Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food Dyes

The Associated Press ran a story this morning reporting that a committee at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will be examining hyperactivity and food dyes to see if there is any link between the two. That’s surprising, because in the past they have said food dyes were safe and that there was no relationship, except in certain susceptible kids. How they define “susceptible,” I don’t know and they’re not saying.

Back in June of 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest ( petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food dyes including Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3 and Yellow 6. Used in a variety of foods from breakfast cereal to snacks, candies, drinks and more, these dyes (many of which are made from coal tar) have long been suspected of triggering hyperactivity and disruptive behavior in kids.

The possible connection between food dyes (and other additives) and hyperactivity is a subject near and dear to our hearts. We were so convinced of the connection that, back in the 1980s, we placed our youngest son on the restrictive Feingold diet (advocated by Benjamin Feinfold. MD). In addition to eliminating artificial dyes and flavorings, the diet also eliminated salicylates – natural chemicals found in a number of foods, including apples. The diet was extremely successful, but difficult to follow. Several later studies showed no connection between the diet and a reduction in hyperactivity symptoms, but you’ll never convince us that it didn’t work.

Hyperactivity is now called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and is often treated with prescription medicine. Most of the drugs used to treat ADHD in children are stimulants including Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. ADHD is big business in this country (annual sales of Adderall, alone, are estimated at $600 million). Some of the side effects of these drugs include weight loss, loss of appetite, problems sleeping, stomachaches, and headaches. Unfortunately, serious cardiovascular problems and death can even occur. Why risk it? Why not alter your child’s diet and see if you can affect ADHD before throwing the “big guns” into play?

It’s encouraging to see that the FDA will finally address this issue. It’s even more encouraging that some companies, like Frito-Lay, without any government prodding, are beginning to use natural ingredients, including beet juice, instead of artificial dyes (they already use natural dyes in the United Kingdom). A March 24, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Frito-Lay will now use carrots, purple cabbage juice and other veggies to color snacks here in the United States, rather than artificial dyes. Those of you who suffer from “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” will be glad to know that they’re also eliminating monosodium glutamate (MSG) from their snacks.

Real color, real flavor, real food. How refreshing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Baking Yeast

If you’ve been storing wheat at the rate of 150 pounds per person per year (as most experts recommend), sooner or later you’ll need to bake a loaf of bread. After all, food rotation is crucial to food storage. So, I hope you’re storing yeast, as well. Although baking powder and baking soda are fine for biscuits, muffins, and other quick breads, yeast is indispensable for creating a light, airy, and flavorful loaf of bread.

Yeast is actually a fungus. Once activated by water, it literally “eats” any sugar or other carbohydrates in the dough and begins to ferment. As it ferments, it releases carbon dioxide which expands the dough. This creates little air pockets and makes the dough lighter and more flavorful. The addition of yeast is the difference between a light and airy piece of bread and a compact, dense cracker.

Yeast is available in two forms: as compressed yeast (also called cake yeast) or as dry yeast.
  • Compressed yeast is considered a “wet” yeast which requires refrigeration and is highly perishable. Use it quickly (within a few days of purchase). You can crumble it into water or add it directly to your dry ingredients. One 2-ounce cake of yeast is sufficient for about 3 pounds (or about 12 cups) of flour. Cake yeast is available in 2-ounce cakes and 6-ounce cakes. In all my years of baking, I’ve never used compressed yeast.
  • Dry yeast is available as active dry yeast or as instant yeast.
    • Active dry yeast is the kind of yeast your grandma most likely used, so you’re probably already familiar with this yeast, which comes in either in a glass jar or in moisture-proof envelopes (three to a strip). Each packet contains about ¼ ounce of yeast. To use, dissolve in water (100-110° F), then mix with your other ingredients. It used to be that bakers needed to let the yeast “proof” to ensure that the yeast was still viable. However, modern advances in yeast production pretty much ensure active yeast, so I often skip the proofing step. TIP: One packet of yeast is enough to raise about one pound (approximately 4 cups) of flour.
    • RapidRise™ or QuickRise™ Yeast are both forms of instant yeast. These yeasts are available in envelopes (three to a strip) and also in jars. They can dramatically speed up your bread baking experience, often cutting the rising time by half. To use, add directly to the dry ingredients. One packet of yeast is enough to raise about 4 cups of flour. If you usually bake bread in a bread machine, instant yeast is the best form of yeast for you to use. Use about 1 teaspoon of instant yeast for every two cups of flour when making bread in a bread machine.

Once opened, I always store my yeast in the refrigerator, but I let it warm to room temperature before adding to a recipe. Plan to store about a pound of yeast per person per year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cough Medicine

A teaspoon of sweet, licorice-rich cough syrup and a menthol ointment chest rub were my mother’s cure for coughs and colds. Nowadays, drug-store shelves groan with cough syrups of every flavor and color. But their ingredients are not without side effects. Why not make your own natural cough syrups?

