Agave Nectar: The sweet deceit

19 02 2012

I have always been one to try to eat as naturally as possible. I prefer cooking with whole, natural foods and try to go organic as much as possible, so when searching for a natural sweetener I started asking questions. With the Nutrasweet debacle, I wanted as little to do with artificial sweeteners as possible. At first I tried Stevia. While it’s great with foods, such as fruit, it really is not that great in my coffee. Then I heard about Agave Nectar. It seemed nearly perfect. A “low glycemic” sweetener that, when I tried it, didn’t have that bitter aftertaste that Stevia had. It was only after I did a little research that I realized that this nectar isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

So what is Agave and where does it come from? Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) is best recognized as the plant from which tequila is made. It has also been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in food. The nectar made from the plant is known in Mexico as aguamiel, or “honey water.”

 The Aztecs prized the agave as a gift from the gods and used the liquid from its core to flavor foods and drinks. Now, due to increasing awareness of agave nectar’s many beneficial properties, it is becoming the preferred sweetener of health conscious consumers, doctors, and natural foods cooks alike, but is it really as beneficial as all the experts say?

According to author John Kohler, agave itself is classified as low glycemic, but we need to take into consideration that this is due to the unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%).  Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. The closest is in high fructose corn syrup which contains 55% fructose. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index, there are health problems associated with consuming fructose in such high concentrations.

As you can see by the photos on this page the process for extracting the agave is fairly simple. The leaves are removed from the plant which bares the base of the plant 1/2 above and 1/2 below the ground. The agave base is then removed and taken to a facility to where it is heated to no more than 118 degrees F to get the juices flowing. The base or ball of the plant is then chopped up, filtered, sent through a centrifuge and poured into the bottles you get today. There are other less expensive ways to produce the agave in a faster way, but Volcanic Nectar prefers the more traditional methods for health reasons.

 

There is talk that fructose may contribute to diabetic conditions.  It has been said to reduce the sensitivity of insulin receptors.  Insulin receptors are the way glucose enters a cell to be metabolized.  As a result, the body needs to make more insulin to handle the same amount of glucose.

Fructose may increase blood lactic acid, which could potentially be dangerous for people with diabetes. Consumption can also lead to mineral loss, (especially iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc) accelerated aging through oxidative damage, and obesity as it is converted to fat more easily than any other sugar.

Agave Syrup and other concentrated sweeteners are addictive, so you end up trading a cooked addiction (eating candy bars or cookies)  for a “raw” addiction which is not much better.  Eating concentrated sweeteners makes it harder to enjoy the sweet foods we should be eating – whole fresh fruit since they don’t seem as sweet by comparison.   

Whole fruits generally contain a much smaller amount of fructose compared to sucrose and glucose.  In addition, fruits contain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and other nutrients.  Our bodies are designed to digest a complete “package” of nutrition that appears in whole, fresh, ripe fruits.  Could nature be wrong?  For example, it’s always better to eat fruits whole or blend them rather than juice them.  When you juice fruits you remove the fiber which helps to slow down the absorption of the sugars. Concentrated sweeteners also contain no fiber and have much greater concentrations of simple sugars than are found in fresh fruit or even juices.

Now that you have a better understanding about Agave nectar, you can be the judge and jury. Does Agave nectar deserve to be in your pantry?

Advertisements




Foodspotting…my secret addiction

15 09 2011

I have an addiction. I admit it freely. I am addicted to taking pictures of my food. I have come to enjoy dining out and posting my food pics on Facebook, which absolutely used to drive my husband crazy. (He has since become accustomed to my addiction and even offers his plate up for a photo shoot before he digs into his dinner.) At first, my facebook friends used to tease me a little about all of the food pictures I posted. It even went so far as one friend not being able to look at my pictures because of a diet, but I persevered, and was rewarded by comments from friends that turned from teasing to serious enjoyment. One of my friends even went on a cruise and took some spectacular pictures of food just for me! So the other evening as I sat enjoying my food at Vic’s casual dining, after having taken the perfect picture of my salmon, I was asked if I was “food spotting“.  Curiously I asked, “what is foodspotting?” A very knowledgable waitress named Tammie  introduced me to what I can only catagorize as a support group for those of us who feel we must take pictures of our food. I downloaded the app for my Android and was immediately taken by this amazing foodie site.

