US stores, EWG advises those who have concerns about GMOs to buy organic sweet corn.”

Pesticides and Nutritional Content: Just to throw a wrench into the organic vs. conventional issue and offer another plug for organics, another consideration when choosing produce is the effect of pesticides on the nutritional content of the food.  Several studies of plants grown with pesticides have found that antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are not as abundant as they are in the organic versions.  This was true for crops and even for tea leaves which are supposedly loaded with antioxidants.

What to do? According to the EWG, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. The bottom line:  Eat a diet rich in fruits and veggies, and choose wisely.

Healthy Mashed   I made this for Thanksgiving this year, and ooh la la were they delish.  They were voted a new staple in my family for Thanksgiving and any old day.  This recipe replaces dairy with healthful coconut oil and conventional salt with mineral-rich Himalayan salt.

  8 medium size organic Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into quarters

3-4 T coconut oil

About 1 t Himalayan salt

About 1 t freshly ground pepper

Boil potatoes for 30 minutes until fork-tender.  Drain.  Add coconut oil and mash.  Oil will melt as you mash.  Pick out large pieces of potato skin or leave in if you wish.  Add salt and pepper  to taste and mash again.

Snap, Crackle, Popcorn   This delicious, simple popcorn recipe comes from Chef Trudy Schafer who specializes in preparing nutritionally packed meals for people with cancer.  She is the head chef for the Ceres Community Project of Marin, an amazing nonprofit teaching teens to prepare healthful, organic, healing meals and deliver them to people with cancer in the community.

1 package Bearitos organic, “No Oil, No Salt” popping corn

2 T coconut oil, melted

1 t Himalayan salt

Pop kernels in microwave according to directions.  Pour finished popcorn into bowl.  Add melted oil and salt and toss.


Coconut Oil–A New Staple in My Pantry

Coconut seems to be the “it” food of the moment.  Or maybe it’s here to stay.  With its many varied and delicious gifts including coconut water (see earlier post), shredded and flaked coconut for baking, and my newest favorite–coconut oil, the coconut is the new trend among healthy foodies due to its recently touted health benefits, see below.  This morning I made lemon pancakes and ditched the butter for coconut oil in the pan. OMG! The light, crispy texture, and the delicate coconut flavor were the ticket to push these flapjacks over the top.  Here’s my recipe:

Light Lemony Coconutty Pancakes

1/2 c cottage cheese or ricotta cheese

1/2 c creme fraiche or sour cream

two eggs, separated

zest of 1 lemon

1T lemon juice

1/2 c flour (I used gluten free all purpose flour)

1 1/2 t sugar

1/2 t baking powder

pinch of salt

coconut oil

In a bowl, combine the first five ingredients leaving out the egg whites. In a second bowl, beat the egg whites until they are soft peaks.  In a third bowl, combine the last four dry ingredients.  Heat about 2 T of coconut oil in a 12″ skillet until melted and very thin.  Stir the cheese mixture into the dry ingredients.  Add the egg whites and gently fold the mixture over the whites until whites are incorporated.  Drop spoonfuls of batter into oil and cook about 2 minutes per side.  Add your favorite organic berries and maple syrup on top.

 

Coconut Oil Health Benefits

It took me a while to get past the saturated fat bad rap.  Here’s what I learned:

In the 1950’s scientists discovered a link between heart disease and hydrogenated fats such as margerine.  Along came the assumption among the medical community that saturated fats were also connected to heart disease.  Thus the low-fat food and diet craze was born.  Fast forward to today, and we now know that the true hydrogenated cardiovascular culprit is, and always was, the trans fat. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

While the fat in coconut is 90% saturated fat, 50% of that is lauric acid.  Lauric acid, a rare food nutrient. Our bodies convert lauric acid to monolaurin which has antibactirial, anti-viral and anti-protozoal properties.  It can help fight viruses such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia.  Further, coconut oil can help prevent atherosclerosis, maintain healthy digestion, kidney and liver function, lower cholesterol, and even support weight loss.

Lastly, some research suggests that coconut oil may be the only oil stable enough to resist heat-induced damage. For example, frying polyunsaturated vegetable oils including corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola destroys the antioxidants in the oils and causes these oils to create trans fats and other toxic chemicals.  Other monounsaturated oils, such as olive, which reach their smoking point sooner than coconut oil may also lose their healthful antioxidants and become toxic at high heat.

 

Coconut oil comes in solid form and melts when heated.

