Friday, November 30, 2007

Gingerbread goodness

As I've made clear in a previous column, I'm not one of those people who rushes off to Starbucks every weekend to plunk down nearly $5 on a non-fat, soy-milk, no-foam double-shot latte. And on the few occasions I do spend money on coffee (rather than making my own), you're more likely to find me visiting the local mom-and-pop style, independent neighborhood cafe. However, I did make a trip over to the local Starbucks this afternoon after hearing this fabulous tidbit: they're now offering a sugar-free Gingerbread Latte. For reals! And that news absolutely made my day.
For me, the seasonal Starbucks Gingerbread Latte is like McDonald's Shamrock Shake around St. Patrick's Day - I have to order at least one every year. It's definitely my favorite of the holiday coffee drinks. And the fact that they've now cut the calories and sugar is the icing on this java-licious cake. If you order a tall, nonfat, sugar-free gingerbread latte, you're only taking in 90 calories and 14g carbs...which ain't bad when you compare it to the 200-calorie, 38g-carb original version.
However, if you prefer to make this latte at home, I'd suggest investing in some Splenda-sweetened, sugar-free Gingerbread Syrup from Da Vinci Gourmet.
That and a little whipped cream will do the trick!
Either way, this delectable treat is like a liquid dessert that doesn't pile up calories.
If you're looking for some other low-fat, low-cal replacements for some of Starbucks' most popular drinks, the crew over at Hungry Girl has whipped up a few yummy-sounding concoctions.
Seasons greetings!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tastes like used mouthwash? Hook me up!

"If you are inquiring about your cough mixture tasting like expired milk, trash-bag leakage, a post-pedicure foot bath, a state fair porta-potty, decomposing meat fat, monkey sweat, used denture soak, New Jersey, or hippie-festival runoff, please hang up. Your cough will be gone shortly." Radio spot for Buckley's Cough Syrup

When I first heard about the Buckley's advertising campaign a few weeks ago, I laughed out loud. It's not often a company will openly compare the taste of their product to perspiration, spring break hot tub water and used mouthwash. Talk about a courageous approach. This is the straight-up truth, folks, no apologies given. And I love it!

In Canada, Buckley's is already as familiar to the sniffling, hacking masses as Robitussin is here. But as they expand into the U.S. market, they are quickly garnering local attention thanks to their catchy slogan, "It tastes awful. And it works."

In addition to the radio spots, short TV ads feature blindfolded customers conducting tastes tests between Buckley's and a public restroom puddle, trash bag leakage and pig tongue scrapings, to name a few.

This method certainly seems to be working, at least in terms of the buzz factor. After seeing the ads, a friend - who was battling a severe cough and cold - bought a bottle of the medicine the other day. I can't even begin to explain the look of absolute disgust on her face when she guzzled a dose of it down. She claims it was the worst stuff she'd ever tasted. I did get a whiff and let me tell ya, it smells heinous. Think battery acid. I guess it's not too shocking seeing as how the product's ingredients include camphor, menthol and pine needle oil.

Despite the vile taste, though, my friend is hanging onto the bottle because she was feeling worlds better by the next day.

Interestingly enough, Buckley's is now running a contest on MySpace asking viewers to submit pictures - or videos - that capture their expression upon tasting the syrup. The winner gets a trip to Alaska. If only we'd had a camera, my friend could have easily competed for the grand prize!

Seriously, though, I applaude Buckley's for their campaign. They could have easily gone the predictable route and pretended the taste wasn't an issue or loaded it down with sugar to appease customers. Instead, they turned the gross factor into a humorous - and apparently effective - campaign hook.

Although I like tasty treats, I prefer to be in good health. So next time I wind up with a sore threat, hacking cough or runny nose, I know what I'll be purchasing. After all, 'tis the cold season.

For giggles, here are a few more Buckley slogans from years past, along with a YouTube clip featuring one of the faux taste tests.

Made with oil of pine needles. What did you expect it to taste like?
People swear by it. And at it.
Feared by more people than ever before.
Your cough won't know what hit it, neither will you.
Our largest bottle is 200 ml. Anything larger would be cruel.
Not new. Not improved.
How bad does it taste? That depends. How bad is your cough?
I have recurring nightmares in which someone gives me a taste of my own medicine.
Since 1919, we've been leaving Canadians with a bad taste in their mouths.

Monday, November 26, 2007

It just keeps growing and growing and growing....

