I really shouldn’t have…but I did!

Marmalade Cheese Braid2

I was supposed to only bake a regular bread today. It would have been a good idea to leave it at that. If you page back through my blog you will see why I am gaining weight again. It’s been a cake fest around here for weeks. Today, my intentions started out good. I would bake a nice sourdough loaf with an assortment of seeds attached to it’s crust. Simple but good. Then… I found a recipe I shouldn’t have found. Unfortunately, I realized it would use up the cream cheese, left over from last week’s carrot cake, (that was only destined to go bad). I noticed that I had just enough butter left for it. I decided it could use some jam too. I had a number of excuses to cause unrest in my household.

It all started yesterday. My boyfriend who has had a difficult time gaining weight in the past has put on a few pounds lately and… his face broke out. Due to this troubling turn of events, He had that intervention kind of talk with me. He let me know that he did not want me baking sweets for awhile. He explained the health benfits for both him and me. He told me it was my choice, but if if I did make sweets of any kind, I would have to eat them alone. This conversation was after the conversation last week about reducing the amount of sugar in the things I bake. He does not want to eat so much sugar.

Marmalade Cheese Braid1

Well somehow in my baking fervor today, I thought it would be ok to bake a cheese filled sweet braid if I only used honey and not much of it. I would do a direct substitution of honey for sugar in the bread and then reduce the sweetener from ½ a cup of sugar to a scant 2 tablespoons of honey in the cheese filling. I had it all planned. I was so virtuous. How could anyone be angry if I made a lightly sweet bread? But then… I saw the orange marmalade, you know, real orange marmalade made from bitter Seville oranges. That elixir of bitter fruit and sweet sticky sugar. I knew I had to use it! Which makes me wonder, is this the way criminals justify their thinking…society (in this case the other member of this household) sets guidelines and then the criminal element flaunts those guidelines? Well… it was just too good of an idea to let go of and I was already lost at this point.

As it turns out this Danish is a knock out! The whole thing has a subtle flavor of honey and is not very sweet. When the marmalade hits your tongue, there is a burst of sweet and bitter. It is so good! My boyfriend politely ate a few bites, admitted it was stupendous and then sat there a pillar of self control. I however, polished off two pieces of my own and half of his. I am such a rebel!

I am submitting this dangerous snack food to YeastSpotting, the weekly baking event for those who love bread.

Marmalade Cheese Braid3

I had a couple of problems converting the King Arthur recipe to sourdough today – read on as I explain and give you measurements….

Marmalade and Cheese-Filled Sweet Braid

Adapted from King Arthur Cheese-Filled Sweet Braid recipe

Dough:
1 ½ cups active sourdough starter
¼ cup water
½ cup lukewarm nonfat milk
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ tsp salt
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
3 ¼ cups unbleached white flour plus up to a cup if needed

Filling:
6 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp unbleached white flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup orange marmalade (the kind made from seville oranges)

Glaze:
Egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water

Dough:
Combine all of the ingredients, mix well and then knead by hand until you have made a soft smooth dough, about 10 minutes. I had to mix in an additional ½ to 1 cup of flour. The dough started out too wet and sticky. I added the flour a tablespoon at a time as I kneaded. Now that I have reread the original recipe, I realize I added twice the butter in error. I will keep the recipe modified because the bread came out really good (I guess due to so much fat!). When you are done kneading, form the dough into a tight ball, transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and allow it to rise until it is puffy (not necessarily doubled in bulk) about an hour and a half.

Filling:
Using a mixer, mix all of the filling ingredients except for the marmalade together, beating until it is smooth. If you do this ahead of time while the dough it rising, refrigerate the filling until you are ready to use it.

Assembly:
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough in half. Working one at a time, roll the dough into a 12”x 8” rectangle. Transfer the rectangle to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Spread half the marmalade down the length of the rectangle. Spread half of the cheese filling over the marmalade down the length of the rectangle. Cut 1” strips from each side of the filling  out to the edges of the dough (I found this blog post that shows the cuts). Fold an inch of the dough at each end over the filling then fold the strips at an angle across the filling, alternating from side to side. Repeat the process for the second round of dough. (The bread can be left as a straight braid or you can form a circle). Allow the braids to rise, covered until they are almost doubled in size, this took nearly three hours in my cool kitchen.

Baking:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the loaves with the egg mixture right before putting them in the oven. Bake 35 – 40 minutes. You may have to rotate the sheets from the upper to the lower rack during baking if they are browning unevenly.

Cool completely before serving.

Health alert: the dangers of excess sugar

Brown sugar

I’ve wanted to talk about this for some time. Please bear with me as I may seem a little hypocritical when you consider the percentage of recipes on this blog that are sweet. What I want to make you aware of is the fact that excessive amounts of sugar are bad for you. You may already know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t really care. Maybe you should care. It is really important for your well being.

Tonight, the American Heart Association came out with a warning that we need to cut the amount of sugar in our diets. They say the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The average American teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of added sugar a day. When they say “added” they mean on top of the natural sugar we are eating from fruits and other carbohydrates. What does 22 teaspoons of sugar look like? I couldn’t resist finding out. See the picture above. That is an eight inch diameter plate. The pile was about 2 inches high! To put things in perspective, the AHA recommendation is that women should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons per day.

Where is all of this sugar coming from? It could be coming from soft drinks and sweets but it is likely coming from processed foods. In my opinion, I eat a healthy diet, but there are a few processed foods in my home for convenience. I get these products from health food stores and stores like Trader Joes that don’t use a lot of processed ingredients. Here is what a quick perusal of my pantry turned up:

Trader Joes brand spaghetti sauce: evaporated cane juice.

