Friday, January 30, 2009

How to Make Oatmeal

Oatmeal is great for breakfast and it’s quick and easy to prepare. However, many of us rely on packaged instant versions instead of using real rolled oats, which are far superior in taste and nutrition (fiber, iron and B vitamins).

Contrary to popular belief, cooking old-fashioned rolled oats doesn’t take that much longer than the
quick-cooking or instant varieties. But the big food companies don’t want us to know that. They also don’t want us to realize how much more expensive the packaged, flavored versions are and the amount of synthetic additives which are unnecessarily added for flavor, texture and appearance.

Cooking real oats takes about five minutes, whereas instant oatmeal takes about two. For the real version, just combine—roughly—equal parts oats and liquid (milk or water) in a pot and stir for about five minutes until the desired consistency is achieved. (For one portion, I use 2/3 cup of oatmeal and 3/4 cup of whole milk; decide for yourself what texture you like.)

Right now you may be thinking, “Wait, that’s it? So why am I paying $4.29 for a box (little less than a pound) of flavored Quak
er Instant Oatmeal in individual portions when Rob pays $1.49 for a pound of organic rolled oats? And why do I need all the synthetic additives when Rob adds his own unprocessed flavorings: raisins or other dried fruit; fresh banana, blueberry, strawberry; nuts; cinnamon; and maple syrup or honey? Why does Rob's oatmeal taste a million times better than the packaged? Are the three minutes I’m saving really worth it?”

These are legitimate questions that can be asked about many foods offered to us. Try the oatmeal; let me know what you think.

Here's a video to help you make it:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Easy Vegetarian Pea Soup Recipe

Here’s what I used to make eight portions of vegetarian split pea soup for just $2.65, much cheaper than the $10.95 I paid for a bowl at a restaurant.
  • 2 cups green and yellow split peas: $1.65
  • 2 carrots: $0.25
  • 1 onion: $0.25
  • Olive oil, bay leaf (optional), sea salt, ground pepper, hot sauce, lemon juice, ground cumin: $0.50 (approximate)
  • 7 cups water: $0
  • Knowing the hair in the soup is mine: PRICELESS
INSTRUCTIONS: In a large pot, heat olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) over medium-high heat. Chop onion and carrots and sauté in olive oil, stirring occasionally. When onions are soft and translucent (about 10 minutes), add 2 cups of split peas (green and/or yellow), a couple shakes of ground cumin, unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and stir. Then add 7 cups of cold water and a bay leaf. Stir once. Bring mixture to a boil, and then return to a simmer. Partly cover pot with a lid. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Soup is done when most of the water is absorbed and the peas are soft and easily break apart.
Remove bay leaf if using and mash mixture with potato masher or use blender or hand-held immersion blender. If soup is too thick for your liking, add water to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste with more salt, pepper and cumin, plus hot sauce and lemon juice.

The soup’s flavor will improve over the course of several days. Store in refrigerator. Soup will thicken in fridge, so add a little water when reheating.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Very Expensive Pea Soup

Eating out can be dangerous to your wallet and your health. I found out about the monetary cost last week when I met friends for lunch at a midtown steakhouse to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration.

It was a cold day, so three of us ordered the pea soup. It was the soup of the day, so the price wasn’t on the menu. When the bill came, we saw that each bowl was $10.95. This was a dose of sticker shock, especially for someone who cooks 90% of his meals.

The soup was pretty good, but far from pretty good enough to warrant $10.95. Of equal concern was the fact that despite being told it was vegetarian, we all tasted overtones of meat. It’s almost impossible to really know what’s in your food when you eat at a restaurant. I’m sure if butter and cream were used in the soup, they weren’t from grass-fed cows.

The next day I made a vat of vegetarian pea soup and kept a tally of the costs. The ingredients totaled $2.65, which meant that each of the eight portions cost $0.33. It was delicious and vegetarian.

Tomorrow I’ll list the ingredients and costs, plus explain how I made the soup.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What's In a Pop-Tart?

(Second of two parts)
To find out more about Hot Fudge Sundae Pop-Tarts, I called Kellogg’s at 1-800-962-1413. Veronica fielded my call. I’m not sure she sensed my ironic tone, but I wanted my questions to match the ridiculousness of the product.

“What is the difference between yellow #6 lake and just plain yellow #6?” I asked.

“The difference is that yellow #6 is a water-soluble color,” Veronica said. “Ones with the word “lake” are water-insoluble and used to color foods high in fat and oil.”

