Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sally's Natural Cereals -- Marshmallow Mini's

Every once in a while I get taken when I try to buy responsibly produced health foods for our family.  Sadly, I may have had that experience again today.

I was walking through Costco and noticed a new cereal (new to Costco) made by Sally's Natural Cereals.  With my wife and two kids in tow I didn't have a lot of time to read the box, but what stood out were the phrases, "no high fructose corn syrup", "no fake colors, flavors, or preservatives", and "every bite supports renewable wind energy".  Sounded good, so I threw it in the cart.  And besides, I was helping Sally grow her business.  Kudos to her for getting noticed by Costco, right?

Then I got home and actually spent more time learning about this new find.  Here is what I discovered:

1.  Sally's Natural Cereals (implying more than one) is not sold on or anywhere online for that matter.  Odd.
2.  Sally's Natural Cereals has no actual business address, just a PO Box number.
3.  Sally's Natural Cereals has no web site.  Nobody has blogged about her (or her cereals) and there are no news articles pertaining to her company.
4.  The bottom of the box doesn't say it was MADE by Sally, but only that it was distributed by her.  (All of a sudden the little story about Sally's busy household on the top of the box is beginning to look just like that -- a story.  I'm becoming more convinced that "Sally" doesn't really exist).

Now I'm nearly convinced that a major corporation is using "Sally's" (or rather hiding behind) to replicate the success of "Annie's" line of products.  Could this be true?

The challenge:  Sally.  If you really exist (and I really hope you do), let us into your world a bit.

UPDATE:  11/30/2011 -- Costco now carries this fulltime.  And, while walking my grocery store isle yesterday I noticed another brand ( with the exact same cereal enclosed.  It seems they are marketing this under a variety of brand names.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spartan Brand "Take The Challenge" Peaches

I love a good challenge -- especially when I get a good deal.

You may not have Spartan brand products in your area.  They occasionally run a challenge where you buy the brand-name item and then receive a similar Spartan brand product free.  Their hope is that you will enjoy the Spartan brand product enough to make the switch on future purchases.

Usually the challenge focuses on junk stuff that I wouldn't purchase regardless of brand, but this week included sliced peaches in a plastic container -- specifically Dole vs. Spartan.  Here are my findings:

The Dole brand ($2.99 -- less the $.75 coupon I had):

Pros:  Packed in 100% fruit juice (White grape and lemon juice from concentrate -- not peach juice as one might think), the peaches themselves were perfect in texture and burst with fruit juice when chewed, packages in recyclable #5 plastic (I prefer glass).
Cons:  Product on China (not that I don't like China, but it defeats the eating local movement and adds to carbon emissions having to send food around the world for a product that is readily available in the United States.

The Spartan brand ($2.79 -- I received it for free):

Pros: Product of the USA (though it doesn't say from where specifically or how they were grown).

Cons:  The peaches are packed in sugar water instead of fruit juice (should make you think twice when you see your kids drinking the "juice" that remains in their bowl); the plastic jar has no recycling information on it, adding to a permanent landfill near your hometown; the peaches are very firm (almost crunchy" and don't have that burst of extra fruit flavor when eaten.


For $.20 I will choose the Dole brand.  My son did drink the liquid in the bottom of his bowl without prompting (what kid wouldn't) and he did so with the sugar water from the Spartan brand.  That alone made me think that I wouldn't choose the Spartan brand again.  The last thing any of us needs is more refined sugar.  And, perhaps even bigger, I just cannot believe that Spartan would sell a product in a container that cannot be recycled.  The taste was close, but I preferred the texture and "burst" of the Dole fruit.  Winner:  Dole.

Try for yourself this week at a Family Fare near you and let me know what you think.

Waffle Ice Cream Cones

Does this need to be just a summer treat?  A few times each summer, we like to stop at a favorite vacation ice cream shop and get a waffle cone filled with our favorite flavors.

I had never thought about making my own waffle cones until flipping through the pages of "Cooking for Isaiah" and was so excited to learn how easy making waffle cones is AND that I can make them gluten-free for my wife!  Perfect!

I purchased a Chef's Best waffle iron and made my first batch for Valentine's Day (added pink sprinkles).  The cones were a hit with everyone.

The batter for the gluten free cones made them a bit thicker than we would prefer and next time I will add a bit more almond milk.  And, the waffle iron holds 3 TBS. of batter, but the author of Cooking for Isaiah suggests 2 Tbs. cones.  I made the 3 Tbs., but will make the smaller 2 Tbs. next time as they are quite large.

This is an amazingly simply treat o make and I would highly recommend this investment for a fun family and friends dessert.  Each cone takes about two minutes to make -- maybe less.

