5 Tips for Making Fresh Pasta from Scratch

If you have a free Friday evening at home, I highly recommend having a fresh pasta date, either with a significant other or a few of your girlfriends. This past weekend the hubs and I opened a bottle of red, turned on some music and made our first ever pasta from scratch.

5 Tips for Making Homemade Pasta

The whole process is actually quite simple, but if you’ve never done it before, I’ll warn you–there’s definitely a learning curve. There were for sure some stressful moments in our kitchen last Friday night as we tried to figure out who held what end of the dough as it slid through the machine and then trying to peel apart several stuck sheets after failing to adequately flour them.

If you get hangry like I do, I highly recommend snacking on an appetizer and sipping wine while you work. We made the mistake of only having the latter which, on an empty stomach, probably only added to the confusion in the kitchen. We sure did have a good time though!

5 Tips for Making Homemade Pasta

I was pleasantly surprised to find that pasta dough isn’t the slightest bit fussy, unlike its notoriously challenging cousins, pastry and bread dough. This simple recipe, made with just flour, egg and salt, came together in under 10 minutes, kneading included, and practically slid through the pasta machine. As if homemade pasta weren’t already amazing, the eggs in this recipe add high-quality protein, Vitamin D and B12 to your noodles, which is more nutrition than most boxed varieties offer.

We followed the step-by-step directions and let our stand-mixer to do most of the work. If you don’t have a stand mixer and the pasta attachments, you can get a manual roller for less than the price of two pasta dishes at a fancy restaurant, or do it the old-fashioned way. Both will work your biceps–and lets be honest, meals always taste better when you’ve worked for them.

After working out a few kinks, the hubs and I were rolling. Literally. Three-quarters of a bottle of wine later we had more fresh pasta than we could eat. If you’ve never seen me take down a big bowl of carbs, let me just tell you–that’s a lot of fettuccini.

I’m certainly no homemade pasta pro after just one time but I do have some tips for the true beginners out there:

1. Don’t skimp on the flour when you’re rolling and cutting your dough.

Use these photos as a guide. If you feel like you’re overdoing it, it’s probably just right.

2. Divide rolled pasta sheets and uncooked noodles into several small piles while you work.

If you don’t, the weight of the dough piled on top of itself will most likely lead to a stuck-together mess regardless of the amount of flour you’ve used.

3. Use fresh eggs.

Watery whites and flattish yolks will affect the integrity of your pasta dough and you don’t want your hard work to go to waste.

4. Don’t be afraid to let your pasta dry a little bit while you work.

It’ll bounce back the moment you cook it! I was paranoid all would be lost and nagged my husband to cover the piles of pasta probably one too many times. Sorry, dear.

5. Practice a couple of times before hosting a homemade pasta party for a group.

You’ll be far less frazzled and probably twice as fast the second and third time around!

Thank you to the American Egg Board and the Good Egg Project for sponsoring today’s delicious post. Happy pasta-making!

5 Totally Yummy Sweaters for Fall

Every September I get the urge to chop 3 inches off my hair and buy every cozy sweater, chunky knit and fleecy pullover in sight. This year is no exception.

My awesome stylist Dee Dee took care of my unwieldy, summer-weathered mane the other week but I’ve just been too busy with work to even think about transitioning to and updating my fall wardrobe. Lucky for me the weather here in San Francisco has been pretty phenomenal so it hasn’t actually felt like sweater season just yet, despite the smell of pumpkin spice lattes on every corner.

Well, I snuck in a little online shopping over the weekend and stumbled upon several cozy-looking numbers. Here are 5 favorites I have my eye on:

1

Cozy Pullover – $128

Paired with this awesome denim vest OR this less expensive but great alternative.

If you had to choose only one: Pumpkin spice lattes or sweaters + boots?

Easy Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix

This delicious post is sponsored by California Raisins through my collaboration with the Healthy Aperture Blogger Network. I was compensated for my time but my love for raisins is real. Enjoy!

Easy Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix 1

Easy Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix 3

An all natural, dried-by-the-sun fruit, raisins were a sweet snack my mom and I both could agree on when I was a kid. For that reason, they frequently made their way into my school lunchbox as a kid.

