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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grilled Watermelon Wedges with Balsamic Reduction

Here's one last recipe from my Blooming Glen Farm demo last week--and this one is probably the most unusual of the ones I made that day.  But it was also the one that was completely scarfed up by samplers.

I love grilling fruit.  I think it really brings out flavors that you might miss from the raw fruit.  Watermelon is no exception.  You just have to make sure that you don't grill it for too long or it will get pretty mushy.  (If you missed it, click here for a grilled cantaloupe and peach recipe from my demo in July.)

This dish has that sweet and salty thing going on, which I love.  And I think you'll love it, too!  It will be the talk of your picnic.

Serves 4-6

You can cut up the watermelon to serve as a salad if you wish.  I like serving it in wedges as an interesting finger food.

2 1/2 lb watermelon, preferably seedless
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1/2 cup feta cheese (or goat cheese)
Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

  • In a small saucepan, bring vinegar to a simmer over med-high heat.  Cook until reduced to a thick syrup.  Set aside.
  • Preheat grill to high.
  • Cut watermelon into half-moon slices.  Brush both sides of melon with oil.
  • Clean and oil the grill grates.  Grill watermelon about 2 min per side or until grill marks appear.  Transfer to a plate and season with salt.  When cool, cut into smaller wedges.
  • Place wedges on a platter.  Drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with crumbled cheese.  Finish with pepper and a little extra-virgin olive oil if you wish.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Grilled Zucchini Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

Zucchini--it's one of those veggies that just seems to come at you non-stop through the whole summer.  You can saute it, bread it and fry it, make muffins or bread, even make pickles out of them.  You have to be fairly creative to come up with different ways to make zucchini without getting into a rut.

Well, at my Blooming Glen Farm demo last week, I made a delicious dish using zucchini and the wonderful tomatoes and herbs that are available now.  This should help you out of that zucchini rut.  And it doesn't get much better when you use farm-fresh veggies!

Serves 8

6 plum tomatoes
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, divided
1 Tbsp garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp oregano, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2" thick slices
1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/2" thick slices
1/4 cup basil, chopped
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated

  • Preheat grill to medium-high.  Clean grill grates.
  • Place tomatoes on grill.  Reduce heat to medium and roast, turning occasionally, 10-15 min or until charred and tender.  They will be soft and the skins will split.  Remove from grill and let cool.  Remove skins and place tomatoes in food processor.
  • To the tomatoes, add 3 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp vinegar, garlic and oregano.  Pulse until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.
  • Place the zucchini and onion on a sheet pan or in a large bowl.  Toss with 2 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Oil grill grate and grill vegetables for 10-15 min or until tender and slightly charred.  Remove and let cool slightly.  Chop into bite-sized pieces.
  • Transfer zucchini and onion to a bowl.  Add vinaigrette, toss and season to taste.  Garnish with basil and Parm. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts and Raisins

When I do demos at Blooming Glen Farm, people often ask what to do with Swiss chard.  My old standby is just to saute it with some onion and garlic.  It's really good that way.  But for my demo last week, I wanted to find a different way to prepare chard.

I found an interesting idea in an old Cooking Light magazine that I tweaked a little bit and it came out great.  It's a raw preparation--the leaves marinate to tenderize a little bit.  It's very summery--fresh tasting and doesn't heat up your kitchen!  Even kids will like it.  My son, Jake, who isn't crazy about cooked greens, really loved it.

SWISS CHARD WITH PINE NUTS AND RAISINS (adapted from Cooking Light magazine)
Serves 4

1 1/4 lb Swiss chard, leaves removed, stems reserved for another use
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup raisins
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted

  • Slice the chard leaves crosswise into very thin shreds.  Place in a large bowl.
  • Whisk together the juice, oil, salt and pepper.  Drizzle over the chard and toss.  Add raisins and nuts.  Toss to combine.
  • Let stand about 15 min before serving.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tomato, Pine Nut and Arugula Pesto Pasta

Here's another recipe I made for my demo at Blooming Glen Farm last week.  I've made this dish for a number of clients and it's always a big hit.  It's really easy and, when you use fresh ingredients, so tasty!

