Thursday, February 27, 2014

Watercress 101

How to shop for, store for maximum life, and trim watercress. This peppery little plant is highly nutritious!





Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Trim Green Beans

This short video shows how to easily trim green beans. This really only takes a few seconds to do and is a necessary step prior to cooking fresh green beans.




How to Deseed a Jalapeno

The Munchie Musings YouTube channel shows us here in this video how to easily deseed a jalapeno without getting the juices all over your hands. If you've never worked with jalapenos before, the juices are very potent. Getting the juice onto your hands and then accidentally transferring them to your face or eyes can be a horrible experience. Even just having a fresh hangnail on one of your fingers can be pretty painful from the jalapeno juices getting into it. Personally, I'm a big fan of plastic kitchen gloves when working with produce like this or with meat.



SKILLET-BLISTERED GREEN BEANS

Ingredients:
  • 2 t olive oil
  • 1/4 t crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces trimmed green beans
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 t salt
Directions:
  1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add olive oil and swirl to coat.
  3. Add crushed red pepper and green beans. Cook for 3 minutes, or until blistered.
  4. Add white wine. Cook for 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring often.
  5. Remove from heat and sprinkle with salt. Serve.


{Original recipe from Cooking Light Magazine's March 2014 issue.}

Monday, February 24, 2014

WHOLE ROASTED CARROTS with FRENCH GREEN LENTILS and GREEN HARISSA

Ingredients:
The flavors of all three items blend perfectly together!
  • 5 T olive oil, divided (1T + 2T + 2T)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion, divided (1/2 cup + 1 cup)
  • 1 T minced fresh garlic
  • 3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
  • 2 cups uncooked french green lentils -or- black lentils, rinsed
  • 4 t + 2 t Cajun seasoning, divided
  • 2 pounds large carrots
  • 2 cups cilantro leaves
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded

Directions:
Starting the lentils...
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 T of olive oil to the pan; swirl to coat.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of chopped onion and minced garlic; saute about 5 minutes or until onion has a translucent golden look to it.
  4. Add vegetable stock, uncooked lentils, and 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  5. Place carrots in a baking pan. Drizzle the 2 T of olive oil over the carrots then sprinkle over the top the remaining 4 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning. Using your hands or utensils, make sure that the carrots are well coated with the mixture. Make sure all the carrots are laying in a single layer and bake them in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until tender.
  6. In a blender or food processor, combine the remaining 1 cup of chopped onion, remaining 2 T of olive oil, cilantro leaves, and remaining ingredients - vinegar, salt, sugar, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cloves, and jalapeno peppers - then process until smooth.
  7. Place the lentils onto a plate and arrange carrots on top. Drizzle about 3 tablespoons of harissa over the top of the carrots and around sides of lentils.
Use a deeper set pan for roasting the carrots.
{Original recipe from Cooking Light Magazine's March 2014 issue - recipe has been adjusted from original.}

Serves: 6 (About 5 ounces of carrots, about 1 cup of lentils, and about 3 tablespoons of harissa.)
Prep Time: About 20 minutes.
Cooking Time: About 50 minutes.

Calories - 427; Fat - 12.1 grams (sat - 1.7g, mono - 8.4g, poly - 1.5g); Protein - 21.4 grams; Carbohydrates - 63.6 grams; Fiber - 14.1 grams; Cholesterol - 0 mg; Iron - 6.6 mg; Sodium - 504 mg; Calcium - 72 mg




Sunday, February 23, 2014

Food Art - How to Make a Panda Sushi Roll

How cool is this?! I found this posted on Google+ and just had to share it. I personally haven't attempted to make sushi yet...even after 15 years. One day I will mark it off my bucket list. For anyone who is experienced or at least willing to try, here is the cutest "how to" for making a panda sushi roll.




Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sweet Potatoes: History & Nutrition

Sweet potatoes are sweeter, less starchy, and WAY MORE nutritious than its regular potato counterpart. In fact, sweet potatoes aren't even a potato at all; they are in the Morning Glory family and are actually more closely related to roadside shrubs and LSD than they are related to regular potatoes. WHO KNEW?!?!

