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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2 Easy Recipes

Last Friday, I had a table set up at Tinsel Town, a holiday event at Jake's school.  I promised that I'd post the recipes for the 2 samples I offered that night and that's what I'm going to do!

These are tasty and easy and perfect appetizers for a holiday get-together.  All you need are some simple ingredients and a food processor.

BUFFALO-BLUE CHEESE COINS (from Cook's Country)
Makes about 5 dozen coins

I think of these as cheese cookies.  You can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to one month.  Thaw frozen dough in fridge before proceeding with Step 2.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp celery seed
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled
  1. Process cheeses, flour, cornstarch, salt, cayenne, paprika and celery seed in food processor until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add butter and process until mixture resembles wet sand and then forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds.  Transfer dough to counter and divide in half.  Roll each half into a 10" log, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour.
  2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat to 350 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.  Unwrap logs and slice into 1/4" coins.  Place coins on sheets, 1/2" apart.  Bake until light golden around edges, 22-28 min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking time.  Let coins cool completely on sheets before serving.  (Coins can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

SMOKY AVOCADO DIP (from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

This healthy and delicious dip is great with vegetables, crackers, chips or anything else you can think to dip!

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup 1% lowfat cottage cheese
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup lowfat sour cream
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tsp minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 scallions, sliced thin
  1. Process cottage cheese and boiling water in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Add sour cream, avocado, chipotle, lime juice, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper and continue processing until combined, about 30 seconds.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in cilantro and scallion.  Cover and refrigerate until flavors have blended, about an hour.  Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.  (The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day.  Season with additional lime juice, salt and pepper to taste before serving.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Make-Ahead Turkey

One of the challenges of making a Thanksgiving meal is to have enough time (and oven space) to get everything done.  Here's a recipe from Cook's Country that I put in my newsletter a couple of years ago.  They've come up with a way to make a delicious turkey prior to Thanksgiving Day--so you can concentrate on other things.  The techniques are a little unusual, but, if it saves you valuable time, it's worth the try!

MAKE-AHEAD ROAST TURKEY AND GRAVY (Serves 10-12)
Check the label when buying a turkey.  If there's an ingredient list, the turkey's been enhanced and will work for this recipe.  If you prefer a natural turkey, brine it by dissolving 1 cup of salt in 2 gallons of cold water.  Submerge the turkey in the brine, cover and refrigerate for 3-6 hours.  Proceed with Step 1, Day 1, omitting the salt for seasoning.

INGREDIENTS
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
4 (1 1/2-1 3/4 lb) turkey leg quarters, trimmed
1 (6-7 lb) whole bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Salt & pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

DAY 1
  1. Adjust oven racks to middle and lowest positions and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place first 5 ingredients in a large roasting pan.  Set V-rack inside pan.  Pat turkey legs and breast dry with paper towels.  Arrange 2 legs and breast, skin side up, in rack.  Brush with butter and season with salt and pepper.  Place other 2 legs in 13x9" baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place roasting pan on middle rack and baking dish on lower rack.  Roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs, 175 degrees, about 2-2 1/2 hours.  Transfer turkey in rack to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
  3. Transfer veggies and legs in baking dish to a large pot, scraping up any browned bits.  Add broth, water, bay leaf and 1 tsp pepper and bring to a boil.  Simmer over med-low heat until reduced to 5 cups, 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours.  Strain into a large container, discarding solids.  Let cool for 1 hour, cover, refrigerate 4 hours or up to 2 days.  Wrap cooled legs and breast tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
DAY 2
  1. Scrape fat from top of chilled stock and reserve 5 Tbsp.  Bring stock to simmer in a medium saucepan.  Set aside 1/4 cup.  Heat reserved fat in large saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, 3-4 minutes.  Slowly whisk in remaining stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced to 4 cups, 12-14 min.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 500 degrees.  Transfer legs and breast to cutting board.  Separate legs into thighs and drumsticks and arrange on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.  Cut breast meat from bone into 2 single breasts.  Remove skin from each in 1 piece, reserve.  Slice breast crosswise into 1/4" slices and place on 18x12" piece of foil, keeping slices together.  Pour 2 Tbsp reserved stock over each breast and top with reserved skin.  Wrap tightly and place on rack with legs.
  3. Roast until turkey is heated through and thighs and drumsticks are crisp, 20-25 min.  Discard breast skin.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with gravy.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mug o' Cake

Once again, Cook's Country magazine comes through with an awesome recipe.  You like chocolate cake?  This one is chocolaty, delicious and takes about 5 minutes to make.  Yes, it seems crazy, but it really works!  Look!


Combine butter and chopped bittersweet chocolate.
 

Melt the chocolate/butter in the microwave then combine with sugar, eggs, cocoa and vanilla.  Combine the dry ingredients.
 

Blend everything together and divide it into coffee mugs (at least 11 oz size).  The recipe that follows is for two servings--I doubled it.
 
 

 
Microwave for 45 seconds at 50% power.  Stir and do it again for 45 seconds.
 

Shove 2 pieces of bittersweet chocolate into the batter.  This will create the molten part of the cake.  Microwave for another 35 seconds at 50% power.
 

Let sit for 2 minutes and you have an incredible molten chocolate cake!  It's that simple!
 

Add a little whipped cream if you want and enjoy!  They really are delicious!
 
 
COFFEE MUG MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE FOR TWO
from Cook's Country
 
This recipe is for a 1200-watt microwave.  If using a smaller 800-watt oven, increase cooking time to 90 seconds for each interval. 
 
INGREDIENTS
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus 1 oz broken into 4 equal pieces
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
 
  1. Microwave butter and chopped chocolate in a large bowl, stirring often, until melted, about 1 min.  Whisk sugar, eggs, cocoa, vanilla and salt into chocolate mixture until smooth.  In separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder.  Whisk flour mixture into chocolate mixture until combined.  Divide batter evenly between 2 (11 oz) coffee mugs
  2. Place mugs on opposite sides of microwave turntable.  Microwave at 50% powder for 45 seconds.  Stir batter and microwave at 50% power for 45 seconds.  Press 2 chocolate pieces into center of each cake.  Microwave at 50% power for 35 seconds (cake should be slightly wet around edges of mug and somewhat drier toward the center).  Let cakes rest for 2 min.  Serve.





 




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stella's House Blend Cafe

We finally did it.

Every time I drive down Main Street in Sellersville, I see people going in and out of a relatively new restaurant, Stella's House Blend Café.  Mary Beth had off yesterday and we decided to go give it a try.

This is the kind of place that our area needs more of.  (Not the most grammatically correct sentence in the world, but you get the point.)  Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera and MB forgot her phone, so I had to steal a picture from their website.

Stella's is the kind of place where you'd just like to hang out.  An airy room with not too many tables and high-back chairs.  The place has interesting photos and other artwork on the bead board walls, hardwood floors and comfortable areas with couches and tables.  You could feel fine coming in for a quick lunch or hanging out with a book and a cup of coffee for a while.  The staff was extremely friendly--always ready with a friendly comment, joke or menu suggestion.  It really was a pleasant visit.

Oh yeah, the food....

Stella's serves breakfast and lunch every day and dinner on Friday and Saturday (hours listed below).  The lunch menu was full of appetizing salads, soups and sandwiches, all made in-house.  I wouldn't say that there was much all that out of the ordinary on the menu, but everything is made fresh with really good ingredients--so it doesn't have to be fancy to be delicious.

