Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Farm Egg vs. Organic Egg

The pastured chicken egg is on the left
while the commercial organic egg is on the right.
Choosing to buy organic eggs is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to enter into the world of organics.  And dollar-for-dollar, the nutritional difference between a conventional and organic egg is huge.

But going one step further and buying eggs from a farmer who pastures chickens may be even better.

Consider this,  a study conducted by Mother Earth News found the following benefits of eating from pastured hens rather than those from commercial producers:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

When we don't have easy access to farm eggs from pastured hens, we choose organic.  While pastured chickens dine on insects, commercial organic eggs come from chickens fed an organic grain-based diet. While organic grain-based chicken feed is not the ideal diet, it is still better than a conventional egg.  Think of eggs using this scale:

  • Best:  farm egg from a pastured chicken
  • Better:  organic egg
  • Good:  conventional egg

When I recently cracked open an organic egg and then a pastured egg, the color difference was startling.  A truly pastured egg is deep orange -- bursting with nutritional beta-carotene and goodness that can only be achieved by allowing the chicken to eat its preferred diet.

Check out my picture -- and the video of somebody else who home-tested an organic and farm egg -- and choose orange when you can.



Thursday, August 2, 2012

Enjoy Peanuts and Skins

When you're a kid, a trip to Grandpa and Grandma's house usually means some foods you might not always receive at home -- namely candy and nuts.

It was no different for me.  While my grandparents had an array of tree nuts from which to choose, they also had Spanish Peanuts.  I usually passed on the peanuts.  Why?  Because of the skins.  They were dry, flaky and in the way of what I really wanted.

It turns out, the skins on peanuts carry many healthful qualities and shouldn't be so readily discarded.

According to the Peanut Institute, the antioxidant capacity of peanuts exceeds that of red wine or green tea.  With skins intact, peanuts double their antioxidant capacity, exceeding the antioxidant capacity of a widely recognized antioxidant leader -- blueberries.

Some peanut butters are now produced with skins.  If you make your own peanut butter at home (as we do), simply choose peanuts with skins before blending them.

When you enjoy Spanish Peanuts and roasted, in-shell peanuts, know you are doing more for your health.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What Happened to the Maple in Cracker Barrel's "100% Pure Natural Syrup"?

I have always loved Cracker Barrel pancakes and they were recognized last month by Consumer Reports Magazine as "being the best".

On my last trip to Cracker Barrel, I ordered the pancakes and an extra syrup as I traditionally do.  Halfway through my pancakes, I reached for the next little bottle of syrup and noticed it read "100% natural syrup" rather than the usual "100% maple syrup".

I quickly turned the bottle around and noticed it is now made of 55% maple syrup and 45% cane syrup.

Their decision to reduce the percentage of maple syrup from 100% to 55% was almost certainly brought about as a cost-cutting measure without having to increase the menu price.  I would have preferred the slight bump in cost over a reduction in quality.

I will note, however, that Cracker Barrel did choose cane syrup over corn syrup and should deserve some credit for that.  Still, it's a bit of a disappointment.

They remain the only larger chain to offer any percentage of real maple syrup and it certainly enhances the overall taste.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What is Truly Artisan?

You've probably noticed as I have that products on grocery store shelves have increasingly featured the words "Artisan" this or that.

So what does it mean to have artisan pizza, bread, chocolates, etc.?

There is no guidance or oversight for the use of the word "artisan", so technically a food company could use it on whatever they choose.

A generally accepted description of an artisan product would be one that is handmade (you would probably know the person or at least where the business is located), contains whole unprocessed ingredients,  prepared using traditional methods of cooking/baking, and usually in small quantities.

If the item doesn't fit the generally accepted description above, (and almost all of the grocery store stuff won't), it just isn't an artisan product.

For the real deal, check out local bakeries, farmers markets, and off-the-path restaurants.  You'll know when you've found it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mortar and Pestle -- Old School

Jamie Oliver Mortar and Pestle
Not many modern home kitchens have a mortar and pestle, and if they do, it's more for decoration.

