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Archive for June, 2012

Product Placement: Store Bought Muffins

This is slightly cheating. Store bought muffins is such a broad category I can’t pretend it’s a single product. Maybe some store-bought muffins are quite good and wholesome, but for the purposes of this blog I’ll be referring to Stop & Shop packaged muffins because this is a little close to home.

I do not mean to offend Stop & Shop, and believe me, if I did I would go after something other than their muffins. Now to start off, their muffins taste pretty good. They have a tall muffin top that is both appealing to look at and to eat, and the muffin itself stays moist  for about five days if not more. The taste is fine, varying depending on the type of muffin, but you always get what you expect: a run of the mill packaged pastry. Price-wise each muffin is a little over $1 and can be purchased in a package of 4 for $4.49 at Stop & Shop, give or take depending on where you live.

So if the muffin tastes fine where do I take issue? The ingredients list is long enough to be a novel and each muffin is 3x the serving suggestion.

A good taste tends to hide a few unsavory nutrition facts and ingredients, especially in large scale commercial food. For the apple spice muffins, the ingredients start off pretty normal: enriched bleached wheat flour, sugar, water, soybean oil, eggs, apples, modified corn starch. Everything else is 2% or less of the muffin. From the basic ingredients the only thing I take issue with is the modified corn starch. What’s it modified with? Why did it need to be modified at all? How is it modified? There’s no answer on the box.

Then we get to the 2% or less section: partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening (followed by a list of oils it could be a mixture of just to cover themselves in case of an allergic reaction), soy lecithin,  BHT and citric acid as preservatives, emulsifier (with a long list of unpronounceable words to explain what’s in the emulsifier), and the list continues for another 5 or 6 ingredients before moving on to what’s in the sugar coating. To try not to bore you with the rest, the basic premise here is that if an ingredient needs a list of ingredients to explain what it is, it’s not worth buying.

I’m not trying to preach at you or tell you what to buy or not buy. What you buy is ultimately your choice. I’m not trying to promote my own products as a comparison either. Maybe I have a grudge against pre-packaged food because I make my own, who knows. All I know is that there are tons of muffin recipes which are quick and easy to make and are a whole lot healthier than buying store bought. Cheaper too.

Save yourself the trouble of taking a magnifying glass and a dictionary with you the super market and make your own muffins. Believe me the taste is far better and you know what’s in it.

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Berry Picking Adventures

Raspberry bushes used to grow in my backyard. They were cuttings from plants which grew at my grandparents’ house, though I know nothing about gardening, so don’t ask me to go into details about the bush itself. All I know is that when I was young my whole family would go into our backyard and pick raspberries, wash them off in the kitchen sink and then eat them right then and there. I was too young to think about it then, but now I wonder why we never did anything exciting with the berries that we picked. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of berries on the bush, but we could have made jam, or made a pie if we were to supplement in some other berries or fruits, or put them into oatmeal, or been creative at all.

It’s too late now though, the man who mowed our grass ripped up the whole bush believing it to be a weed. That was over 15 years ago. Still, for years he promised he would replace it, but we no longer use his services and he couldn’t have gotten us a new raspberry bush if he tried (and I don’t think he did). It just wasn’t going to happen; it would be too expensive.

Something wound up happening to kill off the raspberry bushes in my grandparents’ yard too, but don’t ask me what (my gardening ignorance has not dissipated). Now if my family wants to buy berries, of any kind really, we need to pay the store prices or buy frozen. This becomes an even bigger problem because my family keeps an organic home and so everything is more expensive and has to actually be in season. Otherwise we don’t buy it. Or we buy frozen. You can imagine my joy…

But we were saved by Jones’ Family Farm when they offered days to come pick strawberries and my mom and I accepted. The acreage of the farm was immense, and maybe I’m just naive having lived in a suburb my entire life, but I was very impressed that there was this much land barely 15 minutes from my house.

Things got even better when we got to ride a tractor to the berry fields: we rode the Berry Ferry!

