Category Archives: Healthy

Senza Gluten, Senza Worry

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In Italian, the word “senza” means without. Senza Gluten is an Italian restaurant in the Village that is completely gluten free. This restaurant is a great concept because Italian food, with its myriad of pasta dishes, is often hard to find gluten free.  It is nice for people with celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance to have a night out senza worry.

For starters, we had cauliflower parmesan, cauliflower breaded with cheese and tomato sauce. A nice way to eat cauliflower.

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My friend ordered a Cesare, or Caesar salad.

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My entree was a vegetable lasagna, so the restaurant is vegetarian friendly as well.

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My friend got the risotto ai funghi, risotto with mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil.

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Finally, one is lucky to find a gluten-free entree at the average restaurant, let alone a dessert. Here, there are a number to choose from of Italian classics like tiramisu and panna cotta as well as a chocolate torte and biscotti.

One good thing to keep in mind while dining here is that Senza Gluten is cash and American Express only, so come prepared.

What Happened to Dairy?

Dairy foods used to be my favorite foods, but not anymore.  Not since the food manufacturers started taking the “dairy” out of dairy.  Have you looked at the ingredients of dairy products lately?  They are rarely made from cream and milk but instead have all these fillers like xanthan gum, guar gum, modified food starch, locust bean gum, etc.  It has really affected the flavor and mouthfeel of these once-delicious products to the point where it’s almost not worth buying them at all.  Here, I analyze what’s in today’s dairy products.  However, I’m not analyzing where the milk is sourced and if it comes from cows not treated with hormones and antibiotics–that is another issue I’m concerned about with dairy today.  Here, I’m only looking to see if it’s made from milk and cream and not fillers.

I do think this tasteless dairy results from governmental pressure on food manufacturers to take fat out of food.  Either that or it’s a way to make products even cheaper than they are already made.

Cream cheese

Next time you get a bagel, take a good look at your schmear.  Philadelphia brand regular cream cheese is now made from whey protein and gums.  Its taste reflects that.  It reminds me of what used to be light cream cheese.  Here is the ingredient list:  Pasteurized Milk and Cream, Whey Protein Concentrate, Salt, Carob Bean Gum, Cheese Culture.  Kraft also owns Temp Tee cream cheese, which used to be so creamy and delicious.  Its ingredient list:  Pasteurized milk and cream, cheese culture, salt, carob bean gum.  Bruegger’s Bagels’s plain cream cheese is no better:  Pasteurized cream and non fat milk; sodium and calcium caseinates (milk proteins); salt; citric; phosphoric; acetic acids; xanthan; locust bean; and guar gums; potassium sorbate (maintains freshness); natural flavor.  All of these cream cheeses amount to tasteless white paste.  Sometimes, and it is rarely, I find a cream cheese made with good ingredients.  However, these cream cheeses rarely taste like cream cheese should taste.  Cream cheese used to be so creamy and delicious, a wonderful treat now and again when we would get bagels.  But now that it is no different from plaster, I rarely eat cream cheese or bagels anymore. Luckily, Russ & Daughters still makes real cream cheese.  And Murray’s sells Ben’s Cream Cheese which is also real cream cheese.

Yogurt

Yogurt was the first dairy to go.  I stopped eating it a long time ago.  I would only eat Greek yogurt before Greek yogurt became the rage.  But once Greek yogurt became popular, a lot of brands popped up on the market offering better quality yogurts.  You can find plain Greek yogurt that doesn’t have any fillers, but that’s usually not the case for flavored yogurts.  And the worst offenders are the ones that are supposed to be better for you like the lowfat and nonfat ones.  They have the most fillers.  So you’ll see the gums, starches, pectin, gelatin, agar agar etc.  (If you’re vegetarian, you don’t want gelatin.) I stick with plain Greek yogurt and try to buy local.

Buttermilk

I’ve already sung the praises of buttermilk, but you’d be hard pressed to find real buttermilk anymore.  Real buttermilk does have a sour flavor, but it’s wonderful to drink.  The stuff they sell as buttermilk in the stores is incredibly nasty to drink.  It’s got carrageenan in it and gums.  Very unpleasant.  Once in a while I find a brand of buttermilk that doesn’t skimp and I try to buy them out. 

Milk

When I was growing up, I loved cereal with milk.  Whole milk used to be a treat.  Skim milk was a bit more watered down, not so pleasant.  These days, skim milk is like water and whole milk is almost like how skim milk used to be.  On the rare occasion I eat a bowl of cereal, I find myself using light cream instead of milk to get the taste of what whole milk used to be.

Heavy cream

When we were kids, it was a delight to get out the hand mixer and make our own fresh whipped cream.  We’d have it with berries sometimes in the summer.  As an adult, I still do that on occasion.  If I make a dessert, I like to make my own whipped cream.  But it’s impossible today to find heavy cream that doesn’t have fillers.  Most have carrageenan, some have mono & diglycerides, some have milk.  I still use it, but only when I find a brand that’s just cream.

Sour cream

Apparently, one can still find sour cream made from cream.  Thank goodness for Daisy sour cream

Cottage cheese

Again, thank goodness for Daisy cottage cheese, which is made from milk and cream while other brands like Kraft’s Breakstone’s add whey, modified food starch, xanthan gum and guar gum.