I really like my mortar and pestle and purchased it about a year ago.  My favorite cookbooks are those of Jamie Oliver and he uses a mortar and pestle frequently in his recipes to crush and grind fresh herbs and spices, mix oils and create fresh mayonnaise and pesto.

There are plenty of sources for buying a mortar and pestle, including grocery stores and World Market, but I chose to order the Jamie Oliver brand and have been completely satisfied.

Look for one that holds about a cup or cup and a half -- bigger if you plan to really create a lot of creations.  Find one that is solid (stone) and that has a good amount of weight to keep it steady.
Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker

Jamie's "Flavour Shaker" is a bit more limiting, but can still quickly crush herbs and spices and easily create flavored oils and dressings.  This would be a good option for those who have more limited space, have less ability to use heavy objects, or who want something a bit more modern and basic.

The mortar and pestle or shaker are great ways to grind whole and fresh herbs and spices and really create something nice for your recipe.

The aroma from your creation and old world connection to your food preparation will bring extra pride to your finished dish.

I highly recommend this addition to any kitchen.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

School Food in France and Bringing up Bebe Book Review

While we in America argue whether to include "pink slime" in our beef products, the French are preparing truly farm-fresh organic produce for their children with in-school chef's and a real kitchen.

They use real utensils and real plates (highly sustainable) and are served at their round tables to facilitate discussion.  And, they get adequate time to enjoy their food and socialize compared to the typical American school kids 20 minute lunch with which to scarf down whatever processed food he or she can.

I thought we were the country with the most resources?

I finished reading Pamela Druckerman's (She's a American raising her family is Paris) book, "Bringing Up Bebe", and was impressed with the level of service French parents receive when raising a child.  Particularly of interest was the three days of menu options Pamela shared in her book at the French daycare for her three-year-old.

She writes of the meals, "An in-house cook at each creche (day care)  prepares lunch from scratch each day.  A truck arrives several times a week with seasonal, fresh, sometimes even organic ingredients.  Aside from the occasional can of tomato paste, nothing is processed or precooked.  A few vegetables are frozen, but never precooked."

So here are the menus (served in four courses of salad, main meal, cheese and dessert) she observed.  And remember, this is a daycare/preschool:

Day 1 (Page 112):
Course 1:  Bright-red tomato salad in vinaigrette
Course 2:  Flaky white fish in a light butter sauce and a side dish of peas, carrots and onions
Course 3:  Crumbled blue cheese
Course 4:  Whole apples slices at the table

Day 2 (Page 112):
Course 1:  Hearts of palm and tomato salad
Course 2:  Sliced turkey with rice in a Provencal cream sauce
Course 3:  St. Nectaire cheese with a slice of fresh baguette
Course 4:  Fresh Kiwi

Day 3 (Page 204):
Course 1:  Shredded red cabbage salad and fromage blanc
Course 2:  White fish in dill sauce and a side of organic potatoes
Course 3:  Coulommiers cheese
Course 4:  Baked organic apple

The French have a commission where parents can provide meaningful input into their children's menu.  They stress visual and textural variety along with nutrition and suggest offerings such as mousse of sardines in cream sauce, duck mousse, spinach, green beans, smoked pork, monk fish, tuna fish, salmon, yogurt cake with carrots, etc.  The parent food meeting Pamela attended lasted more than two hours.

I found this documentary from CBS (below) that highlights some of the French school cooking.  They manage to do it for $2.50 per student, about what many of our schools pay for mostly processed trash.

So I wonder, what would our school lunch program look like if each school got to create its own menus with parent-driven input and the kid actually had the time to enjoy their meal and have conversation during their day?  Our kids deserve so much better than our schools are giving them.

As an additional resource, check out the movie "Food Beware:  The French Organic Revolution" on Netflix or buy at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bare Fruit

Our family loves fruit in all its forms, including dried.

My struggle with buying dried fruit is that it often has added sugar and preservatives.

Short of drying fruit ourselves (which we do sometimes), our only option was preservative laced dried fruit -- until now.