Pitted kalamata olives packed in extra virgin olive oil imported from Greece: glucose.

S & W organic tomato sauce: organic sugar.

Hain all natural Canola mayonnaise: dehydrated cane juice and honey.

Milton’s multi grain baked snack crackers: sugar and invert cane juice.

Doctor Kracker organic artisan baked spelt crackers: agave syrup, molasses, and barley malt syrup.

Kashi go lean hot cereal: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey.

The AHA is concerned for us because the extra sugar likely means we are unconsciously consuming extra calories. A lot of us have inactive lifestyles and if we do not get extra exercise to burn off the extra calories, we gain weight and risk heart disease and diabetes. These concerns while valid don’t tell the entire story. Sugar also prematurely ages us. An article in Prevention magazine talks about the damage sugar does to the proteins in our skin. If this is happening to our skin, the biggest organ in our bodies, I wonder what it may be doing to our other organs!

What can we do to protect ourselves? First off, read labels and be aware of what you are buying. Second, cook as much of your own food as you can. It is the only way to really know what is on your plate. As the cook, you can reduce the amount of sugar in your food by adjusting it downward as low as you can tolerate it and as low as a recipe can stand without ruinous results. Know your sugars. While all sugar is bad in excess, some sugar such as honey or molasses have trace nutrients and while they are not exactly health food, you will get a little more added nutrition than if you used processed granulated sugar.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Have you been aware of this issue already? What do you do to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet? Do we as bloggers have a responsibility to show our readers a healthy diet or are we just a tourist stop on the internet foodie trail?

Drop that bag of microwave popcorn now!!

popcorn.jpg

Did the title of my post get your attention?  I sure hope so.  I have never been fond of the smell of microwave popcorn, so I don’t eat it.  The smell of the butter flavor is kind of disgusting to me.  I hate it when someone at work pops popcorn for a snack because the smell travels through our entire air conditioning system and gets into every room in our building.  The smell does not seem wholesome to me.  

 

A few days ago, I started noticing news articles about four major popcorn makers dropping a toxic chemical from their brands of popcorn.  It turns out that the butter flavor used in microwave popcorn is made with compound called diaceytl.  Diacetyl is a natural chemical compound responsible for that yummy buttery finish in a nice Chardonnay wine.  When diaceytl is heated such as when we pop microwave popcorn, toxic fumes are formed.  If these fumes are inhaled in large quantities, a person could get a rare form of bronchitis.  This has been happening for some time to workers who make microwave popcorn.  The disease has thus been named “popcorn lung”.   Although popcorn factory workers have been adversely affected by popcorn lung for some time, it was generally thought that consumers would not be exposed to diacetyl fumes in high enough concentrations to harm us.   Well, like all good food scares; someone found a gentleman who got popcorn lung because he was an excessive lover of microwave popcorn.  Here is what caught my attention in the article about the man who got popcorn lung in his home:  “Doctors tested Watson’s home for levels of diaceytl fumes and found that while popcorn was microwaved in the kitchen, peak levels of the fumes were similar to those measured in factories.”  This statement is bad.  Pollution in homes has been shown to be elevated to the pollution outside of our homes.  This is probably because our homes are enclosed so there is not a lot of air flowing in and out to remove toxins.  If we microwave popcorn in the house, those fumes are going to stay right were we will breath them in.

 

So, now you are probably thinking “Thanks a lot Mimi, what the $^@# do you want me to do now that I’m scared to eat microwave popcorn?”  Well, I’ve got you covered.  At least for popcorn noshing at home.  When I was really little, we had the kind of popcorn maker that used oil to pop corn.  It made great popcorn.  You could also pop corn in a large pot, but that always yielded a mess of burnt corn for me.  When I was sort of little, air popcorn machines were invented.  Air popped corn was super healthy and low fat, but the corn always seemed stale.  A couple of years ago I got a microwave popper thinking I could emulate the crunchiness of the stuff in the bag, but the popcorn still came out stale and you had to use a paper disk with the popper, what a waste!  Awhile back, I bought “How to cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  It turns out, I always burned popcorn in a pan because I used too high of heat!  His method is fool proof.  I created a spicy-garlic butter to flavor the popcorn.  With a little improvisation, you could make other flavorings like Parmesan butter.  The point is, once again, homemade is superior, healthier, cheaper and tastier.

 

Spicy Garlic Popcorn

 

Popping method from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  The natural Popcorn flavor by me.

 

2 tbsp Safflower oil or other neutral oil

 

½ cup popping corn

 

3 tbsp unsalted butter

 

½ tsp salt

 

1 ½ tsp garlic powder

 

1 tsp *nanami togarishi (Japanese chili powder) or any chili powder blend that has heat

 

Place the oil in the bottom of a large, deep saucepan (6 quarts or so) that can be covered and turn heat to medium.  Add three kernels of corn and cover.  When the three kernels pop, remove the cover and add the remaining corn.  Cover and shake the pot, holding the lid as you do so.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until you hear the popping stop, about 5 minutes.  Be careful to listen to what is going on in your pot, even at this low heat, it will still burn if you don’t catch it soon enough. 

 

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove.  Mix in the salt, garlic powder and nanami togarishi.  Pour the butter mixture into the pan with the just popped popcorn and shake the pan, covered, to coat the popcorn with the butter mixture.  Pour popcorn into a large bowl to serve.

 

*Nanami togarishi can be found in the Asian food section of well-stocked supermarkets or specialty Asian markets.  This Japanese chili powder contains: chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed.  It is traditionally used as a condiment for Soba noodle soup but I use it on broiled fish, on baked potatoes and now on popcorn.