We both ordered from their lunch specials.  Mary Beth ordered the Meatball Parmesan Sandwich.  (Our server suggested this, telling us that the meatballs were made that morning as was, we found out later, the bread.)  It was very tasty--the meatballs were flavorful and tender and covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese.  I'm a sucker for egg salad, so I went with the Egg Salad and Bacon Wrap.  You know how you order something with bacon at many places, you get maybe 2 shriveled up slices?  Not in this case.  It was yummy egg salad with lots of bacon--cooked just right--that added great texture and taste.  The whole wrap was stuck in a Panini press to give a little crunch to the outside.  Again, nothing fancy, just really well done and made with good ingredients.

The breakfast menu features a number of egg dishes, omelets, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches.  Our server also told us that on Saturday mornings, Stella's offers freshly baked sticky buns.  Apparently, you need to get there early because people line up out onto the street for them. 

For dinner, the menu includes Roasted Garlic or French Onion Soups, appetizers (like Shrimp on a Raft and Swedish Meatballs), salads, pastas and entrees (like Chicken Parmesan, Broiled Scallops and meatloaf).  Menus are listed on their website.

Oh, and if you're a coffee lover (I'm not), they have a wide array of locally roasted coffee and espresso (and tea, too).  They also have take-out and catering services.

Great atmosphere, tasty food, friendly people all at a good price!  What could be better?  So give Stella's a try!  You'll understand why all those people are going in and out of this gem of a local eatery.

Stella's House Blend Café
200 N Main St.
Sellersville, PA  18960
267-404-2443

Hours:
Mon-Thurs  6:30 AM-2:00 PM
Friday  6:30 AM-2:00 PM & 5:00 PM-9:00 PM
Saturday  8:00 AM-2:00 PM & 5:00 PM-9:00 PM
Sunday  8:00 AM-2:00 PM

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Waste Not

We've all done it: Thrown away bread that got moldy.  Found some kind of produce in the crisper that's turned into a puddle of green goo.  Discovered a container of leftovers from weeks ago in the back of the fridge.  Into the trash it goes!  What a waste!

And believe me, we're not the only ones.  The average home in the US wastes about 470 pounds of food each year.  About 27% of consumable food in this country is thrown away--at the expense of about $600 per year per family.  Crazy, huh?

Why is it so easy to waste food like that?  How many times do we buy more food than we need?  There's a sale, so we pick some up just to forget about it in a few days.  Many times, it's good intentions that result in the waste--we mean to make a nice dinner out of those veggies or that meat, but our busy lives get the best of us and it ends up going bad.

Yup, it's very easy to waste the food, but with just a little work, we can cut back, if not virtually eliminate, our food waste. 
  • Of course, my first suggestion would be to hire a personal chef (I hear Dinner's Done PCS is great!).  Seriously, when I cook for clients, I buy just what is needed for that service, so nothing goes to waste--it all just goes into their dishes.
  • Plan your meals ahead--before you go shopping.  Then just buy what you will need--and stick to it! 
  • Many times, veggies and fruits that are nearing their end can be used for different things.  Use overripe fruit in a smoothie; put some limp veggies in a soup.  If bananas start getting too soft, I put them in the freezer and use them at a later time for breads or muffins. 
  • Don't be afraid of leftovers.  Many things taste even better after a day or two.  Be creative--if you don't want to eat the same dish again, use it to create another dish. 
  • Rotate your food when you bring it home from the store.  In other words, put the new stuff behind or underneath the food that's already in there.  That way, you're more apt to use the older stuff first.
  • Learn the best way to store items in your fridge and freezer.  Wrapping/storing things the proper way will add lots of time to their lives.  And save you money!
  • And while we're talking about the fridge--CLEAN IT OUT once in a while!  I go through our fridge once a week.  Not only does this let me find those scary pieces of moldy whatever-they-are, but it gets me familiar with what's in there and helps me to use those things before they go bad. 
  • One expert I ready suggests to put the guilt trip on yourself by making a list of every food item that you throw out in a week.  Watch how long that list gets and you will feel guilty.  (One study says that 39% of Americans surveyed feel guilty about wasting food--as opposed to 7% that feel guilty about using chemical fertilizer on their yard.)
  • Learn to freeze, pickle, can--whatever it takes to keep from wasting all that food. 
Do you have any tips for slowing down your food waste?  Let me know!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Grilled Cantaloupe

I love grilled fruit.  Grilled pineapple with a little cayenne and brown sugar is great.  Have you ever grilled peaches?  Try using a recipe I posted a while ago for Grilled Peaches with Bourbon Honey.

The final recipe I made at Blooming Glen Farm a couple weeks ago used their delicious sweet cantaloupes.  I grilled cantaloupe wedges basting with a sweet glaze, then cut the melon into chunks.  You could very easily cut it into chunks before grilling and slide onto skewers for a nice serving presentation.  Get fancy if you want and garnish it with some minced mint.

However you do it, it's a tasty way to end a meal--especially served with a little ice cream! 


GRILLED CANTALOUPE WITH HONEY-CINNAMON GLAZE
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
1 cantaloupe, seeded and cut into wedges
1/3 cup honey
1/4 butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Preheat grill to high.
  • Combine honey, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small saucepan.  Heat on grill until butter melts and all are combined.  Brush cantaloupe with glaze.
  • Place melon on grill and cook until starting to soften, about 1-2 min per side, basting with more glaze as needed.
  • Remove from grill and let cool slightly.  Remove flesh from rind, cut into chunks to serve.  Drizzle with remaining glaze.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dude! What is on this Corn?

Corn on the cob--yet another great flavor of the summer.  Usually, I don't like to cover up the flavor too much if it's good corn.  Just a little butter, salt and pepper.  But once in a while, you have to make an exception.

This recipe is a take on a street food popular in Mexico.  It's grilled corn doused in a creamy, cheesy coating with just a little spice.  As Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm said when he tasted it, "Dude!  What is on this Corn?".  Well, I'll tell you....


MEXICAN-STYLE GRILLED CORN (from Cook's Illustrated)
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp sour cream
3 Tbsp cilantro, minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
4 tsp lime juice
1 oz Pecorino Romano, queso fresco or Cotija cheese (about 1/2 cup)
4 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
6 large ears of corn, husked and silk removed
  • Preheat grill to high.
  • While grill is heating, combine mayo, sour cream, cilantro, garlic, 1/4 tsp chili powder, pepper, cayenne, lime juice and cheese in a large bowl; set aside.  In a second bowl, combine oil, salt, remaining 1/2 tsp chili powder; add corn and toss until coated.
  • Grill corn, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides, 7-12 min total.
  • Remove from grill and place in bowl with mayo mixture; toss to coat evenly.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Choka

I always like to grill--but especially in the summer, I try to find as many ways to cook on the grill as I can.  This recipe is easy and if you've already gotten the grill fired up, why not make an appetizer for before dinner?

If you grill whole eggplant long enough, the flesh inside becomes very soft and mushy--perfect for a dip.  Be sure to use the thin Asian eggplants--they will get to the desired consistency much quicker than globe eggplants.