I came across Bare Fruit the other day and it is nothing but bake-dried organic fruit.  No added sugar or preservatives.

We bought the dried mangos, but the Washington based company also sells dried cherries, pears and Fuji, Granny Smith and cinnamon apples from Washington State.

The taste is fantastic and you can feel good knowing that only organic fruits are entering your body.  Find them at a grocery store near you or on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why You Need a Butter Keeper

Real butter will tear apart any soft slice of bread if you try to spread it straight from the refrigerator.

The solution for those like me who forget to bring butter to room temperature an hour ahead of a meal is a butter keeper.

Essentially, it is a container that holds the equivalent of one stick of butter that is flipped upside down into a small jar of water.  The jar is light-proof and the water* keeps air from spoiling the butter.  Butter stored this way on the counter can last a week or two and is always ready and easy to spread.

There are many brands with slight variation in size, but a lot of it comes down to personal choice in appearance.  We chose this one ($7.69) from Norpro and are very happy with it, but a friend really likes hers from King Arthur Flour ($14.99).

Keep real butter around and enjoy it on your timing by using a butter keeper.

*Replace the water every other day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Toasted Hemp Seeds

My kids expressed their hunger while shopping at our health food store and I came across a small bag of toasted hemp seeds.

$1.29 later, they (and I) were happily munching on tiny crunchy and slightly salted hemp seeds -- a first for them and me.  We chose the "Cousin Mary Jane" brand.

I was impressed.  For all the misconceptions of industrial hemp (it's a close cousin to Marijuana), the plant has a lot to offer in the form of food and fiber for clothing and building materials.  Additionally, it is easily grown without the use of chemicals.

Unfortunately, it is only legal to be grown in North Dakota and Vermont, though movements in Kentucky, Michigan and other States are increasing.  In many ways its a perfect crop.

The seeds are high in protein and all nine essential amino acids, high in fatty acids and vitamin E and have a balanced ratio of Omega 3 & 6 acids for heart health.

Plus, they're just plain tasty.  Now if only I could get my kids to stop calling them "hump seeds".

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gordon Food Service and Pink Slime

Now that Jamie Oliver and others have exposed our meat industry and the addition of "pink slime" to our ground beef, some have taken steps to ensure their ground beef is slime free (and thereby admitting the addition).

See a previous post I wrote for more details on the infamous pink slime here.

Most notable among those companies who have recently eliminated the slime from their products are McDonald's and Meijer grocery stores.  But one hold out is Gordon Food Service.  I was surprised to read a news article this morning that said the company would take a "wait-and-see attitude" and  hear from the customers.

Here is there link for writing and sharing about your support or concern over there product.

I like Gordon Foods and they play an important role in the food supply of the United States and Canada, supplying many many food companies with the ingredients that hundreds of thousands consume daily.  And that is why I am most bothered by their stance.

Most consumers are unaware of what they eat, how it was raised or grown, and from where it is derived.  Perhaps it is the consumers' responsibility, but we live in a culture where blind faith rules, and where people have too little time to research what they put in their mouth (or most anything else for that matter, but that's for somebody else to analyze).

Companies need to do what it best for their end consumer and the planet.  The health of the consumer and environment should be of higher consideration than the earning of a few extra pennies.

I, for one, hope they reconsider.  I believe that doing the right thing will always be rewarded in the end.

www.stoppinkslime.org is an additional great resource on this issue.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Easy Homemade Pretzels

This is a fun way to engage the kids (our yourself!) in making a homemade, relatively healthy, treat this weekend.

I found the recipe at www.kingarthurflour.com (and only recommend their flour).  Their bakers also blog about their experience making these pretzels here.