It’s corny and it’s hokey, but that’s why I love it. My mom and I were given a few rows to pick from because we were picking rather late in the season. With our cartons at the ready we got down and picked the best berries I have ever eaten. It was a bit difficult to find ones which were large and not squashed, or ones which were not buried in the dirt, but when we found good ones we found good ones. We picked a little over 3 lbs of strawberries and paid a little over $8.

Now we just need to get creative and come up with recipes to put the strawberries into. After years of not having the option to pick our own berries I will not let this opportunity go to waste. If you have any of your favorite strawberry recipes on hand please let me know. I’m willing to try anything just to be able to get creative. Let me know! Next week we’ll go back to pick blueberries.

Thanks and happy picking to anyone else hunting in the berry market.

Product Placement: Apple and White Grape Juice

I grew up on apple juice. I mixed it with water to dilute the over-sugared taste, but I swear I drank apple juice by the bottle as a child, forsaking milk and calcium for a cup of apple juice and water. My dentist can tell you how well this worked out for my teeth.

So aside from needing apple juice for the occasional out of the norm recipes, I’ve been avoiding it since I got most of my adult teeth in. 

Except it does not help that I have a similar weakness for grape juice.

So why am I writing a review of an Apple White Grape juice? You’d think that a juice which combines two of my worst enemies (both of which happen to taste phenomenal) would be my undoing and that by the time I finish this Product Placement review I will have melted into a puddle of goo fallen prey to my addiction to fruit juice drinks. Thankfully this is not the case. Because thankfully I found Mott’s for Tots. This subset of the famous Mott’s company created Mott’s for Tots Apple White Grape juice that has only 15 grams of sugar which has about half the sugar of  Mott’s Pure Apple Juice which has 28 grams of sugar and double the calories.

The juice tastes great too. It’s healthier and it shows. It’s not too sweet and the blend of juices is a perfect combination of flavors where one is never over powering the other. Is it perfect though? Has a juice company really created the pinnacle of the juicing experience?

No. The juice is unfortunately made from concentrate with only 53% juice. Judging by the ingredients though, it seems as if the remaining 47% must be water because all the ingredients are pronounceable and are as follows:

Purified water, apple and white grape juice concentrates, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural flavors.

For 64 oz (2 qts) the Apple White Grape costs $3.49. Check it out if you’re interested in a healthy juice drink that is most certainly not just for tots.

Bread Tips Anyone?

Would any of you be willing to give me advice on making bread? I am continuously disappointed with store-bought breads. Even organic breads with whole wheat or whole grains always seem insubstantial, quite possibly because the slices are incredibly thin. I know thick sliced bread is available, but it would be difficult to find and not cost effective. I want to be comfortable making my own bread. Not to sell, but to have for my family.

I’ve made bread before. Most notably I’ve made challah bread (traditional braided Jewish bread made for Friday night Shabbat dinners) and it’s come out pretty legitimate. Still I consistently find I have recurring problems when I bake bread.

1) The dough does not rise.

I use the correct amount of yeast and I let the dough rise (for both the first and, if required, second risings) by placing it in a greased bowl in a powered off oven. I cover the dough with a towel and place it above a bowl of warm water.  Still the dough doesn’t always rise. Am I doing something fundamentally wrong?

A book I have on bread recipes says that salt will kill the yeast if you’re not careful, but  I am not experienced enough with making bread to be able to tell how to add the salt without killing the yeast.

Any advice?

2) My other problem is the bread goes stale within 2 or 3 days.

I don’t use any preservatives, mold-inhibitors, or other chemical concoctions to keep my products fresh. Unfortunately, not knowing any natural preservatives is a severe hindrance for making bread. Ideally bread should be baked fresh each day, but who really has that much time? It would be a tremendous help to know a natural way to preserve bread because I understand that bread does go stale and that it’s normal especially for home made breads.

