Ingredients

In my recipe postings, if an ingredient is highlighted in red type, you can find out more about that item in the INGREDIENTS LIST below, which is organized alphabetically (these red words are not hot links, you'll need to scroll through the list). Also, in the right column of the blog home page, the "Labels" list functions like an index to this blog, and items are crossed referenced. For example, Hummus would be under "recipes," "beans," and "dips." The "Blog Archive" in the right column lists each post in the order I added them.

AGAVE: A nectar touted to be "natural" and "raw", agave caught my attention when it first hit the health-food shelves. But I've changed my mind, so if you see it in any of my older recipe posts just substitute with honey 1:1. My research has revealed that agave nectar is highly refined, chemically processed, and contains more concentrated fructose (70%) than high-fructose corn syrup (55%). Refined fructose is processed in the liver, not the intestines, which is why some say it is safe for diabetics. It is not the same as a sweetener made from the yucca or agave plant by some native Mexican people; it is made from the starch of a giant pineapple-like root. I recommend everyone should avoid using agave nectar as a sweetener.
  
ARROWROOT FLOUR or ARROWROOT POWDER: A food additive made from the root of a tropical plant native to South America named for its use in the treatment of poisoned arrow wounds. Arrowroot flour is white and light, with the same consistency and texture as corn starch. When used as a thickening agent, it is clear, so it works well for fruit fillings and sauces. It also thickens at a lower temperature than other starches, and with acid fruits. It is often a component of gluten-free flour mixes. It can be substituted 1:1 for corn starch (which highly processed and hard to find in non-GMO form) or tapioca starch.

BANANAS: I am a big proponent of "eating local" but I still buy bananas for eating fresh. When they get too ripe, I peel them and freeze whole in a zipped bag. They make a great base for smoothies and can be thawed to use in baked banana bread.
  
BREAD CRUMBS: It's not difficult to make your own crumbs, especially if you bake your own bread or buy good bakery breads. Just slice and bake it in a slow over (250) until it's dry, then break it into the food processor and make it into fine crumbs. I store the crumbs in the fridge with one of those moisture-absorbing packs that come in vitamin bottles, for excess moisture. Since going gluten free, I often make crumbs from gluten-free corn chips or nut crackers. I've also used finely chopped nuts in place of bread crumbs successfully, as well as coarse almond flour.

BUCKWHEAT: A grain-like gluten-free hulled seed, not related to wheat despite its name. Its triangular seeds - sometimes called groats - are crunchy, and can be substituted for chopped nuts in baking recipes. Buckwheat is also used as a cooked grain, as you would rice, as well as being ground into a gluten-free flour. It is commonly used as the base of Japanese Soba noodles. Buckwheat flour has a strong nutty taste that can overpower the other flavors in a recipe. For this reason, buckwheat is usually mixed with other types of flour, such as rice or oat, to produce better results.
  
CAROB POWDER: Carob powder is made from a sweet edible pod, and has a flavor similar to cocoa. For those sensitive to caffeine, carob is a good substitute for chocolate. Additionally, carob is naturally sweet (unsweetened cocoa is bitter), so it requires less sweetener added. It is also high in soluable fiber, low in fat, and a good source of calcium and phosphorus. It's recommended to treat diarrhea. Carob powder looks similar to cocoa powder and I substitute it one-for-one in recipes.

CHAI SPICES: I mix my own chai spices, mimicking the traditional chai tea flavors. To make it even more intense, grind your own whole spices (like whole cloves, cardamon seed, dried ginger root) in a designated coffee mill. Special mini-graters are sold for grinding whole nutmegs into powder.
4 parts ground cinnamon
1 part ground cloves
1 part ground nutmeg
1 part ground cardamon
1 part ground allspice
1 part powdered ginger root
1 part ground black pepper

