Monday, April 16, 2012

Living the NOT so Sweet Life…Kicking the Splenda Habit

My husband decided to quit coffee! Well, that’s just CRAZY talk! As his caffeine enabler, I was mighty upset when he ditched the happy juice…and he did it on vacation! It wasn’t a purposeful act, mind you.  He just wasn’t in the mood for coffee in the a.m.  I, however, was giddy with anticipation that the resort we stayed in had a Starbucks in the lobby.  Holy coffee beans Batman, a Starbucks store right in the lobby! Well, that’s just genius and I gladly shelled out the $2.07 for a tall blonde cup o’ Joe.  We won’t talk about the fact that a tall cup of Starbucks only costs $1.87 back home, however, I more than made up for the difference with my collection of plastic spoons (the kids ate yogurt and oatmeal in the room) Splenda hoarding, and a few packets of honey.  I digress.

The hubby didn’t feel like coffee, therefore, ever the martyr, I had to go it alone. Each morning I made the arduous journey from the 7th floor in the elevator, through the freezing hotel hallway to stand on line outside the mini Starbucks amongst businessmen, anxious to get to their rounds of golf. Did I mention we spent vacation at a premier PGA Marriot golf resort with it’s own cabana beach club?  Reward points are great!

So, by day four of vacation, the hubby doesn’t feel well. It dawns on us that …wait for it….he is having withdrawal symptoms. Aches, headaches, lethargy, you get it…DETOX.  However, he ventures on and while we are deliberating what this awful melee of symptoms can possibly be, we begin calculating that not only is he de-toxing from coffee but SPLENDA as well.  I accidentally took a sip of his coffee once, and spit it out because it was soooo sweet. Sickly sweet, too much Splenda sweet. That’s because he typically puts four in at once.  That’s assuming he only drinks one cup..., which he doesn’t. That’s not even including the diet soda, or iced tea on business trips (which are quite frequent), and let’s not forget the Splenda consumption through protein bars and other assorted foods where it lurks….check your Thomas’s Whole Wheat English muffins…Sucralose, just a scientific term for SPLENDA.

So, we estimated that he was consuming roughly 30-45 packets of Splenda PER DAY! The lab mice would have dropped dead at 20 packets.  So, he quit.  It was cold turkey.  Nonetheless, a miraculous thing happened. Something I told him would happen, but like all husbands, they never believe us.  He lost weight without even trying.  Now, it wasn’t an astonishing number by any means. He won’t be gracing the cover of Men’s Fitness any time soon, but it was just enough to get him over the stall. The point where your body just refuses to give up any weight no matter what you do.

I being a virtuous eater didn’t think I needed to give up my beloved Splenda, as I only use one packet a day (she says smugly).  Then the husband reminds me that “sometimes you use two, depending on the strength of the brew, not to mention (he says a bit too gleefully) you drink more on the weekends.” Hmmm, I needed to ponder this.  I didn’t like the fact, that I was being a hypocrite.  At the end of the week, I was roughly consuming 10-12 packets. HMMMMM.  I figured I had a choice. Give up coffee (which would necessitate giving up Splenda), or just give up the white stuff. 

I briefly deliberated kicking the juice….oh my god, what am I thinking? GIVE UP THE JUICE? It’s my morning salvation, the liquid of champions, the nectar of the gods, my life-affirming brew! NO WAY!  But, I did give up Splenda…and I was miserable. I couldn’t get the right sweetness proportion. I tried Stevia, real sugar (which required multiple packets-kind of defeating the whole health aspect) and Agave Nectar.  I tried extracts, cinnamon, even an extract cinnamon combo until I finally settled on a teaspoon of honey. Whatever.  I suppose I will have to get used to it.

Anyway, I have been living the not so sweet life these past few days along with a recently adopted lower carb diet since Passover (the eight-day carb fest) passed over.  I have gotten past the point of misery.  Though, the hoarded yellow packets from every Dunkin Donuts, and Panera across the United States, taunt me each time I open the cupboard. I suppose, I should throw them out, but their siren call is still so strong, luring me back to my bad habit. I shut the door, take a deep breath, I walk away.  Perhaps, it’s the lack of carbs that cloud my judgment.

At the end of the day, I am glad that my husband and I  are trying to conquer our chemical cravings and I hope that in the long run, giving the iconic yellow packets the old heave ho will truly reward us with a sweet life.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rustic Matzah Pizza

Hello, my fellow Passover sufferers.  We have exactly nine more Passover meals (not including any ancillary snacks) to go.  We are in the home stretch, the happy hump of day of Passover, almost at the end, you look in your closets, and you realize, “Wow, I sure bought a lot of matzo meal!”  Sometimes, we panic purchase, thinking we are going to bake, or cook, or create something on Passover that will be revolutionary!  Perhaps we just buy too much and wind up throwing it away or saving it for next year, hoping it won’t taste any worse than when it was fresh. 

Quite frankly, I still have a sealed jar of gefilte fish in a cabinet that I am embarrassed to say was purchased when Unit #2 was still in diapers (he is seven now).  Can hermetically sealed gefilte fish even last that long? Ah, the thought probing questions of life, like, if a tree falls in a forest, can anyone hear it?  Well can they?

Alas, I opened my closet and realized I too had an abundance of matzo meal and cake meal, so I got to work.  My latest invention is the Rustic Matzah Pizza.  Yes, rustic. That’s a nice word for it doesn’t look like professional pizza, or even taste like it.  However, in the scheme of Passover where slapping on sauce and cheese on a piece of matzah, melting it and insultingly calling it pizza, rustic pizza is a nice change.