Standard over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrups include cough suppressants (such as dextromethorphan) to quiet a cough, expectorants (such as guaifenesin) to make it easier to cough up the airway mucous, and decongestants (such as diphenhydramine) to relieve nasal congestion. (Note: Until 2000, phenylpropanolamine was widely used in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines but was pulled from the market after studies showed an increased risk of bleeding of the brain [hemorrhagic stroke] in those taking the drug. It is now available only by prescription.)

Cough and cold medicine is big business in America with nearly 10% of all US children using a cough and cold medicine in any given week. Unfortunately, these medicines often contain drugs with potentially serious side effects including nervousness, dizziness, confusion, headache, dry mouth, sleepiness, and even nausea or vomiting. Sometimes the side effects are severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency department. In the two-year period of 2004 and 2005, over 1,500 children under the age of two visited emergency departments because of adverse reactions to OTC cough and cold medicines. Tragically, of these, three infants died.

There are safer, more natural, do-it-yourself alternatives. One of the best is honey (you probably have some honey in your food storage). In fact, a study on 139 children between the ages of 24 and 60 months found that 2.5 mL (about ½ teaspoon) of honey given before sleep alleviated coughing more than dextromethorphan or diphenhydramine (two common ingredients in cough syrup). NOTE: Absolute do NOT give honey to an infant age one year or younger. Their systems are not yet developed and they can acquire botulism poisoning from honey. Older children and adults are not susceptible.

If your goal is to be more self-sufficient, you can, and should, grow your own herbs to make cough syrups and other medicines. Any good herb book will show you how to make effective herbal cough syrups. Some particularly helpful herbs include horehound, marshmallow (the herb, not the sugary treat), hyssop and mullein. Keep in mind, though, that although herbs are natural, they can still be powerful. Every herb has potential side effects. For instance, although white horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is an expectorant and also eases congestion, large doses can cause vomiting and nausea. Regardless of which herb(s) you might try, if you are pregnant or nursing, check with your physician first.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Coleslaw Dressing

Xanthun gum, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, artificial colors – does your bottled salad dressing contain these common ingredients? Manufacturers add these (and other additives) to most dressings (even the refrigerated kind) for a number of reasons, but often to thicken, preserve, color, or flavor the dressing. Personally, I don’t like eating anything artificial, so I would never add any of these things to my dressing. How about you?

One major problem with any salad dressing (regardless of the type), is that after it’s opened, it must be refrigerated. In an emergency (or after the “you-know-what” hits the fan), will you have a way to keep food cold? Why not make your own dressing, as you need it? In this way, there’s nothing extra that needs refrigeration. Not only will your salad dressing contain healthy ingredients, it will also be the freshest dressing available, at a much lower cost than store-bought. How much lower? Depends on which ingredients you use, but most store-bought dressings cost upwards of $3 a bottle. Making your own costs only pennies per serving.

Many salad dressings require mayonnaise. Be sure to check out our recipe for mayonnaise.

Coleslaw Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon onion juice (scrape the cut surface of an onion with a knife)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. You may want more or less vinegar and/or sugar depending on how thick or sweet you want the dressing. Serve immediately and refrigerate any leftovers.

Italian Dressing
1/2 cup vinegar (I use balsamic, but red wine vinegar is also great)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (typically, a mixture of thyme, garlic, marjoram, onion, rosemary, oregano, basil and other herbs)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 cups oil

In a blender, combine the vinegar, garlic, parsley, mustard, salt, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. Stir to combine. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil (a few drips at a time). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors can mingle. Serve immediately and refrigerate any leftovers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Love it or hate it, the fact is, mayonnaise is a component of a number of foods from salad dressings to sandwich spreads, dips and vegetable toppings. What would deviled eggs be without mayo? Even if you don’t mind paying the sky-high price of a jar of mayonnaise, try making your own so that you’ll know how to do it if you ever need to. Easy to make, homemade mayo is cheaper than its store-bought cousin and you can make only what you need. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

Most mayonnaise recipes call for whole, fresh eggs or egg yolks, which I avoid because of the risk of Salmonella enteritidis. Instead, I use dried eggs from Honeyville ( Their eggs are spray-dried and pasteurized.

Mayonnaise Recipe
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dried whole-egg powder 
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or dried lemon juice powder, reconstituted as per manufacturer’s directions)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard (or 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup oil

In a blender, combine the water, dried eggs, lemon juice, salt, mustard and pepper. Blend to combine. With the motor running, add the oil a few drops at a time. This step is critical to form an emulsion. The mixture will thicken as you continue to add the oil. Use immediately and refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 1 cup.