(By the way, congratulations to Tom, Tricia and all the folks at Blooming Glen Farm for becoming certified organic!  It's a lot of work to get that designation.  Way to go!)

Back to the food.  This pesto is great with pasta, although you could even use it as a sauce for grilled meat.  It stands on its own really well, but feel free to add some grilled chicken or, as I did in the photo below, some Italian sausage.


TOMATO, PINE NUT AND ARUGULA PESTO PASTA (from America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook)
Serves 4

12 oz cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup arugula
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 small pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta

  • Cook pasta al dente according to package directions.
  • Process tomatoes, arugula, Parm, pine nuts, pepperoncini, garlic, 1 tsp salt and pepper flakes in a food processor until smooth, 30-60 seconds.  Scrape bowl as needed.
  • With processor running, slowly add oil until incorporated.  Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Toss in the pasta and serve.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tomato Pineapple Salsa

Another fun demo day at Blooming Glen Farm on August 19, so you know what that means!  More recipes to share with you.

The first was probably the most popular all day--and the simplest.  Chop, squeeze, stir, serve.  Gotta love it.  Yes, it's another salsa, but there's a little tangy twist from fresh ginger in this one.  It's really great as a dip with tortilla chips, but try it as a condiment for grilled fish and meat.  Oh yeah.

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups tomato, diced
2/3 cup pineapple, diced
1 small jalapeno (or other hot pepper), minced (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp lime juice (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp ginger, grated
2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Serve.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cucumber Salad with Chile, Mint and Basil

Here's the last recipe from my demo last week at Blooming Glen Farm.  This one is probably my favorite--I just love the flavors that are in it.  It's kind of a Thai-type of thing going on--sweet, sour, spicy.  I actually made this for one of my clients today.  You'll love it, too.

Oh, and if you like these recipes, check back after my next BGF demo on August 19.  I'll be posting more.

But for now, enjoy this crisp and fresh salad.  Perfect for a side with some grilled meat.  I used Kirby cucumbers at the farm--they're the smaller ones used to make kosher dill pickles.  They have very small seeds, so I didn't seed them.  If you're using the larger, slicing cucumbers, you'll want to seed them to get rid of a lot of water and the tough seeds.  I also left out the peanuts at the farm due to allergy concerns.

CUCUMBER SALAD WITH CHILE, MINT AND BASIL (adapted from Cook's Country magazine)
Serves 4

4 cucumbers (or 8 if using the smaller Kirby variety), peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced thinly
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 hot peppers (Thai bird chiles or jalapenos, for example), seeded and minced
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup basil, chopped
3 Tbsp peanuts, toasted
  • Evenly spread cucumber slices on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Refrigerate while preparing dressing.
  • Bring vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over med-low heat; cook until reduced to about 2 Tbsp, 4-6 min.
  • Transfer vinegar to a large bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 10 min.  When cooled, whisk in lime juice, oil, sugar, fish sauce, chiles, salt and pepper.
  • When ready to serve, combine cucumbers, mint and basil with the dressing.  Let stand 5 min; then retoss and sprinkle with peanuts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Grilled Cantaloupe and Peach Salad

I love grilled fruit.  Grilling brings out the sweetness and really intensifies the flavors.  You don't have to grill fruit for very long (in fact, too long and they'll get too mushy).  This salad, that I made at my Blooming Glen Farm demo, is a nice mix of flavors and textures.

I used lettuce at the farm since spinach and arugula weren't available and it was great.  But the spinach and arugula add even more variety to the flavors.

GRILLED CANTALOUPE AND PEACH SALAD (adapted from Cooking Light magazine)
Serves 6

1 Tbsp soy sauce
3-4 ripe peaches, pitted
3 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp garlic, minced
1/8 tsp kosher salt
3 cups baby arugula, about 3 oz
3 cups baby spinach, about 3 oz
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cantaloupe, seeded and cut into 6 wedges
3 Tbsp walnuts, chopped and toasted

  • Preheat grill to medium-high.  Clean and oil the grate.
  • Place peaches, cut-side down, on grill.  Grill for 2-3 min or until starting to get grill marks and flesh is starting to soften.
  • Rub more oil on grill grates and place cantaloupe slices on grill for about 1-2 min per side, or until starting to get grill marks and flesh is starting to soften.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, lime juice, honey, oil, garlic and salt.
  • Combine arugula, spinach, celery, onion and pepper in a large serving bowl.  Remove melon from rind and dice into bite-sized pieces.  Dice peaches as well.  Toss with greens.  Drizzle with dressing to taste.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Smoky Potato Salad

Here's another tasty dish from my demo at Blooming Glen Farm.