S'mores Pancakes

The plates were licked clean with this one!  I had to stop our son from eating for fear he might explode.  :)

From the "Cooking for Isaiah" gluten-free and dairy-free cookbook on page 25.  This is almost too much like a dessert, but very good for the occasional breakfast.

If you're not cooking gluten and dairy free, just whip up your favorite batch of pancake mix and throw in 1/2 cup of mini-chocolate chips before throwing them on the griddle.

The idea of whipping some "Fluff" (find in the dessert or marshmallow isle of your favorite grocery store) with hot water was great and worked well as a pancake topping.  Use 1 cup of Fluff and 2 Tbs. of boiling water and stir until smooth. While I wouldn't classify Fluff as a health food, the ingredient list is minimal and understandable which is a significant difference from it's bigger brand counterpart.

Have Fun!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gluten and Dairy Free Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies

I made these today and they have been received with much fanfare.  I wish I had a better name for them.  If you have an idea for a better name, post it!

This recipe will make just over three dozen 2Tbs. scooped cookies.  The texture of these cookies will be more crisp than chewy.  I used my trusted Zeroll scooper (#2040) for making these similar in size.

Here are the directions:

2 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour (or your own blend)
1 cup of coconut flour
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Cup of All Vegetable Shortening -- I prefer Spectrum Organic
2 cup of sugar
3 eggs (preferably free-range organic)
1 Tbs Vanilla (a touch more if preferred)
2 Cups of Rolled Oats (Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free)
1 1/2 cups "Enjoy Life" dairy, soy and nut free semi-sweet chocolate chips (add more or less to taste)

Mix the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.  In a mixer, beat together the vegetable shortening and sugar until well blended.  Add the vanilla and beat in the eggs one-at-a-time until mixture is creamy.  Scrap down the sides of the bowl, then slowly add the flour mixture into the mixer on low speed until well blended.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand and your ready to scoop!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Parchment is non-stick and makes it a breeze to clean-up.  It's okay if you don't have parchment paper.  Scoop the dough into 2 Tbs. portions about two inches apart and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the can come off the parchment paper in one piece without breaking.

As a side note, I pat my dough scoops down after about two minutes in the oven with a spatula to help them shape a little flatter.

Enjoy these.  They are going fast in our house.  And please let me know what you think.

Cooking for Isaiah Corn-Shrimp Fritters

Okay - page 67 of "Cooking for Isaiah".  I thought the kids would like this one.  No dice!  It wasn't because of the taste, because they didn't even try.  My wife and I enjoyed them though.  They were not quite perfect (for us), so here are a few changes I will implement next time:

1.  I found the frying time to be longer than 3 minutes -- actually closer to 5-7.  Let your eyes and senses guide you on this one.
2.  The flavor was a bit bland.  I will double the cilantro, chili-powder and cumin in the next attempt.
3.  I would recommend a bit less salsa and a bit more mayonnaise for the dipping sauce.

I scooped the batter with my Zerroll scoop and the fell nicely into the oil and fried into nice fairly crisp balls of goodness.

My one mistake, I let the blades spin too long in the food processor, eliminating most bigger chunks of shrimp.  Be very careful to either mix the chopped shrimp by hand, or give just a couple of quick "pulses" in the food processor.

Enjoy this one!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Food Sensitivities

My wife's doctor recently suggested that some of her ailments may be related to sensitivities to some foods. A blood test confirmed that she does have sensitivities to gluten, dairy and a few other items to a lesser degree.

His suggestion was to go dairy and gluten free for a while and see how much better she might feel.

As the primary cook for our family, I was not happy to learn of my new cooking limitations.  After all, I was just feeling comfortable with the variety of wheat flours and cheeses we had incorporated into our meals.

I went kicking and screaming to our health food store in search of answers and options and my wife grabbed a bunch of cookbooks from the library.

In future posts I will write about my findings regarding individual gluten free items and brands, but for now, I want to mention that we are working our way through the "Cooking for Isaiah" cookbook with good success and rave reviews.  Many of the cookbooks I have found address one food allergy.  This one eliminates both dairy and gluten.

The things I like about this cookbook include great photography of many of the dishes.  If you are like me, I am a visual learner in cooking.  I like to know what the end product should look like.  It helps me in the preparation stages of a meal.  I also like the fact that most of these meals are family friendly, meaning that the smallest kids will love the meals.  And, many of the meals are easy to prepare and take minimal time -- or even better, can be made ahead.

What I don't like has nothing to do with the food, but rather what appear to be a significant editorial error on page 15.  Silvana shares her flour blend that is used in recipes throughout the book.  She then also adds a pancake blend version of the main blend for the waffle and pancake recipes in her book.  I am certain that rather than the 9 cups of flour blend, she really means 3.

I will start posting photos as we work our way through each recipe, but two weeks into making the various recipes, I can say that this newly purchased cookbook will be used a lot by our family.