This 6-minute video is incredibly informative and gives you a short history of the sweet potato as well as some amazing tips on how to prepare and cook them.






Friday, February 21, 2014

Fooducate Friday #1

This is the first ever 'Fooducate Friday' here on Virgin Vittles. Every Friday, I will list 1-2 food items which I have scanned or searched for within the smartphone Fooducate app. Each item will show the results as determined by Fooducate and the details of those results. I have a feeling we are going to be surprised by the results more than a few times during this new journey!

If you are not familiar with Fooducate, see my earlier blog on this wonderful smartphone app here. Download the Fooducate app for your smartphone through iTunes or Google Play. If you are curious about any food or beverage items and would like me to look it up then leave your suggestion in the comments section of any Fooducate Friday post.


Eating Right Cereal - Granola with Raisins

My first scan was a box of cereal in my own kitchen which was a new product buy for me. This was the first time I had ever purchased this particular cereal and I had been eating it all week as a breakfast staple. It's incredibly delicious! The funny thing is...I had this gut-feeling that deep down this cereal probably wasn't one of the healthier options I could've made for a breakfast cereal and I should've followed my instincts because 99.9% of the time I'm right.

The Fooducate Grade: C+
Calories: 210 per serving
FoodPoints = 6*

First of all, a C+ grade for a breakfast cereal is actually about average. If you're going for a super healthy meal plan, cereal in general is just not your best option. But, I'm one of those people who will always love cereal and the convenience it brings, especially being a wife and mother of the pickiest 2-year-old on the planet where most of my meal planning revolves around my child's meals and dinnertime. But it's not just the grade you should be looking at when using Fooducate, it's also the details.


Let's look at the positive benefits first...
  1. Heart Healthy - According to Fooducate, this cereal is a "great choice" when it comes to meeting the American Heart Association's recommendations for heart healthy foods.
  2. Daily Fiber - This particular cereal contains more than 16% of our daily recommendation of fiber. Fiber is extremely important; it helps protect against diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer and it also helps regulate your weight by helping the body feel full longer.
  3. Vitamin C - This cereal is naturally high in Vitamin C which means the Vitamin C within this product comes from real food, not as a fortified ingredient - this is very important.

Negative aspects...
  1. GMO's - This particular cereal has a high probability of containing GMO's. EEK! Not only is this product not indicated as a Non-GMO product, but it also contains one of the following ingredients (or derivative) which all have a high probability of containing GMO's: alfalfa, canola, cotton, corn, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini, and yellow squash.
  2. Trans-Fats - This cereal contains trans-fats, even if the label says 0. Tans-fats have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by raising levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering levels of HDL (good cholesterol). The FDA states that if the amount of trans-fat in a product is less than half a gram per serving then manufacturers can round it down to 0. This means that if the trans-fat within the product is 0.49 grams per serving, which is still bad for you, the manufacturer can list it on the packaging as 0 grams per serving. Not to mention that the serving size listed is almost always way smaller than what an actual serving size is. This is just one of many ways manufacturers trick you into thinking their product is a lot healthier than it actually is. Fooducate to the rescue!!! Information can be powerful and life-changing! And if you're wondering how to know if a product contains trans-fat, even if the package says 0, look for "partially hydrogenated" oils and fats in the ingredient list.
  3. Sugars - This product contains 4.5 teaspoons of sugars per serving. At first, when you read that, it doesn't really seem like a lot. Well, I actually went into my kitchen and measured out 4.5 teaspoons, perfectly, onto a small plate. I photographed the results because it blew my mind seeing how much 4.5 teaspoons actually were. AND THIS IS IN ONE SERVING OF 2/3 CUP OF CEREAL! 
  4. BHT - It contains a controversial additive called butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT for short. This is an additive that has shown up in some studies to be carcinogenic.
4.5 tsp of sugar in each serving! Yikes!
So far, the details are showing that the negative aspects greatly outweigh the positive benefits of this cereal. Even though there is only one more negative aspect than positive ones, there are four negative aspects total and they are all very bad ones. Let's look at some more details, shall we?




To be aware of...