Serve the dip with tortilla chips, pita chips, crackers or whatever you have on hand.  It's great hot off the grill, but still really tasty at room temperature.



CHOKA (GRILLED EGGPLANT DIP) (from The BBQ Bible by Steven Raichlen)
Serves 8

INGREDIENTS
2 pounds thin eggplant
8 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp fresh grated ginger root
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Preheat the grill to high.
  • Make slits around each eggplant and insert a half clove of garlic in each slit.
  • Grill eggplant, turning occasionally, until skin is charred all over and the flesh is very soft, about 20-30 min.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
  • Open the skin and scrape the flesh out into a medium bowl (with the garlic) and mash to a course puree with a fork.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and serve.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Watermelon and What?!

Another true flavor of summer is watermelon. 

Getting a fresh, sweet, ripe watermelon on it's own is good enough to please the ol' taste buds.  But I'm always on the lookout for interesting flavor combinations.  So here's a salad that I made that puts together ingredients that you may not think would go so well.

But they do!  Sweet, salty, savory--it's all there!  Try it!


WATERMELON SALAD WITH FETA, OLIVES AND BACON
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp black pepper
8 lbs watermelon (preferably seedless), cut into 1 1/2" chunks (about 10 cups), chilled
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (or more to taste)
1 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped (or more to taste)
1 small sweet onion, cut in 1/2" dice
1 cup mint, coarsely chopped
5 sliced bacon, cooked until crispy and coarsely chopped
  • In a large bowl, whisk together oil, juice, salt, hot sauce and pepper. 
  • Add watermelon, feta, olives and onion.  Toss gently.
  • Garnish with mint and bacon.  Serve chilled.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tomato, Peach and Mozzarella Salad

Time for some recipes from my last demo/tasting at Blooming Glen Farm a couple of weeks ago.  It's always great to use the great ingredients that the farm provides--especially this time of year.  (Just love tomatoes!)

This salad is a bit of a play on a traditional Caprese Salad--tomato, basil, mozzarella, olive oil.  But this includes some other flavors--notably, another great summer flavor: peach.  Compared to the tomato, there isn't much peach in the salad, but it's so tasty to get a little burst of that sweet fruit every now and then while eating the salad. 

For the best flavor and look, use tomatoes in a variety of colors.  It doesn't get much simpler than this.  And it doesn't get much tastier!



TOMATO, PEACH AND MOZZARELLA SALAD (adapted from Hot & Sticky BBQ by Ted Reader)
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
6 large tomatoes, different colors and varieties
3 peaches, peeled and diced (I didn't peel mine and it was fine)
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 large balls of fresh mozzarella, diced
1/4 cup basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Core tomatoes and dice.  Place in a large bowl and add peaches, onion, green onion, mozzarella and basil.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Grilled New Potatoes

I must admit, I've never been a huge potato fan.  I like them, but could do without them for the most part.  However, fresh new potatoes, like we get from Blooming Glen Farm, are a whole different story.  They're tender and creamy and so flavorful. 

Here's a recipe that I made last week at my farm demo.  The aioli is light and fresh tasting and makes a great accompaniment to the potatoes--as well as a spread for a sandwich or dipping veggies or...all sort of stuff.


GRILLED NEW POTATOES WITH LEMON-GARLIC AIOLI AND PARSLEY (from Bobby Flay on foodtv.com)
Serves 8

INGREDIENTS
3 lb new potatoes, small
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • Put potatoes in Dutch oven or large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, season with salt and cook until almost tender, about 15 min.  Drain and, when cool enough, cut in half.
  • Preheat grill to medium.
  • Combine mayo, garlic, lemon juice and zest in a blender and blend until smooth.  (You can do this in a bowl with an immersion blender if you wish.)  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.
  • Brush potatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill, cut side down, until golden brown and just cooked through.  Remove to a platter.  Drizzle with aioli and sprinkle with parsley.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can't Beet 'Em

Beets.  Most people either love them or hate them.  But they are becoming more and more popular as people try them in new ways and as their great nutritional value becomes more well known.  (You can read a previous post for a little more info.)

For me, the only way I remember eating beets as a kid was pickled.  And I love them like that (the Dutchie coming out in me). 

I do believe, though, that roasting them best brings out the great flavor and sweetness that beets are known for.  Roast them, skin them, chop them up and serve them with some good extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper--and you've got yourself a tasty side dish.

Citrus pairs really well with beets, and the recipe below--another one that I made at Blooming Glen Farm last week--is a great summer side dish.  You may even convert some beet-haters with this one!


ROASTED BEET SALAD WITH BLOOD ORANGES AND ALMONDS (from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
Serves 4

At the farm, I used regular navel oranges (since blood oranges aren't in season) and instead of arugula (again, out of season), I used red leaf lettuce and dandelion greens.  To prepare the oranges, cut the top and bottom off of the orange.  Using a sharp knife, slice away the peel to reveal the pulp.  Cut into quarters and then slice each quarter into 1/2" pieces.  For best flavor, follow the recipe and toss the warm beets in the dressing.  But you can roast the beets ahead of time and it will still be tasty.

INGREDIENTS
2 lb beets, greens removed
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 tsp sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
2 oz arugula (about 2 cups)
1 cup feta cheese
2 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted
2 blood oranges (see above)
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 400 degrees.  Wrap beets in foil individually and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast until a skewer or paring knife meets little resistance, 45-60 minutes.
  • Remove beets from oven and open foil.  When cool enough to handle, rub off skins using a paper towel.  Slice into 1/2" thick wedges and, if large, cut in half.
  • Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a large bowl.  Add sliced beets, toss to coat, let cool to room temp, about 20 min.
  • Add arugula to beets and toss.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with cheese and almonds.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Great E"scape"

One of the items that Blooming Glen Farm (and many other CSAs) offer during the early summer are garlic scapes.  These alien-looking things are the stalks of the garlic plants that are cut off so the energy of the plant can go toward the bulb instead of the stalk.  But you don't want to let them go to waste.

Problem is, many people don't quite know what to do with these garlicky tasting things. 

They're great chopped up and simply sautéed in some olive oil with salt and pepper--either alone or as an addition to other veggies.  I've also tossed them in oil, salt and pepper and thrown them on the grill until they're tender.  A good accompaniment to some grilled meat or fish.

Probably the most popular way to use them is in a pesto.  If you like garlic, this is a quick and versatile way to use scapes.  Use it tossed with pasta (like I did at the farm this week along with some fresh green beans).  It's also really tasty as a condiment for grilled fish or meat or even on some grilled bread brushed with olive oil.  Yum! 


Like other pestos, freeze your extra in ice cube trays.  When they're frozen solid, remove them to a zipper freezer bag and then you have ready-made pesto whenever you need it. 

GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
This makes a good amount of pesto.  If you want less, or have less scapes to use, just adjust the ingredients accordingly.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb garlic scapes, chopped in 3" pieces
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Put garlic scapes in food processor and puree until evenly chopped.
  • Add Parmesan and pine nuts and process until smooth.
  • With processor running, slowly add oil until emulsified and to your desired consistency.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Squash Pickles

Yesterday, I was fortunate to once again cook at my CSA, Blooming Glen Farm.  I've done this for a number of years--making some tasty recipes from the great produce that the folks are picking up.  It's always fun to talk food with people who really appreciate it!