Potato salads are always a favorite at picnics and this one is a winner.  It's got a light, but flavorful dressing and the great taste of the grill.  Best of all, no par-cooking the potatoes needed in this recipe.  Cook them all the way on the grill--just as long as you use the right size.

Give it a try!

SMOKY POTATO SALAD (adapted from Cook's Country magazine)
Serves 8

I went a little easy on the chipotle at the farm just in case some folks didn't like much spice.  But feel free to add as much or as little as you like.  Remember that chipotle chiles are smoked jalapenos, so they'll not only add heat, but a smoky flavor.

6 slices bacon, chopped
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing
3 pounds red potatoes, small (about 2"), unpeeled and halved
1 large onion, sliced into 1/2" thick rounds
4 scallions, thinly sliced

  • Preheat grill to high.
  • Cook bacon in a 12" skillet over medium heat until crisp, 7-9 min; transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.  Reserve 2 Tbsp bacon fat.
  • Whisk vinegar, mayo, chipotle, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a large bowl.  Slowly whisk in 3 Tbsp oil until combined.  Set aside.
  • Clean and oil the grill grate.  Turn heat down to medium.
  • Toss the potatoes with the reserved bacon fat and 1/2 tsp salt.  Brush onion rounds with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place potatoes, cut side down, and onions on grill and cook, covered, until charred on first side, about 10-14 min.
  • Flip potatoes and onions and continue cooking, covered, until well browned and potatoes are tender, another 10-16 min.  Transfer all to a rimmed baking sheet to cool slightly.
  • Cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces and coarsely chop the onions.  Add potato, onion, scallion and bacon to the dressing and toss.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm or at room temperature.er to taste.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Here's another dish that I made at my Blooming Glen Farm demo last week.  This is easy, quick and really tasty--nice fresh flavors of lemon and tarragon.

Use globe eggplant for this recipe--the Asian eggplants are too thin and turn to mush pretty quickly.  I used cherry tomatoes instead of regular ones--just halved them.  Parsley can be used if you don't have or don't like tarragon.

GRILLED EGGPLANT SALAD (adapted from The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen)
Serves 4

1 pound eggplant
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4" dice
3/4 cup tarragon, chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper

  • Preheat grill to high.
  • Place eggplant on hot grate until flesh is very soft, turning as needed, 15-20 min for smaller eggplants or up to 30 min for large.  Transfer to a cutting board to cool.
  • Cut stem end from eggplant and pull skin off.  Cut into 1/4" dice and transfer to a serving bowl.  Stir in tomato, tarragon, scallion, garlic 2 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste.

Asian-Flavored Slaw

Last week, I was happy to do another demo at Blooming Glen Farm.  It's always so fun to make dishes there for the folks picking up their shares.  I get to cook in a beautiful setting, using the best ingredients you can find (and that were grown right there) and I get to talk to people who really appreciate and enjoy good food.

Here's the first recipe of the 5 that I made there.  All are pretty simple, have great flavors and use seasonal ingredients.  So try them!

ASIAN-FLAVORED SLAW (adapted from The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen)
Serves 4

I used red cabbage because that's the kind of cabbage the farm had.  And since peas aren't in season, I didn't include them.

1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced or grated (or more to taste)
5 Tbsp rice vinegar (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp sugar (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds
3 cups Napa cabbage, shredded (see note above)
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded or grated
1/2 medium bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 scallions, white minced and green thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup snow pea pods, whole, trimmed, stringed and thinly sliced (see note above)

  • Combine garlic, ginger, 5 Tbsp vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.  Whisk until sugar dissolves.  Then whisk in oil and seeds.
  • Stir in cabbage, carrots, pepper, scallions and peas.  Toss to mix.
  • Adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Serve within 4 hours of making.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Easter Foods

As is the case with many of our holidays, Easter is steeped in tradition--many of which have to do with food.  Most of the foods we traditionally eat at Easter--from eggs to ham to candy--are full of symbolism and religious meaning.

