Thursday, March 31, 2011

Secret Ingredient to a Moist Cake

It's potatoes! I know, I know, it sound ludicrous but I saw this article online the other day and just had to try it out. Guess what? It works! Potatoes have such a mild flavor that you can't even tell they're in there and the texture of the cake comes out moist, soft and scarfable.

Potato Chocolate Cake 1 cup hot mashed potatoes, not seasoned

1 cup lukewarm water

2/3 cup soft margarine

2 cups white sugar

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp) salt

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Icing sugar or icing

Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Prepare desired cake pan (3.5 l/9 by 13 inches rectangular or a tube pan) by lightly greasing, then dusting with flour or lining with wax paper.

Whisk water into well-mashed potatoes until a smooth mixture is formed. Let cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, beat margarine and sugar with electric mixer until combined. Add vanilla and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Add 2 of the eggs and beat until blended. Add remaining eggs. Beat at medium speed until blended.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir to combine. At low speed, add one-third of the sifted dry ingredients alternately with half the potato mixture to egg mixture until all is blended. Fold in chocolate chips.

Turn batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes for rectangular pan or 55 minutes for tube pan until cake springs back when pressed lightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool on rack. Sift icing sugar over cake or frost with icing of your choice.

Will store at room temperature for up to 3 days in airtight container. Freezes well.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Nutritional information per 1/16 cake (values have been rounded to nearest whole number): 330 calories; 4 g fat; 5 g protein; 52 g carbohydrates; 190 mg sodium.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I am Losing My Mind with Mindless Snacking

I'm not sure whether most of you know this but on most days of the week I work from the comfort of my home in Austin, TX. It's a great arrangement and seems to be going well except one thing: I can't stop eating!!! In the morning. In the late morning. Early afternoon. You get the point.

I'm not used to have access to all of my favorite snacks just a room away with nobody to give me the "Are you really eating that?" glare when I dip into the bag of pita chips and hummus for the fifth time in ten minutes.

I've been trying to chew sugarless gum lately, which seems to help. I also try to set specific snack times and not graze at any other point in the day.

What do you do to avoid snacking?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slumber Party French Toast

I've got my girlfriends from college coming to Austin this weekend for a girl's weekend and I couldn't be more excited. Is it Friday yet? I;m going to whip up this Slumber Party French Toast from the American Heart Association. Find this recipe and more at

Slumber Party French Toast
Recipe from the American Heart Association Kids' Cookbook

1/4 cup soft margarine spread

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Liquid egg substitute equal to two eggs

1/4 cup skim milk

6 1-inch thick slices French bread

1-2 Tbsp. powdered or confectioner’s sugar
Place margarine in baking pan or heat proof baking dish (9x13-inch). Place pan on burner. Turn heat to low. Heat margarine until melted.

Place brown sugar in small bowl. With fork, stir in cinnamon. Sprinkle mixture evenly over melted margarine in baking pan or dish.

Combine egg substitute and milk in glass pie plate. Mix with fork until blended.

With fingers or fork, dip bread slices into egg mixture to coat both sides. Lay slices over sugar-cinnamon mixture in baking pan or dish. Pour any remaining egg mixture over the bread slices.

Cover pan with foil and refrigerate overnight. Remove pan from refrigerator one hour before baking. Let stand on the kitchen counter to reach room temperature. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Carefully place toast in hot oven. Bake 25 minutes.

Using oven mitts, remove pan from oven to wire cooling rack. With oven mitts, carefully remove foil from pan. Return pan to hot oven. Bake for 15 minutes longer. Using oven mitts, remove pan to cooling rack.

Sprinkle French toast with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings (one slice per serving).

Nutrition Information:
Per Serving:
Calories 288
Fat (grams) 8
Cholesterol (mg) less than 1

Friday, March 11, 2011

Not Your Mother's Margarine


Today's Buttery Spread: Selection and Usage Not Your Mother's Margarine

Today's buttery spread case is full of more varieties than a typical ice cream parlor -- stick margarine, low-fat, squeeze, tub, 60 percent oil, etc. What will work best in a recipe calling for stick margarine or a soft margarine spread, or a favorite recipe ripe for conversion?

There is a whole new generation of margarine products on the market today designed to help consumers reduce fat and cholesterol in their diets. Like the traditional stick margarine consumers have used for decades, these products are vegetable oil-based, contain no cholesterol and have considerably less saturated fat than butter. And buttery spreads (soft margarine spreads) can be an important part of a low cholesterol diet.

It’s never too early and never too late to start eating healthy. Over time even small choices like the substitution of soft margarine spreads (“buttery spreads”) for butter can make a significant difference in overall health. In fact, soft margarine spreads have been proven to significantly reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol when used in place of butter, as part of a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels can result in dramatic improvements in heart-health over one's lifetime by reducing the risk of heart disease.

The risk of heart disease can be significantly reduced by adapting a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet which is low in total cholesterol and saturated fat. Choosing soft margarine spreads in place of butter can have a major impact: A typical buttery spread has no cholesterol, 0 grams of trans fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. In contrast, butter has 7 grams saturated fat and 30 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. In fact, a simple substitution such as using a soft margarine spread instead of butter over a week's time can cut an entire day's worth of saturated fat.

Buttery spreads – the soft (“tub”), squeeze and spray varieties – meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Food and Drug Administration and the federal government’s National Cholesterol Education Program as well as the American Heart Association all recommend choosing soft margarine spreads (buttery spreads) over butter.

Today’s healthful buttery spreads are not traditional margarines (not your mother’s margarine). In fact, most of what’s sold in the supermarket today is not traditional stick margarine -- it's a buttery spread (soft margarine spread). Buttery spreads are made from nutritious, natural vegetable oils; butter is made from animal fat.

