Thursday, January 31, 2008

Don't be double-dipping in my salsa bowl!

"You dip the way you want to dip. I'll dip the way I want to dip." George Costanza, Seinfeld

Yes, I know the title of this particular entry sounds a wee bit dirty. But it's all about food, I swear!

Anyhoodle, all you Seinfeld fans out there should get a kick out of a new study set to be published in the Journal of Food Safety. Conducted by Clemson University, it was proposed by Prof. Paul Dawson, a food microbiologist, after he saw a rerun of a 1993 "Seinfeld" episode where George Costanza is confronted after dipping the same chip twice. Here's a recap of the HI-larious scene:

GEORGE: "Double-dipped"? What are you talking about?

TIMMY: You dipped the chip. You took a bite. And you dipped again.

GEORGE: So...?

TIMMY: That's like putting your whole mouth right in the dip! From now on, when you take a chip - just take one dip and end it!

Still cracks me up, so many years later. Then again, I was a huge fan of the show all along.

Moving on, not only did the episode spawn the creation of the term "double dip," but it seems Timmy wasn't so far off the mark about his germ concerns. According to the study results, sporadic double dipping transfers at least 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with every bite. Blech.

Dawson suggests thinking of it this way..."Before you have some dip at a party, look around and ask yourself, would I be willing to kiss everyone here? Because you don't know who might be double dipping, and those who do are sharing their saliva with you."

Keep that in mind should you wind up in front of a communal guacamole bowl this Super Bowl Sunday.

I'll be back tomorrow with some low-cal tailgate-friendly recipe options sure to win you some fans of your own. Until then, here's a clip of the famous "double dip" incident.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rooting for a low-calorie root beer float

I've never been a big pop drinker. Even in college, when most kids were downing Coke like it was water, I was more likely to knock back steaming mugs of coffee or tea - or beer, hee! - than guzzle soft drinks for the caffeine kick. That being said, I was always a bit of a sucker for a nice, cold glass of root beer. So I was thrilled this afternoon when I read that Thomas Kemper Soda Co. was unveiling a new, low-calorie root beer sweetened with honey and sucralose.
Racking up a mere 20 calories, the light root beer will grace store shelves in late February. Low-cal versions of the company's Ginger Ale and Black Cherry sodas will also be released, but in April.

Ya know, if you poured some of that light root beer over two scoops of Breyers CarbSmart vanilla ice cream, you'd have quite the tasty - yet low-cal - treat. I'm certainly willing to give it a shot!

After all, I figure Thomas Kemper Co. is already quite the expert when it comes to combining root beer and ice cream. Back in 1996, they made the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world's largest root beer float. Using a 4,000-ton carbonating tank and 900 gallons of ice cream, the float was a whopping 2,166.5 gallons. That would have been an impressive sight, indeed.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Couldn't come up with a non-corny title...

"Yes, there are thousands and thousands of uses for corn, all of which I'm going to tell you about right now!" Tina, the Alamo Tour Guide in Pee Wee's Big Adventure

To me, nothing spells summer like roasted, butter-drenched corn on the cob. Yes, folks, corn tops my favorite vegetables list. And while I tend to eat more of it in the warm months than the wintry ones, I'm certainly not one to turn up my nose should someone make a corn-based recipe in January.

This afternoon, I was fortunate enough to enjoy some leftover Southern-style cornbread made by a co-worker. Topped with jalapenos and cheese, it was a delicious treat on a gray day. And it reminded me how much I love corny snacks! Wocka Wocka Wocka. I know, I know. Lame joke. But it's Friday and I'm ready to go home, so bear with me.

Anyhoo, I don't know about you, faithful readers, but whenever I think about corn, I still have flashbacks to the hilarious Alamo scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure - one of the best 1980s movies. Right before the infamous, "There's no basement at the Alamo!" line, Jan (of SNL fame) Hooks' character talks about how the mainstay of the Alamo diet was corn: "Corn can be prepared many ways. It can be boiled, shucked, creamed, or in this case, dried. Corn can also be used to make...tortillas."

