Ranch vs Ranch

>> Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My son has decided that salads are not a bad thing...as long as he has his ranch dressing.  He likes one very specific kind of ranch - Annie's Naturals Cowgirl Ranch Dressing.  That's it.  Try to substitute with Hidden Valley Ranch, and he'll turn his nose up.  (I know.  I tried just last week when we were out of Annie's ranch.) 

Sometimes I get in a rut buying things because I know that they're HFCS and trans-fat free, so I buy them without even thinking about them.  I realized this was the case with my son's salad dressing.  So, I thought it was time to do a little investigating.  On that note, let's take a look at the ingredients lurking in both Annie's Cowgirl Ranch and Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing. 

Annie's Naturals Cowgirl Ranch Dressing
Canola oil, water, apple cider vinegar, buttermilk powder (cultured nonfat buttermilk), sugar, sea salt, whole egg powder, onions, garlic, chives, xanthan gum, parsley

Wow!  Not bad!  They even put their ingredient list in plain site on their product page - always a good sign.  The only ingredient that gives pause is xanthan gum. 

What is xanthan gum?  Xanthan gum is an additive that is used to thicken and stabilize foods.  Xanthan gum is especially useful in products that require an emulsifier like salad dressings.  Xanthan bum is found in toothpaste, foods, and even medicines.  It has a remarkable thickening ability, so just a little xanthan gum can thicken a large amount of salad dressing.

Xanthan gum is made by fermenting sugars (glucose and fructose) with the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris.  The resulting polysaccharide (or many sugars chemically bound together) is precipitated and ground into a fine powder.  Liquid is added later to form the gum.  Xanthan gum can be made from a variety of sources - wheat, soy, corn - but corn syrup is the most common starting material in the US. 

Am I worried about xanthan gum?  Not really.  Do I wish it wasn't in Annie's salad dressing?  Well, sure, but it seems to be the price we pay for buying a shelf stable salad dressing in all honesty.  For the most part, I think that Annie's has done a great job keeping their ranch salad dressing as free from "strange" ingredients as possible. 

Ok, now let's look at the competition:

Hidden Valley Original Ranch Topping and Dressing
Vegetable oil (canola and/or soybean oil), water, egg yolk, sugar, salt, cultured nonfat buttermilk, natural flavor, spices, less than 1% of garlic (dried), onion (dried), vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbid acid and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.

That's quite a difference, isn't it?  In addition to the xanthan gum, there are a host of other preservatives and "strange" ingredients.  I don't recognize many of the additives in the ingredient list, but frankly, I don't feel compelled to become familiar with them right now. 

Needless to say, I'm happy that my son likes Annie's ranch dressing over Hidden Valley ranch!

Do you have an ingredient that you'd like to know more about?  Have a food question that you'd like answered?  E-mail me!  I love learning about the foods that we eat and am always looking for ideas.


Pasta Primavera

>> Sunday, July 25, 2010

Just a short and sweet note today to recommend this wonderful Pasta Primavera from Meatless Monday.  We ate it tonight using roasted squash, red bell peppers, onions, sauteed onions, and topped with chopped fresh basil.  Delish!  If you're looking for a relatively quick, light, easy meal that all will enjoy, this Pasta Primavera fits the bill!


Our new drink obsession

>> Saturday, July 24, 2010

This post is really about my husband's drink obsession, but it's a good one.  The inspiration was from a friend of mine.  This friend would keep pitchers of water with submerged orange and citrus slices in her fridge in the summer for a light drink with just a little citrus kick.  I love this idea!  But while this is a great idea for home, it isn't always convenient when you're on the go.

The solution?  A product called True Lemon.  These little packets with crystallized lemon juice are easily portable and really do have a fresh-squeezed lemon flavor.  When I first bought some True Lemon to try, my husband was underwhelmed to say the least.  It's grown on him in a BIG way.  He adds a packet (or 3) to his water at home.  He adds a packet (or 5) to his water bottle before a big hike.  He adds True Orange to his hot chocolate for an orange zip.  He is totally addicted.