Chia Seeds - a nutrient dense superfood!
CHIA SEEDS: You might think of this as a new "superfood," but chia seeds were grown as a food crop centuries ago by the Aztecs and Mayans in their native Mexico and South America. These are the same type of seeds sold with clay figures to sprout on the clay and grow to look like hair or fur on Chia Pets. The seeds are nutrient dense and an especially rich plant source for omega fatty acids. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds are very easily digested in their whole-seed form so they don't need to be ground. They are low in carbs, naturally gluten-free, high in antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium and more. Easy to incorporate into a healthy diet, since they have little taste and are small (they look like Barbie-doll dried beans!) Add to cereals, homebaked breads, puddings, muffins and sweet breads, yogurt, smoothies, and grain dishes. Use as a substitute for eggs in baking: mix 1 T chia seeds with 6 T hot water; let it rest 10-15 minutes. This will make about 3 T of a thick gel; use 1 T of the chia gel for each whole egg. The chia seeds seem to disappear when they are mixed into foods, but the nutritional boost is added. You can even thicken fruit to make refrigerator jam with chia seeds (recipe is on Bob's Red Mill website)!

CITRUS PEEL: If you buy organic citrus fruit or are lucky enough to get homegrown without chemicals, save the peel. Cut in small pieces and dry on paper towel until very dry. You can designate a coffee grinder for your herbs and spices and use it to make fine ground citrus peel. Orange peel makes a nice addition to baked goods and granola.
  
COCONUT OIL: I use coconut oil for the fat in my baked goods, from granola to quick breads, as well as for stir fries and saut├ęs. I buy the organic extra virgin unrefined variety, and its health benefits range from excellent energy source to proper thyroid gland functioning. It can be stored on the kitchen shelf, where it will be solid at temperatures of below 75 degrees. It will easily soften, for better mixing, by submerging a measuring cup of coconut oil in a hot water bath. Beware - if you mix it with cold ingredients, like eggs right out of the refrigerator, it will solidify again.

COCONUT PALM SUGAR:  AKA palm sugar or coconut sugar. This is a granulated sugar and one of the lowest glycemic index sweeteners. It is a good substitute for white or brown sugar, using a bit less since its flavor is stronger. But it doesn't taste like coconuts and it doesn't taste like molasses. It is harvested sustainably from the sap of coconut trees, usually those trees whose production of coconuts has dwindled because the tree is 50 years or older. Nutritionally, coconut palm sugar is especially high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin C, and many B vitamins. Look for 100% coconut palm sugar, not mixes with cane sugar or other ingredients. This sugar can be processed in a Vitamix dry container or in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder as a substitute for 10x sugar.

CURRANTS:  A tiny seedless thin-skinned grape from Greece was described in 75 AD by Pliny the Elder as juicy and sweet. Today the limited commercial harvests of these grapes in the US are primarily dried and known as Corinthian raisins, Zante currants, or black currants. They are much smaller than raisins, but very similar in taste, with more intensity. They have more phytonutrients than most dried fruit, with extra antioxidant protection. I always use them in place of conventional raisins.

FLAX: Flaxseed is a top vegetable source of Omega 3 fatty acid, similar to those from fish like salmon. It also has antioxidants and positive effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, breast cancer prevention and other health concerns. I prefer to buy whole organic flax seed - brown or golden - and grind it in my designated coffee grinder. Like a cut apple, flax oxidizes when exposed to air, so I grind a small amount for immediate use, and store a little at a time in a jar in the refrigerator. It has a mild nutty taste, and I add about a tablespoon to bread dough and on top of my breakfast granola. Vegans can also substitute it for eggs in home baking (1 T ground flax seed plus 3 T water = 1 egg), although the results might not have the same volume as with real egg. (see Chia seed description above also.)

FLOUR - GLUTEN FREE: Gluten-free flours are made from grains other than wheat (like rice, corn, oats, sorghum), from beans (navy, garbanzo, fava), from starches (corn, arrowroot, tapioca, potato), from nuts and seeds (almond, millet, flax) and from other plant sources (coconut). SInce gluten is the protein which helps make baking mixtures rise, especially yeast breads, these flours must be carefully substituted for wheat flours to get similar results. Many gluten-free combination flours are pre-packaged and sold commercially (ie. Bob's Red Mill, Gluten-Free Mama, etc), and you can find recipes for combining your own gluten-free flours for the results you seek.