I'll be there again on August 8.  Looking forward to it!

I promised that I'd post the recipes that I made, so that's what I'm doing.  Here's the first. 


SUMMER SQUASH PICKLES
These tangy pickles--slightly sweet and spicy--are a great addition to any picnic!

INGREDIENTS
4 cups zucchini and/or yellow squash, cut in 1/8" slices
1 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp mustard seed
3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Combine squash, onion and garlic in a large bowl or in jars.
  • Combine rest of ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour hot liquid over veggies, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.  It's that simple!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Helping the Hungry

According to the latest statistics, the US has about 50.1 million people who are food insecure--basically, they don't know where their next meal is coming from.  About 16.7 million of those are children.  Think about those numbers.  That means the number of hungry children in our country is equivalent to the total populations of Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago COMBINED.  This in a country with the technology, resources and ability to resolve this horrendous problem.  It's just plain wrong.  Every county in our country has a food insecurity problem.  Some are low (the lowest is Steel County, ND at 5%).  Some are amazingly high (the highest is Holmes County, MS at a staggering 37%). 

Yes, the government does help a little bit.  SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program--also known as food stamps) helps millions of Americans.  Unfortunately, many controlling governmental budgets and regulations see SNAP as a bit lower on the totem pole for funding than other things.  Many say that people who use SNAP just need to get a job (although 40% of households on SNAP have at least one working person in it).  Many say that it promotes a lifetime of government dependency (although the average time on SNAP is just 8-10 months).  Many say that SNAP recipients are mooching off of the taxpayer's money (although SNAP funding ends up being about $1.40 per person per meal per day--try feeding your family on that). 

In reality, government legislation is the only way to truly eliminate the problem.  Hunger in America was almost wiped out during the 1970's.  But funds were cut in the '80's and the problem grew into the monster we have today.  So while we wait around for a government that will dedicate itself to destroying this affliction (and there are some in Congress who are leaders in this cause--futilely, unfortunately in many cases), it is up to us--private citizens to help those in need in our local areas. 

5.1% of American households used food from food pantries and other organizations in 2011.  That's 6.1 million households.  A huge number, but small compared to the 50.1 million who need them.  Virtually every town in our area has food pantries to help those in the community who need help to just keep food in their kids' bellies.

Only about 5% of food donated to help the hungry comes from private donors.  That means 95% comes from the government.  So a 10% cut in funding would require 3 times as much from private organizations--a daunting task.  But we're trying to do our part.

On June 29, St. Paul's Lutheran Church (837 Old Bethlehem Rd, Quakertown, PA, 18951--directly across from the Haycock Firehouse) will be hosting Joyful Noise V, a day-long festival to benefit the 3 food pantries in Quakertown--the Quakertown Food Pantry, St. Isidore's Food Pantry and Milford Square Shelter100% of profits from the day will be spilt between these three worthy groups, which assist thousands in our community.  We raise funds from personal and corporate donations, food and raffle ticket sales and "passing the bucket" after each performance.

Put on every other year since 2005, we have raised over $20,000 for our charities and have collected hundreds of pounds of food.  The festival is FREE (yes, free), although we ask that guests bring food donations as "admission".  Gates open at 10 AM and music starts at 11 and will run all day.  (Bring a chair, too.)

Seven performances will entertaining the crowd all day:

St. Paul's Joyful Noise Band (our "house band"): 11:00-11:30 
Deb Capece (singer/songwriter): 11:55-12:25
Once Called Saul (Quakertown-based rock band): 12:50-1:20
BASIC (contemporary choir from Allentown): 1:45-2:15
Ian Holmes (American Idol contestant from the Lehigh Valley): 2:40-3:25 
Caribbean Steel Rhythms (steel drum band from the Lehigh Valley): 3:50-4:50
Greater Shiloh Music Ministry (gospel/R&B choir): 5:15-6:15

In addition to the great music, you can enjoy a classic car cruise, historic church tours, great food, lots of fun activities for the kids, local artists and crafters and more!

Please call 215-536-5789 with any questions.  Check out our Facebook page and please help to spread the word so we can work together to assist those many in our area who need these important programs to survive.  I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Smart Cook-out

Well, the weather's heating up and that means that many of us will be having periodic cook-outs with friends and family.  It's one of the joys of this time of the year.

Unfortunately, some people tend to let basic food safety rules fly out the window when they move
from cooking in the kitchen to cooking outside.  That's too bad, because no one wants their guests or themselves to get sick from their cook-out.

So let's take a quick look at some basic, but very important, tips for making your cook-out a safe time for everyone.
  • The first thing you should always do--no matter where you're cooking--is to make sure your hands are washed well.  Do this before, during and after cooking. 
  • If you haven't already, before you grill any kind of meat, go out and buy a food thermometer.  Measuring the temperature is the only true way of telling if something is cooked enough or not.  Yes, there are all sorts of tricks to test doneness by touch or sight, but they aren't foolproof.  Take the temperature and you can't go wrong.  Burgers should be cooked to 155 degrees and steaks/roasts to 145 for medium-rare or 160 for medium.  Poultry should always be cooked to 165.  The thermometer probe should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat to get the best reading.
  • Hot food should be kept hot until it is ready to be served.  So if it's done, move the stuff you're cooking to a cooler side of the grill until ready to be put out for your guests.  In the same way, cold foods should be kept cold as long as possible.  Keep them in the fridge until ready to be set out or at least in a cooler with ice.
  • The food you use should be bought no earlier than a day or two before your cook-out.  Using the freshest ingredients is a great way to combat food-borne problems. 
  • Perishable foods should not be set out for more than 2 hours before being refrigerated.  (No more than 1 hour if it's 90 degrees or more.)  No big deal.  Let every take what they want, put it in the fridge or coolers and bring it back out if you need to.
  • Speaking of coolers, always have separate coolers--one for food you will or have prepared and one for drinks.  The drink cooler will be opened again and again so any perishable food in there won't stay cold as long.  Full coolers stay cold longer, so be sure to have extra ice or ice packs to help keep the cooler as full as possible.
  • The biggest thing you need to do is avoid cross-contamination at all costs.  Have separate cutting boards for raw meat and other items.  Never put cooked meats back on the plate that held it while raw.  (I always put a sheet of foil over a plate to hold the raw meat, then remove it when you put it on the grill.  Voila!  Clean plate!)  Don't use the same utensils--knives, tongs or whatever--for raw meat and other items.  Don't reuse marinade that has had raw meat in it (although you can use it to baste the meat on the grill).
Get familiar with these simple rules and you won't have any problems when hosting your summer cook-outs.  Have fun!

For a few good grilling recipes, check out my June newsletter, which can be found on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Need a Snack?

I admit it.  I'm a snacker.  It's very easy for me to grab a little something just to satisfy even the least bit of hunger.  Unlike some people (I think), I'm not compulsive about it.  And it doesn't really matter much what I snack on--a few pretzels or grapes or M&M's. 

The problem is, I know that snacking isn't the best thing for me to do.  I need to try to cut down on the amount of food I eat and, well, that ain't the way to do it.

But we all feel it now and then, don't we?  In between meals, there's that little pang of hunger that
could be ignored, but would feel so much better to take care of.

The good news for snackers is that according to a recent study, the size of the snack doesn't seem to be an issue for what satisfies that feeling of hunger.