True Lemon and its companions, True Lime and True Orange, have simple ingredients - always a plus.  True Lemon contains:  citric acid, evaporated cane juice, lemon juice, lemon oil, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  If you want a truly sugar-free product, well, this isn't it, but I don't mind the small amount of sugar in the packet.  I suspect that it helps carry the flavor through in a more pleasing way, and it's better than using an artificial sweetener.  The box says that each packet is the equivalent of about a tablespoon of juice.

My husband likes True Lemon the best with True Orange a close second.  I like True Lime the best.  True Orange is all smell and no flavor for me.  The kids, well, they're not sold on these.  In fact, they don't like them at all.  They also don't like water infused using citrus slices either.

If you want a refreshing citrus zip in your water, tea, or whatever drink you're imbibing in and don't always have fresh citrus on hand for the task, give True Lemon a try.  You can even go to their site and request a free sample.  I've got a few packets that live in my purse now for those times when I want a little flavor in my water without all of the sugar or sodium.

(Oh...and this isn't something that you have to limit just to drinks!  My husband likes to use a packet on peas, and True Lemon has a whole section devoted to recipes using their products.  I won't be replacing fresh lemons with these little packets, but they do have a valid place in my pantry!)

I have no affiliation with True Lemon.  All samples were purchased with my own money, and all opinions are my own.


Meatless Monday - Grilled Pizza

>> Monday, July 12, 2010

I've been intrigued by the thought of a grilled pizza for a while now, but I've also been a bit intimidated by them.  I shouldn't have been!  As long as you prepare all of your toppings ahead of time, grilled pizza is easy and fast - a perfect meal for a summer day.

If this is your first time to grill a pizza, zip over to Slice, the pizza blog from Serious Eats.  They have a wonderful tutorial on making grilled pizza.  I have three tips from my experience grilling pizza.  First, I was glad that my pizza dough was not a super soft dough.  Having a slightly stiffer dough made it easier to get the dough on the grill.  (You can find the recipe for the dough I used at the bottom.  As always, it's a breadmaker dough for simplicity.)  A pizza peel is nice, but not entirely necessary.  We would have been fine using just a pizza pan and some tongs to get the crust on and off of the grill.

Second, preparation is key!  Have all of the ingredients for the pizza chopped and ready to throw on the dough quickly.  Once you flip the crust, you want to get the ingredients on as fast as possible to give them a little time to cook.  This pizza is done in minutes, so take your time beforehand to do a nice mise en place

Third, if the ingredient needs to cook, do it ahead of time or make sure that they are cut appropriately.  As I said before, the pizza is done in minutes.  There simply isn't much time for the ingredients to cook.  So, you might want to consider slicing your onions paper thin or else roasting or sauteing them ahead of time; otherwise, you'll be eating hunks of warm, raw onion, which may or may not be what you're looking for.

We made a plain cheese pizza for the kids and a Greek pizza for us.  They both turned out absolutely delicious.  (I actually forgot to add roasted red peppers to our Greek pizza.  It was still great, but the roasted peppers would be a nice addition.)  Next time, we'll be making a BBQ chicken pizza at my son's request.

If you have a grill, give this a try.  Grilling a pizza is surprisingly easy and definitely tasty - and it keeps the heat out of your house on a hot summer day to boot!

Grilled Greek Pizza
(See How to Make Grilled Pizzas for a lesson on the process)

3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
juice from 1/2 of a lemon, about a TBSP

Mix together ingredients and set aside until ready to use.

black olives, chopped
green onions, chopped
sliced roasted red bell peppers
feta cheese to taste

Shape pizza dough as desired.  Cook pizza dough on a medium hot grill (350-400 F) for a couple of minutes.  Flip the pizza and add the sauce and toppings as quickly as possible.  Close the grill lid and let the pizza cook for another couple of minutes or until cheese is melted and the dough is cooked as desired.  Use a pizza peel or some tongs and a pizza pan to remove the pizza from the grill and enjoy!

Breadmaker Pizza Dough

1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp gluten
1 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients in your breadmaker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Program for Pizza Dough and press start.  When the machine beeps at the end of the cycle, immediately remove the dough from the bread machine and place in an oiled bowl.  Let rise for another 30 min.  Use the dough for pizza or pizza rolls.


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