The size of my belly, that is. Or at least, it will grow if I continue eating this way.
Y'all, Thanksgiving is already ridiculous in terms of calories, carbs and fat grams. But you make that feast Southern-style and it's insane in the membrane.
Case in point: Since I wasn't able to make it home to Chicago, I joined about 20 other friends for a Turkey Day dinner in Atlanta. From about 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., we noshed on sausage balls, gourmet cheese and crackers, rosemary almonds, beverages and a tasty little appetizer made with fillo dough, brie, walnuts and fig preserves. Let's not even get started on the beer, wine and bloodies.
Then, after gorging ourselves on apps half the day, we finally ate dinner, which consisted of three birds - two deep-fried and one roasted - along with squash casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, cheesy hashbrown casserole, collard greens, blue cheese macaroni & cheese, pasta and so much more.
I tried, gang. I mean, I worked out in the morning and I ate a healthy, balanced breakfast. I also attempted to cut down on the snacking and stick to fruits and veggies as appetizers. But there was too much temptation around.
And have I told you yet about the desserts? Good gravy! There was pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple spice cake, banana pudding (with the yummy layers of nilla wafers), chocolate clusters and more...And four words: Krispy Kreme bread pudding.
I watched my buddy chop up two dozen glazed doughnuts, then add sweetened condensed milk, canned (undrained) peaches, salt, cinnamon and eggs. It gets better. Before popping it into the oven, he topped it off with a stick of butter, about a pound of confectioners' sugar and some rum. It was fabulous but after only a few bites of overwhelming sweetness, I literally had to stick a fork in it. I don't event want to know how many calories and carbs were in that delectable dish. By the time I left that night, I felt like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory - after she ballooned into a giant blueberry and had to be rolled out the door.
Of course, the rest of the weekend was a bit of a food bust as well, between the various holiday parties, college football tailgates and leftovers.
Oh well. Today is a new day and the start of a new week. And in an effort to stay as trim as possible heading into Christmas and New Years, I'll be exercising regularly and eating lots of salads, veggies, fruits and lean meats. And when I do partake in a dessert, it will be the sugar-free version.
On that note, I found a low-cal bread pudding recipe! Of course, it doesn't involve Krispy Kremes...but it still sounds absolutely divine.

Check it out!

Sugar-Free Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

The ingredients include French bread, milk, eggs, sucralose, vanilla, margarine, raisins and whisky. The recipe is a modified version of one found at the popular Bon Ton Cafe in New Orleans. And that's certainly a city that knows how to make a fabulous meal. Beignet, po' boy or muffaletta, anyone? I'm getting hungry just thinking about the food in that town.

For a little Monday fun, (and the blue feeling that often accompanies the start of the work week) check out this video all about little Violet's blueberry inflation - along with the fabulousness that is Gene Wilder and the Oompa-Loompas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nutty for peanut butter fudge

Growing up, I had a friend who was deathly allergic to peanuts. And I always felt so bad for her. After all, in the eyes of a child, what could be worse than never being able to enjoy a simple PB&J sandwich? Even today, peanut butter remains one of my favorite treats. I slather it on bananas, use it to spice up Asian vegetable and meat dishes, and, of course, it's a fabulous ingredient in any number of dessert recipes…Which brings me to today's topic. Happy National Peanut Butter Fudge Day! And really, it couldn't come along at a better time. For all of you trying to figure out what sweet treat to bring to the big Thanksgiving meal Thursday, this certainly qualifies - and your dish will stand out in what will likely be a sea of pumpkin and pecan pies.
For me, peanut butter fudge invokes fond memories of Christmas in Chicago. Every holiday season, my mom (shout out, Mom!) makes killer peanut butter and chocolate fudge. She always has to make several batches, though, because it's so in-demand with friends, neighbors, old sports coaches…you get the picture…all clamoring for a few pieces.
If you're worried about adding more goodies to what will be a food-filled week, look on the bright side: peanut butter is good for you! It's an excellent source of protein, vitamins B3 and E, niacin, folate and manganese. In addition, peanuts are rich in antioxidants - all benefits to reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease and boosting heart health.

Here are a few more peanut butter factoids.
1. Peanut butter is found in about 75% of American homes.
2. Peanuts are not actually nuts. They are legumes, like beans, peas and lentils.
3. Americans eat 3 pounds of peanut butter per person every year. That's about 700 million pounds, or enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon.
4. Peanut shells are found in kitty litter, wallboard, fireplace logs, paper, animal feed and sometimes as fuel for power plants.
5. Two peanut farmers have been elected President of the United States: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
6. One acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.