Back then I preferred my raisins solo or stuck into a peanut butter-filled celery stick, but over the years I’ve discovered raisins are not just a healthy, on-the-go or after school snack. As an adult, I love the natural sweetness raisins add not just to oatmeal cookies, but to spicy chutneys and warm bowls of oatmeal in the morning too.

Especially on chilly, fall mornings like today.

To celebrate the official change of seasons (and because it’s getting noticeably harder to drag myself out of bed in the morning) I created this delicious Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix over the weekend. Because of this, I’m now able to max out my “snooze” time under the covers before my early morning workouts.

Easy Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix 4

Inspired by sugar-laden instant oatmeal mixes that never really seem to satisfy, this homemade version is packed with old-fashioned oats, nuts, spices and raisins, my dried fruit of choice. Raisins are free of fat, cholesterol and added sugars, and as the most economical dried fruit, they’re also a great value, making them the perfect, sweet addition to this all-natural oatmeal mix recipe.

A little bit of milk (or water) and a few minutes in the microwave is all it takes to whip up this filling, nutritious bowl of oats. I like mine on the chewier side with just a drizzle of honey but they’re just as good creamy, too.

Easy Raisin Spice Oatmeal Mix 6

This recipe is a morning-maker for sure, but it also makes a pretty darn good afternoon snack. You know, on those days you decide to have a salad for lunch (always a good idea in theory…) or when the kids come home from school completely and utterly ravenous. Having this mix on hand could also be an afternoon-saver because one, if not both of those scenarios, are bound to happen to eventually.

Oatmeal: Do you prefer yours creamy or on the chewier side too? Favorite add-ins?

My Organic Story

Zucchini

I’ll be honest. Back in the days when I associated the word “organic” with my least favorite chemistry class, what actually went into growing and producing the foods that I ate was not of much concern. Even when I was just out of college and living on an entry-level salary, I mostly stuck to the grocery stores that had the best bargains. Not surprisingly, organic foods rarely made an appearance in my shopping cart.

But back then the number of organic foods on supermarket shelves was a fraction of what it is today. They were  difficult to find outside of specialty food stores, not to mention three times the price. Gradually organic foods began appearing in my grocery store too though–produce, dairy, bread, cereals. But because they cost significantly more, organic foods weren’t really on my radar until Trader Joe’s, a grocery store known for offering organic produce and products at affordable prices, opened close to my North Carolina apartment back in 2007.

Coincidentally enough, it was around that time that I decided to change careers entirely and pursue my true passion for food and nutrition. As part of this journey, I quickly realized food is so much more than fuel. The food we eat not only nourishes every living cell in our body but also becomes a part of us. Once I made this connection, organic foods seemed to make their way into my shopping cart more frequently than they ever had before. Suddenly, committing a little more of my budget to organic foods seemed like a good investment in my health.

What first appealed to me about organic foods had more to do with my personal health and wanting to minimize my exposure to chemicals and GMOs. But as the visibility, availability and affordability of organic foods grew around me, so did my awareness of two other big-time benefits of eating organic: protecting and improving the health of our environment and our animals. Michael Pollan taught me a lot about that.

If there’s one word to describe my organic story today it’s “evolving”. My diet certainly isn’t all-organic, all-the-time (and most likely never will be as long as non-organic foods exist) but I’m fortunate to live in a place where these foods are abundant and more affordable thanks to local farmer’s markets and certain grocery stores. For these reasons, I tend to choose organic when I can.

I’m not the only one either. The number of Americans who regularly eat organic foods has nearly doubled over the past ten years and the food industry is starting to get the message. Take Kashi for example: As one of the nation’s largest natural and organic food companies, they’ve increased their use of organic ingredients seven-fold since 2002 and are now the largest provider of Non-GMO Project Verified cereals in the U.S.. They’ve committed to making a positive impact in our food supply because they understand that what we eat matters. You and I already know that, but I’m happy to see that food manufacturers are starting to realize that as well.

I’m guessing my organic story is similar to a lot of others. What initially began as an effort to protect my own health grew into something much bigger–a conscious choice to also support the health of our surroundings and our food supply. We have a ways to go before we live in a place where plants aren’t genetically modified or sprayed with chemicals, where our animals aren’t pumped full of hormones and fed mass quantities of antibiotics, and where our precious natural resources aren’t turned into fertilizer, but it certainly feels like we’re moving in the right direction.

A special thanks to Kashi for sponsoring today’s post and letting me share my organic story with you. I’d love to hear a little bit about yours below!