Now, this recipe comes with a warning. If you think this is going to taste like New York, Chicago, Papa Johns, or gourmet style pizza, then your taste buds will be sadly mistaken. However, if you are so sick and tired of matzah, gefilte fish, and leftovers, then your taste buds will be much more accepting. It’s better to set your expectations a little lower, I say, and then no one gets hurt. The crust is crunchy, dense and chewy all at the same time.

It’s easy, takes hardly any time and it’s egg free.  While most of my recipes are dairy free as well, this one does contain cheese.  If you want to make it dairy free, use grilled veggies in lieu of the cheese.  I also made a makeshift tomato sauce, since I cannot stand the Passover marinara.  I have included that in the recipe as well, though, the measurements were really to taste, but you will get the idea. I am still working on perfecting this one. So, if you are game, and ready for a change, try it and let me know your thoughts.

Rustic (I use the term loosely) Matzah Pizza

Crust Ingredients

2 cups matzo meal

½-cup cake meal

1 tsp. salt

2 TBSP starch diluted with 1-2 TBSP water

1-cup warm water

2 TBSP olive oil

1-cup mozzarella cheese shredded 

Sauce Ingredients

1 6 oz can of tomato paste

1 TBSP of honey



Onion Powder

Large handful of chopped parsley (great way to get rid of the extra from Seder)

½ of water


You can make this in the food processor and process until it becomes a ball, or you can mix all the ingredients with a spoon and then by hand. I used my hands just because I didn’t feel like washing out my food processor AGAIN!

Roll into a ball. 

Divide into 4-5 individual pizzas.  It’s hard to make this one big pizza as the dough cracks.  I like the individual pizzas because everyone likes to have their own toppings sometimes.  Keep the unused dough under a slightly wet paper towel while you are working to prevent it from drying out.

Flatten each ball in a circle, pressing down all the sides until flattened (as best you can).  You may have to press a bit with your fingers and the edges won’t be perfect. If you have a rolling pin, you can use that as well.

Bake the crusts for 8-10 minutes at 425 until crunchy on edges.

While you bake the crusts, you can work on the sauce (of course, you can use the jar, I won’t tell).

(For the sauce, just heat all the ingredients in a small pot and stir.  If it’s too thick, add a little more water. I didn’t give any measurements for the spices, as they were to taste. I like a lot of onion powder and the fresh parsley really makes it great!)

When the crusts are done, let them cool for about 5 minutes or so.

Spread the sauce in a thin circle.

Sprinkle about ¼ cup of cheese (if you have parmesan you can add that too)

Bake for about 10 minutes in a hot 425 oven

Voila….Rustic Matzah Pizza.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The BEST Passover Choco Chip Allergy Free Cookies

Hello to all of those who are celebrating the eight days of affliction…sorry, I mean Passover. As most of you know, Passover is my least favorite holiday because of all the food restrictions in our house.  There’s egg and nut allergies which we all know are the cornerstone of Passover cooking, not to mention that my daughter doesn’t eat meat.  Since we don’t eat rice, soy or beans on Passover, she is now pretty limited, which is why under strict supervision and visceral protocol, I allow eggs in the house.  We have learned to cope with it, though it feels a bit weird.

I had all but given up on Passover baking.  There was a time where I would create huge platters of mouth watering goodies for seders, but, alas, I just didn’tknow how to do it without eggs, so I stuck to basic recipes like melting chocolate and mixing farfel and raisins into it and plopping them on a baking sheet to freeze.  They were tasty but hardly impressive.

This year I found myself buying a cake mix or two. Since they only required one or two eggs, I figured I could just replace the eggs with applesauce, the results were acceptable, but the ingredients on the box were quite disturbing.  I just couldn’t serve my kids all those fake …so back to the kitchen in an effort to create something that had minimal ingredients that I could actually pronounce.

I came up with an awesome choco chip cooke that has no dairy, eggs or nuts, and actually tastes like a REAL chocolate chip cookie. So, my Passover allergy suffererers (or just Passover sufferers), you can eat a cookie with real ingredients that actually tastes good.  Enjoy. 

Passover Choco Chip Cookies

1/3 cup oil ( I used safflower)

½ cup brown sugar ( these cookies were a bit sweet for me, you can probably lower the amount of the sugar)

½ cup sugar ( I used organic sugar crystals, they are less processed and kosher for Passover)

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 TBSP vanilla

5/8 cup cake meal (it’s easier to think of this as ½ cup and another 1/8 cup)

5/8 cup potato starch

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup mini choco chips (they now make them KP). You can use large if you like, or more, it’s up to you.

Preheat oven to 350.

Line pans with parchment paper

Makes 2 dozen

Combine in a large bowl the oil, sugar, applesauce and vanilla and beat with a whisk really well.  This is an improtant process as it creates the lift you need for the cookies.

Combine the cake meal, starch, salt and baking soda and mix together with a wire whisk.

Pour dry into the wet ingredients and mix together. If the dough appears a little sticky you can add a little more cake meal, but not to much.

Add chocolate chips and incorporate with your hands until they are evenly distributed.

 Put in the freezer for a few minutes to harden.

Place on baking sheets ( I used a TBSP as a scoop but only filled it halfway). You can make them larger, but they come out better as normal sized cookies.

Press cookies down with your fingers.

Bake for 12-14 minutes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In Pursuit of the Vegan Matzo Ball

This is an article I wrote two years ago that was published in the Baltimore Jewish Times.  Since Passover is only two days away, I figured it was a great time to post it again. Enjoy!