Now that you can impress your friends with your random peanut knowledge, here's a recipe to wow their palates. And yes, it's sugar-free!

Peanut Butter Fudge

More low calorie recipes here

Finally, because it's almost Thanksgiving - and I'm in a particularly giving mood today - I'll leave you with one of my favorite commercials ever. Although it's about milk, it heavily features a peanut butter sandwich.

Two clues: Who shot Alexander Hamilton? And Aaaawon Buhh!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Tips (and low calorie recipes!) for Turkey Day

Are the rest of you as excited about turkey and football as I am? Or maybe it's just the short work week that's putting a big smile on my face. Either way, I can't wait for Thursday. I say 'bring it!'

As most of you know, it's pretty much impossible to get through Thanksgiving without getting that fabulous bloated feeling by the end of the day. In addition to going the sugar-free route, here are a few more tips to help control your food and calorie intake during the holiday.

* Don't show up hungry. Take time to eat a light, healthy snack before chowing down.
* When fixing your plate, make sure the bulk of it is fruits and veggies, such as salad, green beans, potatoes, carrots, squash or cranberries. That way you can fill up your belly faster with healthier items.
* Eating smaller portions is key. Yes, you can indulge in some cheesy mashed potatoes. But don't pile a mountain of it on your plate, along with moats of gravy.
* If you're eating dinner at a friend or relative's house, bring some low-calorie snack options such as a fruit salad or raw veggies and hummus.
* Avoid adding lots of butter, salt, gravy and fatty dressings.
* Try not to get seconds until a few hours after you've eaten the first plate.
* Always eat dessert last.
* Eat lots of cranberries. They're loaded with antioxidants.
* For a less-fattening stuffing, use a low-salt broth base along with whole wheat bread. Also go easy on the butter and oil while adding more celery, onion, nuts and fruit.
* For healthier mashed potatoes, use skim milk and fat-free sour cream.
* Drink lots of water. It will help fill you up.

Here are two more low calorie recipes to add to the Thanksgiving menu.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Corn Pudding

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time to bust out the elastic waistband!

No, no. I jest. I'm certainly not condoning over-eating this holiday season. However, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you know what that, food and more food. In the past week alone, I've been subjected to a massive office Thanksgiving meal spread, a holiday business dinner and another turkey meal hosted by buddies. And now I'm heading off to a friend's going-away party, where I guarantee there will lots of junky appetizers making the rounds. Sigh. All the heavy food is literally making me feel too big for my britches.

Ever seen Charlotte's Web? Remember Templeton, the gluttonous rat, after he binge eats at the fair? I'm hoping to avoid feeling - or looking - like that, come Thanksgiving.

Between the appetizers, main course and dessert, it's estimated Americans will scarf down 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving. Ain't that a shame!
But there are some ways to curb the potential holiday weight gain: for starters, cut down on the sugar. If you're open to cutting down on the calories, here are some sucralose-based recipes perfect for the big day. I'll be back next week with even more Thanksgiving Day food tips.

Have a great weekend!

The Great Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Sweet Southern Pecan Pie

Monday, November 12, 2007

A sundae on a Sunday

Happy belated National Sundae Day! Don't believe me? There actually is such a food holiday and it was yesterday. And you can be sure I celebrated. Why is it that Sundays are such a great day to splurge on sweet treats? Is it a comfort food thing because you know you have another long, depressing work week ahead of you? Hmmm.....
Either way, I've always been a fan of the sundae. There's nothing tastier than cold ice cream topped with some melting hot fudge. And seeing as how my hometown of Evanston, Illinois is one of the cities claiming to be the birthplace of the sundae, I suppose I should be even more partial to it.

Here's a little more trivia for you factoid-junkies. According to Wikipedia, the most expensive sundae in the world is sold at Serendipity 3 in New York City. The $1,000 (!) dessert features five scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla, covered in 23-carat edible gold leaf, rare Amedei Porceleana and Chuao chocolate, American Golden caviar, passion fruit, orange, Armagnac, candied fruits from Paris, marzipan cherries, and decorated with real gold dragees. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18-karat gold spoon. Um, wow? Sounds very pretty, but I'd much rather spend $3 to $4 for a waffle bowl sundae at the local DQ.