Net carbs for this cereal is 41 grams per serving. Net carbs are the best way to calculate the carb intake that is most important for you to track. This number is calculated by subtracting the fiber amount from the total carb amount. Fiber is a good carb, therefore there is no need for you to be worrying about this number unless you are wanting to make sure you're getting enough. It's the other carbs we need to worry about. This number is actually fairly high if you're someone who is trying to lose weight.

This cereal contains glycerin which has as many calories as sugar but a lower glycemic index. It is usually used as a sweetener, thickener, or preservative and is actually considered a carb except most companies don't list it as so. Since glycerin is also used to keep food moist, it can also cause water retention in the body. People with heart, liver, or kidney problems should try and avoid this ingredient.

Another ingredient in this product is corn syrup. Though this is NOT the same as high fructose corn syrup which is controversial in itself, corn syrup is made up of 50% sugar and 50% of another type of carbohydrate called "oligosaccharides" which is very close to sugar; yet, corn syrup isn't truly calculated into the amount of sugar listed on product packaging. "What does that mean exactly?" It means that if the packaging on a product lists a low amount of sugar per serving, but lists "corn syrup" in the ingredients listed, then the product actually has more carbs from sugar than it states on the package.

This cereal contains soy lethicin. Lecithins are an oily substance that occur naturally in plants and animals like soybeans and egg yolks, respectively. Soy lethicins are a very common ingredient in processed foods and is even sold as a nutritional supplement, stating it benefits the heart, brain, liver, and overall athletic performance, but it may not be as good for you as it claims to be. Because soy lethicin originates from soy, it has a high probability to be genetically modified. That's only the start of your worries when it comes to this particular ingredient. Soy lethicin has the potential to have very negative effects on fertility and reproduction as well as brain development. For more detailed information about these effects, read here

*FoodPoints are calculated by Fooducate and it is based on fats, carbs, fiber, and protein. These points are similar to Weight Watchers points. If you have the Fooducate app on your phone you can actually personalize your information and weight goals and it will give you a recommendation of how many FoodPoints per day you should be eating in order to reach your goals. 


So what are some healthy alternatives?
  1. Nature's Path Cereal - Organic Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch (A-)
  2. Nature's Path Granola - Pumpkin (B+)
  3. Nature's Path Cereal - Whole O's (B+)
  4. Nature's Path Granola - Vanilla Almond (B+)
  5. Nature's Path Granola - Hemp Plus (B+)
  6. KIND Granola - Dark Chocolate and Cranberry Clusters (B)
  7. Two Moms In The Raw - Raisin Granola (B-)
  8. Nature's Path Granola - Dark Chocolate and Red Berries (B-)
Nature's Path is an amazing cereal and is always listed in the top alternative options within the Fooducate app. This is one of the main cereals I usually purchase and it can be found at your local health foods store. I live near Portland, Oregon and I can easily find it at New Seasons Market. In fact, they carry about every kind of Nature's Path cereal and granola that's available, and...it's actually fairly cheap!

KIND Granola is one of the best granolas out there you can find, but...it's expensive. I have had intentions to purchase a KIND product several times but never end up purchasing it because of the price. If a budget is the least of your worries then I highly recommend KIND's products!


Thank you for joining me on our first Fooducate Friday! Check back in next Friday to see what the next item will uncover using our fabulous Fooducate app!




Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Wonderbag and it's Story

Sarah Collins grew up in South Africa. After years of watching families, many of which were single-parent households with more than a handful of children, struggle to stay at even a poverty-stricken financial level, Sarah knew she wanted to do something to help her country. Suffering major power cuts throughout the country, Sarah watched as families tried cooking as much food as they could during designated times when power was on so they could turn around and sell it for as much money as possible, which still was barely enough to even survive. Then, one night Sarah awoke from a deep sleep with an idea. After remembering that her grandmother used to stack cushions against her pans well after the stove was turned off to continue cooking meals, Sarah had an idea so good that she even woke up her roommate to tell her.

Sarah Collins with Rwandan women.

One of Sarah's friends helped her sew up a prototype. Through years of trial and error she had finally perfected an item that she was incredibly passionate about. Sarah invented The Wonderbag; a beautifully decorated, well-insulated bag specifically designed to fit around a hot pot and would continue cooking it or keep it hot for up to 12-hours.