I used a bread machine to make the dough, but can just as easily use a stand mixer or your hands.  Here is the recipe from KingArthur's web site (using my photos):


dough
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 7/8 to 1 cup warm water*
  • *Use the greater amount in the winter, the lesser amount in the summer, and somewhere in between in the spring and fall. Your goal is a soft dough.

topping

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • coarse, kosher or pretzel salt, optional
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Finished Pretzel Dough in Bread Machine
1) To make dough by hand, or with a mixer: Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and beat until well-combined. Knead the dough, by hand or machine, for about 5 minutes, until it's soft, smooth, and quite slack. Flour the dough and place it in a bag, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
2) To make dough with a bread machine: Place all of the dough ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for dough or manual, and press Start. Allow the dough to proceed through its kneading cycle (no need to let it rise), then cancel the machine, flour the dough, and give it a rest in a plastic bag, as instructed above.
Finished Pretzel Dough Resting for 20 Minutes
3) To make dough with a food processor: Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the work bowl of a food processor equipped with the steel blade. Process for 5 seconds. Add the water, and process for 7 to 10 seconds, until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl. Process a further 45 seconds. Place a handful of flour in a bowl, scoop the slack dough into the bowl, and shape the dough into a ball, coating it with the flour. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, close the bag loosely, leaving room for the dough to expand, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Dough Pieces Ready to be Made into Pretzels!
4) While the dough is resting, prepare the topping: Combine the boiling water and baking soda, stirring until the soda is totally (or almost totally) dissolved. Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm (or cooler).
5) Preheat your oven to 475°F. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray, or lining it with parchment paper.
6) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces (about 70g, or 2 1/2 ounces, each).
7) Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Pour the baking soda/water into a 9" square pan.
Little Hands Love Rolling Pretzel Dough
8) Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28" to 30" long), and twist each rope into a pretzel. Working with 4 pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the baking soda/water, spooning the water over their tops; leave them in the water for 2 minutes before placing them on the baking sheet. This baking soda "bath" will give the pretzels a nice, golden-brown color.
9) Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt, if desired. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Salted and Ready for Baking on Parchment Paper
10) Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they're golden brown.
11) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you've used it all up; it may seem like a lot, but that's what gives these pretzels their ethereal taste. Eat the pretzels warm, or reheat them in an oven or microwave.
Hot Buttered Pretzels!
Yield: 8 large pretzels.

nutrition information

Serving Size: Servings Per Batch: 8 Amount Per Serving: Calories: 171 Calories from Fat: Total Fat:4.7g Saturated Fat: Trans Fat: . Cholesterol: 12mgSodium: 888mg Total Carbohydrate: 27g Dietary Fiber:1g Sugars: 1g Protein: 4g.
* The nutrition information provided for this recipe is determined by the ESHA Genesis R&D software program. Substituting any ingredients may change the posted nutrition information.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Magic Shell

You probably remember Magic Shell syrup from your childhood.  I remember drizzling it over my ice cream and waiting those few seconds until the syrup hardened into the famous shell.  It was a real treat when we had it at our house.

I didn't know then that the grocery store version is loaded with unnatural substances to make that "magic" happen.

Here's an all-natural version that works the same, but has simple natural ingredients (adjust ingredients to taste):

  • 1/3 Cup organic coconut oil (coconut oil is solid at temperatures below 77 degrees which is how the "magic" happens)
  • 1 Cup of quality chocolate such as Ghiradelli dark
  • Melt for a few seconds in the microwave.
  • Stir until blended.

Drizzle over your favorite ice cream and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Herbes de Provence

When I started cooking for our family a few years ago I came upon many ingredients I had never heard of before.  One ingredient was Herbes de Provence.  Where is or what is Provence anyway?

A cookbook suggested it was a mix of Italian spices, so not having any Herbs de Provence on hand, I used dried basil and oregano for the recipe.

I now know the flavor is more complex and originated from the Provence area of south eastern France, adjacent to Italy. Herbes de Provence today is a blend of basil, thyme, fennel, (some also add savory) and lavender to be used on meat, fish, pasta and pizza.

The lavender was probably a later addition to the original blend.  Some suggest the truly original blend of dried herbs used in that region consisted of only sage, thyme and basil.

You can buy your Herbs de Provence pre-mixed, or acquire your own dried herbs and blend them yourself.