The study gave people snacks of chocolate, apple pie and potato chips to satisfy their hunger, but in different amounts.  The final results showed that those who ate a significantly smaller amount of the snack were equally as satisfied 15 minutes after eating than those who ate more. 

So give it a try.  Feeling hungry?  Try just a small amount of a snack.  Get rid of that hungry feeling without taking in too many extra calories.  Read more about this study here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Eat

I'm finally finishing up my "book report" on Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.  Sorry it's taken so long.

I'll start with what may be a bit confusing.  We look at some other cultures and wonder how they are healthier than we are even though they seem to eat foods that would cause health problems for us.  The French, for example:
What nutritionism sees when it looks at the French paradox is a lot of slender French people eating gobs of saturated fat washed down with wine.  What it fails to see is a people with a completely different relationship to food than we have....They seldom snack, and they eat most of their food at meals shared with other people.  They eat small portions and don't come back for seconds.  And they spend considerably more time eating than we do....[T]he French consume fewer calories than we do, yet manage to enjoy them far more.
 
Serving sizes in restaurants in France are much smaller than they are in this country.  And that, in itself, is a psychological problem for us.  We have been raised to think of the amount that's given to us as the proper amount to eat.  In one study that Pollan describes, soup bowls were rigged to refill from the bottom.  Those who had those bowls, ate 73% more soup than those with regular bowls.  Some ate as much as a quart.  When asked what he thought of the soup, one subject with the bottomless bowl said, "It's pretty good; and it's pretty filling."  No kidding.

With that said, here are some of Pollan's tips on how to eat.
  • Pay more, eat less.  This tip is not for everyone (unfortunately).  In a country like ours, it should be.  But the point is, if you can afford to buy higher quality food, do it.  And in many cases--in our part of the country especially--that means eating fresh, local foods.  Does it cost more money?  In some cases, yes.  But aren't you really paying for it anyway even if you eat crappy, lower-cost, processed food?  You'll pay for it in medicines or doctor co-pays or higher insurance premiums.  Plus, if you spend more on your food, you'll be more likely to eat less--another healthy bi-product.  Americans spend less of our income on food than any industrialized nation.
In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care.  Since then, those numbers have flipped:  Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income. 
  • Eat meals.  Duh, right?  No, not really.  I think I mentioned in another post how a recent study has shown that about 19% of American meals are eaten in the car.  Think about that for a minute.  That's a lot of meals on wheels.  Not to mention distracted drivers.  Family meals are so important--to kids, to family relationships.  (I won't give stats here--read my previous post for the details.)  The social value of eating together is becoming lost and will be completely if we don't change.  Another problem in this country is snacking.  We snack so we're not hungry for meals.  Foods are marketed to us to make it faster, easier, on-the-go and on and on.  It's actually pretty sad.
  • Do all your eating at a table.  Not a desk.  Not your lap.  Not balancing something on your dashboard. 
  • Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.  "Gas stations have become processed-corn stations: ethanol outside for your car and high-fructose corn syrup inside for you."
  • Try not to eat alone.  Some of us don't have a choice, I guess.  But once again, the social aspect of eating is so important to who we are.  Not only do we lose that part of a meal, but we usually eat more when we're alone. 
  • Consult your gut.  I eat way too fast.  It's really something that I try to work on, but I've done it for so long, it's hard to change it.  And I'm sure that it causes me to eat more than I should.  It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it's full.  When you scarf down your food in half that time, you don't realize that you're getting full and overeat.  Pollan tells of a group of French people who were asked when they stop eating.  The answer: "When I'm full."  What did Americans say?  "When I finished what was on my plate."  or "When the food was gone."
Serve smaller portions on smaller plates; serve food and beverages from small containers (even if this means repackaging things bought in jumbo sizes); leave detritus on the table--empty bottles, bones, and so forth--so you can see how much you've eaten or drunk; use glasses that are more vertical than horizontal (people tend to pour more into squat glasses); leave healthy foods in view, unhealthy ones out of view; leave serving bowls in the kitchen rather than on the table to discourage second helpings. 
  • Eat slowly.   With this tip, Pollan doesn't only mean what I wrote of above, but to be knowledgeable about food in the way of the Slow Food movement.  This was started in the '80s when fast food came to Rome and started to threaten what food was all about in Italy.  It tries to combat industrialized foods that are engineered for us to eat fast, on the go.  If we knew what went into that fast food burger--the slaughterhouse, the grain-fed animals, the artificial flavorings, etc--I'm not sure we'd want to eat it.  Knowing that our burger is from grass-fed cattle in a beautiful pasture helps us enjoy our food even more. 
  • Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.  I recently was part of a panel at a local daycare center that had a program about child nutrition and eating.  I told them how my son, Jake, is a great eater and is extremely healthy.  Why?  I believe he eats more "real" food than many of his peers.  But I think one of the reasons he does eat so well is that he was raised appreciating food--going to farmers' markets, growing things in our garden, being a CSA member.  At the risk of sounding sappy, he has learned to commune with nature and with those who raise our food.  He understands how cool it is to pick something from the garden and turn it into a meal.  Too many kids think that beans come from the freezer section at the supermarket and not a field.  And cooking helps us with that relationship with food.  As Pollan explains, there are studies that show that cooking tomatoes in olive oil allows the tomato's nutrients to better enter our bodies.  If you cook, though, you just know that cooking tomatoes with olive oil is a good idea.  It tastes good!
So that's it.  Maybe I took too long going through all this stuff, but I really think it's so important.  If we don't change the way we eat, we will lose so much--our health; our relationship with each other, with those who produce wonderful food, and with the food itself.  Read In Defense of Food.  And try to make some of these changes--appreciate and enjoy your food!
     

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Tips for Eating

Here are some more tips about how to eat from Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.  These suggestoins not only give you ideas of how to eat a more healthy diet, but it steers you away from the Western diet that is--in many ways--literally killing us.  If enough of us really ate this way, maybe we could change the food culture in this country and reverse those health problems that the Western diet has brought upon us.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.  There are lots of good reasons to eat plants.  They give us vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids.  Oh, and they taste good.  The key is to eat a variety of plants to fill our bodies with a variety of nutrients, which help to make us healthy in a variety of ways.  Thomas Jefferson suggested eating meat as more of a "condiment for the vegetables".
Because plant foods--with the exception of seeds--are less energy dense than most of the other things you might eat, by eating a plant-based diet you will likely consume fewer calories (which is itself protective against many chronic diseases).  The seed exception suggests why it's important to eat more leaves than seeds; though unrefined seeds, including whole grains and nuts, can be very nutritious, they're high in calories, befitting their biological role as energy-storage devices.  It's only when we begin refining plant seeds or eating them to the exclusion of the rest of the plant that we get into trouble.

  • You are what what you eat eats too.  I love that one.  It's the whole food chain idea again.  If the animals we eat eat healthy plants, they'll be healthy.  And so will we.  For example, most of our food animals were made to eat grass, but they're being fed grains--it's cheaper and gets them fatter faster.  But it also makes them sick.  So what has to happen?  They need to get antibiotics.  Some food animals--like poultry and pigs--do OK on grains.  But they are healthier--and so are we--when they have the opportunity to eat grass.  Pollan does make the point that,
"Free range" doesn't necessarily mean the chicken has had access to grass; many egg and broiler producers offer their chickens little more than a dirt yard where nothing grows.  Look for the word "pastured."  And in the case of beef, keep in mind that all cattle are grass fed until they get to the feedlot; "grass finished" or "100% grass fed" is what you want.