Debunking Yet Another Low-carb Claim

IMG_0177 If you pay any attention to nutrition headlines, you’ve most likely come across numerous articles this week that, once again, proclaim low-carb the king of weight loss diets. The low-carb vs. low-fat debate has been going on for nearly two decades now–you’d think the media would be tired of this topic by now, right?

Don’t we all wish.

Not surprisingly, most journalists did what they normally do when they see any sort of diet-related headline. They skimmed the abstract and got writing.

After taking a closer look at the study myself, it was obvious they missed several important pieces of information–the most obvious ones I’ve highlighted below.

Before we get to those, here’s a little background on the study:

The purpose of the experiment was to compare the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet with a low-fat diet both on body weight and heart health.

The 150 racially-diverse participants, all of whom were obese, were randomly divided into 2 groups: a low-carb group and a low-fat group. The low-carb group was directed to eat 40 grams or less of carbohydrates per day (I almost certainly would have died by dinnertime on Day 1) while the low-fat group was told to take in less than 30% of their calories from fat, which aligns with the current Dietary Guidelines. The participants were not given calorie goals to adhere to however the two groups had comparable average calorie intake at the end of the trial.

If you just scan the abstract (as most journalists did) the weight loss results seem pretty clear. After 12 months, participants following the low-carb diet saw significant decreases in weight loss, body fat, and certain markers associated with cardiovascular risk compared to those on the low-fat diet.

Don’t start counting out your 40 grams of daily carbs just yet though.

Check out what wasn’t included in the abstract:

1. The low-carb diets weren’t nearly as low-carb as you think.

The low-carb dieters were instructed to eat less than 40 grams of carbs per day; however, the average carb intake for the entire group ranged from 93 grams per day at the six month mark to 127 grams at 12 months, over 300% more carbs than the target amount assigned at the beginning of the study. Not only does 127 grams per day barely classify as a low-carb diet, it also leaves me wondering about the sustainability of a 40 gram carbohydrate diet.

2. The study participants had an unfair advantage.

Both groups received either meal replacement bars or shakes and routine counseling from a nutritionist for the duration of the study. Awesome for the participants but not everyone trying to lose weight has access to these same benefits. Because of this, the applicability of this study to the general population is automatically lessened.

3. Participants in the low-carb group ate significantly more protein.

Not surprisingly, something had to take the place of all those carbs, and protein seemed to fill the void. Protein has been shown to have a positive impact on fat loss by increasing satiety and maintaining calorie-burning muscle… thus, it’s impossible to tell whether the greater fat loss in the low-carb group was due to cutting carbs, eating more protein, or some other factor that wasn’t accounted for.

4. The trial didn’t use the best method for measuring fat loss.

Researchers essentially used a fancy bathroom scale that measures body fat using bioelectrical impedance, which works by measuring total body water. Accuracy issues aside, low-carb diets notoriously reduce water weight quickly which, in this case, was likely misinterpreted as additional fat loss.

Researchers also tracked changes in waist circumference, the next best measurement of fat loss in this situation, however the ultimate differences between the two groups in this area were negligible. The low-carb group had smaller waists than the low-fat group for the first half of the study but both groups had similar decreases in waist circumference at the conclusion of the trial. Based on waist circumference measurements, it’s hard to support the claim that low-carb diets are superior for longer-term fat loss.

So WTH does this all mean?

As it turns out, the study doesn’t actually prove that low-carb diets lead to greater weight loss compared to low-fat diets. Instead, it shows consuming fewer carbohydrates may increase protein consumption, and something about that combination seems to enhance weight loss—however, the cause is not yet clear.

What is clear is that adhering to a diet of 40 grams of carbohydrate per day for any amount of time is pretty damn hard, even with low-carb meal supplements and nutrition counseling.

On the upside, the results from this study hint that a lower carb intake paired with higher protein consumption may lead to greater weight loss over time—which seems infinitely more sustainable (and enjoyable) for most than a true low- or no-carb lifestyle, especially for us pasta, bread and cupcake lovers.

Ever tried going low-carb for weight loss? I did in college… to get Britney abs for a Hawaiian luau I was dancing in. True story. (Did I seriously just admit that to you guys?) Well, it worked… kind of… until I caved and went completely carb crazy. NOT COOL.