High Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

Yeah, you read that headline right – there’s mercury in high fructose corn syrup.  Not in all HFCS, but in at least some.  It apparently depends on the type of caustic soda used in the processing of the corn.  Sounds yummy, yes?

We already know of the possible links between HFCS and obesity, insulin resistance, and (eventually) diabetes, and that we should consume it in moderation, if at all.  (Studies here, here, and here, just to name a few.)

Now, with mercury possibly contaminating a large percentage of our processed foods, moderation is no longer enough. There is no truly safe limit of mercury exposure, especially in pregnant women or children. We are already exposed to it in fish, meats, and vegetables (due to bioaccumulation) – we shouldn’t also consume it in every cracker, slice of bread, or can of soda.

The study that found the mercury (abstract and full PDF, for free, here) estimates that that potential average daily mercury exposure from HFCS could range from zero to 28.4 micrograms mercury.

To put that number in perspective, the researchers point out that Canada and other countries do not recommend the use of dental amalgam, a common source of mercury exposure, in pregnant women or children.  Dental amalgam exposure ranges, on average, from 0.79 to 1.91 micrograms of mercury.  The possible exposure from HFCS is 14 times that.

Our food system is slowly killing us.

Next time you want to pour a bowl of cereal with HFCS for breakfast or crack open a soda with lunch, why not lick a broken thermometer too?

Check your pantry and get rid of HFCS. It’s in more items than you might realize. The government won’t act quickly or on our behalf – the industry lobbies are too strong and the FDA too incompetent. (They have long insisted that HFCS is “natural”.)  But if we stop buying it, manufacturers will stop putting it in everything.



How To Make Challah: this shiksa’s favorite bread

I married into a Jewish family and was quickly introduced to their traditional foods. Many of them are just not for me. Gefilte fish I can definitely live without. (I can’t understand why anyone would grind fish into a goopy mess.) Matzo will never be something I eat outside of Passover; I think you must grow up with it and feel connected to it to appreciate the severe blandness. Otherwise it’s just a heavy saltine without the salt. (A ‘tine?) No matter, though, as matzo is not about culinary creation – it’s about necessity, tradition, and remembrance.  That part I get.

Some traditional Jewish foods have become great pleasures that I crave, like latkes with sour cream, matzo ball soup, and golden loaves of Challah. In it’s long history, challah has been an important part of Sabbath and holiday meals but it is simply a fantastic bread, regardless of why you might chose to eat it.

Challah is an egg dough, sweetened with honey and rich with fat. It is similar to brioche but with the major difference that challah is made with oil, not butter, in order for it to be parve, or neutral according to the kosher law of keeping dairy and meat separate within meals.

My version is not strictly traditional – it’s sweeter than most and more dense – but a good Jewish boy marrying a Gentile girl from the South already did us in on that front. The honey gives the crust a deep golden hue, the eggs and oil give a satisfying texture, and the sesame seeds are fragrant when baked. The interior crumb makes a perfect sandwich bread with enough structure for slicing but still retaining some of the flaky pull-apart-ness of lighter, more traditional versions.  The flakiness is most apparent when toasted and buttered; you can pull the strands apart with your fingers. We pick apart slabs of challah toast for breakfast, often with raspberry jam.

This recipe makes a gigantic loaf of challah. You could easily divide the dough in sixths instead of thirds before braiding if you want two smaller loaves.  I prefer the huge slices from one big loaf and the ease of braiding once, not twice. Besides, my husband would kill me if I gave any away so there’s no need for two loaves in my house.

If your conscience allows, toasted slices of challah make outstanding B.L.T.’s with the honey’s sweetness playing off the smoky bacon. Sacreligious but heavenly.

If you manage to have any go stale, it also makes fantastic French toast.

A rich, tender egg dough sweetened with honey and formed into a golden braid. You can leave the sesame seeds out (or substitute poppy seeds), but they add great flavor when toasted.