When a recipe calls for Herbs de Provence, don't substitute.  Try the real thing.  Your taste buds will be glad.

Are Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup the Same Thing?

Karo Syrup doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup according the banner across the bottle I have in my cupboard.  And it's true.

Corn syrup is a liquid made from the starch of corn in the United States (wheat, potatoes or tapioca elsewhere where corn isn't the predominant crop) and is used to prevent sugar cystallization and to create a smoother texture in prepared foods.  It has a higher percentage of glucose than it's cousin high fructose corn syrup.  Both fructose and glucose are derivatives of the sucrose molecule (or sugar).

Fructose, or fruit sugar,  and glucose are naturally occurring substances found in fruit and vegetables and essential to the function of the human body.  Fructose is substantially sweeter than glucose and is quicker at being absorbed into the blood stream.  Fructose is taken in by the liver and converted to glucose -- leading some to believe that the increase in fatty liver disease is caused by a high intake of high fructose syrups.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is most prevalent in the United States and can be found in many processed foods and drinks in the grocery store.  The sweetness of the product is addictive, perhaps driving over consumption.  Research on HFCS is inconclusive, but some have associated it to an increase in cavities, increased triglyceride levels, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Regardless of where the added sweetener is derived, the American Heart Association, recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories of added sweetener daily and men 150 calories.

If you prefer a sweetener from natural sources, consider honey that can be used 1-to-1 ratio, or replace 1 cup of light corn-syrup with 1-cup of white sugar and 1/4 cup water or 1-cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup water to replace 1-cup of dark corn-syrup.  I would suggest an organic cane sugar over the less expensive (but heavily processed) beet sugar.

On a final note, some food manufacturer's separate out their corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup if both are used.  But as a caution, the United States Department of Health and Human Services doesn't require the separation and companies can label high fructose corn syrup as simply "corn syrup" is they choose.

In the end, yes there are differences between corn syrup and HFCS, but it is wise to limit the addition and consumption of any sweeteners to your foods.  HFCS is almost entirely avoided in our house.  I do have that one bottle of Karo Syrup, but it's been in our pantry for a while.  We almost always choose a natural sweetener when needed and use plenty of raw honey for that purpose.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What is a "Meyer Lemon"?

I've read multiple recipes lately that call for a Meyer Lemon.  I always just use a regular lemon, not thinking there was a substantial difference.

I saw Meyer lemons in our grocery store last week and thought I better figure this out.

It turns out the Meyer lemon was brought to the U.S. in the early 1900's from China.  Compared to traditional lemon plants, the Meyer lemon is squat and considered an ornamental garden pot plant.

While still grown in China, California is a major supplier of our Meyer lemons.

Popularized by Martha Stewart, it is believed the Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and an orange, providing both flavor profiles.

I'm certain to try one in the future, but it seems to me that if a recipe calls for one, a mixture of orange and lemon juice will result in a similar flavor substitute.

Have you used a Meyer Lemon?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aronia Berry -- the filler fruit

We made "blueberry pomegranate" juice from concentrate the other day.  Interesting that apple, grape and aronia juices were the first ingredients (ingredients are labelled from highest to lowest percentage) -- but that's for a different post.

What I really wanted to know was what is an aronia berry?

An aronia berry is inedible raw (except for the red variety) because of its astringency, though birds dine on them frequently as they cannot taste the astringency.

The berry can be found in the wild or as an ornamental shrub that many of us have seen in various parts of the U.S..  Perhaps you have this shrub in your own yard.  There are three varieties identified by color: black, purple and red (the red is edible raw).

The berry can be made into a jam, syrup or wine.  But why was it in my blueberry/pomegranate juice?

Aronia berry juice is a filler juice, that does have antioxidant properties, but who's value is a color enhancer in mass produced juices.

Now you (and I) know.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spurtle for Oatmeal

I purchased a bag of Bob's Red Mill oats today and read they recently won the "golden spurtle" world porridge contest in Carrbridge, Scotland.

Winning the contest is great, but what in the world is a spurtle?