Or better yet, make it yourself. I made one yesterday that featured butterscotch brownies and let me tell was fabulous. Yeah, yeah, it's not the healthiest treat out there. But in my own defense, I whipped up the sugar-free variety to cut back on some of the calories.

Here's a Splenda-rific version of the vanilla butterscotch brownie sundae. Enjoy!

Butterscotch Brownies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup packed SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 (11 ounce) package NESTLE® TOLL HOUSE® Butterscotch Flavored Morsels, divided
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
Combine butter, SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend and vanilla in a large mixer bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in 1 cup of the morsels and the nuts. Spread into an ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup morsels.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Add a scoop or two of Breyers Double Churn No Sugar Added Vanilla Ice Cream

Add a little Smucker's Sugar-Free Hot Fudge Topping

Top off with a touch of Kraft Sugar-Free Cool Whip

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tainted toys for tots

Just yesterday, I received an invite to a holiday party asking all guests to bring a gift to support the Toys for Tots program. This is a great organization and one that I would normally champion this time of year. However, after seeing the latest headlines about toys containing the date rape drug (a phrase I never imagined I would write), I've pretty much decided against buying any toys this holiday season. Sorry kids...I hate to be the Grinch but this is for your own good!
In case you missed it, the popular Aqua Dots is the latest Chinese-made toy to be pulled from the shelves. Distributed by Spinmaster Ltd. in the U.S., it turns out that if children happen to ingest any of the beads from this arts-and-crafts product, they could have seizures and slip into a coma. That's because the toy contains a chemical that converts into a date rape drug when ingested. Already, two children here and another three in Australia have been hospitalized because of the beads.
The recall serves as the latest blow to an already beleaguered toy industry. Statistics show that nearly 80 percent of the toys sold in the U.S. are made in China. Unfortunately, until change is demanded regarding China's toy production, I'm guessing we'll continue to see safety problems related to lead paint.
So now we're now less than two months from Christmas and it's possible that millions of children will soon discover that Santa Claus has skimped on the toys this year. After all, who needs a Barbie doll when there are nice, warm socks to be had?
I can't speak for others but I definitely won't be buying toys for any of my friends' children this year. I think I'll invest in some books so they can brush up on reading and writing skills. Imagine that!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chillin' at the chili cookoff

Quote: "Next to jazz music, there is nothing that lifts the spirit and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili." Harry James, trumpet virtuoso

I've always been a fan of spicy foods. I pour buckets of hot sauce on virtually everything - from salads and pizza to spaghetti, rice and falafel. I pile jalapeno peppers on sandwiches and toss them in omelettes. It's definitely one of the food-related traits I've picked up from my Southern parents (who, by the way, are still devastated I hate seafood). I figure this addiction to all things spicy is responsible for my love of chili - one of the few meals I could probably eat every day of the week. Whether it's green, white or red, veggie style or heavy on the meat, just pass over a bowl and I'll be a happy camper.
Needless to say, I couldn't have been more thrilled when I found out there was a chili cookoff festival in Atlanta this past weekend, one that also featured beer and bluegrass bands. What a fabulous day in the neighborhood!!!
The weather was gorgeous, the crowd was fun and I got to taste-test a variety of recipes, ranging from sweet to spicy. It's a tough call but I think my favorite of the afternoon was a green chili stew with tenderloin beef tips, potato, cilantro, onion and corn. Delicious!
The good news is, this particular meal ain't just's also good for you. Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene, vitamins C, A and K, fiber and potassium. These nutrients aid in the development of healthy teeth, bones, skin and hair, help lower blood pressure and possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which is now being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders. Some peppers have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
These days, there seems to be a growing number of chili recipes catering to the sugar-free crowd. And the ones I've tasted thus far are pretty yummy. So here are a couple sucralose-sweetened versions for all you calorie-counters out there. Hope you enjoy!

Low Carb Chili Recipe
Black Bean and Veggie Chili

Friday, November 02, 2007

Go nuts and eat some almonds!