1 (0.25 oz) packet active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp.)
1 cup warm water (110-120F)
1 tbs. sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup honey
3 eggs
2 tsp. kosher salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white plus 1 Tbs. water, for egg wash
sesame seeds, for sprinkling, optional

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. It should become foamy, proving your yeast is alive.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment: Beat together oil, honey, eggs, and salt. Add yeast mixture, mixing well. Add four cups of flour and beat until smooth. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Switch to the dough hook after 5 (total) cups of flour have been added. When the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl, knead on low speed 5 minutes.

Place dough on a floured surface. Knead lightly by hand to help dough pull together completely, using a little more flour if needed, until smooth and elastic.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Flip the dough so that the newly-upright side is lightly oiled from contact with the bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place, 1 hour.  The dough will not double.

Punch down (deflate) dough on your floured surface. (Literally punch and hit the dough to release trapped air.) Divide into 3 equal pieces.   Lightly hand-roll the sections into long, thick strands, 12-13 inches long. Braid and tuck ends under. Place diagonally on a baking sheet (preferably one with a lip around the edge to catch seeds later) lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rise 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350F. Lightly beat together egg white and water. Brush loaf with the egg wash, then sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Bread is done with it sounds hollow when thumped or an instant-read thermometer reads 190-200F internal.


5 Ways to Eat Better in the New Year — Without Superpowers

We are constantly reminded to make a million better food choices: No fast food, no processed food, low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie, eat local, buy organic, five servings of veg a day, less meat, more raw.

On top of that, you’re supposed to exercise more, dress better, be a better parent, “take time for you”, advance your career, and basically be a superhuman all the time.

A person cannot do all these things. And yet, with New Year’s resolutions, we’re all going to try!

Many of us will make broad declarations to give up red meat, quit bread altogether, or munch only on carrots for the rest of eternity. But how many times have you managed to actually keep these resolutions beyond a few weeks?

This year, focus on easy changes that might actually stick with you past January. Even small changes can make a drastic improvement to your diet if they become good long-term habits.

Here are 5 simple ways to eat better now, without superpowers:

1.  Read the labels of the five foods you eat most often. Throw out and stop buying the most appalling one. Replace it with a healthier food.  Do this occasionally.

2.  At a restaurant, place your napkin over your food when you’re full. You won’t mindlessly pick at the remaining food and the waiter will take it away, saving you from yourself.

3.  Stop drinking soda. Start drinking water, tea, or small amounts of fruit juice mixed with carbonated water. You will eliminate a lot of calories (or fake sugar) and loads of chemicals.

4.  Trade your 200-500 calorie Starbucks sugar bomb for a drip coffee with a tablespoon of half-and-half and a teaspoon of sugar.  The real cream and sugar will only add up to 40 calories.

5.  Buy the best produce you can and display it on a nice platter or cake stand on your kitchen island. Hide all visible junk food in the pantry. You’ll eat and cook what you see, and you’ll have to look the fresh veg in the face before ordering pizza.

Don’t stress out about magically changing your entire diet on Jan. 1. You know big changes like that rarely stick anyway. Small, incremental changes might actually be lasting changes.

I’d love to hear more suggestions.  Please comment!


18 Perfect Gifts for a Cook

When Santa came to my house as a child, my siblings and I would line up, youngest to oldest in the hallway leading to the family room, unable to see the toys until given the official OK from our sleepy parents. I, the youngest, would be in the lead, and would tiptoe forward in anticipation, one little step at a time, stretching out the suspense until I could take it no more and finally would rush around the corner to see the piles of toys. Santa didn’t wrap presents in our house; we would be immediately greeted by the toys of our dreams. I clearly remember the time I found my Little Tikes kitchen set. It was taller than me and didn’t seem like a toy but like my own real little kitchen.

Of course, I now know why the youngest took the lead – my big brother and sister knew there was no Santa. They put on a good show.

Now that I’m pushing 30, I feel like Santa is tiptoeing down the hall, sneaking up on me. How am I supposed to finish December’s work and year-end accounting and decorate the house and bake cookies and buy thoughtful presents for everyone?