Ice Cream

Ice cream was my favorite food, but I rarely find one I truly enjoy these days.  For the most part, I think it is being made with this same fat-less milk I mention above.  Haagen Dazs is the only brand that uses real milk and cream but even some of its flavored ice creams have ingredients like soybean oil and soy lecithin (ones with chocolate).  What bothers me is that luxury brands that go up to more than $10 a pint still have gums and fillers.  I appreciate that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream uses fair trade ingredients.  But for premium ingredients, the ice creams have tapioca starch in them, and also, nonfat milk is the first ingredient in most of them.  Steve’s uses grassfed milk and cream as the first ingredients in most of his ice creams, but they all have guar gum too.  I’m wondering if ice cream makers need to add gums because of the problem I mentioned with the milk above–that it doesn’t have a high-enough fat content?  I understand that these gums act as stabilizers and emulsifiers.  However, why do manufacturers need them now when they didn’t used to?  What is different about the milk that requires the use of these ingredients?  Honestly, I grew up in a time when ice cream was made from cream, milk and sugar and it tasted good–like ice cream should.  Why can’t it be made that way anymore?  My guess–the lack of fat in today’s milk.  I don’t need a stabilizer to make ice cream at home.  I buy top-of-the-line heavy cream and milk and it works just fine.

Read my post on ice cream here.

In the days of high unemployment, a food scientist is probably one of the few people who have stable employment these days, scrambling to come up with new ways to disguise plastic as food.

Escarole and Beans

escarole and beans

escarole and beans

Escarole and beans is an Italian soup. It’s great this time of year because it’s a healthy recipe that’s perfect for a post-holiday detox. We always called this shka-roll and beans, as the Neapolitan dialect pronounced sc as a sh sound (which is done in Tuscan/standard Italian only when followed by e or i).

Escarole and Beans

1 lb. dried cannellini beans (or 2 cans cannellini beans)

2 medium bunches of escarole

1/4 cup olive oil

1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced or not

salt and red pepper flakes to taste

parsley

If using dried beans, soak them in water overnight. (Make sure they are covered with water but do not cover the bowl.) The next day, drain the water. Put them in a soup pot and add enough water to cover them. Add the salt, red pepper flakes, parsley, tomato paste, olive oil and garlic. Cook beans for 2 hours. While they cook, wash the escarole. You want to do this carefully, as escarole can be dirty. Chop it into bite-size pieces. In the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, add the escarole. Stir it in and let it cook down. Serve with parmesan or romano cheese. If you are using canned beans instead, rinse and drain them. You do not have to cook them for two hours. Just bring to a boil with all the other ingredients, simmer a few minutes, add the escarole and cook for 10-15 minutes until escarole is cooked.

Day 7: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

Big Spoon, nut butter

Day 7, Durham, North Carolina: Big Spoon Roasters nut butters

Big Spoon is the best thing to happen to peanut butter since, well, peanut butter. The nuts are roasted by hand and then they are milled to create a coarse texture. The owner learned how to make peanut butter this way while in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe. Try the peanut pecan–the perfect blend of North Carolina’s two favorite nuts.

Day 3: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

elderberry jam

Day 3, Pittsboro, North Carolina: Norm’s Farms Elderberry Ginger Pecan Jam

From elderberries grown sustainably on farms in Missouri and North Carolina, Norm’s Farms jams are products you can feel good about. I like the elderberry ginger pecan jam. It has a hint of ginger and pieces of pecan. This time of year, it’s great to serve along with cheese at holiday parties or to use in cookies like jam thumbprints.

Almond Butter Quinoa Blondies

quinoa, almond butter, blondies

I made these almond butter quinoa blondies from Jennifer Meyering.  I had some quinoa flour in the pantry and wanted to use it.  This recipe was a great way to do that.  These bars are healthier yet still yummy.  I used Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips.

quinoa, almond butter, blondies

Great Editorial on Our Connection to the Natural World

There’s a great editorial in the Aug/Sept 2015 issue of Paleo magazine.  It’s not up online yet, so you may have to see if you can still get a copy.  It’s called “The Things We’d Know” by Frank Forencich.  This article is about how we’ve lost our connection to the natural world.  What Forencich says really resonated with me, especially when he lists all the things we know about the modern world like books, cities, movies, cars, clothing, companies, sporting events etc and compares it to what we know about the natural world.  It’s sobering to realize that most of us in the modern world do not know the plants, animals and environment around us.  When I think of two generations before me–my grandparents–and how they did know many of these things, especially plants for nourishment and medicine.  And how I don’t know these things.  And how our heads are filled with a lot of pretty useless information (this is my interpretation, not Forencich’s).  I’ve thought about what he is saying too–how much of our brain capacity is focused on entertainment in the form of apps, video games, movies, shopping, popular culture versus how much is focused on things of use to us for our health and well-being and the health and well-being of others and our planet.  And I’m adding this in here–most of what we focus on in the modern world is marketing, what is advertised to us, in hopes we will make a purchase based on this information.  Our brains are being used for someone’s branding and eventual profit, not for our potential or interest.  It really makes me want to pare down and unplug.