Category Archives: Nutrition

Gluten free? AVOID “herb rice” in restaurants!

Many people have gone gluten free by choice. Others MUST choose gluten free options for health reasons. I fit into the later category, although I haven’t been that way my entire life. In recent years I learned I developed a serious health issue that is triggered by eating anything with gluten in it. Hence, I’ve become gluten free. This is NOT a choice for me.

Eating a gluten free meal becomes very challenging when faced with eating out in restaurants. This is particularly so when faced with menu items that appear to be gluten free. One case in point is “herb rice.” I would expect “herb rice” to be rice mixed with specific herbs and flavorings to make a delicious gluten free dish. However, many restaurants serve an “herb rice blend” that is actually a mix of rice, flavorings and orzo, a tiny pasta made from wheat. THAT’S the problem.

Unfortunately, many restaurant workers, “servers” in particular, are uninformed as to what their “herb rice” actually contains. They’re under the impression that it’s just flavored rice. I have been faced with this TWICE now since I’ve been gluten free. Note that I have nothing against the rice blends they use…they’re actually delicious. HOWEVER, they’re not just rice…they’re NOT gluten free. And with the innocent ignorance of waiters/waitresses, wary customers may be served foods they shouldn’t eat. My personal experiences are cases in point.

First, years back when I newly discovered that I should avoid wheat, I was at a restaurant/bar-grill. I choose something with “herb rice” in it, innocently thinking it was just rice. I asked the waitress if it was just rice and gluten free. She insisted that it was just rice, so I ordered it. After eating about half of it, I realized it had orzo in it…wheat pasta. When I spoke with the waitress about it and said I couldn’t eat the dish, she still insisted that it didn’t contain wheat and was only rice. We had a bit of an argument and she finally brought me the box it came in. Of course, when reading the ingredients list, wheat pasta was listed as one of the components (I’m not ignorant when it comes to food and it didn’t take much to find a wheat product in the ingredients list). When I brought this to her attention and asked for something else to replace the rice, we settled on refried beans. She was obviously not happy with me. I was brought a blob of refried beans, straight out of the can and unheated. I told the manager about the episode when we paid for the meal and I got little response in return. Needless to say, we’ve never been back there again.

Secondly, just last night we were at a different restaurant and they presented us with their new spring/summer menu. A wonderful dish was listed and I opted for it. Again, it was served with “herb rice.” I asked the waitress about it and she was very polite in saying she thought it was just rice, but wasn’t certain. I opted for hash browns instead of the rice. (They were out of the rice blend anyway and I was already planning on ordering hash browns since I suspected the “rice” was not just rice.) Nevertheless, the waitress DID offer information for me…the brand name of the blend. I looked it up and here’s the ingredients list…

Parboiled long grain rice, orzo (macaroni product made from wheat flour), salt, autolyzed yeast extract*, onions*, garlic*, turmeric spice which imparts color.

*dried
CONTAINS WHEAT INGREDIENTS

I’m thankful that the waitress was kind enough to at least offer the information to me so I could check for myself. I also appreciated her humbleness in admitting she was not certain of the ingredients. Unfortunately, apparently restaurant owners and chefs don’t inform their workers about these critical aspects of their food. For most patrons, it’s not an issue at all. But for those who MUST avoid certain ingredients, it’s important for the wait staff to be knowledgeable of what’s being served. Sadly, that’s usually not the case, so it’s up to the patron to be informed and wary of what they order.

Unless you really know the restaurant and how they prepare foods, wait for the herb rice until you get home and make it yourself!! Don’t order it in a restaurant.

I hope this information helps someone out there to avoid ordering some food that can cause health issues. Again, if you can eat gluten, the herb rice blend is a delicious option. But if gluten presents a problem, don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not just flavored rice.

Best wishes to all and happy eating,
Judi

How to Choose the Best Olive Oil

We’ve all seen our favorite chefs at work on TV. Most of them use extra virgin olive oil. Why? Because it’s one of the healthiest oils to consume. However, they rarely say what brand they’re using (unless they’re being paid to advertise for that company).

