Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Real Mayonnaise vs. Light Mayonnaise

Often when I give cooking lessons in people’s homes, Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise is present in refrigerators. I ask why it’s there instead of real mayonnaise, and the response “Because it’s healthier,” usually follows.

“Why is it healthier?” I ask.

Replies to that question range from “Because they say so” to “It has to be” to “It has less fat.”

I don’t expect you to make your own mayonnaise, but you should be buying the real version when you shop. Notice the difference in ingredients between Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise and Hellman's “healthier” versions.

Below are the ingredient lists (copied verbatim) for Hellman’s four most readily available types of mayonnaise. Any biochemistry majors out there?


Soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavors, calcium disodium EDTA (used to protect quality).


Water, soybean oil, vinegar, modified corn starch**, whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar, salt, xanthan gum**, lemon and lime peel fibers** (thickeners), (sorbic acid**, calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, lemon juice concentrate, phosphoric acid**, DL alpha tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), natural flavors, beta carotene**. **Ingredient not in mayonnaise


Water, modified corn starch*, soybean oil, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup*, egg whites, salt, sugar, xanthan gum*, lemon and lime peel fibers*, colors added*, lactic acid*, (sodium benzoate* calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, phosphoric acid*, natural flavors. *Ingredients not in mayonnaise


Water, canola oil**, vinegar, modified corn starch**, whole eggs and egg yolks+, sugar, salt, lemon juice, xanthan gum**, (sorbic acid**, calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, DL alpha tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), phosphoric acid**, natural flavors, citric acid**, oleoresin paprika, beta carotene** (for color). **Ingredient not in mayonnaise +Adds trivial amount of cholesterol

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe we spend too much energy focusing on food items’ Nutrition Facts and not enough on ingredient lists. A little fat and cholesterol will not kill us. The jury is still out, though, on modified corn starch.

From a purely common sense point of view, how can synthetic ingredients be good for us? Michael Pollan calls junk food “edible food-like substances,” a brilliant description for what many think are causing so many of our current health woes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mark Bittman: "Why Take Food Seriously?"

For a quick recap of America's eating habits over the past half decade, read Mark Bittman's article from last Sunday's New York Times Sunday Magazine, which was dedicated to food. It sums up everything in a concise fashion.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our Toxic Food Supply: Exhibit A (Antibiotics)

If you think I’m overzealous in my calls to recognize the dangers of animals raised in feedlots with the help of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, consider the following story of Russ Kremer, a Missouri pig farmer, which appears in the October issue of Gourmet:
“ Kremer explained that he had raised pigs conventionally until he was gored by a boar; the subsequent infection, resistant to antibiotics, had nearly killed him. Raising large numbers of animals in indoor confinement pens, he went on, the pigs living over grates, their feed laced with antibiotics and additives, their waste collected in fetid ponds, Kremer himself working with a syringe strapped to his belt—he thought there had to be an alternative.”
Excuse me? The infection was resistant to antibiotics? Go ahead, read it again:
"Kremer explained that he had raised pigs conventionally until he was gored by a boar; the subsequent infection, resistant to antibiotics, had nearly killed him."
I can’t be the only one who is taken aback by this. If you’re not freaked out, think about what’s swimming in the bacon, ham and pork chops produced from the boar that injured Kremer. And think about how all of those toxins are transferred to our bodies when we eat the radioactive pork products.

Unfortunately, we have been trained to count calories, cholesterol and fat in our food, rather than hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.

Kremer now raises his pigs in a more sustainable fashion that is healthier for us and the environment:
"Today’s bedding hay becomes tomorrow’s compost to fertilize fields of wheat or corn, which, in turn, become animal feed. After harvest, the wheat straw and cornstalks will serve as bedding for another generation of pigs. All of this takes more labor, more time, and paying more attention to both the pigs and their breeding."
Kremer is the Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Acres Foods, which, according to its web site, was “created by 52 farmers . . . each of them dedicating their lives to sustainable agricultural production practices. [This] not only preserves our environment, but means good health for people and their communities.”

Heritage Acres pork is available for purchase on the U.S. Wellness Meats web site.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Grass-Fed Meat from U.S. Wellness Meats

As I’ve previously written, the move toward grass-fed meats is growing. As consumers become more aware of the better flavor and dramatic health benefits of grass-fed foods, demand increases. Suppliers, either new to the trade or converted conventional ranchers, follow in kind.

One example of farmers switching from corn-fed to grass-fed operations is U.S. Wellness Meats, a combine of four family farms in Missouri that decided several years ago to change for economic, environmental and nutritional reasons.

“It’s created more work for them,” said McKenzie Disselhorst, the company’s Fresh Beef Marketing Specialist. “In terms of management of the land and animals, we’re not using chemicals and antibiotics, so the work is harder. But, it’s so much more rewarding.”

The hard work is paying off, as business, according to Disselhorst, is increasing steadily. The company sells its beef on its web site and over the phone; a wide array of additional grass-fed products from other farms that share U.S. Wellness’s mission are also available.

