Tuesday, January 25, 2011

12 Food Additives to Avoid

Althought I try to cook from scratch as much as possible, it isn't always feasible.  I do take some shortcuts - by the time I leave work, do daycare pickup and brave the hour commute home, I just don't have time to make a whole meal from scratch.  I do however try to avoid preservative laden foods as much as possible.  A while ago I read an article on MSN Health that really stuck with me.  It was about 12 food additives to avoid.  I carry the list with me so that when I go food shopping, I always have it as a ready reference.  I always read the list of ingredients on any pre-packaged food item and if one of these items (other than sugar & salt) is on the list, I don't buy it.  I also found that different brands have different ingredients.  So while a box of quaker chocolate chip granola bars contains BHT (a preservative found in oil), the Target brand of the same granola bars does not.
Here is the link to the article/slideshow online: 12 Food Additives to Avoid

Here is the list of bad food additives:
1. Sodium nitrite - used to preserve color and to flavor meat products such as bacon, hot dogs, ham, lunch meats, smoked fish, etc.  Although it prevents growth of bacteria it has been shown to promote certain types of cancer - especially if the meat is grilled.
2. BHA and BHT - antioxidants used to preserve food by preventing them from oxidizing.  They are found in oils and fats and in cereal, chewing gum, potato chips.  There is some concern they may cause cancer.
3. Propyl gallate - used to prevent fats and  oils from spoiling and are often used together with BHA and BHT.  Sometimes found in meat products, chicken soup and chewing gum. Not proven to cause cancer but animal studies suggest it could be linked to cancer.
4. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) - used as flavor enhancer in soupds, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees and restaurant food (especially Asian).  It can cause headaches and nausea in some people.
5. Trans fats - eating too much of it leads to heart disease.
6. Aspartame - nutrasweet and equal; found in diet foods, low calorie foods and "sugar free" foods.  There are conflicting studies - some say its safe, some link it to cancer.

7. Acesulfame-K - artificial sweetener used in soft drinks, baked goods, chewing gum and gelatin deserts.  200 times sweeter than sugar.  There is general concern that there wasn't enough testing of this product.
8. Food colorings: Blue 1, 2; Red 3; Green 3; and Yellow 6 - linked to cancer in animal tests.  Some food coloring is naturally derived and probably safe.  Just read the labels.
9. Olestra - synthetic fat known commercially as Olean - found in potato chips and prevents fat from getting absorbed in your digesting system.  Can lead to diarrhea, abdominal cramps and gas.  It not only blocks fat absorbtion but vitamin absorbtion as well.
10. Potassium bromate - rare but still legal in the US and is used to increase volume in white flour, bread and rolls.  California requires a cancer warning on the product label if potassium bromate is an ingredient.
11. White sugar - too much is unhealthy. Most americans are consuming 20-40% of their calories from simple sugars (guidelines are 10%). 
12. Sodium chloride - "Excessive amounts of salt can become dangerous for your health, affecting cardiovascular function, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure."

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Lazy" Pulled Pork

I have been craving pulled pork sandwiches lately.  We were out at one of our favorite restaurants for lunch on Saturday afternoon and I saw a Carolina style pulled pork sandwich on the menu and was done.  I knew instantly what I wanted to eat.  What I neglected to notice was the "Carolina" style part.  This meant the barbeque sauce was a vinegar style, not the goopy, smokey sauce I was thinking of.  The sandwich was great  but it didn't satisfy my craving for sticky bbq sauce.  So, I stopped at Trader Joes on the way home and picked up a pork tenderloin and a bottle of Kansas style (smokey, ketchupy, sticky) BBQ Sauce to make my own pulled pork for dinner the next day.  This was an experiment on my part - I had no idea how it would turn out.  My plan was to braise the pork tenderloin in the bbq sauce in my slow cooker - all day, nice and slow.  Typically, one would use a pork shoulder for slow braising so I didn't know if a tenderloin, which is a very lean cut of meat, would cook through and fall apart the way I wanted it to.  My fear was that it would end up a hard lump of boiled meat.  But, not so!  After about 7 hours in the crock pot on the low setting, it fell apart at the touch of my fork.  It was even better two days later, after sitting in the fridge in the gooey bbq sauce.

BBQ Pulled Pork
About 1.5 lbs pork tenderloin
1 bottle of your favorite barbeque sauce - enough to cover the meat in the crock pot.
Cut the tenderloin into approx. 3-5 inch long pieces.  There were two pieces in my package, so I cut each one into three pieces.   Cutting it makes it fit in the crock pot and makes shredding easier after it is cooked.
Put the pork in the bottom of the crock pot. 
Pour enough of the bbq sauce to cover - I used about 3/4 of the bottle.
Set the crock pot on low and leave alone for 7 or more hours.  It may take less or more time depending on the thickness of the pork loin.  After about 6 hours, you can check to see if the largest piece shreds easily - if not, keep cooking. 
Once done, remove from crock pot and shred.

Serve on your favorite roll with a side of coleslaw.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chicken, Prosciutto, and Spinach Pasta

The cold, snowy, Michigan winter (it has been in the low 20's for most of January!) is making me crave comfort food lately. This weekend I was having family over for my daughter's 3rd birthday celebration so I wanted to make a quick, one pot meal that everyone (including the uber picky 3 year old) would enjoy. And I didn't want to spend all day in the kitchen while everyone was enjoying the party. I started with this casserole recipe and modified it based on what I had in my pantry and fridge. I added a package of grilled, cooked chicken (from Trader Joe's) - you can certainly cook the chicken yourself or use a rotisserie chicken. I omitted the anise seeds because I didn't have them in the house and I hate licorice. I used fresh baby spinach in lieu of frozen. Finally, I skipped the baking part. The recipe called for baking the casserole in the oven for about 20-30 minutes to heat throught, but I just added hot pasta to the sauce, stirred and let it sit for a few minutes so the noodles absorbed some of the sauce. The end result? Delicious! I'm definietly adding this recipe to my rotation. Plus my 3 year old loved it so I didn't have to make a separate meal for her - a huge bonus! She loves pasta and spinach but hates chicken so omitted the chicken from her plate.

8 oz pasta (penne or bow tie)
2 medium onions, cut into thin wedges, or 5 medium leeks, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk (I used fat free - whole milk or half & half will make the sauce creamier)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup greated Parmesan cheese
2-3 cups fresh baby spinach (or 10 oz package of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and well drained)
2 oz prosciutto (cut into thin bite size strips) -- may omit
2 chicken breasts, cooked, cut into bite sized pieces (or whatever leftover rotisserie chicken you have on hand)
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half (or 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped)

- Cook pasta according to package directions, drain but do not rinse. You may want to save about 1/2 cup of pasta water to water down the sauce at the end if needed.
- In a large saucepan or pot, cook onion and garlic in the olive oil about 5 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. You don't want to brown or carmelize it
- Stir in flour and cook for a couple of minutes to cook out the raw flour taste
- Add milk and chicken broth all at once. Cook while stirring until slightly thickened and bubbly
- Add the cooked chicken and spinach and cook at low heat until chicken is heated through and the spinach has wilted (if using frozen spinach, add it together with the pasta)
- Stir in the parmesan cheese
- Add the cooked pasta and prosciutto and stir until pasta is covered in the sauce. Let stand, covered for about 5 minutes until some of the sauce is absorbed by the pasta. Add some pasta water to loosen the sauce if too much gets absorbed by the pasta (if desired)
- Garnish each plate with the chopped tomatoes
- Serve with crusty bread

Makes about 6 - 8 servings.

** I forgot to take a picture of the final dish but it looked just like the picture in the linked recipe above **