The Wonderbag is a non-electric, heat-retention cooker. It allows food that has been brought to a boil to keep on cooking well after it has been removed from its heat source. It's pretty easy. You start cooking your soup on the stove. Once the soup has come to a boil, stick the entire pot inside The Wonderbag and it will continue cooking. The Wonderbag comes with a book that includes recipes and tips for timing your meals.

Not only was this going to help people who purchased it, but it was going to help those that didn't purchase it as well. For every Wonderbag purchased in the U.S., one is send to a family in Africa as well!

For more information about Sarah Collins, The Wonderbag, and her story, click here.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MACS SPICED APPLE PANCAKES


The majority of your carbs for the day, as well as your healthy fat intake and any natural sugars (apples or other fruit) should be eaten earlier in the day, breakfast time if possible. Healthy carbs and fats help drive your energy for the day and give you ample time to burn off any extra calories.

Ingredients:
2 apples (organic preferred)
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Organic 7 Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix
1 egg (organic, free-range preferred)
1 T organic, extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup cold, organic whole milk
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t all spice


Directions:
  1. Core, slice, and peel apples.
  2. Place apple slices into a blender or drop them into a food processor to shred.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to blender or food processor and blend for about 10-15 seconds, just until ingredients are well mixed. You do not want to over blend the batter.
  4. Cook pancakes, sized to your preference, on a griddle or pan set to medium-low heat.
VEGAN OPTIONS: Replace the egg with 1/4 cup of plain, soy yogurt and replace the whole cow's milk with soy milk, rice milk, or hemp milk.


Serves: 3-4 (Yields about 15 3-inch pancakes, or about 7 4-5 inch pancakes.) 
Total Time: Approximately 30 minutes.
{Calories - 256; Carbs - 31; Fat - 7; Protein - 8; Sodium - 325; Sugar - 4}*
*Nutritional information based on 4 servings.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Canola Oil and GMO's - The Facts

Canola oil has become more popular within the past couple years...some popularity has been positive but most has been negative. It seems as if so many people are just looking to jump on a bandwagon to burn someone, or something, at the stake without truly doing their research. I have done extensive research on this subject as I am incredibly against GMO's and all in support of companies required to label their products that contain it.

First of all, the majority of canola oil IS genetically modified. I won't lie to you about that. But so are many, many other foods...some we aren't even aware of. It is up to us to do the research if we want to live a life free of genetically modified foods. With that said, not all canola oil contains GMO's, no matter what someone else says or what some other blog claims.

Canola oil is actually the healthiest of all common cooking oils. It's the lowest in saturated fats, high in cholesterol-lowering mono-unsaturated fat, and the best source of omega-3's from any other oils. Canola oil contains just 7% saturated fat compared to 15% for olive oil, 19% from peanut oil, and 12% for sunflower oil.

A lot of information out on the internet claims that canola oil is made from rapeseed. This has only the tiniest amount of truth to it and I will explain why. Canola oil comes from pressed canola seeds, not the rapeseed. Though they look similar on the outside they are completely different on the inside and that's where it matters. Canola seed has been grown by North American farmers for over 30 years.

There were no canola plants prior to the 1970's, they just didn't exist. And rapeseed, the starting point to producing a canola plant, is very toxic; this I will not deny because these are the facts. However, through traditional plant breeding methods - natural breeding methods, NOT genetically altering plant DNA - scientists were able to breed a plant similar to the rapeseed but without its undesirable and toxic qualities. Let me state this again. Scientists used natural and traditional breeding methods, methods that have been around since the beginning of time, to create a new plant that contains the beneficial elements of the rapeseed plant without the toxic negatives - and this new plant was named the canola plant. Canola oil and meal is completely different from rapeseed oil and meal.

Though biotechnology (genetic modification) was not originally used in the creation of the canola plant, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. In fact, about 80% of canola plants in Canada, the origin of the canola plant, is now modified using biotechnology. However, (and I state these facts with a grain of salt because I am very against genetically modifying plants no matter how insignificant), the genetic modification on canola is to the plant and not the oil. "What does this mean exactly?" The genetic modification is to the DNA of the actual plant and is made to only one canola protein gene. When the seed of the plant is processed into oil all proteins are removed. With this process, any canola oil made from a genetically modified plant should be the same as a non-genetically modified plant. 