Regarding taste, Disselhorst relays the story of a blind taste test that John Wood, one of the family farmers, administered to members of the Southwest (Mo.) Cattlemen’s Association. Mostly conventional ranchers, the cattlemen were highly skeptical when asked to compare rib eye steaks from corn-fed and grass-fed cattle.

The result? The majority of tasters thought the grass-fed meat had the stronger beef flavor. (The beef is aged for 28 days, which helps it to be more tender and flavorful.)

Another example of the care taken is in the slaughtering process. Since there is no facility in Missouri that will do custom slaughtering, U.S. Wellness’s cattle are sent to Omaha, Nebraska.

“Our animals are slaughtered on separate days from conventional cattle to avoid cross contamination,” Disselhorst said.

For those that don’t have access to local farmers markets or supermarkets that sell grass-fed products, U.S. Wellness is a great option. Prices are competitive, and orders placed early in the week are shipped FedEx overnight that day, while orders placed later in the week are sent out on the subsequent Monday.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How to Cook a Quick, Delicious and Nutritious Dinner

I continually harp (to the point of irritation?) how fast, easy and cheap it can be to cook for yourself, or for your family. That being said, I’m the last person who wants to create a gourmet meal on a random Tuesday night. But making simple food that is both delicious and nutritious is completely feasible, even for those with limited cooking skills.

The other night, as I was starting to cook dinner for myself, I thought, “Hmm, let’s time and document this to see if I actually know what I’m talking about.”

The menu was sautéed beef liver (grass-fed) with onions, boiled yellow and purple fingerling potatoes with Anchor butter and parsley, roasted broccoli, and a chunk of whole wheat bread. The meat, vegetables and bread were bought at the farmers market that day, and the total cost for everything was about $6.25.

(For the broccoli, potatoes and bread, I used about a third of what I bought, and calculated accordingly. For the minimal amounts of butter, olive oil, parsley, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper, I generously added $1.00. The onion was $0.25 and the half pound of liver was $3.50.)

I know some of you are saying, “That’s gross,” in regard to the liver. But trust me; it was delicious (and so healthy). More importantly, the same dinner can be made with a hamburger, chicken breast, fish filet or telephone book. And the vegetables used can be substituted freely. Home cooking is all about basic technique, confidence and good ingredients.

Here’s a play-by-play of the process:

(I’m sure many of you are thinking that you can’t do this as quickly as I describe. But I was taking notes and photos while cooking, so this is likely a realistic timetable for people who don’t cook as often as I do.)

0:00 - Preheat oven to 375° (for broccoli).

0:05 - Wash broccoli and fingerling potatoes.

1:00 - Put potatoes in a small saucepan, c
over with water, bring to a boil.

2:00 - Let liver r
est in paper towel to absorb moisture, which will help it brown.

4:00 – Reduce temperature of water cooking potatoes to a simmer.

5:00 - Cut broccoli into bite-size florets, put on baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and mix.

7:00 – Put broccoli into oven.

7:45 – Heat oil in sauté pan (for onions).

8:45 – When oil is hot, put in onions and
brown. Stir occasionally.

10:00 – Check potatoes and broccoli for doneness.

13:45 – Onions browned (5 minutes); push to side of sauté pan.

14:00 – Potatoes cooked (13 minutes). Drain water, let cool.

14:15 – Season liver with salt and pepper, put in sauté pan. Cook on one side for 2 minutes.

14:30 – Check comments on blog; anyone reading?

15:00 – Broccoli done (8 minutes). Remove from oven and plate.

16:15 – Turn liver to second side. Brown for 1 minute.

17:15 – Liver cooked (3 minutes). Transfer to cooling rack and let rest for two minutes.

17:30 – Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces, chop parsley, cut a tablespo
on of butter. Mix in small bowl, add salt and pepper, and plate.

19:30 – Plate liver and onions. Garnish with extra parsley.

19:58 - Eat!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What to Feed a Baby?

On the heels of my August 26 post, there was an article in this week’s Dining section of The New York Times that discussed a similar issue: the feeding of babies.

I give cooking lessons to many parents who are frustrated by their children’s diet and how it is often limited to bland foods devoid of significant nutrition. In the hope of countering this problem, the author’s wife started early, feeding their 7-month-old daughter a sophisticated diet (albeit in puréed form).

Instead of relying on over processed baby foods, the writer and his wife put whatever they were cooking and eating into a food mill, thereby introducing their baby to flavors and tastes she otherwise would not have been privy to.

According to one doctor interviewed by the author, this is a great way to establish a toddler’s palate, hopefully leading to an omnivorous teenager and adult:

“This is how you teach your baby to develop likes similar to yours . . . Otherwise, how would an Indian child eat curry or a Mexican child consume salsa?”

It seems like common sense that a baby whose first foods are bland and laden with salt and sugar is going to be predisposed to similar tasting foods in the future.