  •  Eat like an omnivore.  The more variety of foods you eat, the better chance you'll receive the best nutrition possible for your body.
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.  Pollan makes the point that he could have said, "Eat organic".  But there are lots of great farmers and producers who are essentially organic, but just have not gone through the fairly lengthy process of being certified as such.  In addition, there are processed foods that are labeled "organic", but are not much better than other processed foods.  They're simply processed using organic ingredients.  He talks about how if Coca-Cola used organic corn for their high-fructose corn syrup, would Organic Coke be good for you?  Ideally, find foods that are organic AND local.
  • Eat wild foods when you can.  Wild greens tend to have more omega-3 fatty acids than their domesticated counterparts.  Wild game usually has less saturated fat and more omega-3s than domesticated animals.  This is one of his suggestions that seems to be a little bit hard to follow.  I suppose seafood is the one place that you usually have your choice.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements.  I found this suggestion interesting. 
We know that people who take supplements are generally healthier than the rest of us, and we also know that, in controlled studies, most of the supplements they take don't appear to work.  Probably the supplement takers are healthier for reasons having nothing to do with the pills:  They're typically more health concious, better educated, and more affluent.  So to the extent you can, be the kind of person who would take supplements, and then save your money.

  •  Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.  His point here is to think about eating traditional cuisines--food traditions from cultures that have been healthy for, well, forever.  In many cultures, food is pretty much the central focus of their lives--it's their livlihood, there are religious connections, it helps them acclimate to their climate, it brings people together. 
  • Regard non-traditional foods with skepticism.  Pollan uses soy as a example.  Americans eat more soy products than ever, but because of the non-traditional processing of them, we get very little of the nutrition that the soy-heavy cuisines of Asia get from the traditional ways they eat soy. 
  • Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.  We look at the Mediterranean diet or Asian diets or whatever and try to figure out what is it about that diet that makes those people so healthy?  Lots of fish?  Greens?  Garlic?  Bottom line is that it's not any one of those things.  It's the combination of foods and nutritents that create the health benefits.  Sort of the opposite of the Western diet.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.  As studies have recently shown, people who moderately drink alcohol live longer, have a lot less heart disease and are generally healthier than those who do not drink at all.  Drinking a little each day is much better than drinking a lot on the weekend.  And drinking with food is better than without. 
Also, a diet particulary rich in plant foods, as the French and Mediterranean diets are, supply precisely the B vitamins that drinking alcohol depeletes.  How fortunate!

 
Food for thought, as it were.  One more entry about this book to go.  Then we can get to work changing the way we eat!
 

 

Monday, April 15, 2013

What is Food?

In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan gives some tips about what he thingks we should eat to avoid the pitfalls of the Western diet.  Many of them make a lot of sense.  Admittedly, though, some just don't seem feasible to do all the time.  I mean, who doesn't want a Tastykake or a White Castle cheeseburger once in a while?

So I think that using his tips is a great guideline for eating healthy, tasty foods.  Try to do it as much as you can and you're in much better shape than most of the folks in this country.

Here are some of Pollan's suggestions:
  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  This will help you distinguish between food and food products.  He also suggests a related thought: Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.  (Except honey, I assume.)
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup.  Pollan says that each of these in themselves aren't that harmful, but they're all a mark of highly processed foods.  There are exceptions to some of the rules, I think.  I make trail mix that has way more than 5 ingredients, but you get the idea.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.  Pollan writes: "For a food product to make healthy claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food."  This is a really big problem for people looking to eat more healthy foods, but aren't informed.  The FDA's rules allow food companies to make these claims in any way they want (like big print with disclaimers in microscopic print).
The American Heart Association currently bestows (for a fee) its heart-healthy seal of approval on Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix cereals, Yoo-hoo lite chocolate drink, and Healthy Choice's Premium Caramel Swirl Ice Cream Sandwich--this at a time when scientists are coming to recognize that dietary sugar probably plays a more important role in heart disease than dietary fat.
 
  • Shop at the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.   I've always given this suggestion to people looking to find more healthy food when shopping.  Of course, it's not fool-proof.  Just check out the neon-colored kid's yogurt in the dairy case or that fake caramel dip in the fruit section. 
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.  Shop at farmers' markets or a local butcher shop.  Better yet, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm and get fresh produce all season long.  Produce--conventional or organic--in a supermarket travels an average of 1600 miles from field to your plate.  From the moment it's picked most produce starts to lose taste and nutrition.  So the stuff at your local farmers' market is better tasting and better for you (and it helps our local economy).  And having that fresh stuff should make you want to cook it.
Cooking is one of the most important health consequences of buying food from local farmers; for one thing, when you cook at home you seldom find yourself reaching for the ethoxylated diglycerides or high-fructose corn syrup.
 
Pollan writes about how the shorter the food chain, the better:
Only when we participate in a short food chain are we reminded every week that we are indeed part of a food chain and dependent for our health on its peoples and soils and integrity--on its health....Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and "value" or they can nourish a food chain organized around values--values like quality and health.  Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote--a vote for health in the largest sense--food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.

Not much more I can say in addition to that.  Mr. Pollan seems to have hit it right on the head.

More tips next time.
 
 
     

Friday, April 12, 2013

Importance of Healthy Eating for Cancer Patients

by guest blogger, David Haas

If you or someone you know has mesothelioma or any other type of cancer, it is important to maintain a healthy diet. Eating well on a regular basis can have profound impacts on the body and the mind to help during treatment. Here are just a few of the ways that a cancer patient can benefit from proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

Eating well can help you to keep up your strength. When going through treatment for cancer, it is absolutely necessary that the body have strength. It needs strength to fight and keep going on a daily basis. The proper nutrition can help your body to function at its maximum potential in this respect. Each time the body goes through a round of chemo, energy is drained from it, but if you have the right nutrients in your body, it won't completely deplete you. It will give you the energy to engage in the healing that you need to in addition to still being able to do the things that you want to for fun.

Proper nutrition boosts your immune system and helps you to feel better. The right foods in your body help all your inner organs to function to their maximum potential. That is why you have more energy. But you can also increase the strength of your immune system so that you are less likely to catch colds and feel run down. When the body does not have to focus on other ailments in the body, it can focus all its energy on its biggest task at hand, fighting cancer.

Healthy eating is good for the mind as well as the body. When your body has energy and feels healthy, the mind has more positive energy running through it. It is important to keep your spirits up when battling cancer, and eating the right foods is one way to help. It has been shown that a lack of
nutrition or the wrong types of food can contribute to depression. If you eat the right foods, you may be able to keep the negative thoughts at bay.Engaging in a healthy lifestyle and indulging in the proper nutrition is important for everyone, but it is especially necessary for those who are undergoing treatment for cancer. it can help them boost their energy levels, increase their immune system, and have a better attitude, among many other benefits.

