Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Energy Scoops, Balls, Handfuls or whatever you want to call them!

These things are fantastic. Really. My sons and I did a happy dance the first time we ate one. This recipe comes from Eating Rules, a blog that I frequent. I've been participating in the October Unprocessed 2013 over there. It's been challenging. I thought I ate mostly unprocessed but I quickly realized that I do rely on a decent amount of food that is considered processed. Not "highly processed" but not "unprocessed." So the month hasn't been perfect but I'm learning new stuff like how easy it is to make my own almond milk. I'll be doing that ASAP. If you want to learn about how Eating Rules defines unprocessed, click here. They have a guide you can download as well.

Okay, back to the yummy mounds of goodness. I followed the recipe exactly with the exception of leaving mine in the shape of the scoop I used. This recipe is versatile. You can use any nut or seed butter, you can leave out the chocolate chips (I wouldn't!) and make them any size. They kind of taste like oatmeal cookie dough to me. I encourage everyone to make these. They're easy, affordable and make a great potluck or party item. I've also started to put them in my son's lunch on Fridays as a special treat.

Energy Balls
Original recipe here.

1 cup rolled oats
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup peanut or almond butter
½ cup chocolate chips
8 medjool dates (pitted)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

1. Place all ingredients in food processor.
2. Mix thoroughly. Mixture will look crumbly.
3. Scoop or roll into balls.
4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Homemade Almond Butter

My almond butter!
Almond butter is great but it sure is expensive. So is anything outside of peanut butter for that matter. I've also found there is a big difference in price between non-organic and organic versions of almond butter. Because I use so much of it, some would say I should be using the organic but it's just not in the budget.

The MaraNatha brand is the most economical I've seen. But again, the price varies widely within this brand depending if it's organic, all natural, raw, organic raw, no stir, etc. I don't frequent Costco much but they do have the best price for the MaraNatha All Natural Almond Butter. It's a large jar, 26 oz., I think. It's approx. $11. I've seen 12-16oz. jars of other brands from $7 to $18 depending on the variety.

I've always heard making your own almond butter or any other nut or seed butter is easy and possibly cheaper. Almonds can be pricey so it may or may not be cheaper if you compare ounce for ounce but making something yourself is rewarding in my opinion so that's gotta worth something, right? I hadn't planned on making my own almond butter any time soon but the place I buy it from was out and only had really expensive alternatives. I decided to just go without. I'll get some next week. Well next week came and they were still out! What the heck? After getting home, I found a half bag of almonds in the cabinet. The husband said they were stale. They were a little stale I guess but not bad. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making almond butter. I researched recipes and methods. I settled on just winging it. I knew the almonds were unsalted and unroasted so I started with roasting them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. I watched them carefully because they can burn quickly. I then let them cool. Once cooled (mostly), I put them in a food processor and started processing! After the almonds started to become creamy, I added sea salt. I'd add a little, blend then taste. And continued until it tasted good to me. I then scooped it into a mason jar and, boom, I had almond butter!

I can get a 16 oz. bag of raw almonds (not organic) for under $5. I can't get a jar of almond butter for that. My first batch was not a full bag and only filled the 8 oz. jar half way (pictured). I have since made a full bag and it filled the entire jar. It is thick and yummy. It's better than any almond butter I've had from the store. My almond butter is simply roasted almonds and salt - consistent with what you'll find on the shelf (minus the love, haha). Although, some brands do add sugar and oil so if you don't want those things, make sure to take a look at the ingredients before purchasing. My next adventure in "butter" making will be sunflower seed butter. I'll use the same process and see what happens.