Note: If you don’t have a blender, you can easily make mayonnaise by placing the ingredients in a small bowl and using a whisk while slowly incorporating the oil. The key is to slowly add the oil, while constantly stirring. This will allow the oil to become suspended in the egg solution so that it won’t separate out once you quit whisking.

See the little black specks? This is what happens when you use black ground pepper, instead of white ground pepper. Tastes the same, though.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Mark your calendars. This year, St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday, March 17th. It is estimated that nearly 12% of the American population has Irish roots. That’s probably why St. Patrick’s Day is such a big deal here in the states. Help celebrate by making Irish soda bread. Your food storage should contain all of the ingredients for this recipe (if not, time to take a trip to the store).

Irish Soda Bread
4 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (or butter powder, reconstituted as per package directions)
1 egg (or powdered egg, reconstituted per package directions)
2 cups raisins
1-3/4 buttermilk (or powdered buttermilk, reconstituted as per package directions)

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Cut in the butter.
  4. Stir in the raisins.
  5. Place the egg in a separate container and beat slightly. Mix the egg with the buttermilk and add to the dry ingredients; stirring just until blended. This is a "quick" bread, so the dough will be wet. 
  6. Divide the dough in half and pour each half into an 8 inch cake or pie pan; pat down to evenly distribute the dough in the pan.
  7. Bake 35 to 40 minutes.
Note: If you find yourself without buttermilk (in any form), you can make an effective substitute by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk. Don't skip this step, because the baking soda needs acid (such as that found in buttermilk) to leaven the bread. The rule of thumb is to add about 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar for every cup of milk used in any recipe. For this recipe, measure out the milk and then remove 5-1/4 teaspoons milk. Replace the 5-1/4 teaspoons with lemon juice or vinegar, so that the total liquid (milk and lemon juice or vinegar) totals 1-3/4 cups.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baking Soda

It’s not enough to store just the basics—like wheat, sugar, honey, salt, and powdered milk. It’s important to also store the “extras,” the little things that make life better. I know, you were probably thinking that I meant chocolate (which is a great idea), but I’m actually referring to baking soda.

Technically referred to as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is indispensable for making a number of baked goods, including biscuits, muffins, quick breads, cakes, and cookies. But it can also deodorize your refrigerator (place an open box in the fridge to absorb odors and be sure to replace after 30 days). According to Arm & Hammer, baking soda neutralizes pH (that is, the acidity or alkalinity of a substance), so you can use it all over your house for everything from cleaning your kitchen and bathroom, to deodorizing your carpets, cleaning your laundry, and even putting out fires! Mixed with a little water, it can relieve heartburn. You can also use baking soda to make your own toothpaste (combine with a little salt, glycerin and some food-grade mint flavoring, but skip the artificial colors, the goal is to have white teeth, remember?). Find more handy uses for baking soda at

Back when I owned and operated a bath and body company, we frequently used baking soda in our formulations. In fact, baking soda held a prominent place in many recipes, including bath salts, bath scrubs, bath powders, bath fizzies and foot soaks. You can see why storing lots of baking soda is a great idea. Here's a great recipe for lavender bath salts.

Lavender Bath Salts
½ cup baking soda
½ cup sea salt
½ cup Epsom salts
1 tablespoon olive oil
25 drops lavender essential oil

Mix together the baking soda, sea salt and Epsom salts. Add the olive oil and lavender essential oil, stirring to combine. Store in a glass jar (be sure to keep the lid closed between uses). Use ½ cup per bath. This makes enough bath salts for three baths. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pizza Crust

Even the most minimal food storage probably contains the ingredients necessary to make this delicious pizza crust. I’ve found that the type of yeast doesn’t matter, nor does the flour. However, if you’re using whole wheat flour, limit it to no more than 50% of the total flour required. Otherwise, it’s too heavy for the yeast and the crust will be too dense. This recipe makes enough crust for a 15” pizza. We usually cover half of the crust with tomato paste, sprinkle it with Italian seasoning, and top with Canadian bacon, sliced olives, mushrooms, pineapple chunks and homemade mozzarella. The other half of the crust, we top with pesto, artichoke hearts, olives, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Use your imagination. This is better than any take out and much cheaper, too!

Pizza Crust
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup warm water
2-1/3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil

  1. Place the water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup; sprinkle the sugar and yeast on the top and set aside for 10 minutes to proof. “Proofing” the yeast in this way assures that it is alive and viable.
  2. Place the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  3. When the water/sugar/yeast mixture is ready, add the olive oil.
  4. Slowly pour the yeast mixture into the flour, stirring to combine. The dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides.
  5. Remove the dough and knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Oil a medium-sized bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning the dough to coat all sides with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise (for approximately 45 minutes).
  7. Place the dough on a pizza pan or baking stone and rollout or (using your fingers) press the dough into a circle. I typically use a rectangular sheet pan, so I form the pizza into a rectangle.
  8. Top with your choice of sauces, cheese, or other toppings.
  9. Bake at 450° F for about 20 minutes.
Makes one delicious 15” pizza.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mozzarella Cheese

Yesterday, I was able to combine my manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon and received a huge discount on two gallons of milk. One gallon lasts us at least a couple of weeks. Since I now have so much extra milk, today is a perfect time to make mozzarella cheese. If you have never eaten anything but plastic-encased, store-bought mozzarella, you’ll be surprised at the velvety, rich taste of homemade mozzarella. It’s surprisingly easy to make and doesn’t take much time, either.