David Haas is Director of Awareness Programs for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching much of the information on their website, David often blogs about programs and campaigns through the MCA. He is a fitness enthusiast who likes to run, climb and bike. He's also very involved in outreach associated with awareness about the dangers of asbestos for many different organizations and groups. Thanks to David for the following article!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Escape from the Western Diet

I take the title of today's post from Michael Pollan's title for one of the sections in his In Defense of FoodAnd it sort of is the crux of the problem that has created our health problems.

As we've seen, those who eat the Western diet are prone to all sorts of medical problems that could be avoided by eating differently--heart disease and diabetes being the most prominent.  I guess the question is why we don't eat more "real" food and less processed, Western diet food?

Part of it is today's food industry.  They continue to push low-fat and low-carb products.  They continue to add omega-3 and antioxidants to products.  Sounds good, but the bottom line is that this just further processes the things they want us to eat.  And draws them further and further from being
real food.

And it may seem cynical, but the health care industry benefits, too.  As I wrote last time, it's apparently easier to create treatments for these diseases than to change the way we eat and prevent them altogether.  Easier for us to get treated than to avoid it, too.

More from Pollan:
...[I]nstead of worrying about nutrients, we should simply avoid any food that has been processed to such an extent that it is more the product of industry than of nature. 
 
Sound sensible enough, writes Pollan:
...until you realize that the industrial processes have by now invaded many whole foods, too.  Is a steak from a feedlot steer that consumed a diet of corn, various industrial waste products, antibiotics, and hormones still a "whole food"?  I'm not so sure.  The steer has itself been raised on a Western diet, and that diet has rendered its meat substantially different--in the type and amount of fat in it as well as its vitamin content--from the beef our ancestors ate.  The steer's industrial upbringing has also rendered its meat so cheap that we're likely to eat more of it more often than our ancestors ever would have.  This suggests yet another sense in which this beef has become an industrial food: It is designed to be eaten industrially, too--as fast food.
 
Ugh.

It's a whole change of thinking that will allow us to escape the Western diet.  It will cost more--in money and time--but we end up paying for it eventually anyway in the form of prescriptions and doctor co-pays.  So why not pay for great, local, healthy foods now, take the time to prepare it in a way that will highlight the taste.  And sit down (as a family, is a good idea) and ENJOY our food.  SAVOR it. 

According to a study noted in the book, Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food.  (Italians and French spend 14.9%, Spanish spend 17.1%.)  They also spend less than half an hour a day preparing food and less than an hour a day enjoying it.  (Much less than 50-60 years ago.)  I recently saw a study that says that about 19% of American meals are eaten IN THE CAR!

This is ridiculous.  Family meals are known to bring families closer together.  Kids who eat a majority of their meals as a family do better in school, are less likely to mess around with alcohol and drugs and get along better with their parents.

Yes, it's hard.  So few of us have the time to prepare a meal, let alone time to sit down as a family to eat it.  That's a whole other culture change that needs to be made.  But there are healthy, delicious meals that can be made quickly.  Take time to make meals ahead of time, so they can be put on the table quicker.  Hire a personal chef (I know a good one!) to use fresh ingredients to make meals for your family that you can put on the table in a matter of minutes and clean up in even less time. 

There are ways to do this.  You just have to want to do it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Something Seedy in our Diet

Here's some more of my "book report" about Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.

As I wrote in the last post about Pollan's book, we are eating loads of corn and soy (among other things) to our health's detriment.  The thing is we should be eating much more leaves than seeds to get the most nutrition from plants. 

Green plants give us much of the omega-3 fatty acids (that we often associate with fish).  Leaves make these fatty acids through photosynthesis.  We need them because, well, we can't go through photosynthesis--or any other process--to produce them ourselves.  And they are important: they've been found to help our brains, eyes, metabolism, inflammation and on and on.  What we get from seeds are omega-6, which isn't bad, we just don't need so much of it.

Pollan writes:
It helps to think of omega-3s as fleet and flexible, omega-6s as sturdy and slow.  Because the two fatty acids compete with each other for space in cell membranes and for the attention of various enzymes, the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s, in the diet and in turn in our tissues, may matter more than the absolute quantity of either fat.  So, too much omega-6 may be just as much of a problem as too little omega-3.
 
So by eating a Western diet, that ratio is all screwed up in our bodies.  The same goes for our food animals, which often are not being fed the leaves that they were meant to eat.  Their diet is replaced with grains, which lowers the omega-3s in our meat, dairy, eggs, etc and increases the omega-6s.  For example, that's why grass fed/finished beef is so much healthier than grain-fed.

Pollan uses the Japanese as a comparison to Americans.  The Japanese take in huge amounts of omega-3s (much of it from fish) and have amazingly low rates of cardiovascular disease--even though they smoke at high rates and have high blood pressure.  Americans, on the other hand, take in about a third of omega-3s and have about 4 times the rate of death from heart disease.  Hmm...  So even using omega-3 supplements in our diets doesn't really do too much good unless we lower the omega-6s we're ingesting.

But how do we know this?  Who is supposed to tell us to eat fish or greens to be healthy?  For most of human history, it was our culture, our ethnicity, those traditional foods that were raised or caught where we or our ancestors lived.  Now where do we look for help?  The health care industry.  How's that working out?

More from Pollan:
Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick.  Doctors have gotten really good at keeping people with heart disease alive, and now they're hard at work on obesity and diabetes.  Much more so than the human body, capitalism is marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into new business opportunities: diet pills, heart bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery.  But though fast food may be good business for the health care industry, the cost to society--an estimated $250 billion a year in diet-related health care costs and rising rapidly--cannot be sustained indefinitely.
 
He goes on to write how an American born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of getting diabetes sometime in his life--even more if he's African-American or Hispanic-American.  Being diagnosed with diabetes takes about 12 years off your life and costs $13,000 in medical costs.  Someone without diabetes has about $2500 in those costs.  Diabetes is becoming more of the norm in the US thanks to the Western diet.  As Pollan writes: "Apparently it is easier, or at least a lot more profitable, to change a disease of civilization into a lifestyle than it is to change the way that civilization eats."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Complexity vs. Simplicity

I'm continuing my "book report" about Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food today with his discussion about how breaking down things into component parts is not always the greatest thing--especially for our food and our health.

He talks about how for simplicity's sake (yield, shipping, shelf-life, etc) half of America's commercially grown broccoli, for example, is one high-yield variety.  The great majority of chickens raised in this country are the same hybrid.  More than 99% of turkeys raised here are the same
variety.

Why does this matter?  Says Pollan:
With the rise of industrial agriculture, vast monocultures of a tiny group of plants, most of them cereal grains, have replaced the diversified farms that used to feed us.
 
Think about what a typical farm grew and raised 100 years ago.  A huge amount of different fruits, vegetables and livestock.  Now, things have changed, says Pollan:
 This simplification of the agricultural landscape leads directly to the simplification of the diet, which is now to a remarkable extent dominated by--big surprise--corn and soybeans.  You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soybeans, but you do: 75 percent of the vegetable oils in your diet come from soy (representing 20 percent of your daily calories) and more than half of the sweeteners you consume come from corn (representing around 10 percent of daily calories).
 
Yikes. 

Much of the corn and soy crop goes into feed for the animals we eat--simplifying their diets, which is unhealthy for them.  But our health is being dictated by the amount of corn and soy in our foods.  Again, Pollan writes:
...Today corn contributes 554 calories a day to America's per capita food supply and soy another 257.  Add wheat (768 calories) and rice (91) and you can see there isn't a whole lot of room left in the American stomach for any other foods....Today these four crops account for two thirds of the calories we eat.  When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some eighty thousand edible species....this represents a radical simplification of the human diet.