Described as “a visual guide to good food and where to find it”, I see it as an outlet for those of us who consider ourselves frustrated  food critics. For those of us who deal with this “addiction” you will find it extremely fulfilling. If you’re trying to decide what to eat, you can…

• See the nearest, latest and best foods around you
• Find a particular food that you’re craving
• Look up a restaurant and see what’s good there

The more I check this site out, the more I like about it.  No snobby food critics telling us where we need to eat, but real people telling us about their favorite places to eat. I feel so validated by the fact that there are other people out there who also take pictures of their food! I am not alone!

What really struck me was that I thought I was the only one who felt the need to do this. I really did feel somewhat like an outcast with my “secret addiction”, so it was very refreshing and even enlightening to discover that I am part of a “food movement” Bringing good food to the masses.

So whether you enjoy taking pictures of  your food and writing reviews as I do or just want to find a place to enjoy a good meal, I do recommend that you at least check it out. And for all of my facebook friends, be prepared to see lots more food photos in the future from me!

Ciao!





Like my food reviews: Vic’s

30 08 2011

Vic’s Casual Dining

13499 Dix Toledo Rd., Southgate, MI, 48195
(734) 246-5900
 
 

One of my favorite places to eat downriver was always Salvatore Scallopini’s in Southgate. I would frequent this establishment at least once or twice a month on a regular basis, especially in the winter when I would come down with the inevitable cold. Their tomato basil soup was the equivalent of jewish penicillin.

I know that all things must come to an end, so when I drove by one day a while back and spotted the sign that said “Vics casual dining” I was stunned! This place was packed each and every weekend! How could they go out of business? But I was determined to give them a chance and I am so happy that I did. It was the same comfortable atmosphere. The same people working the door and the bar. What was going on? I soon learned that the Salvatore Scallopine name was just that. A  name. It appears that my favorite place to eat was still just that. The menu hasn’t changed. They still offer the great Italian menu and friendly service that they have always had.

The meal starts, of course, with the bread. A lovely, hearty loaf served with seasoned oil to dip it in. Next, the salad. May I say that one of the best things about the salad is their house dressing. A creamy romano that is one of my favorites. I have often ordered some of it to take home to enjoy and recommend it highly.

They serve an assortment of homemade pasta ranging from your basic stuffed shells to lasagna. Of the many pasta dishes that they offer, one of my favorites is the Chicken Alfredo. Rich and creamy with grilled chicken that just offsets the richness of the dish. This is also one of the only dishes that my picky, teenage daughter will eat there.

I enjoy seafood. Now I know what you’re thinking, Seafood at an Italian place is not always the best choice but this is the exception. I am especially fond of salmon and the salmon at Vic’s is served over a bed of garlicky spinach with a wonderful, creamy dill sauce. It’s rich, but not overwhelmingly so. It satisfies me each and every time I order it.

The decor is comfortable. The booths are well worn from the good amount of traffic that this place tends to see and Italian music playing in the background. Weekends are usually pretty crowded and if you show up at prime dinner time, you may have to wait for a table.

Prices are average. Anywhere from $10.00 to $22.00 for dinner, depending on what you order. They take most major credit cards.  The wine list is small, but not bad. I guess you’d say it’s “average”, but what do you expect from such a homey place?

If I had to give it a rating, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars. Mostly because of the many times I’ve been there I have never had a bad meal. Ok, I did have an issue with the wine once, but after mentioning it to the waitstaff, that was very quickly rectified.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for some good homemade pasta, why not give Vic’s a try?





Hurray for Holland!