Oh good. Now I've got another excuse to bust out the almond biscotti. Although scientists have been touting the benefits of almonds for years, a new report in the British Journal of Nutrition sheds even more light on the weight and nutrition-related advantages of almond consumption. In the study, women were instructed to eat about two ounces of almonds each day for ten weeks, followed by their customary diet for another ten weeks. The Purdue University researchers found that not only did the women NOT gain weight during the almond phase, but they also met the daily dietary recommendations for vitamin E and magnesium content - two nutrients that most people don't adequately consume. In addition, they discovered that the fiber in almonds appeared to block some of the fat they contain - meaning they are fewer calories than expected.
"Solid data has shown that eating one to three daily portions of almonds can help lower LDL cholesterol levels," said study co-author Rick Mattes.
The FDA has previously said that almonds could help reduce the risk of heart
In a previous study, researchers found that people on an almond-rich diet lost more weight than those on a high-carb diet with the same number of calories.
Either way, it's clear that almonds are an excellent addition to the diet, containing protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and monounsaturated fat.

Here's a sucralose-sweetened dessert recipe sure to please all you chocolate-almond lovers.

Rich Chocolate Almond Cake

vegetable spray
3 eggs, separated ½ cup Splenda
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup sifted cake flour
1/8 cup dry milk powder
2 tbsp finely chopped almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Spray 8" round cake pan with cooking spray, line with wax paper, then spray with cooking spray again.
Combine flour, milk powder, salt and baking soda.
In separate bowl, beat egg yolks for about five minutes.
Add Splenda, beating longer than you would if using sugar.
Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.
Slowly stir in dry ingredients, being sure to blend well.
In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Stir 1/3 of beaten egg whites into yolk mixture.
Carefully fold remaining whites into yolk mixture. Do not overstir.
Spoon batter into pan and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove cake onto wire rack, peeling off paper.

Chocolate Almond Filling

1 envelope whipped topping mix (or whipped cream if not concerned with calorie count)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup Splenda
1/3 cup skim milk, cold
½ tsp almond extract

Combine topping mix, cocoa and Splenda in bowl.
Add skim milk.
Beat at high speed for four minutes or until fluffy.
Add cheese, beating until well blended.
Stir in almond extract.
Split cooled cake in half horizontally, using a long serrated knife.
Spread 2/3 of filling on top and sides of cake.
Spoon remaining filling into pastry bag with a star tip.
Pipe filling around top and bottom edges.
Sprinkle additional chopped almonds on top of cake.
Chill thoroughly and serve.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Top that!

I'm truly a child of the '80s but luckily, I seem to have escaped the worst of it - as far as fashion goes. When big bangs, acid-washed jeans and frilly socks worn under high heels were the height of coolness, I was still a scabby-kneed kid in jelly shoes and slap bracelets. I fortunately spent most of my high school years decked out in baggy overalls, flannel shirts and thrift store tees. Although the grunge phase isn't exactly a paradigm of high fashion, it sure beats the bright eyeshadow, shoulder pads and spandex donned by my only slightly-older classmates. Okay, okay - I admit it. I did crimp my hair on occasion. We all have issues!
Anyway, I bring up fabulous 80s fashion because "Teen Witch" was on television the other day. If you've never seen it, well, you're missing out. You know those movies that are so awesomely bad, they're fabulous? Think Flash Gordon, Streets of Fire, Road House, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, Solarbabies and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.' Fess up, you know you were impressed by Ozone and Turbo's mad breakdancing skills! Anyway, I'm referring to high-grade '80s cheese - and Teen Witch definitely falls into that category.
The movie features a nerdy girl named Louise Miller who - on her 16th birthday - discovers she is actually a powerful witch. She uses magic (somehow heightened through a mysterious necklace) to benefit her friends and family, as well as to transform herself into the most popular girl in school, subsequently winning over the hottest guy. I remember seeing this movie for the first time when I was about 12. It cracked me up even then, particularly the musical numbers (Who can forget the hilariousness that is "I Like Boys!") and any scene where Louise is mentored by the dimunitive Madame Serena, better known to audiences as the spiritual medium Tangina in the Poltergeist movies.
Of course, in the end, Louisa learns a valuable lesson about staying true to herself, wah wah wah, the usual.

Anyway, just so you don't think I'm leaving you recipe-less today, here's one for a low-carb, Splenda-sweetened "Wicked Witch" cake. Save it for next Halloween or test it out at an upcoming birthday party.

Back to Teen Witch, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite lines, before blowing your mind with one of the most ridiculous scenes ever filmed: the "rap battle" between Rhet and Polly. As a friend of mine says, this is "the moment rap died."

"Look at how funky he is (sigh)...I'll never be hip."
"I'm hot. And you're not. But if you wanna hang with me I'll give it one shot!"
"No one wants do date you because you are a dog! A dog! A dog!"