Dating back to at least the fifteenth century, a spurtle is a special wooden spoon (really more of a round stick) that is used to constantly stir and spin the oats so that it doesn't clump together.  This originated in Scotland and I assume the primary place for finding and using one.  But I had to wonder, does it really help make a better oatmeal?  Please chime in if you've used one.

It turns out these are hard to locate.  Amazon.com doesn't even offer an option.  I did find a handmade one here and here.

So I'm curious?  If you have one, what do you think?  Would you recommend to others?  Where did you get yours?  Are there other uses?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Fate of the Banana and its Probable Extinction

I just finished reading Dan Keoppel's book, "Banana:  The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World".

Published in 2008, it's a fascinating journey through the history of the banana and how civilizations, government rulers, wars and mega-companies have evolved from this relatively inexpensive and humble fruit that outsells apples and oranges combined.

Dan briefly glimpses at the strong chemicals (the banana requires more pesticide than any other fruit) used in the growing of bananas and the significant physical harm it causes to the workers bodies (the movie trailer below shows the physical harm caused by Dole spraying chemicals on their farms) and the surrounding landscape, but the bulk of the book is focused on the bananas remarkable global growth (especially since the male portion of the banana tree is sterile) and the Panama Disease that threatens its very existence.

The most fascinating elements of the book to me were:

  • learning that the banana tree (it's really classified as an herb) reproduces through a Mother/Daughter relationship offering new shoots from the original tree that can be transplanted since the male portion is sterile.
  • learning that the banana our grandparents and parents grew up eating, the Gros Michel, is virtually eliminated from existence due to the onslaught of Panama Disease -- of which there is no cure.  The Gros Michel (or Big Mike) was bigger, hardier fruit that had a better taste and texture.
  • learning that the new banana plant, the Cavendish (originally considered rubbish by Chiquita when the Gros Michel was still around), is under the first rounds of attack from Panama Disease and may sadly only be viable as a commercial fruit for 10-30 more years.
  • learning that Chiquita and Dole are feverishly working to create the next banana that will withstand the attack of Panama Disease and that hopefully they can pull it off through cross-breeding and not genetic manipulation -- though both methods have proven unsuccessful for more than a decade.
  • learning that the forbidden fruit in the story of Genesis may have been the banana with a strong case for that being the case.
  • learning about the politics and mergers that created Chiquita and Dole.

If you're a foodie, you will appreciate this book and will appreciate even more your next banana.  People 30 years from now may not have the same opportunity.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Pink Slime" in School Lunches

Check out a school cafeteria box of beef patties and you will see USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) approved and contains 85% (or some lesser percentage than 100%) beef.  I've often wondered what was the unmentioned ingredient(s) reminding me of my high school days and jokes of it being horse meat.

Jamie Oliver exposed what many call "pink slime" in last season's Food Revolution.  It's the unwanted beef trimmings exposed to the innards of the animal that are then spun in a mixture of ammonia to kill existing bacteria, then ground and added into the final ground beef product.  Does this raise concerns for you?

The slime is produced by Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) and is added into 70% of our nations beef supply.  The USDA claims it is safe.

McDonald's recently said they would stop putting the slime in their hamburgers.  But, it now appears the USDA will purchase the newly available slime for school districts across America.

Why do we feed our kids the worst of the worst?  I hope you find this disturbing and infuriating.  I do.

UPDATE (03/29/2012) -- The USDA and a handful of Governors defend the creation and use of "lean finely textured beef".  Of course, their viewpoint is a bit skewed toward tax and campaign revenues.

UPDATE (03/29/2012) -- www.stoppinkslime.org has a lot of information and a petition to keep pink slime out of our schools and grocery stores.  Check it out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Don't Throw Away Broccoli Stems

Broccoli stems are as nutritious as the florets, but most throw away the stem thinking it's inedible.  If you're going to spend the money, especially if its organic, don't waste any of this vegetable.