But, like I said, I state these facts with a grain of salt. When it comes to my health and the food I ingest, I like to play it safe than sorry. With GMO's, the effects are usually not seen until many years after the fact and research is still ongoing. My opinion is that if changes in plants happen through a natural nature then I'm okay with it. If changes in plants are forced by a scientist using a DNA gun then I am NOT okay with it. Changes to plants, animals, and even humans have been naturally occurring and evolving since the beginning of time. Cross pollination has naturally been happening on this Earth since it existed. (And, no, cross pollination is NOT the same as genetically modifying. More facts on the differences between what it means to be GMO versus cross-pollinated, click here.) But when man steps in and "plays God", (or Goddess...hehe), it is not okay with me and the long-term, negative effects are starting to prove to us that we need to stop forcing nature to immediately adapt to our standards.

To purchase certified, non-GMO Canola oil you can check your local natural foods store or even buy it online through sites like Amazon. Many natural food stores are taking part in the Non-GMO project and all food items apart of this program will be labeled as so.

Look for items with this label.
Canola oil is in no way poisonous to humans or animals like many people will try and claim simply because scientists used rapeseed plants when they started the natural breeding processes to produce a canola plant. This is simply not true.

And though rapeseed is a toxic plant, there are rapeseed oils that are not toxic or poisonous. However, this is hydrogenated rapeseed oil and I, as well as many others, are against the hydrogenation process which actually mixes rancid oils with small metal particles and then subjects it to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Hydrogenated rapeseed oil is usually found in peanut butter and helps prevent the peanut oil from separating from the peanut butter.

Another myth is that canola oil must be bad because it originally all started with a rapeseed plant and rapeseed plant is used to make mustard gas. SO NOT TRUE! Mustard gas got it's name because of it's noxious smell and odor that resembles the mustard plant, NOT because it is made using a plant from the mustard family. Mustard gas is an oily, volatile liquid made using specific chemical formulas.

"But doesn't canola oil kill aphids and other insects?" OF COURSE IT DOES! As well as any other oil. Pouring oil on ANY insect is going to suffocate it which is why there are many natural remedies out there using oils to help get rid of head lice. There is no evidence stating that canola oil kills aphids and other insects because it is toxic in any way.

"Yeah, but Europe has banned canola oil since the early 1990's and they are much more advanced in nutrition than the U.S. so they must know something we don't." Not true even one little bit. In fact, Europe is now the highest producing manufacturer of canola oil, even over Canada which is where it originates from. However, they don't necessarily call it canola oil. Europeans call their canola "oilseed rape" and they refer to the oil as "rape oil" or "rapeseed oil".

The bottom line, when it comes right down to it, you need to decide for yourself what kind of a healthy lifestyle you want to live. Everyone is different, and each person has their own idea of what is healthy and what is not. Don't conform to anyone else's standards, not even mine here on this blog. This blog is meant to provide everyone with the most up-to-date and current facts that I can find and one of the things that I am most good at is research. I love it, I live it, and all I want to do is share my knowledge and findings so that everyone out there can choose for themselves how they want to live their own lives that will make them the most happy. Happiness is the key to a fulfilling life.



{Sources Cited: www.wikipedia.com as well as many other unnamed blog posts claiming canola oil to be evil with "facts" that were easily discredited with simple research. I actually started this project with the thought that I was going to come out on the other end in support of the "No Canola Oil" movement; I was pleasantly proved otherwise.}

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tips About Eggplant

Tiffany Vickers Davis from Cooking Light talks about ways to prepare and cook eggplant and how to steer clear of ending up with a bitter and/or mushy dish in the video below.

Eggplant is a very diet-friendly plant at just 38 calories per one cup and it is extremely versatile. Though originally most popular in Mediterranean and Asian cultures, eggplant can be incorporated into just about every type of food culture on the planet. It can be baked, cooked, broiled, grilled, fried, added to soup, or even stuffed with meat, cheese, or other vegetables.