The problem is that humans are omnivores.  We are built to get our nutrition from a wide variety of foods, not just these four.

Another problem with industrial farming is a loss in nutrition in the crops themselves.  The USDA has shown that 43 crops they have traced since the middle of the 20th Century have decreased nutrition. 
 ...You have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple, and you'd have to eat several more slices of bread to get your recommended daily allowance of zinc than you would have a century ago.
 
Industrial fertilizers are part of the problem.  Crops grow quicker and don't have the time to build up the nutrients they would if they were grown naturally.  They also give the plants an easier time to get the nutrients they need, so their roots aren't as deep and can't reach down into the soil where the essential minerals dwell. 

This is a big issue and way too much for me to write about here (read the book).  But you get an idea of how things like this are all intertwined with our food and our health.  More later.
  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Sugar!

Yesterday I wrote a bit about some of our long-standing Easter traditions that center around food.  They are based on the religious meaning of the holiday and date from pre-Christian days.

But come on.  We really know what many people think of when they Easter food comes to mind:  jelly beans and chocolate bunnies!

So here are some interesting facts about how these two confections became as big a part of Easter as lamb and eggs.
The exact origins of jelly beans are not exactly known, but most experts believe that they are
decedents of two kinds of candies: Turkish delights, which date from biblical times and had a gel-based center; and Jordan Almonds, a candy from 15th Century France which used "panning" to create the shiny shell that they share with jelly beans.

The first appearance of "modern" jelly beans were during the Civil War when, in 1861, a Boston confectioner suggested that jelly beans be sent to Union soldiers as gifts.  Perhaps because of the candy's lack of nutritional value, in the early 20th Century, "jelly bean" became a term for a man with style and no substance.  Jelly beans were the first candies sold by weight and originally were often sold by color.

It wasn't until the 1930's, though, that jelly beans became associated with Easter.  Someone realized that the candy was shaped like the egg--a traditional symbol of Easter and rebirth--and they were marketed as Easter candy.  Today, about 16 billion jelly beans are made for the Easter season.

In 1976, Jelly Belly started producing it's famous gourmet jelly beans.  Up until 1998, Jelly Belly reports that their most popular flavor was Very Cherry.  But in that year, Buttered Popcorn took over as favorite.  (I know, I don't get it either.)  But Very Cherry took over once again in 2003.  Jelly Belly makes 50 regular flavors and some specialty flavors (including blueberry, which was created for jelly bean-lover Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981).  You can see their list of flavors here.

Well, it's no surprise that someone started making bunnies out of chocolate for Easter.  The rabbit--a symbol of fertility--was long a symbol of Easter for that reason.  And hey, pretty much everyone likes chocolate. 

The first chocolate bunnies were made in Germany in the 19th Century.  Whitman's Chocolates started to produce them in 1842, but they didn't really catch on that much.  Around 1890, a Pennsylvania drug store owner, Robert L. Strohecker, displayed a 5-foot chocolate bunny in his store as an Easter promotion.  (Try as I might, I could not find out where in PA he was from.  If anyone knows, tell me!)  Strohecker's idea helped to popularize the chocolate bunny for Easter, where it really took off in the early 20th Century.  By the way, Robert L. Strohecker chocolate bunnies are still available and are supposed to be some of the best you can find.

During World War II, cocoa was rationed, so to abide with these regulations, confectioners started making hollow bunnies.  The process continued after rationing ended as a way for these businesses to save money by not using as much chocolate in their products.  I don't know.  It's always a little disappointing biting into a hollow bunny. 

Today, there are more than 60 million chocolate bunnies produced each year for American Easter celebrations.  And 76% of Americans say that they eat their bunnies ears-first.  You're not alone!

So there you go.  Jelly beans and chocolate bunnies.  Have a tasty and cavity-free Easter!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easter Food Traditions

Like most holidays, Easter is filled with family traditions--most of them centered on food.  Probably more than most holiday food traditions, however, food associated with Easter is steeped in symbolism and ancient roots.

This holiday may be the most sacred day for Christians, but many Easter traditions come from pre-Christian pagan cultures.  In fact, the word Easter comes from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and springtime.  So it's not all that surprising that the fertile rabbit later became a symbol of Easter.

But we're here to talk about food. 

And probably the most long-standing Easter food is lamb.  The lamb holds a starring role in the Passover story where the Israelites were ordered to kill a lamb, paint above their door with the blood and eat it for their meal.  The blood notified the "Angel of Death" to pass over their home, thus saving them from destruction.  As some ancient Jews converted to Christianity, they brought their tradition of the sacrificial lamb with them--representing Christ as the Lamb of God.  Tradition has it that the devil can take the form of any animal except the lamb, because of it's religious significance.

In our country, lamb isn't as popular as ham.  Even this is not by chance.  In many ancient cultures, the pig was known as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.  That's why we put money in piggy banks and eat pork for the new year (pigs push forward as they forage as we should do into the new year).  Ham became popular for Easter (instead of fresh pork) because the animals were usually slaughtered in the fall and their meat was cured to last the winter.  So by the time Easter rolled around, the ham was ready to eat. 

Ask most people around the world, though, what food they think of in relation to Easter and they'll say the egg.  The egg has been a symbol of new birth from ancient times when many believed that the world was formed from an egg.  Eggs are part of the traditional Jewish seder meal and later, many saw the empty shell of a cracked egg as representing the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter.  In Medieval times (and in some cultures still today), eggs were prohibited during the Lenten season.  Eggs were boiled or preserved in some other way and finally eaten on Easter.

The tradition of decorating eggs goes back thousands of years.  Ancient Egyptians and Persians decorated eggs (ostrich for the Egyptians) and given as gifts as a symbol of new life.  Decorating eggs for Easter seems to have started in 1290, when Edward I of England (known as Longshanks) ordered 450 hard-cooked eggs to be covered with gold leaf and given as Easter gifts. 


Egg decorating has different styles in various parts of the world.  Greek and Slavic traditions dye the eggs deep red to represent the blood of Christ.  Those in Poland, Russia, Ukraine and other countries in that part of the world take to decorating their eggs in as fancy a way as they can--full of symbols, holy pictures and intricate designs.  Of course, in the 19th Century, the Russian court jeweler named Faberge', used precious stones, gold and more to create egg-shaped treasures. 

Even the famous egg rolling on the White House lawn has its roots in an ancient game, where the rolling egg represents the stone rolling from Jesus' grave.  Games similar to this are still played in many parts of the world.

If you haven't cooked your eggs yet, give this method a try.  It gives you perfect hard-cooked eggs every time.

FOOL-PROOF HARD-COOKED EGGS
Make as many eggs as you wish, as long as they are in 1 layer in the bottom of the pan and can be covered with 1 inch of water.
  1. Place the eggs in a pan, cover with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a bowl with cold water and a tray or two of ice.
  2. Transfer the eggs to the ice bath with a slotted spoon and let sit for 5 minutes.  Then they'll be ready to decorate or eat.

So as you enjoy your Easter meal with family and friends, think about how you are part of that long line through the generations celebrating this most holy day in much the same way!