If you're interested, you can read some of the things I've written previously about Easter food.  Click here to read about our common Easter food and why they're so appropriate for the season.  And click here to read about Easter candy!

Here are a few lesser-known Easter traditions (to us, anyway) from around the world.

  • In the United Kingdom, they make something called Easter Simnel.  It's basically a fruitcake topped with 12 marzipan balls that represent the 12 apostles.  I guess it's not a holiday there without fruitcake!
  • Instead of chocolate bunnies, in Australia, they sometimes have chocolate bilbies.  The bilby is a very endangered marsupial native to the country.  They actually compete with rabbits--introduced to the country a couple of centuries ago--for food and habitat.  And the bunnies are winning.  So the Easter Bunny isn't very welcome Down Under, I suppose.
  • A blend of the best local beers, called Paskelbrygg, was started in 1934 in Norway during the Easter season (not sure what the connection is).  Conservative Christian groups protested and it died away a bit until after WWII, when it resurfaced and still is popular today.
  • Colomba Pasquale is a sweet bread made in the rough shape of a dove for the Easter holiday in Italy.  It is coated in almonds and coarse sugar.  
  • A Russian Easter dessert, paskha, is made primarily from cream cheese, cottage cheese and dried fruit.  It's made in a pyramid shape and traditionally has the Cyrillic symbols for "Christ has risen" written in icing.
  • Visit Brazil during Easter and you'll probably find something called pacoca de amendoim (often just called pacoca, which could be confusing since there's a meat dish of the same name).  It's made from crushed peanuts, sugar and cassava flour.  Think the inside of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  Yum!
So there are just a few more Easter foods for you to sink your teeth into.  Enjoy your holiday!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


When was the last time you ate at a fast food restaurant?  In the past week?  Month?  Amazingly, one in three American kids eats fast food every single day.  That astounds me.  And probably, that fast food meal is eaten in the car--as 19% of American meals are.

In his The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan continues following the trail of corn to a fast food meal at McDonald's with his son and wife.  He tells how his son ordered McNuggets.  The McDonald's he went to had a flyer that listed ingredients, nutrition info, etc about the menu items.  Guess how many ingredients there are in a McNugget.  Go ahead, guess....

Did you guess thirty-eight?  I didn't think so.  Of those, Pollan counted 13 that can be derived from corn.

Then there's the chemicals that are included--even one that is derived from petroleum and is sprayed onto the nugget or the box to "help preserve freshness."  This is OK with the FDA even though the stuff is flammable.  Yum.

So anyway, what he ended up doing was testing the food that they ordered:  soda, milk shake, salad and dressing, chicken nugget, cheeseburger and French fries for the amount of corn in each.  It can be done by testing the carbon from the corn, which stays intact no matter how processed the corn gets.
The sodas came out at the top, not surprising since they consist of little else than corn sweetener, but virtually everything else we ate revealed a high proportion of corn, too.  In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal: soda (100% corn), milk shake (78%), salad dressing (65%), chicken nuggets (56%), cheeseburger (52%), and French fries (23%).  What in the eyes of the omnivore looks like a meal of impressive variety turns out, when viewed through the eyes of the mass spectrometer, to be the meal of a far more specialized kind of eater.  But then, this is what the industrial eater has become: corn's koala.
To add insult to injury, Pollan figured that they ate a total of 4510 calories--"more than half as many as we each should probably consume in a day."  Plus they "had consumed a lot of petroleum, and not just because we were in a car.  To grow and process those 4510 food calories took at least ten times as many calories of fossil energy, the equivalent of 1.3 gallons of oil."

Something to think about next time you have a hankerin' for a McSomethingorother.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trying to Process it All

Some of the more interesting info that Michael Pollan writes in his The Omnivore's Dilemma (to me, at least) is the advent of processed foods--and its effects on our health, environment and the whole food culture in this country.