28 07 2011

Ok, I know this blog is supposed to be about food, and it will be later, but for right now I have to tell you about my first experience with a “green” hotel. I learned about the City Flats Hotel when I came to Holland for Girl Friends Weekend last March. Centrally located at 7th and College streets, the City Flats is right downtown where there are a plenty of places to get a good meal and quite a few really nice shops.

Some of the amenities of the hotel include:

  • Cork flooring installed with low-VOC adhesives
  • Curtains lined with a black-out fabric to reduce energy needed to heat and cool room
  • Naturally hypo-allergenic bamboo linens
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize natural lighting
  • High-efficiency heating and cooling units
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets using 30% less water than standard fixtures
  • Eco-friendly & luxurious bath products
  • Light fixtures with energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs
  • Locally manufactured furniture
  • Low-VOC paint

It’s a hip, trendy place to hang out and has a decent wine list to boot. In addition to the hotel, there is a pretty good restaurant. (Here comes the food part!) City Vu Bistro, which has a contemporary yet casual atmosphere was my dining choice of the evening. Their dinner menu is interesting, but small.  Their specialty is their flatbread pizza. With names like The Laredo, The Memphis, The Palermo, and the one I sampled, The Pittsburgh. All of the flatbread pizza’s at City Vu are made with 100% whole wheat flour that has been ground at  a 249 year old working Dutch windmill. “DeZwaan”, which means graceful bird in Dutch, is located at Windmill Island Gardens and reaches 125 feet from the ground to the top of the blades, towers over 36 acres of manicured gardens, dikes, canals and picnic areas.

I started with a cup of their Tomato Boursin soup. A pureed concoction of tomatoes and Boursin cheese. It was wonderfully creamy behind the acidity and made me think of my childhood. Who doesn’t remember having grilled cheese with tomato soup. This was like having both of those taste’s on one.

After that came the main course. The Pittsburgh flatbread pizza. A mess of steak on a whole wheat crust with a blue cheese sauce over sauteed onions and green onions. While I’m not a huge pizza fan, this was something extraordinary. As one who is into the whole “low carb” lifestyle, having a pizza prepared on whole wheat crust was a good thing for me. I managed to eat most of the oblong shaped pie.

I actually opted for desset that night as this was a “vacation” for me.  I have this penchant for key lime pie and they  had one on the menu that boasted a ginger cookie crust. For those of you who grew up with the wonderful flavor of Vernors ginger ale here in Michigan, I can attest that the crust was as close to Vernors that I could remember. The lovely tartness of the lime mixed with the sweetness of the ginger was an amazing play on the tongue. The entire meal was mixed with 2 glasses of Hahn Estates Cabernet. While not everyone would appreciate this wine with the food choices that I made, it worked for me.

So, next time you are heading to the western side of the state, keep Holland in mind if you’re in the mood for an interesting meal and a really cool hotel to stay at.

Ciao!
href=”http://www.ford.com/warriorsinpink/” target=”_blank”>Warriors in Pink





Asian Carp. It’s what’s for dinner?

22 07 2011

 

by Elaine Hayes

For those of us who have grown up here in the Great Lakes state, carp has always been a trash fish. So it was surprising to me when my husband brought home the local newspaper with not one, but two articles about this lowlife fish species.

Asian carp is all over the news thanks to its status as an invasive species and its threat to the Great Lakes. Asian carp is also known as silver fish and big head fish.

Surprisingly, prepared correctly, and with the right spices and other ingredients, this fish can be turned into a restaurant-quality offering. Five tasters agreed after trying three carp dishes created in the Schoolcraft College kitchens by Chef Shawn Loving. During the test, none of the tasters — two students, two graduates and one instructor — knew what kind of fish they were eating. First, a salad of fresh spinach and grapefruit with a vinegraitte, topped with small, panko encrusted stips of carp, sliced almonds and spices. Next, a carp cake in a bun with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a remoulade sauce. Finally, a paella with roasted vegetables, smoked paprika, chorizo and seared strips of carp.

The fish is “as clean as most fish” and “definitely edible,” said Chef Loving, chairman of the Schoolcraft College culinary arts department.