Definitely watch the clip below for the full belly-laugh.

Here are two lower-calorie corn recipes utilizing sucralose. Thanks to Hungry Girl for the first and for the second.

Cheesy-Good Cornbread Muffins

1 cup canned cream-style corn
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters)
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Optional: 1/4 tsp. hot sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine flour, cornmeal, Splenda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together all other ingredients - then add the contents of the small bowl to the large one, and stir until well mixed.
3. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line it with baking cups. Evenly distribute muffin batter among the cups. Bake in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes (until muffins are firm and a light golden brown). Allow to cool and then enjoy!

Corn Tomalito

5 tablespoons margarine, softened
1/4 cup masa harina
1/3 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 cup water
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the margarine, masa flour, and SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener until light and fluffy. In a food processor or blender, blend one cup of the corn kernels with the water and cornmeal just until smooth. Stir into the masa mixture. Mix in the remaining corn, baking powder, salt, and milk until the batter is smooth. Pour into an 8x8 inch glass baking dish.
2. Place the baking dish over a large saucepan of simmering water. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, and steam for 50 to 60 minutes, or until firm. Check water occasionally, and refill if necessary. Stir pudding before serving to give it a consistent texture. Serve in small scoops.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Baby it's cold outside...

Hailing from the Midwest, I'm used to brutally cold winters. My freshman year of college - at the University of Wisconsin - temperatures actually dipped to 30 below zero, meaning the wind chill factor made it feel about 60 below. That kind of weather spurred my eventual move to the South. And while I've been less than thrilled with the recent 20 and 30-degree days here in Atlanta, the weather is downright balmy in comparison to what's going on in the Midwest and Northeast.

Needless to say, it's been entertaining watching comrades here freak out over the dusting of snow and the chilly temperatures of late. When I lived in South Florida, 40 degree nights would generate the opening of emergency shelters - as well as howling laughter from friends back home. Last week, I snickered when the threat of snow in Atlanta had people scrambling to grocery stores to stock up on "emergency supplies," as well as vacate their offices hours earlier than usual in an effort to "beat the storm." Then again, I guess it is something new and different to them so I'm trying not to be arrogant when it comes to their weather-related wimpiness. Just kidding, my Atlanta friends. I love ya anyway.

Moving on, nothing beats the winter blues (for me, anyway) than a nice, steaming cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows. For those tired of the same-old Swiss Miss-style recipe, here are a few variations provided by

Hot Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle

Winter White Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate with Cayenne Pepper and Orange Zest

Raspberry Hot Chocolate

Finally, in honor of Martin Luther King Day, I'm attaching a video clip of the Reverend's famous "I have a Dream" speech from 1963. May his words continue to inspire generations of people worldwide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I(ce) scream?

Despite the fact that strawberries are my favorite fruit and ice cream is my favorite dessert, I rarely mix the two for some odd reason, unless it's included in the triumvirate of flavors known as Neapolitan ice cream. Tonight, though, I'm ditching the chocolate and vanilla and digging into a bowl of strawberry-only ice cream. And why not? It's National Strawberry Ice Cream Day, after all.
Apparently there are some pretty enthusiastic celebrants of this food holiday. A quick Internet search showed a range of memorabilia out there related to Strawberry Ice Cream Day. Think I'm lying? Check out this mug, for example.
Moving on, if you're worried about the calories, look on the bright side - this could count as one of the USDA's recommended daily fruit servings. For those unaware, there are several health benefits attached to eating strawberries. First off, they contain a range of nutrients and contain significant levels of antioxidants. They are also an excellent source of vitamins C, K and manganese, as well as folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, magnesium and more. And if that's not enough, chew on this: they help prevent rheumatoid arthritis.

For those in search of a lower-calorie, sugar-free strawberry ice cream, here's a delicious recipe utilizing sucralose.

