If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The Kitchen or Use the Microwave

bf casseroleFor the past two weeks, it’s felt like 108ª outside and all I can think over and over again is: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! Once we hit the middle of summer, it’s always hot in my kitchen, but this year the sweltering started a couple of months early. recipeWhile my west facing kitchen may hold more heat than some, at these temps everyone’s kitchen seems hot.

To avoid the heat, some of my friends grill out, some eat salads, and some flee to the lake. Another summer option is to cook in the microwave. If you’re like me, you only think to use the microwave for a cup of hot tea, heating up left overs, or cooking frozen edamame, but the microwave can be used to cook a variety of casseroles, quick breads, and steamed vegetables. Microwave cooking is also great for dorm rooms or for seniors who no longer trust themselves to remember to turn off the stove.

Of course you can also get out of the kitchen by grabbing a burger on your way home from work. We do this at a burger joint that gives us unlimited French fries. That means I always go home with meat and fries. For years I wondered what to do with those left over fries. Now that I’ve commandeered the microwave for actual cooking, I have a solution that won’t heat up the kitchen. Give this left over French fry breakfast casserole a try. It’s hearty enough for an evening meal. Bon appétit!

Summer is For Ice Cream

There’s no doubt about it, summer is for ice cream! It’s barely summer and we’ve already had heat warnings because it feels 108º outside. To me this means it is important to stay cool. That means lots of icy beverages and a steady diet of cold food.
pour over ice
I love ice cold honeydew, watermelon, steamed asparagus, and gazpacho, but there are days when I think I could eat nothing but ice cream all summer. Of course ice cream comes in many forms with vastly different quality, taste, and calorie counts. My favorite flavors always seem to have the most fat and calories so I’ve been looking for ways to enjoy the cold, but cut the fat and calories.

For instance, I like Häagen-Dazs® Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. One half cup serving has 300 calories, 19g of fat and 22g of sugar. I also like Talenti® Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. It’s a better calorie choice with 11g of fat and 240 calories per half cup serving, but it contains even more sugar – a whopping 36 grams.

This is a common problem in American convenience foods. Fat is often replaced with additional sugar. While weight loss diets may measure the desirability of a food based on calories, fewer calories doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. The lower fat gelato also contains gum and natural flavors which I prefer to avoid.

Does this mean there are no good choices other than making my own sorbet or freezing a banana? I hate frozen bananas and I don’t want to make sorbet. I just want to grab something cold that’s waiting for me in the freezer when I happen to be hot and hungry.

I’m in luck! I have frozen yogurt bars in my freezer. They’re not perfect. They contain gum and natural flavors, but they’re only 90 calories with 2 grams of fat, 11 grams of sugar and active probiotic cultures.

There are many brands of frozen yogurt bars. My current favorite is Blueberry Outshine® Simply Yogurt Bars. Yasso® offers a similar blueberry bar with no fat content, 80 calories and 13 grams of sugar. There are additional gluten-free flavors available in the Outshine and Yasso brands, and a variety made by Stonyfield, Yoplait® and Häagen-Dazs®.
yogurt bar
And I’m sure there are more depending on where you buy your groceries. You can choose your best match by reading the ingredient and nutrition profile then sampling the product. Hmmm, sounds a lot like dating these days, but I digress.

I suppose there are other options, but since the obsolescence of Banana Fudgecicles, I really prefer ice cream as my summer staple. On the other hand, I hate feeling guilty about consuming all those calories. I’m thrilled that Greek yogurt bars limit my portion size, provide probiotics, reduce calories, fat, and sugar, and still have the soft satisfying feel of ice cream. It’s my 2016 summer bonus!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”






Where Does Brown Sugar Get Its Tan?

taw sugarI’ve been comparing tans to brown sugar which led me to wonder – where does brown sugar get its tan?

I know that sounds like a weird comparison, but I’m going to a wedding in Santa Barbara this summer so I’ve been focussed on getting some sun on my legs. At some point, I may or may not have been gawking at some tan legs in the grocery store thinking that’s the shade I want. Next thing you know, I’m wondering about the different colors of brown sugar – a leap not that unusual in my world. It happens.

Soft, moist, caramel tasting brown sugar comes in many shades – light brown, dark brown, and even darker pilonchillo. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved the way it feels to pack it into a measuring cup and then watch it easily break apart again when poured into a bowl of cookie dough. It seems that it’s time to learn more about this delightful ingredient.

The short answer to where does brown sugar get its tan is…molasses. The darkness of the brown is directly related to the percentage of molasses it contains. Light brown sugar contains about 4.5% while dark brown sugar contains about 6.5%.

Brown sugar begins just like white sugar as a syrup most often made from crushing sugar cane to squeeze out juice, then evaporating that cane juice to form a thick syrup. A similar syrup can be derived from sugar beets. The thick syrup is full of molasses. Sometimes the syrup is further evaporated and then spun in a centrifuge to remove the molasses. This is how Turbinado and demerara sugars are made. You may know them as Raw Sugar.