PS: It's my brother's birthday. I love my big bro very much and hope he is having a wonderful day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

All things pumpkin

Tiger pumpkins are cool.
Pumpkin pops up everywhere this time of year. I happen to make and eat pumpkin (pie spiced) all year around but I love seeing it in abundance this time of year. Everything from yogurt to air freshener. I've seen a lot of things already this season that I haven't seen before like Thomas' Pumpkin Spice English Muffins. Sounds good, hu? It sounded so good to me that I had to pick up the package to read the ingredients just in case by the off chance the ingredients were good enough to eat. Well no surprise, they weren't and there was even Caramel Color, Yellow 5 Lake and Yellow 6 Lake. Gotta make it look like pumpkin without using much real pumpkin, right? That's okay because this product is another example of why I started my blog. Learning what products to skip and why is important. It can feel confusing or maybe even daunting for some but it's like anything else you learn to do - if you keep at it, it gets easier. I used to stare at ingredient lists for quite a while at first. I would often use my phone to look up ingredients I couldn't identify. Sometimes I'd leave the store with a headache and nothing in my cart but sometimes I'd come out with most of what I needed and feeling good about it even if there were a few words that weren't all that straightforward. For example Niacinamide (it's actually Vitamin B3), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6) and Soy Lecithin (an emulsifier often made from cheap GMO soybeans).

So because all things are not created equal, there's a lot of pumpkin food and food like items you'll need to take an extra moment to assess. As usual, because I shop at Trader Joe's often (we have a love/hate relationship), I have run into the most items there. I think they have more pumpkin things this year than ever before. So far I have seen pumpkin waffles, pumpkin butter, pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin bar mix, pumpkin croissants, pumpkin macaroons, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin granola, pumpkin cereal bars, pumpkin (and cranberry) scones, pumpkin pie, mini pumpkin pies and pumpkin cream cheese. I know there's gotta be a few more. Also, did I need to write pumpkin before every single item? Oh well, I did. Anyway, Target is where I saw the Thomas' English Muffins, Yoplait pumpkin something yogurt and Eggo Pumpkin Spice Waffles. Since I did purchase the pumpkin waffles at Trader Joe's ($1.99 for 8), I thought I'd compare them to the Eggo brand. This is a great example because it's one of the tougher comparisons. Here's why:

Kellogg's Eggo Seasons Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Waffles Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Oil (Soybean And Palm Oil), Sugar, Eggs, Contains 2% Or Less of Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Salt, Molasses, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Calcium Carbonate, Dried Pumpkin, Maltodextrin, Whey, Allspice, Yellow Corn Flour, Soy Lecithin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Reduced Iron, Niacinamide, Vitamin B12, Citric Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2). Contains Wheat, Egg, Milk And Soy Ingredients.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Waffles Ingredients: Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid), Whey (Milk), Pumpkin, Canola Oil, Water, Contains 2% or Less of: Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Soy Lecithin, Eggs, Organic Cane Sugar, Calcium Carbonate, Spice, Sea Salt, Beta Carotene (Color), Wheat Flour, Vitamin A Palmitate, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Vitamin B12, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid.

They both have five main ingredients. And they both have 17 (I grouped the spices as one for Eggo) "less than 2%" ingredients. I'd say that is darn close. And the difference may be negligent enough for some folks. My choice though would remain with TJ's version. The things that stick out to me are pumpkin vs. dried pumpkin, wheat flour vs. yellow corn flour and canola oil vs. vegetable oil. Concerning the oil, I don't use canola oil or vegetable oil when cooking or baking but canola oil ranks a smidge higher than vegetable oil with the masses. Another reason I would pick TJ's is they say they source non-GMO ingredients for all their private label foods. This is especially important, to me at least, because soy and corn are major sources of GMO and in just about every processed food. And Kellogg's is in the business of making highly processed foods so... if I'm going to buy boxes and bags for my family on a regular basis, I'm going to choose the ones that are less likely to contain the cheapest ingredients.

Although it can be hard and also a challenge to resist pumpkin temptation (did someone say pumpkin bread pudding?), take a few extra minutes to read product labels before buying. It may sound awesome, unique and crazy good and you may think "it's once a year, what's the big deal?" but still read the labels and see if there is a better version out there. And for my family, my boys are big eaters and if they like something, they want it again and again and again. I feel better giving them something I took the time to research "again and again and again" than introducing them to a crummy product and having to perform an intervention later.

A note about the blog: Summer was crazy and so was I, which got in the way of the migration of the site. My tech guy (aka my husband) and I have created a new timeline and will update as necessary. If you were a reader before my hiatus and stuck around, thank you and I appreciate you very much!