Because I make my own honey roasted peanut butter (more on this to follow in future blogs) I want to find a good honey whole wheat bread recipe and work from there on my yeast-bread journeys. In the near future I want to be comfortable making home made breads and eventually my own recipes. Any advice you can give will be a great help although be advised I do not have a bread machine and so I’m literally making everything by hand. I look forward to hearing from you!

Product Placement: Maple Agave Syrup

I really need to thank my mom for introducing me to so many great products I never would have found on my own. She introduced me to Siggi’s Yogurt and while shopping with her at a local organic market we came across Maple Agave Syrup.

Most commercial maple syrups, Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, Mrs. Butterworths, etc, are artificially flavored. If you read the ingredients most brand name syrups contain high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and caramel color and not much else. If I just ruined your pancake or waffle experience I apologize, but before you run off to go buy the pure maple syrup let’s take a look at cost.

A 24 oz bottle of Aunt Jemima maple syrup is $3.79.

8.5 oz of pure maple syrup costs $4.99.

Maple Grove Farms Pure Maple Syrup - 1 Bottle (12.50 oz)

Now I took the above prices from the Peapod Stop and Shop website, so prices may vary depending on where you live and how much syrup you’re buying. Either way, the pure syrup is far more expensive. It makes sense that consumers buy the cheap brand name.

If you’re looking for affordable and healthy, try a maple agave blend instead of pure maple syrup. Stop and Shop does not carry this product so in order to get a comparative price, a blogger called thekitchn  places Trader Joe’s prices for maple agave syrup at $3 for 8 oz.

Great Northern Organic Maple Agave Syrup 8 oz. (Pack of 12)

The best thing about this syrup though is more than the cost. It’s entirely natural. Agave is a plant found in Mexico that has been sweetening and flavoring food for thousands of years. The syrup comes from the sap of the plant found in the core of the plant called the pina. The sap is heated at a low temperature to break down the natural sugars (visit allaboutagave.com for more information).

When agave syrup is combined with pure maple syrup a healthy, affordable option is created. It’s sweet with no artificial sweeteners or aftertaste. Although not as thick as pure maple syrup on its own the flavor combination makes up for the thinner consistency, though by no means is it watery like commercial syrup brands.

Enjoy your new discoveries with this syrup blend. See you next Wednesday!

Matzoh Brei

Matzoh is not just for Passover anymore. And it’s not just for Jews. I should have posted this months ago during Passover when I made coconut macaroons, but this afternoon I knew there was nothing I wanted to eat more than matzoh brei.

Matzoh brei can be compared to a pancake, as it is cooked on a griddle and can be eaten with syrup. Because of this, it is often a staple for Passover when bread and yeast products are prohibited. I learned this recipe from my grandfather who would make it year round for breakfast whenever we would go to visit him. The simplicity of the process and few ingredients needed made it a perfect segway for me to make it at home as a child just getting interested in food.

INGREDIENTS: (makes 2 servings)

2 pieces of Matzoh

1 egg, beaten

1 tbs butter

Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat a skillet on medium heat.

2. Rinse matzoh pieces in warm water until soggy. Break into small pieces and place in a bowl. Add the beaten egg to the matzoh and stir to coat. Mix in salt and pepper to taste.

3. Melt butter on skillet. Pour matzoh mixture into skillet and flatten until rounded and desired thickness throughout. Cook 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve with salt and pepper or syrup.

Tell me what you think. Enjoy!

Sugar Cookies

What can really be said about the sugar cookie? It’s the cousin of the Snickerdoodle, the frost-it, ice-it, decorate-it-as-you-please-it cookie that you can never go wrong with purchasing. The sugar cookie is incredibly versatile, a simple gift  of a dozen to bring to a party is guaranteed to please even the pickiest of eaters.

My sugar cookies are topped with green sprinkles and are chewy perfection. There is nothing  do dislike about this cookie: they are soft and chewy and baked just until golden. One bite and you’ll want another. It’s a good thing they’re sold by the dozen.

Each dozen is $11.

Place an order through a comment.

Or contact me through my email at CherylsConfections21@gmail.com

Give me a call: (203) 459-0814 OR (203) 583-6001.