It's Pumpkin Muffin Time!

>> Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I've posted these muffins before (um...many times before), but they're just so right for this time of year that I'm posting them again.  Full of pumpkin-y goodness, they're a nice foil to all of the sweets that are making the rounds this week.  Plus, these muffins are surprising kid pleasers.  I haven't met a kid yet who doesn't scarf these muffins down. 

As a bonus, you can frost these with a simple cream cheese frosting for a delicious and more healthy cupcake.  I served frosted pumpkin muffins at my son's Halloween party last year.  The kids loved them!

This recipe remains basically unchanged, but I seem to keep upping the amount of pumpkin I add to my muffins.  I like them packed full of pumpkin, but you could use a little less if you wanted. 


Pumpkin Muffins

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1- 15 oz can pumpkin (be careful not to get a can of pumpkin pie filling!) or about 2 cups roasted pumpkin puree
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line mini-muffin pan with muffin cups.

Mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Mix together flour and baking powder and add to the pumpkin mixture. Mix until just combined.

Add batter to each muffin cup so that each cup is about 3/4 full. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, about 18-20 min.
Makes about 3 dozen.

If you don't have white whole wheat flour on hand, you can use regular whole wheat flour for a final product with a slightly wheatier taste or change the flour proportions to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup regular whole wheat flour.


Cowboy Pizza

>> Friday, October 15, 2010

Do you like applesauce?  Then you'll want to read about the new applesauce offerings from Musselman's on A Life Less Sweet Reviews!  These applesauces will undoubtedly become pantry staples for snack time at my house.

This past weekend we took a trip up to West Yellowstone, MT to play tourist and visit the geysers.  A friend of ours told that we absolutely had to try the BBQ Pizza at the Wild West Pizzaria in West Yellowstone.  What makes this pizza special?  Baked beans!  A pizza with a BBQ sauce base and baked beans - it definitely peaked our interest.  We did visit Wild West Pizzaria, but we ended up getting other pizzas instead of the BBQ Pizza.  I was too skittish about the baked beans (I'm pretty picky about my beans), and I must admit that I greatly prefer pork BBQ to beef brisket BBQ, which is what the restaurant uses.

Of course, the first thought in our head was that we could make it at home using the ingredients that suited us.  We did, and let me tell you, this is one good pizza!

The Meat
We put our own spin on it by using pork BBQ.  My husband and I are both from Mississippi originally, and if there's one thing that we love, it's pork BBQ.  I don't have the time or inclination to babysit a pork shoulder slowly cooking on the grill all day, so I cheat and use a crockpot.  The result is delicious, juicy pork BBQ meat.  Simply put a bone-in pork shoulder or butt in a crockpot and cook it on low for 10 hours or so.  I add a little BBQ sauce on top and sometimes a little liquid smoke (which is literally smoke that has been condensed and collected) at the beginning.  When it's all finished, the meat should be super tender and practically falling off of the bone.  Cut it up or use a couple of forks to shred the meat.  What we didn't use on the pizza tonight I plan to freeze for future use.

I think that this pizza is divine with shredded pork shoulder meat on it, but it would also be good with shredded beef brisket, BBQ chicken, or even thinly sliced sausage.  Choose what works best for your palate and time constraints.

The Sauce
Take a stroll down the BBQ sauce aisle and take a look at the ingredients.  One thing you'll instantly notice is HFCS.  It's rampant in BBQ sauces.  There are a few good ones out there that are cane sugar based instead, though.  Stubbs uses cane sugar instead of HFCS.  Bullseye does as well.  Both are tasty, but we typically buy Bullseye BBQ sauce.  Bullseye is what I used as the BBQ sauce base for this pizza.

You could, of course, make your own BBQ sauce.  Honestly, I haven't had much luck with making a BBQ sauce that really suits my taste buds.  I tend to go the easy route when it comes to BBQ sauce and just buy it.

Whether you choose to buy or make it, watch those ingredients!

The Beans
I've said it before, but I am not a huge bean fan.  I do, however, like baked beans - at least some of the time.  As with BBQ sauce, I go the easy route with baked beans and buy them in a can.  One of these days I'll get around to trying my hand at making them, but not yet.

Baked beans are another item that often has iffy ingredients.  Partially hydrogenated oils and HFCS are common ingredients.  I like to use Bush's Baked Beans, which are cane sugar based and have no trans fat.  Because I am not completely content with the flavor straight out of the can, I add some ketchup, mustard, and sometimes just a little brown sugar. 

Now it's time to put it all together!  We made this as a grilled pizza which really was a good choice for this pizza.  The grilled flavor definitely complimented the ingredients.  It would still be good as a plain ole pizza cooked in the oven, though!

Cowboy Pizza

BBQ sauce
shredded, cooked pork shoulder (or meat of your choice)
baked beans
thinly sliced onion (to taste)
shredded cheddar cheese (to taste)

Spread 2-3 TBSP of BBQ sauce (adjust the amount to your own personal taste) on pizza crust.  Top with thin layer of baked beans, meat, and onion.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top.  Finish grilling or cook in oven.