Before I let you go, here's some random ice cream trivia courtesy of Lee Wardlaw, author of "We All Scream for Ice Cream: The Scoop on America's Favorite Dessert." Maybe it will come in handy during a game of Trivial Pursuit one day. Stranger things have happened, right?

* The United States makes over 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream a year. That's enough for every man, woman, and child in America to eat 184 single scoop cones: one a day for each of us for almost six months!
* Iced dairy products made from the milk of horse, buffalo, yak, camel, cow and goat first appeared during the T'ang Dynasty in China (618-907 A.D.). King T'ang himself relished an iced-milk dish called kumiss. The frosty concoction included rice, flour, and "dragon's eyeball powder" - better known today as camphor, a chemical taken from the wood of an evergreen tree.
* Café Procope became the world's first restaurant to serve ice cream when it opened its doors in 1686. The Paris café dished up chocolate, vanilla and strawberry - considered exotic flavors back then. Today, you can still buy your old favorites there, more than three hundred years after the first scoop was served!
* The first recorded reference to ice cream in the New World was found in a journal entry dated 1744. It described a dinner party at the home of Maryland's governor, Thomas Bladen, who served a dessert of ice cream made with milk and strawberries.
* American presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all loved ice cream. During the summer of 1790, Washington ordered $200 worth of the delicious dessert: the equivalent of $96,400 today!
* Jacob Fussell, considered to be the Father of the Ice Cream Industry, opened the first commerical ice cream plant in America in 1851. At that time, the average American ate less than one teaspoon of ice cream a year.
* A teenager named George Hallauer accidentally invented the ice cream sundae in 1881 when he asked a soda jerk to pour chocolate syrup - used in making ice cream sodas - - into his bowl of vanilla ice cream.
* In 1904, at the St. Louis World's Fair, the ice cream cone was popularized by Ernest Hamwi, a waffle vendor. When the ice cream salesman in the booth next to Hamwi's ran out of serving dishes, Hamwi rolled a hot waffle into the shape of a cone, and offered it in place of a dish. The World's Fair "cornucopias" were an instant hit.
* An ice cream shop in Venezuela, Helados Coromoto, is listed in the Guinness book of World Records as serving the most flavors: 550! The specialty of the house is pabellon criollo, which is similar to the national dish of shredded beef, black beans, rice and plantains (a type of banana).
* It takes about 50 licks to eat a single scoop ice cream cone.
* The largest ice cream sundae in the world weighed in at a whopping 54,914 pounds. It was made by Palm Dairies Ltd. of Alberta, Canada, in 1988.
* According to the International Ice Cream Association, more ice cream is sold on Sunday than any other day of the week.
* A 19th century law is still on the books today in Newark, New Jersey, which forbids eating ice cream after 6 p.m. without a doctor's approval.

Ten Weirdest Ice Cream Flavors
1. Mashed potato and bacon
2. Tuna fish
3. Fried Pork Rind
4. Chili con Carne
5. Garlic
6. Sauerkraut
7. Horseradish and Beer
8. Mustard
9. Dill Pickle
10. Ketchup

The Five Most Popular Ice Cream Flavors in America

1. Vanilla
2. Chocolate
3. Butter Pecan
4. Strawberry
5. Neapolitan

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hanging out at the Indian buffet...

Earlier this week, I went to an Indian restaurant and was thrilled to discover they had a buffet. You know what that means? It means all the naan, samosas, daal and rasgulla that I could get my grubby little hands on. It was a great day. If you couldn't tell, I love me some Indian food. But that brings me to my point. I've heard from a lot of friends - those unfamiliar with Indian food, of course - that they stay away from Indian dishes because they are all spicy and filled with curry and exceedingly high in fat. Apparently these are fairly popular misconceptions.
Here's the with so many other meals, you can cut down on the fat grams in Indian food by reducing the amount of oil or modifying the way you prepare it. There are a number of low-calorie Indian dish recipes cluttering the Internet that can be found through a quick google search.
Just the other day, I decided to putter around in my kitchen a little bit and try my hand making Kheer, a traditional Indian rice pudding. I based mine off several other recipes but switched one or two ingredients and replaced sugar with Splenda. It came out pretty well, if I don't say so myself. By the way, before I start handing out recipes, here are a few more benefits to Indian food consumption. Popular spices like turmeric, ginger, cardamom and green chillies have various health benefits and medicinal qualities. For those who don't like meat, there are also a number of vegetarian-friendly meals to choose from. Either way, give Indian food a shot before dismissing it altogether.