The stem takes longer to cook than the florets, so you will want to dice it into small pieces.  Or puree the stem and "hide" the nutrition in a dark sauce -- perhaps one that is tomato based.  You can cut it into thin strips and add it to a slaw or add pieces to your kabobs!

Or enjoy it as a juice.  I put one orange and two broccoli stalks through my juicer the other day and it was great!

Whatever you decide to do with it, just try not to waste the perfectly fine nutrition.  You've paid for it, enjoy it!

Friday, March 9, 2012

BHT Food Preservative

When I picked our son up from school, his teacher said they gave him some popcorn because the ingredient list appeared "safe" other than BHT.  And she didn't know what BHT was (most don't).

I said, "No biggy.  He won't puke on it.  It's only lighter fluid."  She was shocked, but there is some element of truth as it also serves as an antioxidant for  petroleum products.

BHT, formally known as butylated hydroxytoluene, is a preservative that protects the fat, flavor and color of foods to which it is added.  I've noticed an increasing number of cereals (General Mills is a huge offender) that use this preservative.

BHT should be avoided when possible.  Some studies indicate that BHT may contribute to carcinogenicity (a chemical substance that induces cancer) and tumorigenicity (capable of causing tumors).  Other studies indicate it is difficult for some to metabolize, causing behavioral and heath changes.

The links to adverse health affects are significant enough that BHT is banned from food use in England, Australia, Sweden and Romania.

Butylated hydroxytoleune usually appears as BHT on product ingredient labels.  Like other mystery ingredients, it may be best to avoid it when possible.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Preserving Fresh Herbs Using a Dehydrator

Top of Nesco FD-75PR Dehydrator
I love mint and other fresh herbs, but sometimes find I can't use it all before it starts to go bad.

One quick way to preserve those herbs (and fruits and vegetables) is by using a dehydrator.

A dehydrator is similar to a slow cooker.  You can set it and forget it.  And if you go a little long, it's very forgiving.  For most things, you can place your items to be dried in the dehydrator in the evening and wake up to a finished product.

Fresh Mint on Dehydrator Tray
I did this with fresh mint the other day using our $60 Nesco FD-75PR dehydrator.  It works well for the price, creates a low hum when operating, and comes with five drying trays, though you can have up to twenty if you buy extra.

Raw foodists opt for the more expensive Excalibur (around $220) that offers a more even drying result and on/off timer.

As our kids were enjoying their dried pineapple pieces as a snack today (from the fresh pineapple I dried last week), I thought I would write a quick post and suggest a dehydrator as a way to preserve your foods and offer a preservative free snack option.

Mint Leaves After Dehydrating
If you already have one, how do you use your dehydrator?
Dehydrated pineapple chunks the kids love for a snack

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Digital Thermometer for Baking and Cooking

Thermoworks RT600C Digital Thermometer
Thermoworks is the leading manufacturer of digital thermometers for cooking and baking.

Since I started making all of our breads at home, I've always wanted a quick-read digital thermometer that would replace our analog (and very slow) thermometer.  A quick-reading thermometer is crucial when you've got the oven door open.

Early in my bread-making I found that all ovens are different and can be several (if not a lot) of degrees off from where you set it.  Rather than depending on the baking time a recipe suggests, the internal temperature test is the most accurate (190 degrees for standard wheat breads and 200-210 degrees for gluten free).

However, the best thermometer (the Thermopen) is nearly $100 and I had a hard time justifying that expense.  If you can, by all means go for the best.  I compromised on a separate Thermoworks model (RT600C) that cost under $20 and reads only slightly slower (about 6 seconds) than their top model.  It's water resistant and dishwasher safe to 190 degrees.  It can be switched from Celsius to Fahrenheit measurements.  I have found it meets all of our needs.

I use this for baking, but also on the grill.  Meat should only be flipped only once while grilling, so having a quick and easy temperature read lets me know when the meat is ready.