Don’t you love it when someone says that something is easy to make? Well, it is easy if you use the right ingredients. The first batch of mozzarella I ever tried failed miserably. I followed the directions carefully, used a thermometer, did everything right, but the milk simply never clotted. I later read that ultrapasteurized milk won’t work for making cheese.

Dairies pasteurize milk in a number of ways. Sometimes they use high temperature (161° F) for a short amount of time (15 seconds), or low temperature (145° F) for a long time (30 minutes). They can also irradiate or use steam to pasteurize milk (and cream, too). However, the process known as ultrapasteurization requires heating the milk to 280° F for two seconds. Something about heating milk to such a high temperature changes the proteins and keeps the milk from clotting.

Before I tried my next batch of mozzarella cheese, I made a point to read the milk label carefully for any sign that the milk was ultrapasteurized. Some brands are proud of the fact and display the word “ultrapasteurized” prominently on their labels. I brought the gallon of milk home, put it through its paces, and failed again! What was going on? After a little research I discovered that the method of pasteurization is not necessarily listed on the label. I finally gave up and called the various dairies supplying milk to my local grocery store. Eberhard's Dairy (Redmond, Oregon) assured me that their milk was not ultrapasteurized. Guess what? I was able to make a beautiful batch of mozzarella using their milk. And it really was easy.

I’ve made mozzarella many times since, with consistently excellent results. So far, though, I have been unable to make mozzarella with any dried or powdered milk. But, I’m still experimenting. I’ll keep you updated as to my progress. Here’s my recipe for mozzarella.
Note: You don’t need any exotic equipment to make mozzarella, just a stainless steel or an enameled pot (at least 2 gallon capacity), a long-handled spoon, cheesecloth, a thermometer (important!), a colander and a large bowl. This recipe calls for citric acid (ascorbic acid won’t work) and for rennet tablets. I found the citric acid at the pharmacy and the rennet at the grocery store (on the baking aisle near the unflavored gelatin).

Mozzarella Cheese
2 teaspoons citric acid
½ cup of water
1 gallon milk (whole, 2% or skim, also see the note about milk, above)
½ tablet rennet
¼ cup water

  1. Place one gallon of milk into a large (at least 2 gallon) stainless steel pot.
  2. In a separate container (I use a 2-cup Pyrex cup), mix the citric acid and the water. When completely dissolved, add the citric acid mixture to the milk, stirring thoroughly to combine.
  3. Heat the milk to 90° F on medium to medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and avoid high heat, which will scorch the milk.
  4. When the milk reaches 90° F, remove the pan from the heat.
  5. In a separate container, dissolve the rennet in the water, stirring to combine.
  6. Pour the rennet into the milk mixture and stir thoroughly. Cover the pan with a lid or towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Check the pot. The milk should be starting to firm up and pulling away from the sides of the pan. The resting time of 15 minutes is not magic. Leaving the milk to rest longer will create even firmer curds.
  7. Using a long knife, cut the curds into squares (approximately 1” square) by moving the knife through the curds vertically and then diagonally. The curds will be soft.
  8. Return the pot to the burner and slowly heat to 105° F, stirring carefully so as to not to disturb the curds.
  9. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for at least five more minutes.
  10. Using a spoon, carefully remove the curds from the pot and place them in a colander you have lined with cheesecloth. Place a larger container under the colander to catch the whey that will begin to drain off. Save the whey to make ricotta cheese (I’ll talk more about that in another post).
  11. When you think all of the whey has drained away from the curds, press lightly on the curds. You’ll be surprised at how much more whey is present. Pour off any whey.
  12. Place the curds in a heat-proof bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to one minute. My microwave is particularly “hot” so 30 seconds does it. This heating will release even more whey from the curds.
  13. Repeat the heating and draining until the curds reach about 130-135° F. Do not overheat.
  14. Place the cheese on a cutting board and knead a few times. You’ll notice the cheese forms into a ball.
  15. Now lift the cheese and begin to stretch it in long ropes. This smoothes the cheese and also improves its elasticity.
  16. Form the cheese into a ball or into several small balls and place in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate until use. I usually add ½ teaspoon of salt to the cold water. This not only gives the cheese a little more flavor, but also serve as a preservative, helping it stay fresh longer.
  17. Your mozzarella is now ready to use.