Buttery spreads are used primarily for spreading on various breads (65%) and as a topping on a variety of foods (10%). However, 25 percent are used by consumers for cooking and baking. When cooking or baking with margarine products, consumers should understand that product oil levels vary and can often affect recipe results. To select the right stick margarine or buttery spread for various uses, it is important to understand the differences between them. The following descriptions should help.


With no other descriptors in the name (such as "light") must meet government guidelines ("standard of identity") for minimum fat content (80%). The same is true for butter. Unlike the products mentioned below, the percentage of oil is not found on margarine or butter packages because the standard of identity does not require it (similar to whole milk which does not show the percentage of fat on the container). One can tell if the product is traditional stick margarine by checking the Nutrition Facts: a one tablespoon serving will have 100 calories.

Stick margarine can be used in all recipes where "margarine" or butter is specified. The results will meet expectations, especially where baking is concerned. However, if margarine is labeled "light", "lower fat", "reduced fat", "reduced calorie/diet" or "fat-free", see the guidelines below before cooking and baking.

Vegetable Oil Spreads

Products that contain less than the 80 percent oil mandated by the government for margarine. The front of the package will often state the percentage of oil in the product (e.g., 70% vegetable oil spread).

Modified Margarines (now known as Buttery Spreads)

The result of recently implemented nutrition labeling regulations. These products can be called "margarine", but this identification must be preceded by one of the Food and Drug Administration's approved nutrient content claims. To qualify, the product must meet certain criteria:

Reduced-fat or reduced-calorie/diet margarine -- will contain no more than 60 percent oil (25% reduction in fat and calories)
Light/lower fat margarine -- will contain no more than 40 percent oil (50% or more reduction in fat)
Fat-free margarine -- virtually fat-free, will contain less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving
Regular/traditional margarine can be used in all recipes where margarine or butter is specified. The results will meet expectations, especially where baking is concerned. However, if margarine is labeled light, low-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free, or is called a vegetable oil spread, these guidelines should be followed for cooking and baking. You will want to check out the front of the package, which will often state the percentage of oil in the product (e.g., 70% vegetable oil spread, 26% corn oil). If a product is regular/traditional margarine, it will have 100 calories per tablespoon, and according to the government's standard of identity, the percentage of oil in regular margarine - 80% -- need not be listed on the package.

Using Traditional Margarine or Buttery Spreads in Recipes

The following guidelines should be helpful when selecting a margarine product for use in a favorite recipe. Keep in mind, however, that many recipes now available (especially on product packages) are designed for use with these lower oil buttery spreads (soft margarine spreads).

60 percent or more oil products can be used almost anywhere butter or "margarine" is specified. However, buttery spreads (e.g., reduced-fat, light) should not be used for baked goods that require precise amounts of fat and moisture, such as pastry crusts and spritz cookies (unless a recipe has been developed specifically for a particular buttery spread).
50-59 percent oil products also work well for most cooking, such as the preparation of side dishes and sautéing, in addition to topping and spreading.
49 percent or less oil products should be used only for spreading, topping and adding flavor to recipes that already contain a significant amount of moisture (e.g., macaroni and cheese). They are not designed for baking and frying.
Keep in mind this "rule of thumb" when selecting a margarine or buttery spread for cooking or baking:

The higher the oil content, the more fat there is in the product. While fat does add calories, it contributes texture and browning properties to foods.

The lower the oil content, the less fat there is in the product. This is critical to know when sautéing or baking, since products with the lower amount of fat do not perform in the same way as traditional stick margarine.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Is There a Lack Between Your Sleep Habits and Your Heart Health?

This article from "The Future of Things" is a great recap of a study on the links between sleep habits and heart health. It's an interesting topic for me because I typically get one or two nights of good sleep a week and the rest are either restless or I only sleep soundly for a few hours and then wake up wide awake.

Do you sleep soundly at night or do you have problems getting adequate rest?

Researchers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island discovered a link between sleeping habits and heart health in men. According to their study, men who get less sleep than the norm can develop a thickened carotid artery wall. This thickening, called intima-media thickening or IMT, is a known marker of heart disease. Interestingly, this correlation is gender-specific; lower than normal sleep in women does not have the same effect.

The study, led by Brown graduate student Megan Sands, monitored the sleep of over 600men and women between the ages of 37 and 52 located across the United States. The men in the study slept an average of 5.7 hours per night while the women slept an average of 6.3 hours.

The study also examined ultrasound tests for each participant, discovering that the men also tended to have thicker carotid artery walls than the women, 0.74 millimeters for the men versus 0.68 millimeters for the women. However, the major difference between men and women was what happened to the artery wall when subjects managed to achieve an extra hour of sleep: the carotid artery wall was 0.021 millimeters narrower on average in men while the difference for women was a mere 0.002 millimeters, negligible within the parameters of the test.

No causal link between the length of sleep and the carotid artery thickening has been reported at this time. Discovering the reason behind this phenomenon and why it only happens in men may lead to additional insight and information about the role of sleep in health and the causes of heart disease. In addition, these are preliminary results reported at a meeting of the American Heart Association and should not yet be accorded the same level of trust as studies that have been fully peer reviewed and published in a professional journal. That said, the preliminary result of a link between sleep and IMT in men seems sound.

TFOT previously reported on another study that examined the relationship between the amount of sleep we get and mortality rates over a period of 20 years. TFOT also reported on other research studies related to cardiovascular disease including the discovery of a protein that can reduce cell damage during heart attacks, the use of electric pulses to clear blocked arteries, a new medicine that helps patients adjust to stents and live a more active life once they've been implanted, and a new method for generating heart tissue and blood cells from skin cells.