It is a great source of soluble fiber which helps keep your digestive tract and cardiovascular system healthy. Just one cup of eggplant is about ten percent of your daily recommended requirement for fiber. It also contains a myriad of nutrients including but not limited to potassium, iron, zinc, and B-vitamins which all help keep your heart, muscles, skin, and nervous system healthy as well as helping control your metabolism.

Eggplant, like other naturally blue and purple foods, are full of anthocyanins which are plant-based nutrients that are antioxidants that actually help protect the body's cells from damage from free radicals.

When purchasing an eggplant, it should have glossy, bright purple skin and be firm and heavy. Some species may even be light purple or white. Watch out for brown streaks and wrinkled skin as these are signs that the eggplant is no longer ripe.








APP ALERT! - Fooducate

The last twenty years has brought us into such a technologically advanced age with information literally at our fingertips. One of the main things I suggest to people who are new to cooking, eating healthier, working out, or living a healthier lifestyle in general is to use this technology to your advantage. I know a lot of people out there are still very weary of all this technology and that its access may just be too easy and even unhealthy and habit-forming. My opinion is that the world is changing whether we want it to or not and it is up to us to use these changes in positive ways. With smartphones containing access to a bazillion different apps, it can sometimes be hard to find the good ones. This is where I come in!

The first app I am going to suggest here on my blog is the Fooducate app. This was one of the first apps I ever downloaded when I first entered the world of smartphones. Fooducate is available for iOS and Android and, the best part, it's FREE! 

How Fooducate Got Started

Fooducate was developed by Hemi Weingarten a few years back. As a father of three babies he tried his best to buy and make healthy foods for his children but soon came to realize how difficult that can be when your babies grow into toddlers and start becoming more picky. With so many products out there claiming to be healthy, even as a high tech executive with a graduate degree under his belt, Hemi found it extremely confusing and difficult to make the simplest decision as what groceries to put in his cart. (So if you're new to eating healthy and feel overwhelmed at times, it's not just you!)

He started asking himself questions such as, "Do my kids really need to drink juice?", "What are nitrates?", "Should we avoid all food colorings?", "Which pasta sauce is more nutritious?", and "How much sugar is too much in a breakfast cereal?" He became overwhelmed and just plain confused. So he decided to do something about it. Fast forward through a lot of education, books, web research, and articles about the modern food system, nutrition, and food preparation to his invention of the Fooducate app!


About Fooducate

Fooducate is a personal grocery advisor. It's literally like having a nutritional expert right in your phone at all times. Fooducate is NOT funded by any food, drug, diet, or supplement industries so you know you are getting the most factual and honestly detailed information there is about each product.

Home Page within the Fooducate app.


Within the app, you can browse ingredients within their HUGE database or, and this is my personal preference, simply use the scan button to scan the barcodes on the packaging of food items and all the information about that item will pop right up. Fooducate grades every item on an A through D scale, (A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, and D). Fooducate’s algorithm is based on information that is publicly available on a product’s package: the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list. They do not receive any additional information from manufacturers. The algorithm rewards minimally processed, nutrient dense foods with the highest grades. This means that real foods, with intrinsic (meaning "natural" or "true") nutrients will score better than processed foods that are poor in built-in nutrients and use fortification as a means to appear healthy.


Fooducate's easy-to-understand grading system.
Who knew that Gatorade was so unhealthy?!!!

For a more in-depth explanation of how Fooducate calculates it's grade based on a product's nutrients, ingredients, category (such as "breakfast cereal", "yogurt", "bread", etc.), processing, and fortification, click here.

Browse through the enormous food database.
As I grocery shop, Fooducate is one of the apps I have open and ready. When I go to select the item I need, I take my time and look through the options available to me on the shelf. Before I choose which product I am going to buy, I scan it to see what kind of information comes up. I cannot tell you how many times I have put a product back on the shelf and opted for a different brand because of the details that popped up after scanning!




Other Options Available Through Fooducate

You can also track your meals and beverages throughout the day, as well as any physical activities. It will calculate the total calories you have ingested and/or burned for the day giving you a better insight and handle on your calorie intake. This option is very similar to the My Fitness Pal app, if that is something you are already familiar with (a future blog post).


Fooducate's Health Tracker calculates your daily caloric intake
 as you enter in your meals, beverages, and physical activity throughout the day.