Processing food is not a recent phenomenon--just how it's done is.  Pollan writes of the 3 "ages" of food processing.  The first was centuries ago when we learned how to preserve food through the use of salt and cures and pickling.  Then, as technology advanced a bit, we started to can and freeze our foods to make them last.  But then, in the words of Pollan:
In the third age of food processing, which begins with the end of World War II, merely preserving the fruits of nature was deemed too modest:  The goal now was to improve on nature.  The twentieth-century prestige of technology and convenience combined with advances in marketing to push aside butter to make shelf space for margarine, replace fruit juice with juice drinks and then entirely juice-free drinks like Tang, cheese with Cheez Whiz, and whipped cream with Cool Whip.
As you may guess, corn is involved greatly in these technological "advances".  Maybe the best example how technology and marketing make a boatload of money for big businesses is breakfast cereals.  It takes a cheap commodity like corn and turns it into a box of cereal that's sold for $4 or more.  And this "improvement" on nature's food can be found in many places.

Pollan writes of a company called TreeTop that "has developed a 'low-moisture, naturally sweetened apple piece infused with a red-wine extract.'  Just eighteen grams of these apple pieces have the same amount of cancer-fighting 'flavonoid phenols as five glasses of wine and the dietary fibber equivalent of one whole apple.'"  Is is me or is this just weird?  The article where he read about this company was in Food Technology and was entitled "Getting More Fruits and Vegetables into Food."  That pretty much tells you what you need to know.

Where does this leave us?  In a nation full of healthcare problems, Type II diabetes (which originally was called "adult-onset diabetes" until so many kids started to be diagnosed with it) and turning corn into high fructose corn syrup to sweeten our foods.  These processed foods are cheap calories and so people eat more of it.  That's why  poverty and obesity go hand-in-hand.  According to Pollan, since 1977, American's average daily intake of calories has gone up more than 10%.  

Ahh, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  We've all heard how it isn't good for us (except for those TV commercials from the corn processors that were running the last couple of years telling us differently).  Problem is that even though we eat more HFCS, we're still eating just as much refined sugar.  The average American consumes about 66 pounds of HFCS a year, but our refined sugar intake is going up.  Yuck.

In 1984, Coke and Pepsi decided to change from sugar to corn syrup--it's much cheaper--but because of the lower cost in producing their products, they sold them in larger bottles.  Lower cost per ounce, but we drink more ounces.  Bigger is better--just ask fast food restaurants who want you to Super Size for just a few cents more.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Beefy Corn

Time for another recap of some of the fascinating (and disturbing) information passed on by author Michael Pollan in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Last time, I told you of the incredible role that corn plays in our American lives--in our food, our health, etc. Pollan goes on to describe how most of the commodity corn grown in the US is used.

60% of the corn grown in the US goes to feeding livestock--most of it going to feed the 100 million beef cattle raised in this country.  Unfortunately, these animals aren't built for eating corn.  They're grass eaters, but corn is cheaper and allows the animals to fatten up in a fraction of the time that grass does it.

These corn-fed cattle live (and I use that word very loosely) on what are called CAFOs--Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  (Appetizing, huh?)  It used to be that cattle were raised on a farm that was growing all sorts of crops and the animals were fed the waste from the crops.  And the crops benefited from the waste from the animals.  It was a logical and natural circle.  With these feeding "cities," however, all sorts of problems arise--the fertility of the land is ruined (because growing one crop over and over will kill the nutritional content of the soil), terrible pollution problems occur at the feedlot (which usually go without a remedy) among many others.

What Pollan does is actually buys a calf (named Steer 534) that is on a ranch in South Dakota and follows it to a CAFO in Kansas.  These newly born calves start on grass because, biologically, they have to.  But soon they are weaned from the grass and their mother's milk to ready them for the feedlot.  In days past, it took a steer maybe 4-5 years to be ready for slaughter.  Today, thanks to corn and protein and fat supplements and drugs, a steer grows from 80 to 1100 pounds in about fourteen months.  Just not natural.