It appears that Asian Carp is the newest, best thing since sliced bread in the fish industry. According to those in the know, carp is a heavy, fatty, bony fish. It is difficult to filet, as the meat tends to cling to the flat, curved bones, and it is important to get as much blood out of the fish as possible so that it doesn’t turn an unappetizing grey color when cooked. Schafer Fisheries, in Illinois, is one of those companies that is selling Asian carp, an item that is apparently much in demand item. Schafer Fisheries sells a “minced” or “shredded” product, as well as whole, frozen fish. The company sells its products mostly to customers on the west coast.

While Chef Loving’s recipes all sound interesting and tasty, I still have a problem eating what generally amounts to a goldfish on steroids.

Residents of Shanghai, however, don’t share my biases. Bighead carp is very popular there, but what about here in Michigan? Can Asian carp be seen as anything but a pest which must be eradicated in order to protect fragile Michigan fisheries?

The Asian Carp is seen as a threat to the Great Lakes. To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan. Some entrepreneurs see China’s need as a solution to the carp infested waters. By flash freezing the bighead and silver carp, they are hoping to ship the fish overseas as carp in China has been highly overfished. Harvesting the fish is seen by many as a way to reduce the carp population in the U.S. Here are some of the ways that the government and private industries are trying to market away the Asian Carp problem.

Some would like to see a bounty on the Asian carp. At the price of 25 cents a pound, it would take $25 million dollars to buy about a quarter of what the federal government has spent in the last two years to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Reducing the population is a good thing, but you can’t get rid of them all by fishing. Since this spring, more than 140 tons have been taken out of the water from as far as 115 miles from that electric barrier.

Despite the war on the Asian carp, foodies know these fish are particularly high in omega-3 fats and in protein. Researchers at Purdue University recently added carp to corn tortillas. Big head fish are low in toxins, because they only eat plankton, not other fish. Carp can also be used to make fishmeal as animal feed and as a natural fertilizer.

So what will it be for you? Will the stigma of eating something that most of us had in an aquarium growing up as kids stop you from trying carp at some time? Maybe, maybe not. As for me, I think I will keep an open mind and let my tongue decide.

 





My love affair with olive oil

14 07 2011

It was on a trip to Holland, Michigan last year that I discovered a store that made my heart flitter. Just two items dominated this stores’ shelves: olive oil and vinegar. Yes, I had discovered Fustini’s, a foodie’s dream store. I have had a love affair with olive oil for some time now, but finding this little bit of heaven changed my life. After a lifetime of shopping in supermarkets, where it was a challenge to find flavored oils that I had only read about, it was a dream to find a store devoted solely to my favorite monounsaturated fat.

You can find Fustini’s on the Web, as well as on Facebook, where some 1,200 cognoscenti get regular updates about the store’s products, tastings, dinners and specials.

At Fustini’s, like at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, you can taste everything that they have in stock. Wondering if tasting olive oil is like taking a serving of castor oil? Watch as former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl explains exactly how it’s done.

As I regained my composure, I began to look around and see what this little gem had to offer. I started out slowly on my first visit. I purchased some garlic infused olive and then decided on a small bottle of white truffle oil. I realize that these are just the basics, but I had to start somewhere. On my next visit, which happened to coincide with the official “Girlfriends Weekend” that Holland offers each March, I bought an amazing blood orange olive oil that, when added to an ordinary brownie mix, transformed them into something utterly amazing. You have merely to replace half of the oil called for in the recipe with the orange oil and voila, the most incredible brownies that a boxed mix can offer.  Your friends will think that you slaved over a hot oven to make these gourmet treats. Next, I purchased a meyer lemon olive oil that I had sampled in a lovely shrimp and pasta dish. It was the beginning of building an arsenal of taste in my cupboard.