Christmas still has its magic, though. Mom and I have our little projects together. We trim a fake tree with the tackiest decorations we can find. It’s ghetto-fab meets Dollar General. Those ornaments are so full of Chinese lead paint that our Tannenbaum is probably (definitely) a health hazard. The lights even blink erratically. I’ve suggested adding some pine tree car air fresheners to push us over the top.

Gift giving, too, has its moments. Christmas is overly commercial and may fuel some of our worst materialistic tendencies, but thinking deeply about what a loved one might want or find useful reminds us of our connections to each other. Sometimes we even learn more about others just by asking about their wish lists– I didn’t know my nephew liked to draw until I heard that he wanted art supplies.

Still, the pressure is on to shop for everyone, do it thoughtfully, and manage to finish in time.

This time of year I always compile a list of great gifts for cooks, to share with my customers who might need some help shopping. I pick these items for their quality and usability. Some might seem boring, like sheet pans and parchment paper, but a serious home baker will appreciate the genuine usefulness of these items far more than the latest gadget.

(FYI: I receive no compensation of any sort to recommend these items.  These are tools that I actually use.)



Vollrath baking sheets 13×18.The industry standard.Will not warp (no bending when it gets hot in the oven or cold on a counter.).Will last a lifetime. Will not have hot spots that burn.And, as a bonus, will fit the parchment paper listed below.Even if someone has a baking sheet already, having a number of them is quite useful for making multiple batches of cookies, etc.

Pre-cut parchment paper.To fit the Vollrath pans.Most grocery stores only carry parchment that comes on a roll, which is a pain to cut to size.These are so easy to use since they fit the pans perfectly and lie flat.A home baker will love this.Also available in larger quantities (and lower price per sheet) at local restaurant supply stores.

Granite French-style rolling pin for pastry.Granite can be pre-chilled, which helps keep the butter in the pastry cold. The heavy weight also helps reduce the amount of muscle power needed.

Silicone pastry rolling mat.Great for rolling pastry, kneading bread, etc.Nothing will stick to it.Eliminates the fear of a pie crust being ruined when it sticks to the counter.

Granite mortar and pestle.The granite gives it weight, which is especially good for cracking whole spices.Essential for Asian cooking where aromatic ingredients are often crushed into a paste.Also great for making salad dressings with herbs, garlic, ginger, or spices. 

Cherry Pitter.Most gadgets are for tasks better done with a knife, but this is an exception.There is no quicker way to pit fresh cherries. It’s also really fun to use.

8” Mighty Santoku MAC knife. Item # MSK-60 and Rollsharp Sharpener # SR-2. Fantastic quality for the price.If you use the recommended ceramic roller sharpener, this knife will stay razor sharp for years with very little effort.A perfect all-purpose knife.I use this knife for 95% of my work in the kitchen.

Fun Spices, Flavorings, and Foods:


Smoked Paprika. Paprika’s sensual Spanish side.Adds huge flavor; a little goes a long way. Makes a great spice rub for meats and vegetables.

Porcini powder.Can be used as an easy rub for steaks.A great addition to cream sauces or soups.

Smoked Sea Salt. Perfect for people who use any method of indoor grilling. Imparts a natural smoky flavor to meats, vegetables, etc.

Real Vanilla Beans.An expensive item that is prized for making the best custards, puddings, and ice cream. This is the kind of thing that many people won’t splurge on to buy for themselves.Good news:a little goes a long way.

Bacon-Of-The-Month from The Grateful Palate.My husband got me this last year and it’s been fabulous.Good clean, pork flavors with natural smoke from small producers.Varying cuts of pork and different cures.Perfect gift for a BLT lover.


Any cookbook by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.These books are coffee-table gorgeous and really fun to read. My favorite cookbooks of all.Instant inspiration.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

Beyond the Great Wall

Mangoes and Curry Leaves

Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World

The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidell. It’s an encyclopedia of meat that teaches the basics of cuts, grades, and cooking methods.It also includes a good number of recipes but its real value is as a handy reference for novices and pros alike.

The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. Full of fun ideas that stress flexibility in the kitchen without being intimidating.Good for novices or experienced cooks.