Other natural brown sugars are not refined (put in a centrifuge) and retain a higher degree of molasses. You may know these as panela, rapadura, chancaca, jaggery, or piloncillo. These sugars are commonly boiled in open pans on wood fires until the sugar cane juice is reduced by 70% and begins to form crystals. The sugar is then poured into a mold or is cooled and beaten to produce granulated brown sugar.

In the Philippines, partially centrifuged evaporated and crystallizing cane juice is used to create a mush that’s allowed to drain using gravity creating a natural brown sugar called muscovado. A similar process is used in Japan to produce kokuto.

While natural brown sugars retain molasses from the partially evaporated cane juice, brown sugar can also be made by adding molasses to refined white sugar. This is how commercial brown sugar is commonly made. Adding molasses back to white sugar allows the ratio of molasses to be carefully controlled. It is also a less expensive process.
br sugar
For a fun experiment, buy a cone of pilonchillo at your local mercado and a bag of commercially produced brown sugar from your neighborhood market. Wash a small amount of each with water in a bowl. After the water turns brown, pick up a few sugar crystals from the bottom of the bowl with your fingers. Notice how the sugar crystals that remain in the bowl of washed commercial brown sugar are white, but the remaining pilonchillo crystals are darker. That is because there’s molasses within the crystals.

What’s all that pretty brown sugar used for? It sweetens many baked goods and is used as a substitute for maple syrup or maple sugar. It is slightly lower in calories than white sugar. To further reduce calories and carbs in a recipe you may want to consider using coconut crystals.

Now that we’ve gotten to know brown sugar a little better, it’s time for me to get back outside and get some sun on my legs. I don’t want them to be scary white when I hit the beach!

My Top Five Gluten-Free Summer Snacks for 2016

asparagusHere’s a list of my top five gluten-free summer snacks for 2016. I don’t know about you, but I am a snacker. If I don’t eat a little something every three hours, I begin to feel bad. Three hours isn’t really enough time in between meals so snacking seems like a good solution to keep me feeling great all day!

Of course there are a million snacks available so sometimes it’s hard to know what to choose. I’ve already picked my favorites for this summer. Perhaps you’d like to try them out too:

Number 5: Medjool Dates
These dates are large, soft, and incredibly sweet. Each date has approximately 66 calories,4 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.6 grams of dietary fiber. These dates also contain Vitamins A, K, Niacin, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Choline, and Betaine along with Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, and Manganese.

Number 4: Raw Cashews
I love raw cashews. They have a subtle flavor that borders on sweetness. The crunch is good, but softer than that of almonds or peanuts. One ounce of cashews has 155 calories, 5.1 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of dietary fiber. Cashews contain Vitamins C, E, K, Thiamin, Niacin, B6, Folate, and Pantothenic Acid along with Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, and Selenium. The amount of Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Manganese range from 17 to 23% of the recommended daily allowance for these minerals.

Dried fruit and nuts are great snacks that require no refrigeration, preparation, or fancy packaging.

Number 3: Chilled Asparagus Spears
When I eat asparagus hot, I prefer thin spears, but often those aren’t available. Luckily, I prefer thicker spears when I eat them chilled. I lightly steam the spears until they’re firm, not crunchy. Then I sprinkle on some lemon pepper and salt or lightly salt and squeeze some lemon juice over them. Other times, I just salt the steamed spears and put them in the refrigerator. One cup of asparagus has 32 calories, 5 grams of protein, 3 carbohydrates, and 3 grams of dietary fiber. It also gives you 73% of the RDA of Vitamin C, 29% of the RDA of Vitamin A, plus calcium and iron along with Vitamins E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, 61% of the RDA of Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Choline, and Betaine.

Number 2: Ice Cold Honeydew Melon
When it’s really hot outside, an ice cold honeydew quickly quenches your thirst and cools you down. It’s lightly sweet and surprisingly filling. One cup of honeydew has 64 calories, 1 gram of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of dietary fiber. It also contains 53% of the RDA of Vitamin C plus Vitamin A, Calcium, and Iron along with Vitamin K, Thiamin, Niacin, B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, and Choline.

Number 1: Cooking2Thrive Dorm Room No Bake Cookies

You didn’t think I’d only choose healthy snacks did you? While these cookies have added sugar, they also contain peanut butter, oatmeal, and dark chocolate which add nutritional value and antioxidants. Two cookies contain 208 calories, 4.37 grams of protein, 12.27 grams of fat, 22.09 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.8 grams of dietary fiber. These cookies take less than 10 minutes to make and they’re chocolate. Need I say more?

Next year may be different, but in 2016 when the hot sun blazes and humidity hovers, I’ll be feasting on these 5 favorite gluten-free snacks. Yummy!