While the natural circle that I talked about above in the farms of the not-so-distant past is a good thing, the CAFOs present a vicious circle.  Pollan likens these feedlots to medieval cities--where overcrowding and lack of sanitation is a recipe for disease.  The reason the residents of these modern cities don't succumb to disease is the antibiotic.  Another tasty ingredient so often mass-produced beef.

Pollan describes how the feed is mixed together at the CAFO where 534 lives.
Every hour of every day a tractor trailer pulls up to the loading dock to deliver another fifty tons of corn....tanker trucks back up to silo-shaped tanks into which they pump thousands of gallons of liquefied fat and protein supplements.  In a shed attached to the mill sit vats of liquid vitamins and synthetic estrogen beside pallets stacked with fifty-pound sacks of antibiotics....Along with alfalfa hay and silage (for roughage), all these ingredients will be automatically blended and then piped into the parade of dump trucks that three times a day fan out from here to keep (their) eight and a half miles of troughs filled.

This just isn't good.  The animals are almost all sick to some degree.  So they have to be given the anitbiotics.  (Most of the antibiotics sold in the US today end up in feed for these animals.)  Then there's the huge pools of manure that just sit on the outskirts of the pens.  The runoff from these waste pools can't be used for crops--they'd kill them because of what's in them.  They end up poisoning waterways and water life.

There's a lot of other problems that I could write about:

  • The danger of strains of microbes (E. coli, for example) that can thrive in the meat and pose a threat to the eater. 
  • How to make that less of a problem, they use radiation to sterilize the meat and the manure that inevitably gets into the meat--along with all the nasty stuff that it contains.  
  • How 1/5 of "America's petroleum consumption goes to producing and transporting our food." 
Bottom line is that how most beef is raised in this country just doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Corn Nation

I just started reading Michael Pollan's 2006 book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I was fascinated by his later book, In Defense of Food, which I read a while ago and hungered (pun intended) for more.  (You can read my blogs about that book starting here.  It goes on for a number of entries.)

I'm not going to do a "book report" like I did with that book, but I thought I'd share some interesting items as I proceed through this book.

Most of what I've read so far has to do with corn and corn's immense effect on this country's food culture--economically, industrially, nutritionally.

Corn originally became popular in this country with the Native Americans (and eventually, early settlers), who used corn in every way possible--fresh, dried for cornmeal, fermented.  Husks were woven or used as food for livestock.  Cobs were burned for heat.

But as time passed, corn began to take over our farmland.  After World War II, there was an excess of ammonium nitrate, which was used to make explosives for the war.  It was discovered that it could be used as a great fertilizer and it was spread throughout the corn fields of the Midwest.  This, along with the development of hybrid varieties, allowed more corn to be planted per acre.  Soon, most other crops were pushed out--not to mention animals and eventually, people, whose residential land was being turned into farmland.

It used to be that Mexicans ate the most corn per person on earth.  It is a staple of their diet and has been for centuries.  But today, it's the people of the US who are the biggest corn consumers.  In the approximately 45,000 items in a supermarket, about 1/4 of them are some derivative of corn--everything from beef that's fed on corn to the many forms of corn syrup (in everything from bread to soda to cereals) to the packaging of processed foods to toothpaste and diapers and trash bags and batteries and....you get the idea.

When many of us think of Iowa, we think of corn.  But Iowa farms in the past grew much more than corn.  They raised a huge variety of fruits and vegetables and animals.  A farm family could be self-sufficient--eating their crops, raising their animals on those crops, etc.--and could sell the excess.  Today, 80% of Iowa's food is imported to the state.  Why?  Because these farms have become solely corn farms.  Many of them beholden to the huge food companies that control them and the government subsidies that help the farmers survive.