Healthy Sugar Alternatives in Baking

This morning a friend asked me for some baking advice.  She is avoiding refined sugar and asked what sweetener I use in my healthy Mighty Crumb cookies and what she can to sweeten pumpkin pie?  My reply:  Coconut/palm sugar.  Almost as sweet as refined sugar, coconut sugar is derived from the sap of the palm tree.   It is actually healthful, loaded with essential vitamins and amino acids, and is very low on the glycemic index.  With a GI of 35–anything less than 55 is considered low and above 70 is high, it won’t cause unhealthy, diabetes-inducing sugar spikes in our bodies.  Coconut sugar is light brown and has a flavor somewhat like brown sugar.  You can find it in specialty health food stores and Whole Foods.  Use it in place of sugar 1:1 or to your taste through a little trial and error.

Another sweet and healthful alternative is date sugar.  FYI, while it is also low on the glycemic index, it is high on the cash register, far pricier than coconut sugar.  There are, of course, liquid alternatives including mineral-loaded maple syrup, honey and agave.  However, each of these liquid sweeteners comes with some caveats when baking.  First, substituting a liquid for a dry sugar potentially alters the consistency and baking time of your product.  Second, according to Ayurveda–the ancient medicinal practice of India, heating honey above 108ºF, transforms it into a glue-like substance that is difficult to digest and remove from the body’s tissues causing it to be considered a toxin. (See http://www.ojas.us/index.html for more info on Ayurveda.)  Last, agave is still controversial; opposing “experts” believe it to be either a low-glycemic, healthful sweetener or an over-processed one with fructose levels and health concerns that rival high-fructose corn syrup.  (For both sides of this issue, see the blog, http://www.confabulicious.com/the-great-agave-controversy-to-use-or-not-to-use-that-is-the-question/) Until we know the truth about agave, I opt out.

Trail Mix Updated–An Uber Superfood

I’m a big fan of trail mix as it’s called on the west coast a.k.a gorp on the east coast.  Growing up it was a great snack to have in the back seat of the car.  Loaded with raisins, nuts and M&Ms trail mix, as we all know it, had just the right combination of sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy.  Raising kids it’s been a great between-meal energy boost and mood stabilizer for my boys on- or off-road, up and down the trails.  And just this past weekend, it was a super in-flight supplement to tide us over during cross-country travel which offered no snacks and only one round of fluids in 5 hours!  But don’t get me started.  A pineapple coconut water (see previous posting) would have been oh so nice.

Trail mix has always been nutritious.  Nuts: 1/3 cup of nuts a day is a healthy dose recommended as part of a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat.  Rich in energy, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, nuts may lower LDL (bad cholesterol), blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.  Raisins are high in fiber, electrolytes, vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients containing antioxidants. They help prevent oxygen-based cell damage, macular degeneration and bone loss.  Chocolate, especially 65% cacao or above, is rich in many essential minerals and antioxidants.  It is thought to reduce blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. With its own antidepressant, phenylethylamine, and its serotonin-boosting effect, chocolate just makes you feel good.

Here, I’ve updated the snack to launch it to into superfood status by adding gooseberries–a superfruit with chart-busting antioxidant levels, candied ginger–an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, 70% dark chocolate, cacao nibs–crunchy, nutty and 100% cacao, and Himalayan salt–a healthy additive loaded with minerals and amino acids:

Uber Trail Mix

In a ziplock bag or canister, mix 1/2 cup each of roasted almonds whole or sliced, pistachio nuts, peanuts, raisins, gooseberries, candied ginger, cacao nibs, and dark chocolate chips or chunks (70% available at Whole Foods and other specialty stores). If the nuts are unsalted, add to taste Himalayan salt.  Shake.  Hike.  And cheers to your good health!

Beyond Gatorade

Are you a runner, gym enthusiast, athlete of any kind, or… just want to quench your thirst in healthy, electrolyte-replenishing bliss? Try making our new favorite all-natural drink:

Pineapple Coconut Water

Natural coconut water by itself is low in calories, fat-free, high in potassium and is an excellent way to hydrate and boost your energy. We’ve been drinking and loving it for years. By pouring in a little fruit juice, you get your own personalized flavor and a few added health benefits. We love pineapple juice. Pineapple juice (preferably organic) is also high in potassium, and just 6 ounces is the equivalent to one serving of fruit. 

Here’s how: Mix two parts natural coconut water (favorite brands to try are Zico and C2O) and one part organic pineapple juice. Enjoy!

Welcome to my new blog, Mighty Crumb.

Mighty Crumb is dedicated to creating tantalizing baked goods and foods that are delicious, healthier alternatives to their conventional cousins. Each discovery I make and share with you is a revelation in what it means to eat well.  Each recipe is gluten-free, and healthful ingredients are chosen to create nutritionally-rich bites that are satisfying for all the right reasons.

 

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