Friday, February 12, 2010


Did you know that popcorn is actually a really good snack idea?  We eat tons of it around here.  Here is some info on the health benefits of popcorn:
     A new study carried out at the University of Scranton showed that popcorn has some surprising health benefits. Popcorn is high in antioxidants, most notably, polyphenols – a group of natural plant chemicals that have a variety of health benefits. Polyphenols are the same group of compounds that give red wine, tea, olive oil, and chocolate their beneficial properties. Not only do they scavenge free radicals and protect against cell damage, they’re being investigated for their anti-cancer properties and heart protective properties. In fact, the researchers found that the polyphenol content of good, old-fashioned popcorn rivals that of many fruits and vegetables.
     Another health benefit of popcorn? It’s a whole grain in the same league as oatmeal, barley, brown rice, and millet – grains that are known for their health benefits. All of these grains retain the bran and germ of the plant which is the source of most of the vitamins and minerals - in contrast to refined grains where these vitamin-rich components have been stripped away. Three cups of popcorn is equivalent to a single serving of a whole grain food. Popcorn is also a good source of fiber which helps to increase satiety and give a sense of fullness and satisfaction that lasts for hours. This can be helpful for weight control since popcorn without butter is low in calories.
Though popcorn is my snack of choice, I am really really REALLY against microwave popcorn.  Ok, so maybe I overstated that a bit but I just can't bring myself to buy it.  It's sooo overpriced, it's REALLY awful for you, and it makes your house smell like fake "popcorn scent" for days.   I know, my horse has gotten so high I just might hurt myself.  Really though,  here is some interesting info I found on another site about microwave popcorn:
      A report from the FDA indicates that a chemical coating used in microwave popcorn bags breaks down when heated into a substance called perfluorooctanoic (PFOA). The Environmental Protection Agency has identified PFOA as a “likely carcinogen.” Another study has found an acid that can be extracted from the chemical causes cancer in animals and is “likely to cause cancer in humans.”
       A second potential danger in microwave popcorn is diacetyl, an FDA-approved chemical found in the fake butter flavoring. There’s even a debilitating respiratory disease called “popcorn workers lung,” (the medical name of the condition is bronchiolitis obliterans) suffered by microwave popcorn factory workers caused by extended inhalation of the chemical’s fumes. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, (NIOSH) concluded that diacetyl needs further study so that workers in the flavorings and snack industry are no longer at risk

  And now that I've gotten you good and scared about eating it anymore let me tell you some other options.  First off, you can cook it in a little oil on your stovetop.  There's some instruction for that here.

Or did you know that you can make your own microwaveable popcorn with a cheap paper bag?  Click here to read more about that.

Or you can use my method of choice - the air popper.

We own a simple air popper that we got at the grocery store and we are totally happy with it.  Even though it's loud, here's what I like aboutit - I can make a serious amount of popcorn instead of the small amount I'd get in a bag.  I've got four boys so that is important to me.   Second, I can pour the popcorn in and walk away.  I don't have to worry about anything burning or scorching or being undercooked.  The popped kernels fly out and the old maids that take a little longer stay in until they're ready.  And lastly, it's a clean slate - I can add or not add oil, salt, or other flavorings.

Our favorite way to eat popcorn is to drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle some nutritional yeast flakes on and add a little salt.  Nutritional yeast is a heavy hitter when it comes to nutrition and it gives the popcorn a really good savory flavor that my kids go nuts for.   And for a sweet treat just like Kettle Corn but much healthier try drizzling on some maple syrup and a dash of salt.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recipe: Slow-cooker Black Beans & Rice

This morning as I was going through my options for dinner I knew I had a bag of black beans, knew I wanted to be able to throw them into a pot and forget about them, and knew I wanted to have a tasty (and cheap) dish for dinner.  So beans and rice it was.  I got this recipe by doing a quick search on the internet.  It was simple - I cut it all up and threw it in the crock pot and my kids loved it - my toddler ate two big bowls of it!  Not to mention it was all REAL food.  The recipe calls for canned tomatoes but  I used fresh partly because of this article and partly because I had a couple ripe romas sitting on my counter in need of eating.  And we ate it on white rice just because we were out of brown. But it would have been good on brown as well.

I got a new crock pot (or slow cooker) back in December and it has rejuvenated my desire to cook this way.  It makes it possible to make some really healthy soups, stews, and main dishes with very little work.  If you've got one you know what I'm talking about and if you don't - you're really missing out.

Here's the recipe:

1pound dried black beans (2 cups), sorted and rinsed
1large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1large bell pepper, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
5garlic cloves, finely chopped
2dried bay leaves
2cups diced tomatoes (from 28-oz can), undrained
5cups water
2tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
teaspoons ground cumin
2teaspoons finely chopped jalapeƱo chilies
1teaspoon salt
3cups hot cooked rice

1. Mix all ingredients except rice in 3 1/2- to 6-quart slow cooker.

2. Cover and cook on high heat setting 6 to 8 hours or until beans are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove bay leaves.

3. Serve beans over rice. We added lime and cilantro to really make it authentic. Easy, healthy, yummy!
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