It's this "industrial food" that Pollan sees as the downfall of the American food culture.  We don't know what we're eating much of the time or where it comes from.  Big Food works constantly to convince us to eat their products using labels meant to deceive.  This has changed our food culture so much that it's hard to imagine it ever changing back.
So violent a change in a culture's eating habits is surely the sign of a national eating disorder.  Certainly it would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating.  But then, such a culture would not feel the need for its most august legislative body to ever deliberate the nation's "dietary goals"--or, for that matter, to wage political battle every few years over the precise design of an official government graphic called the "food pyramid."  A country with a stable culture of food would not shell out millions for the quackery (or common sense) of a new diet book every January.  It would not be susceptible to the pendulum swings of food scares or fads, to the apotheosis every few years of one newly discovered nutrient and the demonization of another.  It would not be apt to confuse protein bars and food supplements with meals or breakfast cereals with medicines.  It probably would not eat a fifth of its meals in cars of feed fully a third of its children at a fast-food outlet every day.  And it surely would not be nearly as fat.  

That is the crazy thing about the American food culture.  People are obsessed with eating "healthy" and diets  and fads, but are still some of the most unhealthy people on earth.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Family Dinner = Weight Loss?

I've written in the past about the importance of having dinner as a family--even if it's 4-5 times a week.  It's well documented that kids who eat the majority of their meals as a family do better in school  They also have a lower chance of having trouble with drugs, smoking and run-ins with the law.

In addition, it's been found that kids who enjoy dinners with their families tend to have better relationships with their parents and parents know more about what goes on in their kids' lives--simply from the dinner table conversation.

You can read an old post of mine with some interesting info regarding these statistics here.

I just read an article about a study that gives yet another reason to have family dinners.  According to the study, kids who sit at the dinner table for 20 minutes or more were more likely to have a healthy weight than those who didn't.  A difference of only a couple minutes per meal could make a difference.  While the article doesn't go into great detail as to why this is the case, it shows that the simple communication between family members makes a difference as well as having a scheduled meal time.

Personally, it seems to me that eating like this helps the child to eat slower (as opposed to shoving fast food down their throats in the car), which helps maintain a healthy weight.  And I would think that if a family takes the time to sit down for a dinner together, the meal will tend to be balanced and somewhat nutritional.

I don't know.  But what I do know is that there are loads of great reasons to take the time and eat dinners as a family.  It's something, sadly, that seems to be less and less prevalent in our society, but is such a simple way to make a difference in the life of our kids.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars

We like granola bars in our house.  We usually have them for breakfast, but they're good for a nice snack once in a while, too.  Problem is, while many store-bought versions look like they're healthy, they really aren't that great.  (They're healthier than other options, but you know what I mean.)

So I found a recipe in a blog by David Lebovitz for No-Bake Granola Bars.  They sounded good, so I tried them--with a little bit of adjustments to my taste and what we had on hand. 

Well, not only were they easy to make, they were really tasty!  Salty and sweet, a little chewy and a little crunchy.  And no high-fructose anything.  Try them!

NO-BAKE GRANOLA BARS (adapted from David Lebovitz)
Play around with the kinds of fruit and nuts you put in the bars--use what you like or what you think would make a good combination.  Make sure you do not skip toasting, though--it's a huge part of the great taste.

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 cup pitted dates, diced
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried fruit (I used cherries and blueberries), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup honey (I added a little more when mixing because it looked a little dry)
Pinch of salt
  • Preheat oven to 350 (Yes, I know they're "no-bake".  This is for toasting some of the ingredients.)
  • Line the bottom of an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Spread the oats and sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 8-12 min, stirring once or twice, until they are slightly browned.  (Keep an eye on them--my oven did it in about 8 min.  Another minute or so and they would have burned.)  Scrape into a large bowl.
  • Spread the almonds on the baking sheet and toast for 10 min.  (You'll smell them when they're close.)  Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop them and add to the oats.
  • Meanwhile, heat the peanut butter, honey and salt in a small saucepan, stirring until warm, but not boiling. 
  • Add dates, chocolate chips, dried fruit and peanuts to the bowl.  Combine.
  • Pour warm peanut butter mixture over the stuff in the bowl and stir until completely incorporated.  (I used a wooden spoon, but hands would work great, too.  This is where I added a little more honey to hold things together a bit better.)
  • Transfer to the pan and pat it down as flat as possible.  Freeze for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the freezer and run a thin knife around the edge to release it from the sides.  Tip is out on a cutting board, remove the parchment and cut into rectangles.  (I cut it in half and then made bars by cutting parallel to the first cut.)
  • Store them in the fridge.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Freezing Tips

First, sorry.  I know I haven't been blogging much lately.  I'm going to try to change that.