If this is your first time grilling pizza, zip over to my post on Grilled Pizza for some tips.  You'll also find the breadmaker pizza dough that I like to use.  It's good for grilled pizza or pizza cooked in the oven!


The Snack List

>> Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Plain and simple, this post is all about snacks.  Here you'll find most of the snacks that I turn to day in and day out.  Healthy snacking is still tasty snacking!  I am by no means perfect.  When I'm tired or in a rush - or when my kids pester me enough - I all too often head straight for the crackers or the few processed snacks that we keep around.  As you'll read, I think that crackers and processed snacks can and do have a place in healthy snacking, but they should be just a small part of the snacks that are served.  (You can read a good article about crackers and snacking at It's Not About Nutrition.)

I hope that this snack list will give you some ideas or inspiration.  And I hope that you'll share ideas with me too!

Fresh Stuff
Fruits and vegetables really should be the first snack offered, but I'll admit that they too often play second banana (excuse the pun) at snack time around here.  To combat that, I always send fresh fruit or vegetables as one of their school snacks and afternoon snacks are automatically the fresh stuff most of the time.  If you set a rule that afternoon (or morning) snacks will only be fruits or vegetables, it becomes the way it is and the grumbling is at least manageable.  Some ideas:
  • Carrot sticks, celery sticks, sugar snap peas served with or without dip
  • Celery stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese, nut butter, or pimento and cheese
  • Edamame!
  • Apple wedges with peanut butter or cheese
  • Fresh fruit smoothie (keep it simple and mostly fruit!)
  • Fruit kabob
  • Pomegranate seeds are always fun and tasty

Nutty Granola Bars
Baked Goods
I love my simple baked goods!  These are great for snack or even for breakfast.  Wrap in aluminum foil, and they make a great school snack.  (See my caution about buying prepackaged goods below.)

Nuts and Seeds
Packed full of protein and good fats, nuts and seeds are a great midday pick-me-up.  You can serve them plain or mix it up a little.  Pre-shelled nuts and seeds can be salty, so look for nuts that are low or no salt.
  • Homemade trail mix - mix some nuts, seeds (pumpkin and sunflower seeds are staples here), and dried fruit...and maybe some dark chocolate chips if you're feeling like a super-nice mom.  (See my caution about dried fruit below.)  Add some Cheerios or other cereal if you want.
  • Almond Butter Balls - these are super easy to make and highly addictive. 
  • Nuts in the shell - for some reason, nuts still in their shell are a hit with the kids.  There's nothing like the challenge of breaking the shell to liven up snack time!
Make it fun!
Snacks often are no-nonsense out of necessity, but sometimes it's ok to have a little fun with them too.  Take an ordinary snack and put a little twist on it.
  • Use Nutella (or other chocolate/nut spread) sparingly for some fun snacks.  Favorites here are graham crackers with Nutella and almond butter, and tortilla wraps with Nutella and sliced banana or strawberry.
  • Chocolate covered strawberries are a snack that will leave your kids smiling.
  • Serve cheese cubes or cut up fruit with a fancy toothpick.  My kids love to spear cheese or fruit with little plastic sword toothpicks that I found at the grocery store.
  • Cut out snacks with cookie cutters for fun shapes

Packaged foods have their place
Crackers.  Need I say more?  Packaged or processed foods do indeed have their place at snack time, but it is so easy to rely on crackers and other processed foods too much.  When you buy processed foods, be sure to look at the ingredient list and understand what you're buying.  HFCS and hydrogenated oils are automatic no-nos for me, but ideally the processed food would have a simple ingredient list that is not too high in bad fats, sugar, or sodium as well.  All of those make foods taste good, though, so it's common for packaged foods to be high in one or all of them. 

Don't feel bad about using packaged foods as part of snack time, but understand what you are serving and make sure that packaged foods are just a small part of snack time!

A few packaged goods that stay in my pantry:

Some processed foods always sound better than they actually are.  If it seems too good to be true, well, it probably is.  A few to look out for:
  • Yogurt-covered anything sounds so good, but it rarely is.  Read the ingredients!  That yogurt covering has little resemblance to the yogurt you buy in containers.  Instead, you get a product that either contains partially hydrogenated oil or some other weird oil (like fractionated palm kernel oil) that is high in saturated fat.
  • Granola bars seem to be breeding grounds for sugar of every kind - corn syrup and HFCS if you're buying a conventional granola bar, high maltose corn syrup and cane sugar if you go organic.  Plus, they often are high in added saturated fat and a playground for weird ingredients.
  • Dried fruits.  While some are simply fruit that has been dried (like raisins and prunes), so many dried fruits have added sugar.  Many even have HFCS in them!  Pineapple and papaya are often packed full of extra sugar.  I still use many of the added sugar dried fruits, but I try to use them appropriately and not as the main part of the dish. 