If you are still messing with an analog thermometer or are fighting with one that takes a long time for a reading, you might consider this option.  It's size makes it convenient to carry and use.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flavorists Create Artificial and "Natural" Flavors

I first came across the term Flavorist about a month ago while reading Eric Schlosser's book, "Chew on This", a hard look into the fast food industry's food and practices.  A flavorist is a chemist who creates artificial and "natural" flavors from chemicals.

Since then, I have seen the terms "artificial flavors" and "natural flavors" on many things -- including some from brands and sources I trust more than others.

CBS's 60 Minutes did a short clip into the world's largest flavor creation company, Givaudan, last Fall.  Getting any level of access is extraordinary, so enjoy the video when you get a moment.

Most of the flavor companies occupy space along the New Jersey's turnpike, one of them being International Flavors and Fragrances, and they employ tens of thousands of people -- all with the goal of making your taste and smell experience addictive.  The companies that employ them do so to sell you more, but even the so-called "natural flavors" are less than desirable.

Flavorists are chemists.  They use man-made chemicals (or chemicals made from natural sources) to create the flavors we crave.  Complicated flavors like coffee and meat can take hundreds of different chemicals to complete.  And the US Government does not require disclosure of what is actually present in the flavorings -- thus the simple phrases of artificial and natural flavors on the ingredient list.

Natural and artificial flavors are made at the same factories and often use the same chemical, one is just derived from a natural source.  And often that natural source has nothing to do with the plant, fruit, etc, you are actually tasting.

Schlosser writes that the addictiveness of McDonald's french fries in the early decades was because they were fried in beef fat, lending the beef taste to the potato (Burger King uses chicken flavoring).  However,  citing health concerns over beef fat, the US Government banned it and in 1990 McDonalds switched to using vegetable oil "flavored" with beef fat.  If you want the real deal, beef fat is still used in McDonald's restaurants in Australia, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

As an example of the hidden ingredients inside "artificial flavoring", consider the strawberry shake at a fast food restaurant.  Just the artificial strawberry flavoring alone includes the following ingredients:

  • amyl acetate
  • amyl butyrate
  • amyl valerate
  • anethol
  • anisyl formate
  • benzyl acetate
  • benzyl isobutyrate
  • butyric acid
  • cinnamyl isobutyrate
  • cinnamyl valerate
  • cognac essential oil
  • diacetyl
  • dipropyl ketone
  • ethyl butyrate
  • ethyl cinnamate
  • ethyl heptanoate
  • ethyl heptylate
  • ethyl lactate
  • ethyl methylphenylglycidate
  • ethyl nitrate
  • ethyl propionate
  • ethyl valerate
  • heliotropin
  • hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone (10% solution in alcohol)
  • ionone
  • isobutyl anthranilate
  • isobutyl butyrate
  • lemon essential oil
  • maltol
  • 4-methylacetophenone
  • methyl anthranilate
  • methyl benzoate
  • methyl cinnamte
  • methyl heptine carbonate
  • methyl naphthyl ketone
  • methyl salicylate
  • mint essential oil
  • neroli essential oil
  • nerolin
  • neryl isobutyrate
  • orris butter
  • phenethyl alcohol
  • rose
  • rum ether
  • undecalactone
  • vanillin
  • solvent

Yum!  Enjoy that strawberry shake!

Like the world of colorants, it may be wise to limit or avoid processed foods that need flavoring of any kind to sell.  Limited or no research has been done on the long-term effects of consuming these chemicals.

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rain Forest Alliance Certified Grapes

My mother-in-law called me the other day and said she had purchased unbranded grapes from the grocery store that had the Rain Forest Alliance stamp on them and wondered if that also signified that they were organic and untreated with sulphur dioxide.

So I did a little research.  I found that the logo does not necessarily indicate that the product is free from sulphur dioxide or organic.  But it still matters.

The Rain Forest Alliance is a non-profit organization celebrating 25 years working to preserve the rain forests by:


Purchasing foods with the Rain Forest Alliance logo ensures that you are buying from a company that uses its land in a sustainable way and that is paying fair wages.  It certainly is worthy of purchasing over a product that does not have the certification, but it doesn't necessarily make the food product healthier.