I will start with some ideas for getting the most of your money using your freezer. 

I was rooting around in our freezer the other day and noticed some things in there that I thought would be some good tips to pass on as ways to lower waste and save money.  Who doesn't want to do that?  Maybe you know some of these tips, maybe you don't.  And maybe you have others to share--so please do!

Recipes that call for tomato paste rarely use a whole can.  So what do you do with the paste left over?  You can put it in an airtight container in the fridge if you're going to use it soon.  But usually it ends up getting pushed to the back of the fridge and you find it turned into an interesting science experiment.  I scoop tablespoon-sized globs of the paste onto a plate or pan with parchment paper on it and stick it in the freezer.  Once frozen, I put it in a freezer bag--all ready for you to thaw and use when you need it. 

I'm a Parmesan snob, so 9 times out of 10, I grate my own Parm (and Romano) instead of using pre-grated.  Believe me, it's much better that way.  Anyway, you can only grate so far before getting to the rind.  I save these rinds in the freezer and use them to flavor sauces, stews, soups--anything where the cheesiness can help to improve the flavor of your end product.  Simply throw the rind in and let it melt into your dish.  Yum.

Why is it that there always seems to be a banana or two that isn't eaten?  It just sits on the counter getting soft and black.  If it's too soft to eat (but not yet rotten), throw it in the freezer.  They will turn black very quickly, but freeze solid and are great for using in banana bread or pancakes or muffins.  Pull what you need out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter (they thaw pretty quickly).  Instant banana puree ready for your recipe! 

Buttermilk is the tomato paste of the dairy world.  You always need just a portion of the carton it comes in.  Instead of putting it in the fridge for a while and trying to think of a bunch of buttermilk recipes, measure out 1/4 cup portions of the buttermilk into a muffin tin and freeze.  Once it's frozen, put them in a freezer bag and you have buttermilk already measured out--just pop it in the microwave and return it to a liquid state and you're good to go!

There are other things we do that aren't currently in our freezer:  Mary Beth makes loads of basil pesto at the end of the season and we freeze it in ice cube trays--a great way to get a taste of summer in the midst of winter.  In fact, ice cube trays are a great way to save lots of things for later.  I sometimes freeze wine in trays to use later.  Or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  They come in little cans and you never need all of them.  Give them a chop, measure out into an ice cube tray (in tablespoon-sized portions) and you have it whenever you need it.

So there you go--stop wasting food and money with some of these simple freezer tips.  Again, if you have any to share, let me know!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cookie For Breakfast!

This weekend I made a recipe for Breakfast Cookies from Cook's Country.  It's actually a reader's recipe that they published. 

They are chewy and crunchy and salty and sweet and...well, you get the idea.  Very addictive!  And who wouldn't enjoy a cookie for breakfast?

Give them a try!

BREAKFAST COOKIES (from Cook's Country)
Makes about 16 cookies

8 slices bacon
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 cups (2 oz) Grape-Nuts cereal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed (2 1/3 oz) light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 Tbsp frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 tsp granted orange zest
  1. Cook bacon in 12" skillet over medium heat until crispy, 8-10 min.  Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.  Once cool, crumble coarsely; set aside.  (I minced the bacon before cooking, mine was already "crumbled".)  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine flour, Grape-Nuts, salt, baking powder and baking soda in bowl.  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, 2/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 1 min.  Add egg, orange juice concentrate, and orange zest and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.  Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 3 additions, and mix until just incorporated.  Add bacon and mix until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  3. Place remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar in shallow dish.  Working with 2 Tbsp dough at a time, roll into 16 balls, then roll balls in granulated sugar.  Space balls on prepared sheets in staggered pattern.  Using bottom of a drinking glass, flatten balls to 2 1/2" in diameter.  Sprinkle each sheet with 1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar from dish.
  4. Bake cookie, 1 sheet at a time, until slightly puffy and light golden brown, 15-18 min, rotating sheets halfway through baking.  Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 min, then transfer to wire rack.  Let cookies cool completely before serving.  (I found them even better tasting a day or 2 later.)