FLOUR - WHEAT: Before becoming gluten-free, I'd often grind wheat berries to make my own flour. When not grinding my own flour, I prefered King Arthur brand, in their several variations. I used their Whole Wheat most often, since I'm not one to bake fine cakes and pastries; Whole Wheat White is good for a lighter texture; when I had the occasional need for a fine white flour (like for gravy) I used their All-Purpose White.
  
Just-picked blueberries and blackberries from my garden.
FRUIT: Like my advice in "Vegetables", growing your own, organically, is #1, or being lucky enough to get fruit from friends' trees and bushes is great too. Watch for seasonal U-Pick farms; I pick blueberries, strawberries, and grapes, to augment my own harvest. I find it more worthwhile to do freezing, canning, juicing, and other preserving when I have a large quantity all at once. Beware of dried fruit, since it is difficult to buy any that is pure fruit without added sweeteners - even those which are very sweet on their own, like blueberries. Raisins are usually safe, and golden raisins are especially plump.
  
GLUTEN FREE: Ingredients which are gluten-free are those which are not made from or do not include gluten-containing elements like wheat, rye, and barley. This not only includes common wheat flour, but also derivatives of these grains used in processed foods like soy sauce, malt syrup, and other condiments, flavorings and foods. People with celiac disease cannot eat glutens at all, while others may be gluten-sensitive. For those who must eat totally gluten-free, not only do the ingredients need to be gluten-free, but the utensils, cooking surfaces, appliances, and any other surfaces where gluten residue may exist, must also be gluten-free.
     Gluten-free flours are made from grains other than wheat (like rice, corn, oats, sorghum), from beans (navy, garbanzo, fava), and from nuts and seeds (almond, millet, flax). Since gluten is the protein which helps make baking mixtures rise, especially yeast breads, these flours must be carefully substituted for wheat flours to get similar results. Many gluten-free combination flours are pre-packaged and sold commercially (ie. Bob's Red Mill, Pamela's, etc), and you can find recipes for combining your own gluten-free flours for the results you seek.

GUAR GUM: An off-white powder, derived from a native East Indian seed, used in small amounts as a food additive to retard ice crystals, and as an emulsifier, thickener, and binder. In baked goods, it increases dough yield and improves texture. It is often used in gluten-free baking, improving the thickness of non-wheat flours, allowing them to rise as a wheat flour would. In pastry fillings, it prevents "weeping" of the water in the filling, keeping the pastry crust crisp.

HEMP SEED: comes from the hemp plant, and is generally sold dehulled. It has a nutty flavor and makes a nutrious addition to cereals, salads, and baked goods. High in omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids and an excellent source of protein. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, made into hemp milk and used in baking. Hemp seeds contain no THC.

HERBS: Many of the most popular herbs are easy to grow yourself. Basil, an annual, is one of my favorites, and I put dozens in my vegetable garden in the summer. Cilantro grows best in cold weather; otherwise it bolts (sends up flowers and seed heads). If you have too much parsley, chives, rosemary, sage, or other favorites to use fresh, just cut and lay on paper towels until dry. Store in glass jars with one of those moisture-absorbers which come in vitamins.
  
HONEY: This is one of my favorite sweeteners, and it has amazing nutritional, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. I've had great results substituting honey for refined sugar in recipes ranging from yeast breads to cookies - reducing the quantity too. Honey has saturated fructose and glucose and it totally unlike processed white sugar - which is not only void of nutrition but taps into your body's reserves while it passes through you. I recommend you find a local honey, since it's said to help your resistance to local allergens. Some store-bought honey can be from China or India and may be tainted with antibiotics, heavy metals or worse. Also, choose raw honey, not pasteurized. Pasteurization is when honey is heat-treated to prevent fermentation by yeasts and delay crystallization. Honey stores for a long long time, but don't store it in the refrigerator or in a cold place since or it may crystallize (due to water content). If yours does crystallize, place it in a heat-proof container and place in a pan of hot water, stirring until the crystals dissolve. DON'T ever use Splenda - it's poison!
  