Good quality olive oil can be one of the healthiest oils to use. It helps correct blood cholesterol problems and is high in vitamin E and antioxidants, fighting harmful compounds in the body. Olive oil plays a vital role in the Mediterranean diet, which we know is very healthful.

So…when we get to the grocery store, choosing which olive oil to buy seems about like choosing a breakfast cereal! There are MANY to choose from…too many. It’s just too confusing. So, I’ve done some research to help us all pick the best olive oil from the array we have to choose from at the moment.

It’s important to know that not all olive oils were created equal. In fact, MANY that are typically on our grocery store shelves are not healthful oils at all. Many have been “refined” (a process that involves heat and/or chemical solvents), have been on the shelf for extended periods of time and hence are not fresh, or are older oils that have been blended with fresher oils to mask their rancid flavor. Yuk!

Because eating old or rancid oils is actually damaging to health, I decided to put together a list of things to look for to help you choose which oil is best among those that are available to you at the moment when shopping. There may be higher quality oils out there in wherever-land, but they’re not the ones you’re looking at for the moment when you’re starring at the huge array on the grocery store shelf. You NEED to know which one to choose NOW! Copy this list and carry it with you the next time you shop for olive oil.

First, it’s important to know that ANY extracted oil is highly perishable. Light, heat and oxygen can interact with the oil and cause it to age or even spoil, creating compounds that are harmful to our health. So, keep this fact in mind as you make your way through the steps below.

When at the grocery store…

Put your “blinders” on! First thing, DON’T look at the price right away. IF you shop for price only, you’ll probably choose the cheapest oil on the shelf. Mistake #1. That oil is very likely refined and not the most healthful. That’s not what you want!

Choose oil in a small dark glass bottle (or packaging that shields the oil from light).  Unless you’re going to use a LOT of oil FAST, go for the small size…one that you know you can use up in a relatively short amount of time. Be sure the bottle (glass, not plastic) is dark, helping to protect the oil from damaging light. Otherwise, if you know you need a lot of oil and will be using it up quickly, opt for oil in a large can.

Be sure the cap is sealed and air tight. Well, duh. This should be a “given.” However…it’s worth checking because you never know what you might come across in a grocery store.

Choose “extra virgin olive oil.” Extra virgin is the highest quality olive oil. Now…DON’T take the front label on the bottle for it’s word. Turn the bottle over and look at the ingredients list. It should only say “extra virgin olive oil.” It MIGHT list refined oil and extra virgin olive oil. If it does, put it back on the shelf. It’s a blend of less-than-healthy refined oil, most likely mixed with fresher oil to improve the flavor. Not your best option.

Look for “first cold pressed” or “mechanically pressed.” This is the natural way to extract oil from olives. Otherwise it was probably extracted using heat and/or chemicals, which is not desirable and not the healthiest oil around. Choose a naturally extracted oil.

Some bottles say “organic.” Organic options in most any foods are good. However, “organic” alone with regard to olive oil is NOT the only thing to look for. Check out the other components before deciding that it’s your best option.

Look for quality seals on the label. Not all oils will have them, but they are helpful in ensuring the oil was produced according to set quality standards. Some seals you might see include:

COOC (California Olive Oil Council)
North American Olive Oil Association
International Olive Oil Council
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin…DOP in Italian)
PGI (Protected Geographical Indication…IGP in Italian)

Look for an expiration date or “best by” date. Try to select one with at least a year left before it expires. The further out the date, the fresher the oil. Freshly produced olive oil will last up to 2 years from the time of harvest, IF kept under ideal conditions (which is often not the case). AND we don’t know the time lapse from harvest to production and many dates are based on production dates, so there is some mystery here. So…the more time left in the dating, the fresher the oil.

Look for the producer and place of origin of the olives. Ideally, it’s best to find an oil from olives that were grown, processed and packaged in the same location. However, that would RARELY be found on our grocery store shelves. Just note that oil will be freshest and of higher quality under those circumstances. That translates into less transport time, less chance of spoilage due to less-than-ideal conditions along the way, etc. However, MOST if not all of what we’ll typically find on our grocery store shelves will not meet this criteria. It’s good to look for it anyway. IF you manage to find one…latch onto it!