The next time I went, which was just a few weeks ago, I moved on to the arbequina olive oil, a sweet, light, buttery oil reminiscent of fresh artichoke which is absolutely fabulous for those light, summery vinegrettes. My tastebuds were in heaven. I then chose a Tuscan herb olive oil, which I  have been using on everything from vegetables to pasta. I have made the decision that the next time I visit I will definitely have to buy at least 2 bottles of the Tuscan herb.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury of traveling to Holland to visit Fustini’s, but fear not dear foodies, for there are also locations in Petoskey, Traverse City and Ann Arbor. Now I know that Zingerman’s is a draw to Ann Arborites as well, but there are differences in the prices.  Fustini’s, which has a much smaller selection goes from around $12.95 to 15.95.  Zingerman’s offers a much greater selection, but they also offer a much higher price, anywhere from $15.00 to $45.00. And while they also carry olive oils from Spain, Italy and France, I found the service at Fustini’s to be more personal and genuine. I guess you need to ask yourself, what would you pay for  olive oil?

I hope that my adventure into the wonderful world of olive oils will have an impression on some of you. As for me, I can’t wait for my next visit. I look forward to trying something new, like the avacodo or sesame oils that they offer.

Ciao!

The olive was native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. It is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world – being grown before the written language was invented. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2,000 years BC. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks then Romans. As the Romans extended their domain they brought the olive with them.

As the Franciscans marched north, establishing missions in California, they also planted olive groves. Southern California saw the first olive trees. According to an account in Judith Taylor’s book, The Olive in California, a visitor to Mission San Fernando in 1842 saw the mission buildings in ruins but the orchard with a good crop of olives. The visitor remarked that the mission probably had the biggest olive trees in the state. Subsequently in the past 150 years, trees have been planted in several waves along with interest in olives and olive oil. Many of these older groves (80-150 years old) still exist in California. Most are in Northern California.

http://www.oliveoilsource.com/page/history-olive





Fort Street Brewery

10 07 2011

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m not much of a beer drinker. Oh I had my beer drinking days when I was in my twenties, but wine is more my style these days. So what made me go to a brewery for dinner? Curiosity. I have, as of late, been to a couple of micro breweries around the state and I’m starting to enjoy doing so. I guess I prefer wine because there are so many varietals. Beer  has never really been able to claim that like wine does, but things are changing.

My choice this evening was The Fort Street Brewery. It’s a casual place with a very energetic and attentive staff. Even the manager (who I saw sweeping floors and clearing tables while we were there) came by to check on us during our meal. Our server, Jason, laughed when I asked for “his finest table” As we were being seated, he asked us if we had been there before. After sheeplishly admitting that this was our first time eating there, (even though I’ve been driving past this place since it was built 7 years ago) Jason offered us his very informed opinion on the variety of beers that they offered. My husband decided on the Bourbon Barrel Bock, a chewy, chocolatey brew that had a bitter finish. I opted for the Lager Rita. A concoction consisting of one of their own brews, Lincoln Lager, and Lime Tequilla. Who knew how refreshing that beer and tequilla actually is!

As I peruse the menu I begin to smile. They have sweet potato fries. I absolutely adore sweet potato fries. Maybe I love them because they are sweeter than your standard french fry. Or, maybe it’s because of the beautiful color. A rich, warm orange that just brightens up my plate. For those who have never tried them, I highly recommend that you do. I like them with a spicy dipping sauce of mayonaise and hot sauce.

We decide on our food. I opt for one of my guilty pleasures, the Patty Melt. Dave goes for the Brewery Burger. As we wait, I take in the decor. The building is much larger than it looks from the outside. Almost like a warehouse in my opinion. There is a glass enclosed area where they brew the beer with several large tanks. I take a walk by there, but there is nothing going on at the moment.

By the time I return, our food has arrived, piping hot and looking gorgeous. My Patty Melt was near perfect. The Rye bread was toasted just right, but the burger was cooked more than the medium that I had requested. Still, it was very good. Dave really enjoyed his meal. He said that his burger was one of the best he’s had.

All in all, it was a good choice. I will definitely go there again, if for no other reason, than to get more sweet potato fries!