ITALIAN HERB SEASONING: I mixed my own blend, using dried basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and fennel seeds - all from my gardens. I put all ingredients in my food processor and pulsed until I had them chopped fine, without making it into a powder. Or use this recipe: 3T basil, 3T oregano, 3T parsley, 1T garlic powder, 1t onion powder, 1t rosemary, 1/4t pepper, 1/4t red pepper flakes, 1/2t fennel seeds.
  
JALAPENO: I grow my own jalapenos, and use them liberally! When used fresh, I chop finely and include seeds and all. When my harvest gets huge, I let them turn red on the vine, then dry in my dehydrator and run through the herb [coffee] grinder into a powder. This adds a great kick to many dishes. My homemade pickled bread and butter Jalapenos are very hot, and have acquired a following!
  
MAPLE SYRUP: When you grow up in New England, you learn that the only maple syrup is PURE Maple Syrup. Don't be fooled by a maple-flavored sugar syrup. I can't figure out how organic maple syrup differs from regular, unless the ground around the huge sugar maple tree does not get pesticides or chemical treatments.

MEAT: If you can find someone who raises cattle lor poultry locally, buy from them. We have shared a portion of a beef steer with two other couples, with the ability to specify to the butcher how we want it cut. The steer was bottle fed as an infant, then had a lovely open pasture, and was never treated with hormones or drugs. And we paid about $2.25 per pound for everything - steaks, roasts, ground beef. I prefer not to eat much meat, but this is my choice when I do eat it. I've also had the pleasure of buying free-range, hormone and anti-biotic free whole chickens from a local supplier. Watch the movie "Food Inc" to educate yourself about the horrors of our food industry.
  
MOLASSES: This sweetener is the byproduct of what's left after white sugar has been removed from the sap of the sugarcane plant. I use blackstrap molasses vs. light molasses. It is full of vitamins and minerals, and unsulphured is preferred. SORGHUM, a species of grass grown in southern states, is made into a sweet syrup you can substitute for molasses. Sorghum is grown with very little pesticides (it’s naturally insect-resistant).
  
NUTS: If a particular tree nut (as opposed to peanuts, which are legumes) grows in your part of the country, use it. Nuts gathered from local trees are usually raw and untreated, as opposed to commercially grown nuts. Commercial nuts might be subject to "pasteurizing" with known carcinogenic chemicals or steam, as is the federal regulation for all California almonds sold within NAFTA countries (to eliminate pathogens like salmonella bacteria); fumigated (as done on walnuts to kill insects in storage), bleached (to improve the appearance of the shell), or heated (as required by the FDA for pecans to kill e.coli bacteria) or to reduce moisture content for longer shelf life. The day my friends gave me almonds from their own tree, I understood the connection between amaretto liqueur and almonds - their sweet, almost perfumed taste was unlike any almonds I had ever tasted! I substitute chopped pecans, which grow in my town, for pine nuts in pesto. I've gathered hickory and American walnuts from my own woods, too.

OIL/FATS: Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of my favorite oils, and I have found it substitutes for any "fat" in my bread machine recipes. For salad dressings and some other uses, I prefer a lighter taste, and Hollywood brand Safflower Oil is my favorite, with its dose of vitamin E making it very healthy. Coconut Oil, 100% organic extra virgin unrefined preferably,(see separate listing) is highly nutritious, excellent for baking in place of butter or oil. It will be solid at room temperatures below about 75 degrees, but easily softens in a warm water bath. Cold pressed coconut oil is semi-solid at room temp and doesn't impart much coconut taste, and I use it in my granola and biscotti. It is a saturated fat, but a good source of the essential fatty acids our bodies need, plus lauric acid and antioxidants. It is stable for cooking too. I also sometimes use real butter, unsalted and organic, which also contains saturated fats which will not oxidize. For those few recipes where nothing substitutes for shortening, like tortillas or pie crust, Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening fills the bill.
  