I have found the daily tips to be extremely
 informative and well backed-up with facts.
Fooducate also publishes daily tips within the app which include nutrition fact labels, hard to pronounce ingredient names, "health claims", and other marketing tricks to watch out for at the supermarket. They also discuss current events as well as public health policy.                                                                                                               They also offer contests and giveaways within the app by doing something as simple as scanning products. And, usually, the more of that product you scan, the more chances you have to win.

For a reasonably low price,
 get access to even more detailed
 information and personalized meal plans.
Within the free Fooducate app, they do give you the option to pay a fee for access to premium features such as: personalized nutritional info specifically directed toward diet or health specifications you may have; more tracking and deeper insights into the nutrients you're taking in as well as tracking changes in your body such as measurements, blood pressure, and cholesterol; a weekly email with practical advice such as how to choose a healthy cereal, DIY salad dressings, and choosing bread at the grocery store; GMO information; no advertisements (though the advertisements on the free version really aren't that bad); and access to a support team. However, the free version allows you access to the scanning function and, in my opinion, that is the absolute best feature and the main reason why I have this app on my phone.

Download the Fooducate app in iTunes or Google Play.



{Information and research within this post was attained through: www.fooducate.com, and www.dictionary.com.}

Friday, February 14, 2014

GLUTEN FREE BROWNIES

In honor of Valentine's Day, I wanted to post a recipe for something sweet and delicious. When I think of Valentine's Day, one of the first things that comes to mind is dessert and chocolate. Dani Spies shows us how to make Elana's Gluten Free Brownies and just watching this video made my mouth water (and I'm not even a big chocolate fan!).

Elana is a pioneer in grain-free recipes! For more information and gluten-free, grain-free, high protein, paleo friendly, and healthy recipes by Elana, be sure to visit her website at www.elanaspantry.com.

This recipe obviously isn't the healthiest food item to be eating, but I truly believe that not only do we need to make a significant effort to be healthy, we also need to make a significant effort to be happy and to enjoy life. Allow yourself to enjoy being a glutton for a day and reserve days like this for special occasions like Valentine's Day or other holidays and birthdays. You can also use days like this to practice your impulse control by only limiting yourself to one brownie for dessert - or better yet, as breakfast with your morning coffee! Then you have all day to burn those extra calories off!


Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce jar of creamy, roasted, all-natural almond butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 cup agave -or- raw honey
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks -or- chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Empty the jar of almond butter into a large bowl. With an electric mixer, blend the almond butter so that any of the natural oils that have separated from the butter are blended back in well and until the butter resembles a very creamy and thick texture like peanut butter.
  3. Add in eggs, vanilla, agave/honey, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well blended with the electric mixer. Texture will end up looking creamy but thick.
  4. With a spatula, fold the chocolate into the batter.
  5. Pour batter into a greased 13'x9' baking dish (glass preferred).
  6. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Use the toothpick method to ensure the center is cooked well but remember that you have chunks of chocolate within the batter too, so if you pull the toothpick out and see what looks like uncooked batter make sure it's actually uncooked batter and not just melted chocolate; you don't want to overcook brownies.

Makes about 24 brownies. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes.
Per Serving: Calories - 206; Carbs - 21; Fat - 13; Protein - 5; Sodium - 108; Sugar - 17.

Does Microwaving Destroy Nutrients?

Dani Spies is a great channel to follow on YouTube. She has some amazing videos that are helpful for the newbie cook. This is one that I came across early this morning about a subject that tends to come up often - whether or not the microwave destroys nutrients in food. Dani gives a great explanation of her opinion on this subject.

My opinion? I try not to use the microwave for cooking but I still do. When you have four different things you're making for a meal and one of those things is easiest just throwing in the microwave...well, I'll do what I need to do to get the job done efficiently. With that said, I do feel it is best to use the best method - that which will keep the most nutrients intact - for each particular food type. Most of the time that means not using the microwave, or not cooking at all for that matter. But, there are some things that microwaving works better for.


And as a new cook, try steering clear of the safety of the microwave, at least for now. Practice makes perfect and the only way you're going to gain experience and learn is by actually cooking on the stove yourself!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How To Cut An Onion Fast

A great video from Weelicious where she shows us how to easily chop an onion. Comes in handy when you're bawling your eyes out!