NOW…After having looked for oils that meet the above criteria…it’s time to compare prices. Now you’ll know you’re getting the best deal on your olive oil AND the most healthful option you have to choose from at the moment.

When you get home…

TASTE the oil when you get it home. Ignore the color because the color will vary depending upon the variety of olive used and when it was picked. The color does NOT reflect the quality of the oil. When tasting, the oil should smell and taste like olives, and should have a slight bitterness and possibly pepperiness. This indicates the presence of the polyphenol compounds…the healthful compounds that we WANT in the oil! Hopefully the oil you selected will meet this criteria. If not, it’s back to the drawing board the next time you shop for oil.

Store your oil wisely. Store it away from light, heat and oxygen (close the bottle quickly after using it). Use it up quickly…don’t try to store it for a long time.

Get the most health benefits from your oil. Use the oil unheated as much as possible to get the most health benefits from your carefully chosen product. When using it to cook with, heat it the least amount possible to keep from destroying the polyphenol compounds and breaking down the oil (which is not healthful).

Here’s a video that I produced on this subject. Hope this helps!! Happy eating, Judi

Introducing…”NutriBit” Videos

As many people know, I have a lot of formal training in food and nutrition. In addition to that I’ve owned and operated my own bakery/bistro, taught nutrition to college students, AND I continue to delve into personal research on a regular basis.

It was recently suggested to me that I share some of this information with others. That seemed like a reasonable thing to do, especially since it ties in with my blog AND YouTube videos. Hence…the birth of “NutriBits”…as in “bits” of nutritional and health/wellness information relayed through videos. These are short, to the point videos I’ll be creating as I share valuable nutritional, health and wellness information that could help you in the kitchen, at the grocery store, and in your quest to live a healthier life.

A link to my introductory video is below. Please check it out and DO post questions that I might be able to help you with either here or in the comments section of any video I post. I’ll be happy to help with whatever questions I can! Judi

Gluten Free Bread Muffins

Gluten Free Bread Muffins

Many people have gone gluten-free these days for assorted reasons. No matter what the reason, one thing that is often missed is bread. No matter what is said about bread in the news, even though its form may have changed, bread has been a staple in the diet of people for eons. If you enjoy bread and suddenly find yourself trying to do without it, life is just not the same! Nothing quite takes the place of bread.

I’ve explored gluten-free bread recipes and have found this one to be a winner. It’s a recipe I developed after a NUMBER of trial runs. It works baked in a loaf, but even better when made in a regular size muffin tin. This bread is not sweet, so it goes well with meals. The recipe is as follows.

Watch the video below for my special tips on making this bread successfully along with details of how to make it in a loaf. Enjoy! Judi

Gluten Free Bread Muffins
Makes 12 Regular Size Bread Muffins (or 1 loaf)

14 oz gluten-free flour blend (that contains NO xanthan gum, guar gum, nor yeast)
4 oz gluten-free oat flour OR almond meal/flour
3 Tbsp plain psyllium husk powder
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup almond milk (or any milk you prefer)
1 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or any vegetable oil you prefer)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Add liquid mixture to the dry mix and stir until well combined.

Lightly coat a regular size 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray. Scoop 1/3 to 1/2 cup batter into each muffin cup, dividing the batter evenly among all cups. Allow batter to “rest” as the oven preheats.

Place top rack of oven on the middle shelf. Preheat oven to 350ºF. When oven is heated, place muffin pan into oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and allow muffins to cool in the pan on a wire rack. Enjoy.

Bread may be stored, tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for one or two days. For prolonged storage, wrap each one tightly and store in the freezer until needed. Allow bread to thaw at room temperature or very briefly on a defrost setting in a microwave oven.

To see tips on how to successfully make this recipe or how to bake it in a loaf form, see the video below! Judi

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars (Gluten/Grain-Free)

When I first discovered Larabars, I fell in love all over again. How delicious and wonderful to have such a treat, especially one that’s gluten and grain free! After eating only one bar, I decided to recreate them my way and enhance their nutritional value. (After all, I AM a nutritionist!)