Audrey's Kheer Recipe

2 cups coconut milk
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons Splenda
1/2 cup Basmati rice
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts
1/2 teaspoon cinammon

1. In a large saucepan, stir together the milk and coconut milk and bring to a boil.
2. Add the rice and Splenda and bring to a simmer over medium to low heat about 20 minutes, whisking to keep from sticking. Wait until the mixture thickens and the rice is tender.
3. Stir in the raisins, cardamom and cinammon and cook for a few more minutes. Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with almonds, cinammon and pistachios. Can be served warm or cold.

And because it's Friday and I'm feeling generous, here are two more recipes to get you through the weekend. Don't say I don't love you!

Palak Paneer

Tandoori Chicken

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's gotta be the shoes!

Growing up in Chicago during the '80s and '90s, I was fortunate enough to experience the dynasty that was Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I saw my first few games at the old Barn (aka the Madhouse on Madison) and still remember how insanely loud it got after big scoring drives, impressive plays and, of course, during the inimitable starting lineup intros. It literally felt like the building would collapse from all the crowd noise and excitement
I also remember when Air Jordans first erupted on the scene. In middle and high school, I was frequently amazed at how many guy friends would blow all their hard-earned cash on a pair. Sadly, there was the occasional murder and mugging over the shoes, but I choose to focus my reflections on the more positive memories....all of which came flooding back when I heard the 23rd edition of Air Jordans is about to hit the market - for the bargain price of $230. Wowza.
For Nike, Air Jordan was definitely the lightning in the bottle every company hopes for. Who can forget the old-school Michael/Mars Blackmon commercials? Or the iconic image of Jordan soaring into a dunk above the Nike swoosh? I don't think there's been a more successful marriage of athletic-related shoe marketing since.
According to collectors, the original Air Jordan 1 (released back in 1985) sells for thousands of dollars. Take that Mr. Manolo Blahnik!
Speculation is this may be the last version ever released. The shoes, which are crafted from environmentally-friendly materials, will initially be introduced in 23 locations before they are rolled-out nationwide for the slightly cheaper price tag of $185.
Sounds to me like there's no more fitting way to end the shoe series than with the 23rd edition, an extra-special nod if you will to His Royal Airness, the man who made jersey #23 so famous. While I won't be buying a pair (too expensive for my blood!) I'm sure the lines will soon start forming.

For your viewing pleasure, I've attached one of the Air Jordan commercials featuring Jordan and Spike Lee, as well as a video featuring some MJ on-court highlights.

Ah, those were the good old days!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Heavenly Hummus

Quote: I was thinking, you know Paul Newman's got his salad dressing and that? So why not Frankie Wilde Hummus? People come see the gigs and they say, "That was a great set, Frankie," and I say, "Cheers, mate, want some hummus?" Frankie Wilde in 'It's All Gone Pete Tong'

Thanks to the commenter on my previous post for providing the idea to write this entry. (And don't worry Anonymous...After I ramble on for a bit, I will answer your question!)

One of the first restaurants I went to last month while home for Christmas was Pita Inn. Located in the Chicago burbs, this fabulous (and insanely cheap) Middle Eastern fast-food joint has been one of my favorite dining spots since I was a little girl. To this day, I haven't found better falafel, kifta kabob, jerusalem salad and shawarma anywhere - and believe me, I've tried many a different Middle Eastern restaurant in my time. Pita Inn also operates a market and bakery next door, where we buy tubs of the restaurant's delicious hummus and baba ghanoush and nibble on sweet treats like baklava and kinafa. Hummus, by the way, is one of my favorite snack foods. It just pairs up so perfectly with pita, bread, crackers and veggies.