POULTRY SEASONING: Mix your own with these ground herbs and spices: 3 T sage, 1 T thyme, 1 tsp pepper, dash marjoram, dash cloves
  
POULTRY: In the supermarket, look for antibiotic-free, hormone-free - and, even better, free range. Two brands I buy are Springer Mountain Farms, located in Georgia, and Coleman, from Colorado.
  
PUMPKIN PIE SPICE: Mix your own, from spices commonly kept on the spice rack. For one heaping tablespoon total, mix: 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 3/4 tsp ginger root powder, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  
SALT: Use a salt which has minerals and nutrients being sodium chloride. I like the brand Real Salt, mined in Utah from ancient sea beds. I also like to use Ume Plum Vinegar, made by Eden. In Japan, plums are salted and pickled in vinegar to preserve them, called Ume Boshi. Just a few drops of the vinegar adds a salty flavor to soups, dressings, steamed veggies, etc.
  
SEAFOOD: Unless you catch your own or can get a local fisherman's catch, most seafood is frozen when caught. When buying, look for seafood from USA (not so easy to find, unfortunately; look for the labeling). If it is wild-caught vs. farm raised, that's much better. Farm raising of seafood introduces problems similar to those of meat feedlots: overcrowding, need for antibiotics, artificial feed. For example, farm raised salmon is often fed artificial coloring so the flesh will be a more appealing color when it is sold! Canned seafood is a good option, but check the country of origin! Warning: if you have any liver problems or immune system deficiencies, never eat oysters - it could kill you. Also, if you take fish oil supplements, buy Wild Alaska Salmon Oil; most fish oil pills are made from Peruvian sardines and anchovies, a biproduct of the fish feed made for farm-raised salmon. these foraged "prey" fish are the most overfished species on the planet, at unsustainable rates. Peru's best fishery area is already a dead zone covered with sediments one meter deep.

SEASONING: Old Bay Seasoning is a good mixture for dips, soups, etc. It is made from Celery Salt (Salt, Celery Seed), Spices (Including Mustard, Red Pepper, Black Pepper, Bay [Laurel] Leaves, Cloves, Allspice [Pimento], Ginger, Mace, Cardamom, Cinnamon), And Paprika. Beware of seasoning mixtures which contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) which many people are allergic to. Rick has suffered several times after eating barbeque sauce and other foods, realizing in hindsight that they must have had MSG.

SORGHUM SYRUP: I am fortunate to buy 100% sorghum syrup from our local Mennonite community, and I substitute it 1:1 for molasses (which is made from sugarcane or sugar beet). Sorghum is a grain which grows similarly to corn, and the extracted syrup is high in antioxidants, minerals, protein, and vitamins… with far less sodium than molasses. Sorghum grain can also be ground into a gluten-free flour.

SOY: Soybeans are a complete protein, a good source of iron, low in saturated fats, and have many health benefits. But beware; most of USA soybeans grown today are GMO - genetically modified. To insure your soy ingredients (soy milk, tofu, miso, TSP, lecithin, edamame, bean sprouts, soy sauce, tempeh) are "IP" (Identity Preserved seeds), look for organic soybeans on the labels. Organic soybeans are not genetically modified. Genetic modification has never been proven safe, and a number of studies have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, animals, and the environment.

SPICES: Buy top quality organic spices and don't use any that have been stored so long they've lost their flavor. Frontier is a good brand, and they also distribute Simply Organics brand.

SPLENDA (sucralose): Don't use it! Scientists at Tate and Lyle engineered it in 1976 by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups in a normal sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms, boasting it was natural and harmless. Even the FDA pre-approval tests showed significant potential toxicity with shrunken thymus glands and enlarged livers and kidneys in test subjects. Not anything I want to ingest!