So, here’s my version of a No Bake Pecan Pie Bar. As you can see in the video (link below), I make mine smaller than most people. This is to remind me that even though it’s yummy and full of good-for-you-things, it’s still a “treat” and therefore, the serving size should be limited. Hence, smaller bars, smaller pieces. I TRY (and I admit it’s hard) to limit myself to one small piece at a time, preferably as a mini dessert after a meal.

If YOU prefer larger bars and want to make a larger batch, the recipe can VERY easily be increased by any increment you want. If you opt to make a bread-size loaf pan bar, I suggest you line the pan with plastic wrap before placing your mixture into the pan to form the bar. It would be MUCH easier to remove that way. Enjoy! Judi

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars (Gluten/Grain-Free…and Yummy too!)

1/2 cup chopped dates
2 Tbsp water
1/2 c pecans
2 Tbsp almonds
2 tsp flax meal
2 tsp ground chia seeds
Pinch of salt (optional)

Place chopped dates in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of boiling water over dates and allow them to soften for about 5 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed. Alternately place chopped dates in a small microwave safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons tap water. Microwave about 30 seconds, until water has boiled. Remove and allow dates to soften for about 5 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed. Do not drain any remaining water, nor blot the dates dry on a paper towel.

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until ingredients are well chopped up and blended.

With a spatula, remove mixture to a large piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap. With spatula, form into a bar shape. Wrap tightly and place in refrigerator overnight to firm up and flavors to blend.

Slice into small pieces and enjoy!

Note: This recipe can easily be increased so it can be formed into a loaf pan for larger size service pieces.

FAST, EASY, Delicious Green Beans with Tomatoes

People are actively trying to work more vegetables into their meals these days…at least that’s what we’re told to do. AND that’s what we SHOULD be doing. Here’s a delicious way to add green beans and tomatoes to a meal. It’s extremely fast and easy to prepare, has great eye-appeal AND flavor. Try it sometime! The recipe is below, following by a link to my video on preparing this dish. Enjoy! Judi

FAST, EASY, Delicious Green Beans with Tomatoes

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 to 2-1/4 cups frozen, thawed green beans
1 to 2 Tbsp water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp dry basil leaves
1/8 to 1/4 tsp salt
1 small fresh tomato, cut into bite size pieces

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Allow oil to warm very briefly, then add the chopped garlic to the pan. Allow garlic to cook briefly, then add the thawed green beans to the skillet. Stir to combine and allow beans to heat briefly.

Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water, depending upon how soft you like your green beans. Sprinkle with basil leaves and salt; stir to combine. Add the chopped tomato. Cover skillet with lid and allow to cook for 2 minutes (YEP–that’s it!), or until vegetables are to your desired tenderness. Serve.

Cook Brussels Sprouts without Bitterness

Delicious Brussels Sprouts without Bitterness

Delicious Brussels Sprouts without Bitterness

Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables that many people shy away from because of the bitterness that’s often associated with them. We usually have memories of mom or grandma overcooking them in a pot full of water. They came out mushy and bitter, and were served with a heavy layer of butter to disguise the taste. They just weren’t enjoyable. Yet, we were told how healthful they were to eat, so we suffered through the experience. I too have such memories. Well, we’re STILL told how healthful they are, yet it’s hard to get past those memories.  I’m a nutritionist and I love to cook, so I decided to experiment to see if I could make them more palatable. I found a way to cook them without that awful bitterness.

The secret is simple…WATER. Water is what brings out the bitter compounds. Hence, cook with little to no water and yippee (!)…you have Brussels sprouts that actually taste good! I enjoy sauteing vegetables and prefer that method over roasting. First, it’s faster. Most people have little time today to spend in the kitchen waiting for food to cook. Secondly, there’s less chance of them burning since you’re cooking at a lower temperature, and you’re also likely to watch them more closely. Vegetable oils are more healthful the less they’re heated. So, for those reasons I’m sold on pan sauteing rather than roasting vegetables.