Brussel Sprouts 101 - How To Buy, Store, Prep and Cook Brussel Sprouts

Dani Spies shows us what to look for when purchasing brussel sprouts as well as how we should store them for maximum freshness and how to wash them. She also provides us with a super simple yet tasty recipe to follow towards the end. Brussel sprouts get a bum rap and are so under-appreciated...don't knock 'em until you try 'em!







Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How To Deseed, Cut, Chop, Dice, Slice, and Peel Tomatoes

Such a great and informative video! 'Monkey See' shows us all the basic techniques for tomatoes including how to properly cut open an Italian (great for homemade sauces and salsas) and Hot House tomato (great diced for taco night) and how to de-seed them (the insides can be used in homemade salsas), how to chop and dice tomatoes, how to slice a Beafy tomato (perfect for meaty hamburgers and sandwiches), and how to peel tomatoes (stewed tomatoes, soups, stews, etc.). 

When I first started, I just took the entire tomato and chopped it. I didn't pay attention to what type of tomato I was buying and I wasn't de-seeding them either. I always ended up with soggy tomato pieces. I finally figured out why - when you take the seedy part out the tomato becomes so much easier to chop and dice and it keeps it's structure better. Learning what types of tomatoes go best with what recipes and other food items can become so helpful to understand.







Saturday, February 8, 2014

SAVORY BEAN AND SPINACH SOUP

INGREDIENTS:
  • 42-ounces organic, fat-free, low-sodium vegetable broth (no MSG)
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato puree (tomato sauce will work)*
  • 1 15-ounce can small white beans or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed*
  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach or kale leaves (whichever you prefer, or you could use 1 cup of both)
  • Shredded goat cheese (optional)
Always rinse your beans.

DIRECTIONS:
1) In a 3.5- to 4-quart slow cooker, combine vegetable broth, tomato puree, beans, rice, onion, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
2) Cover; cook on low-heat setting 5 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 2.5 to 3.5 hours.
3) Just before serving, stir in spinach or kale and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Hint: This is a great little soup to make for guests as a pre-dinner item. Garnish it with a little pile of shredded cheese on top and a fresh sprig of parsley. This goes well paired with fresh baked, small loaf of french bread.

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 150 calories, 9g protein, 31g carbs, 3g fat (1g sat fat), 8g fiber
{Original recipe from 'Mind, Body + Spirit Fitness' website. Changes were made to make it my own.}

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Working with Fresh Thyme

Cooking Light chefs show us how to work with fresh thyme including how to properly remove the leaves from the stems, working with thyme's varying woodiness within the stems, and chopping it up. Remember to always wash and dry fresh herbs prior to working with them.







How to Prepare Fennel

Cooking Light shows us what fennel is and how to prepare it for roasted fennel wedges or cutting it up fresh for a recipe or salad. The stalks are very tough so besides using them to lightly flavor a soup - they have to be removed before serving - they can basically just be thrown away (or composted for us green-friendly peeps). But the fawns can be used to beautifully garnish a finished dish!







PALEO CHICKEN BRINE

INGREDIENTS:


DIRECTIONS:
  1. Peel garlic cloves and set aside.
  2. Place the ziploc bag inside an appropriately-sized bowl to help the bag stand up-right.
  3. Pour into the bag the water, then add in the garlic cloves, sea salt, coconut aminos, bay leaf, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and peppercorns. Stir with your hand or large spoon to help dissolve the salt and spices.
  4. Place your chicken into the brine.
  5. Seal the bag and, while remaining inside the bowl, place it in the refrigerator for two hours.
  6. Take the chicken out of the brine and rinse well to remove any seeds that may have gotten stuck to it. Set it in a colander to dry. 
  7. At this point you can either cook the chicken or wrap it up and refrigerate it to be cooked another day. The chicken will survive in the refrigerator like this for about 2-3 days.**
*Coconut aminos can be substituted with low-sodium soy sauce; however, using soy sauce will end up making this recipe non-Paleo.
**Always cook or bake chicken until the inside temperature reaches 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Buy a meat thermometer if you do not have one!)