Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tidbits: Let's talk Prunes

            Prunes are usually talked about with a hint of embarrassment, because, you know, saying you know about prunes is like admitting that you have a constipation problem.  Yes, prunes are known as a help for constipation, but they have a bigger nutritional impact than just that.
            Prunes are also called dried plums, because that’s what they are (and maybe they were renamed to be less embarrassing).
            According to The Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst, prunes are a popular Northern European winter fruit because they are easily stored.  They keep well in an air-tight container for up to 6 months, and even a little longer in the refrigerator.
            Why should you care about prunes or dried plums? Because they are a great source of nutritional value. 
  • Prunes are a good source of fiber, with 3 grams fiber in 4 to 5 prunes. Half of the fiber is soluble, the type of fiber that helps cholesterol levels. Half of the fiber is insoluble, the type of fiber that keeps your digestion running smoothly. 
  • They contain sorbitol, thought to be a help with constipation. 
  • Prunes contain antioxidants, as well as potassium, some iron and vitamin A. 
  • Prune puree (click here for recipe) can be used as a fat substitute in baked goods. Prune puree adds moisture, and it is especially good in chocolate baked goods because the chocolate hides the prune flavor.  (Click here for brownies made with prune puree; click here for other prune-containing recipes from the California Dried Plum people.) 

            Now, if constipation is a problem, either because of medication side-effects or another reason, here are a few proven health ideas to help:
  • Add more fruit and vegetables to your day, consistently.
  • Choose higher-fiber foods most of the time (whole grain breads and cereals).
  • Drink plenty of water and other liquids every day.
  • Keep active and keep moving.
  • Stay calm; stress can affect bowel health. 

            Consider adding 4 to 5 prunes or dried plums to your day to help maintain good digestive health; you may not need to rely on the fiber supplements as much.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What’s for Breakfast: Oatmeal Pancakes

My husband and I really learned to like oatmeal pancakes when Quaker Oats introduced an oatmeal pancake mix at the grocery store.  The mix went away after about a year (I suspect it was part of a “test market” project) and we were sad. The oat pancake mix was available online, but the price for the mix was about double, you had to buy 12 boxes, and shipping was more than the cost of the pancake mix.

We found an oatmeal pancake recipe on the Quaker Oat website, which I modified a bit. The pancakes turned out great!  We like to serve them with hot applesauce rather than syrup (I know that applesauce topping sounds strange, but the dorms at Michigan State used to offer applesauce as a topping for pancakes and French toast, and it is yummy. Think of hot apple pie.)
Recipe: Oatmeal pancakes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats (quick or old-fashioned, uncooked)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cup water (can substitute fat-free milk if desired)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1-1/2 to 2 cups applesauce
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In large bowl, combine flours, oats, baking powder and salt; mix well.  In medium bowl, combine water (or milk), egg and oil; blend well. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients all at once; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened (do not overmix). 

Put applesauce and cinnamon in small saucepan; stir. Heat on low while pancakes are being cooked.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium-high heat (or preheat electric griddle or skillet to 375 F). Lightly oil griddle.  For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto hot skillet. Turn when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Turn only once.

Serve with butter and warmed applesauce.

Yield: about 12 4-inch pancakes.  Serves 2-3 people.
Nutrition information per serving (including applesauce):  if 3 servings, 370 calories, 10 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 62 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 531 milligrams sodium.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tidbits: Canned goods have a finite shelf life

If your can looks like this, do NOT open it.

On our lunches at work, we discuss random things, depending on who's in the room. One of the things discussed is food and food safety, and that's when I pipe up.

Many people wonder how long to keep canned goods before they go bad. Have you ever wondered this? And before I knew what I know now, I always assumed that the heat treatment used for canning was enough to sterilize the product inside. But now I know that not every single bacteria is killed. That's why cans bulge (see photo above). There are slow-growing bacteria that can have a slow feast and ruin your food.  And if you open the can when it's in the bulged state, the bacteria is going to spray all over your kitchen. Gross!

This can of fruit has been on my shelf for who knows how long. If I were very organized, I would mark the date of purchase on the top of the can. Why? Because, according to the FDA's Food Safety site, canned goods won't last forever, and the safe storage time for fruit is 12 to 18 months (see chart for other "shelf stable" foods -- scroll to the very bottom).  After that time, the food will start to deteriorate. The other can of unbulged fruit (same label) we opened had obvious corrosion inside the can, and the fruit cocktail tasted like metal. Bye-bye to that can, too.

So the lesson here? Don't stock up on too many canned fruit and vegetables,  unless you know you can use them within a year and a half.  And consider marking the date of purchase on the top so you can keep your stock rotated with the oldest in the front, so you know which cans to use first.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Q & A: How to avoid the greenish ring in hard-cooked eggs

Photo from American Egg Board

Q.             I was wondering what I am doing wrong. Almost every time I make hard boiled eggs, I get this greenish color covering the yellow yolk. Do you know what causes that? Is it harmful?  C.D. Grandville, MI

A.            According to the American Egg Board’s “Eggcyclopedia”, you probably cooked your eggs either too long or at too high of a temperature. The greenish-grey ring  between the yellow and white of a hard cooked egg results from a reaction between the sulfur in the egg white and the iron in the yolk.
            Is the green ring harmful? No, but it does not look very appetizing.
            A sure-fire method of cooking hard-cooked eggs, which will avoid the dreaded green ring, is to place the eggs in a saucepan in a single layer. Add cold water to cover the eggs by one inch. Heat on high just to boiling, then remove from the burner and cover the pan. Let the eggs stand in hot water for 12 minutes for large eggs (15 minutes for extra-large, 9 minutes for medium).  Drain immediately and serve warm. Or cool under cold running water then refrigerate.
            The Eggcyclopedia has lots of info, from egg safety, to recipes, to trivia. I don’t make hard-cooked eggs very often, maybe twice a year, and one thing that I forget is to buy my eggs ahead of time.  The Egg Board recommends to buy your eggs for hard cooking and peeling (used for deviled eggs, as an example) at least 7 to 10 days ahead of when you need them.  This allows the eggs to develop an air pocket on the larger end, making it easier to peel after cooking and cooling.