After working with fresh Brussels sprouts a number of times, I came up with a winning method that results in delicious sprouts without bitterness. The combination of seasonings tastes good and results in healthful Brussels sprouts that are fast and easy to prepare. I made a video to show you how simple it is. And…there’s NO bitterness! Check it out below. Enjoy! Judi

How to Roast Frozen Veggies

Roasted (Frozen) Cauliflower

Roasted (Frozen) Cauliflower

I recently had a request to make a video showing how to roast frozen vegetables. Interestingly, I hadn’t thought of doing that before, so the idea grabbed me and I quickly acted on it! I bought an assortment of frozen vegetables (yesterday), most of which will be subjects in soon-to-be-created videos. I started with showing the basics of roasting frozen vegetables. These basic principles can be applied to whatever frozen vegetable you want to roast.

The process is really very simple and fast. In fact, much easier and faster than roasting fresh vegetables. Simply thaw the vegetables in a strainer under running water. Allow them to drain well. Place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cut any large pieces so they’re relatively similar in size. Season them and lightly coat them with oil. Roast at 425F until they’re caramelized to your liking. The trick is not to over bake them! They will roast much faster than fresh veggies, so they should be checked often to prevent burning. The process is REALLY simple! To see how I roasted the cauliflower, watch my video below. Enjoy! Judi

Moist Gluten Free Cinnamon Muffins

Moist (Really!) Gluten Free Cinnamon Muffins

Moist Gluten Free Cinnamon Muffins

Moist Gluten Free Cinnamon Muffins

Here’s a spin-off recipe from my Basic Gluten Free Muffins. These muffins have cinnamon added to the batter plus a cinnamon crumb topping. They’re absolutely delicious and really not hard to make. Like my basic muffins, they’re sweetened with dates and have little added oil, yet they’re moist and delicious. The crumb topping does have a little brown sugar in it, but very little compared to the usual fare. FYI…The GF flour blend used in developing this recipe was a mixture of equal parts of millet flour, brown rice flour and white rice flour. No xanthan gum was added to the mixture, nor the recipe. It truly isn’t needed. (ALL of my gluten free recipes will be developed without xanthan gum as it gives me wicked headaches!)

Please DO give these a try and let me know how they work for you. To download the full recipe, visit my website at HandMadeInIowa.com. See below to watch my video on how to make the muffins. Enjoy! Judi

Basic Gluten Free Muffins

Delicious, moist gluten free basic muffins

Basic Gluten Free Muffins

Well…I FINALLY did it! After about 15 trials (really!), I finally hit the right combination of ingredients for a delicious, moist, gluten free muffin that’s sweetened only with fruit and has little added oil. This was no small task, since this professional baker has always baked only with wheat flours in the past. Gluten free baking is an entirely different process and most of what was learned in traditional baking simply went out the window.

I wanted to develop a muffin sweetened only with fruit in response to the recent recommendations to cut our sugar intake. So…does this muffin contain sugar? Yes, but it’s from fruit. Does it contain refined sugar? No. I wanted to create a muffin without refined sugars, and with less oils, to make a lower calorie, more healthful baked treat. Of course, it had to be moist and tasty. I did it.

Also, this is a great foundation recipe that could easily be adapted into countless variations. Nuts, fresh, frozen or dried fruit, other flavorings, and even savory combinations could be added to alter this basic recipe. Use your imagination and try it!

Even better, this muffin was made without xanthan gum, guar gum or any other such additives. It simply doesn’t need it. The pectin in the fruits, the egg white, and flax meal all work together to bind the ingredients so the finished product isn’t crumbly. I learned along the way that xanthan gum and I don’t get along…it gives me serious headaches. Hence, any gluten free baked item I make from here on will be free of xanthan gum.

For your information, the gluten free flour blend I used was my own mixture of 1 part of sorghum flour, 1 part of millet flour, 1/2 part of potato starch, and 1/2 part of arrowroot powder (all by weight, not measure). I don’t think it’s mandatory that your flour blend be identical to mine, as long as it has roughly the same proportion of “heavy,” “light,” and “starchy” ingredients. It contains no xanthan gum, nor any other such ingredient.

Note! If YOUR gluten free flour blend DOES have xanthan gum, feel free to use it in this recipe. I believe it will turn out just fine, even though it really isn’t needed in this muffin.

I’ve uploaded a video on how to make this delicious muffin. The link is below. Also, you can click here to download the full recipe (Basic GF Muffins) from my website. Give this muffin a try and let me know if it works for you! Judi