For those unfamiliar with hummus, it's a veggie spread made with ground chickpeas, tahini (or sesame seed paste), lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Sometimes it's spiced up with roasted garlic, red peppers, or scallions and garnished with parsley, pine nuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and other vegetables. As hummus grows in popularity, an increasing number of people are finding less traditional uses for it, such as a chip dip, sandwich spread or topping on poultry, fish and beef.

So let's start with the good news. Hummus is, well, good for you, high in both protein and fiber and lacking cholesterol and sugar. The garbanzo beans are also a great source of complex carbohydrates and help lower the risk of heart attacks. At the same time, the tahini is rich in minerals, fatty acids like Omega-3 and amino acids.

That being said, hummus is also high in fat, predominantly due to the tahini. Nutritionists warn a half-cup could cost you more than 200 calories and 12 grams of fat. Ouch. Still, you can certainly create your own lower-fat version by reducing the amount of oil and tahini.

Here is a Splenda-based recipe for Sweet Red Pepper Hummus that only has 60 calories and 1 gram of fat. It's certainly an improvement over the alternative. So grab some low-fat crackers or whole wheat pita or spread the dip on your sandwich. The moral of the story is, eat hummus in moderation to avoid racking up the calories.

One other note, Anonymous. If you're looking for more healthy sandwich options, try smearing low-fat cream cheese on whole wheat bread and topping it off with sliced cucumber and ground pepper. It tastes great and is easy to whip up.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Good news about bad foods

Happy 2008, gang!
I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. And if you made any new year's resolutions, I hope you're successfully sticking to them. My goal for '08 is to cut back on the caffeine (yes, I drink WAY too much coffee) and increase the exercising. Wish me luck.

Anyhoo, I found a great article that should generate at least a few smiley faces out there. According to CNN, you don't have to completely cut burgers, ice cream and pizza from the menu in your quest for a more svelte physique. Despite their less-than-positive reputations, some of these "bad" foods are actually good for the waistline!

Here's a quick recap:

1. Red meat is a great source of protein and can help reduce hunger and the likelihood of snacking later. A study of 100 women from Australian researchers found that overweight women who ate reduced-calorie diets rich in protein from red meat and dairy lost more weight than those whose reduced-calorie plans had little meat and more carbs. The key, though, is to buy lean ground beef and lower-fat cuts from the loin, such as sirloin tip, T-bone or strip steak.

2. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that women who have at least one serving of full-fat dairy products a day gain less weight than women who don't. Why? Well, it's believed a compound in milk fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may aid weight loss. So have a little cheese, ice cream or a glass of milk each day. In addition to the potential weight loss attributes, the calcium helps maintain strong bones.

3. Things are finally looking sunny-side up for eggs. Researchers say the protein in eggs increases satiety and decreases hunger, helping women eat fewer calories throughout the day. So scramble some eggs for breakfast or add a hard-boiled egg to your lunch menu. Just don't add lots of butter and oil.

4. Pizza doesn't have to be a deep-dish affair, smothered in cheese and swimming in sauce and oil (although that is dee-lish!). To make it more healthy, pick a whole-wheat crust, add some mozzarella and top it off with healthy veggies like peppers, artichokes, broccoli or grilled chicken. This should only cost you about 200 calories per slice.

5. A recent study shows that women who eat a diet rich in lean pork and other protein keep more lean body mass during weight loss than women who eat a low- calorie diet with little pork and other protein sources. With a third less fat than regular bacon, add Canadian bacon to your diet, mixing it into an omelette or slicing it up in a salad.

Hope that helps ease you into a new year of healthy, sugar-free, low-calorie eating!