SPROUTS: Certain seeds are "sprouted" by soaking, then putting them in an environment of moisture and warmth. Over a few days, the seed begins to grow, sending out its first growth or "sprout", with the first leaves. These are eaten raw, often used in salads or sandwiches. Common seeds which are sprouted include alfalfa, clover, mung beans, and radishes. Grains are also sprouted, but mostly to the point of softening versus growing a stem and leaf. Not all vegetable seeds are edible for sprouting; seeds from tomatoes and eggplants, for example, can be poisonous as sprouts. Sprouts are said to be full of digestible energy, essential amino acids, and other beneficial nutrients.

Straining the stevia leaves from my homemade extract.
STEVIA: is a sweetener and substitute for refined sugars. It is the leaves of a plant called Stevia Rebaudiana. This plant can be grown as an annual in most parts of the US, and you can make your own sweetener with the whole plant, using the leaves fresh, dried, or tinctured in alcohol. Stevia's complex compounds can taste up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, while having negligible effect on blood glucose and being calorie-free. Since stevia was approved as a food additive in the US in 2009, many products have appeared on grocery shelves; beware of and stevia-touted products which are pure white (the leaves are green. "Rebiana" or "rebaudioside A" is the plant extract which creates the sweet taste, but some Stevia products add additional ingredients like Erythritol (a sugar alcohol from fruit), and even refined sugar. Coca Cola and Pepsi are the makers of two of the most widely sold stevia-related products, so that alone makes me suspicious. Know what you are buying! I grow stevia in my herb garden in warm months and inside in the winter.

STEVIA EXTRACT:  Chop fresh green stevia leaves. Put them into a glass jar and fill to cover them with vodka. Let this mixture "steep" for 2 months. Strain the mixture, discard the leaves and reserve the liquor. I put mine in a brown bottle with a dropper-cap so I can measure out a few drops at a time, since it is very sweet. Sometimes, after making vanilla extra (see in this column), I remove the vanilla beans and put them into some of my stevia extract, to flavor it. This is a great addition to baked goods, berries, and drinks.

TAPIOCA FLOUR or TAPIOCA STARCH: is a grain-free powder made from cassava root. It is starchy and naturally slightly sweet, good for thickening sauces and pie fillings. It improves the texture in baked goods, and is often used in gluten-free flour combinations for a springy texture, improved browning, and crispy crusts. Arrowroot can be substituted 1:1 for tapioca starch, which some people find adds a bitter aftertaste.

TORTILLAS: Useful for so much: burritos, wraps and the usual, but also two stacked with beaten egg beaten them make a quick pizza crust; cut up one into noodles to add to a soup; use as a substitute for lasagna noodles; cut in pieces and sprinkle with olive oil and parmesan to broil as chips. Try to buy a brand with as few ingredients as possible. Good tasting gluten-free brown rice tortillas are available frozen, and corn tortillas are also generally gluten-free.

VANILLA EXTRACT: It's easy to make your own vanilla extract. Place 6 vanilla beans in a tall jar that holds about 1 c of vodka. If the vanilla beans will not be submerged in the liquor, cut them in half first. Let the mixture steep at least 1 month before using the liquid as vanilla extract in any recipe. I like to keep the beans in the liquor indefinitely, as I use it. Once I've used up the extract, I move the beans to a bottle of my homemade stevia extract (see it in this column), to flavor it with vanilla. OR I use pieces of the soaked beans in smoothies... nothing goes to waste!
  
VEGETABLES: Best option is to grow your own, organically, and eat fresh. Next best is to eat your own extra harvest which you have frozen, canned, pickled, dried, or cold stored. If you don't garden, find friends who do and let them know you'd like to share or buy their excess. Buy locally grown veggies at farm stands and markets. If none of these options are available, read the labels at the super market and buy vegetables grown in the USA, preferably organic, either fresh or frozen.

XANTHAN GUM: A fine powder, often used as a additive in gluten-free baking which adds volume and stickiness which the gluten would normally provide. Made from a tiny micro-organism bacteria, derived from such as corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. It is a natural stabilizer or thickener. Pricy, but small amounts are generally used, like 1/2 tsp per cup of flour.