Don't forget that you are in control of snack time!  If you don't want you or your child to eat something at snack time (like a sack of Cheetos), don't make it an option.  Get it out of the house or lay down the law that snack time is for healthy foods.

And if this list of snacks doesn't satiate you, check out the blog Fix Me A Snack.  Cindy has pages and pages of delicious, healthy, fun snacks to choose from (including our beloved Almond Butter Balls).  She even has 101 uses for yogurt - a snack option that I didn't even begin to touch on here.

Now, tell me...what's on your snack list?


Homemade taco seasoning - easier than you think!

>> Thursday, October 7, 2010

When you make tacos, do you buy the little packets to taco seasoning at the grocery store?  That's certainly what I did up until a few months ago.  Buying the little packets of taco seasoning would always drive me bonkers.  I would spend way too much time reading ingredients trying to find the packet with the least offensive ingredient list.  Partially hydrogenated soybean oil, BHT, malic acid, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin (the first ingredient in Old El Paso brand taco seasoning!) - what are these ingredients doing in powdered taco seasoning?!?

The obvious solution?  Make my own!  Now I have a little container full of homemade taco seasoning that sits at the ready.  It's a simple mix of seasonings with just enough salt to suit our taste buds and a little cornstarch to help thicken the juices a bit.  I might try adding just a little cocoa powder next time to give it an unexpected twist and a little depth.

This is great on any kind of taco, but we've found that our favorite way to use it is on chicken tacos.  I finely dice cooked chicken breast (maybe a pound), and then add a tablespoon or two of taco seasoning and about 1/3 a cup of water.  Bring to a boil, and you've got fantastic taco meat!

The next time you think of making tacos, don't reach for that packet of taco seasoning.  Make your own!  It will taste better, and you'll know exactly what is in it.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

4 TBSP chili powder
3 TBSP paprika
3 TBSP ground cumin
2 TBSP onion powder
1/2 TBSP garlic powder
2 tsp salt
2 TBSP cornstarch

Mix well and store in an airtight container.  To use, add 1-2 TBSP along with 1/3-1/2 cup water in place of store bought taco seasoning.

And if you just can't bring yourself to make your own taco seasoning, consider using McCormick Taco Seasoning Mix, which has a very simple and straight forward ingredient list.


"Corn Sugars" - Coming soon to an ingredient list near you?

>> Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you probably have already read the news.  The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to change the name "high fructose corn syrup" to "corn sugars."  The reason they give for wanting the name change?  Audrae Erikson, president of the Corn Refiners Association says,

Clearly the name is confusing consumers.  Research shows that 'corn sugars' better communicates the amount of calories, the level of fructose, and the sweetness of the ingredient. (1)
Take a moment to either stare at that quote incredulously or to laugh hysterically.  I think that I did both.

Why the change?  Could it be that sales are down?  Much as "dried plums" sound more appetizing to the buying public than "prunes," the Corn Refiners Association is betting that "corn sugars" will appease consumers.  "Corn sugars" does sound nicer than high fructose corn syrup, doesn't it?  And there is the added plus that many who question whether they want HFCS in their food because of bad press (or maybe the ridiculous HFCS ads from the Corn Refiners Association) might not notice the name change and will buy foods with "corn sugars" in the ingredient list.  (All of the above is my own opinion and conjecture.)

HFCS factory
Let's review how HFCS is made.  Where do these "corn sugars" come from, anyway?  Are the kernels that they use to make HFCS just bursting with sugars waiting to be harvested? High fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch.  The corn kernels go through a series of mechanical and solvent washing steps to separate the corn starch from the rest of the kernel.  The corn starch is then converted to dextrose (aka glucose) by acids and/or enzymes.  The glucose is further converted to fructose enzymatically. (Read more on corn syrup production at the Corn Refiners Association and HFCS production at

Got that?  Those "corn sugars" are not found naturally in corn in any appreciable amount.  "Corn sugars" are really corn starch that has been chemically converted to glucose and fructose.

Frankly, if the Corn Refiners Association wants to clear any confusion for the American public, they should change the name to glucose-fructose, which is the terminology used in Canada and much more representative of the actual product, in my opinion.  But, glucose-fructose doesn't evoke the same fuzzy feeling as "corn sugars."

When is the change coming?  The FDA has 6 months to rule on the name change.  If they agree to allow the name change, products will slowly shift to using the term "corn sugars" instead of high fructose corn syrup over the subsequent 12-18 months.

Want to read more?  Just a few of the articles on the subject that have been posted over the last couple of weeks.  Read and come to your own conclusion on the name change!

(1) A New Name for High Fructose Corn Syrup from The New York Times
One More Time:  Corn Sugar Chemistry from Food Politics by Marion Nestle
Help Rename High Fructose Corn Syrup from The New York Times
Fortunately, 'Corn Sugar' Has Become a Sticky PR Mess from Dr. Andrew Weil from the Corn Refiners Association

What do you think about the name change?


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