When I probed further about the use of colorants, Veronica used the veil of government standards.

“All of our colors are approved by the FDA,” she said. “We wouldn’t put anything in our products that’s harmful to our consumers.”

Many, however, feel that the synthetic additives rampant in foodstuffs are responsible for a host of health problems.

To further defend the use of artificial colors, Veronica stated several times that they are used “to give the desired appearance to the food.”

“What’s ‘color added’?” I asked, referring to the ingredient “color added.” “Aren’t there enough colors added?”

“That’s referring to titanium dioxide, which is used in minimal amounts for whitening.”

I asked why “titanium dioxide” isn’t written instead of “color added.”

Kellogg’s, Veronica explained, isn’t required by the FDA to list titanium dioxide. I wonder if paint makers or sunscreen producers are required to list the titanium dioxide found in their products.

My next two questions dealt with the absurdity of the packaging.

“Veronica, there’s an ice cream sundae shown on the box. But when I opened up the box, there was no sundae inside. Where’s the sundae?”

(Extended laugh.) “No, that’s just giving an illustration of what the Pop-Tarts are.”

“You give toasting and microwaving instructions on the package. Wouldn’t that melt the sundae?”

“No, because it’s not ice cream in there. There’s no ice cream.”

“I’m confused.”

“It’s just hot fudge-flavored Pop-Tarts.”

Veronica mentioned something about nutritionists.

“Wait, you have nutritionists? What do they do?”

“They help out with product development,” she said. “I’m sorry, we’re really busy, so if this isn’t a serious phone call . . .”

I cut her off before she could finish.

“Veronica, you have no idea how serious this phone call is. Good night.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pop (T)art: Suitable for Framing?

(First of two parts)
With so many bizarre flavors of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts staring me in the face, I’m not sure why I picked the Hot Fudge Sundae flavor as the winner of this week’s Why Does This Product Exist Award.

Was it the colored sprinkles on top of the pictured Pop-Tart? Or was it the hot fudge sundae (vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cherry) depicted four (!) times on the box?

hing 40, I may be old-fashioned. I’m sure our eight-year-olds probably would have gravitated toward the Frosted Cookies & Creme or Strawberry Milkshake.

The tactics
that Kellogg’s employs to draw us to its product can be labeled clever marketing. Is it libelous if I use the term “dangerous visual pornography?” The sensory overload is stunning, seemingly created to turn eating into a video game. Why do we assume children can’t eat a meal without the need to be entertained?

And who are the losers in this extension of play time? Sadly, we are undernourished and overtoxified, and the affects cascade throughout society. The taxation on our health care system due to a myriad of late 20th-century diseases and poor performance on the job and in school are the first two problems that come to mind.

Sorry, Mr. Kellogg, but the nine artificial colors in Hot Fudge Sundae Pop-Tarts don’t belong in food. Granted, what you are selling isn’t food, and maybe its consumption is contributing to the prevalence of food allergies, obesity and attention disorders in our children. (Click here for the full ingredient list.)

(Tomorrow: My call to Kellogg’s toll free number)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Five Easy Recipes for a Better Diet

1. Instead of buying sugary yogurts, purchase plain yogurt and mix in an unrefined sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup (Aunt Jemima is not maple syrup) or agave nectar.

2. Make your own salad
dressings, avoiding the overpriced and over processed bottled versions. I’ll post a video tomorrow demonstrating how quick and easy it is to make a vinaigrette.

3. Replace candy bars with dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa content). In addition to other health benefits, dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which protect our bodies' cells from damage.

4. Bake crout
ons for use in soups, chilies and salads. How? Preheat oven to 350. Cut day-old bread into cubed bite-size pieces. Lightly coat bread with olive oil, kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Place on baking sheet. Put in oven and bake until lightly browned. Store in plastic container.

5. Buy peanut butter that’s just peanuts. Sugars and hydrogenated oils do not belong in peanut butter. If you can’t find fresh pressed peanut butter, a commercial alternative is Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter with No Salt Added.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Top 5 Ridiculous Edible Foodlike Substances of the Week

5. KRAFT MACARONI & CHEESE CHEESE TOPPING – When you consider this sprinkable flavoring costs about the same per pound as Parmigiano-Reggiano—one of the world’s great cheeses—it’s no wonder Kraft includes all those synthetic additives. Buy a chunk of the real stuff and grate it yourself.

4. PERDUE FUN SHAPES BREADED CHICKEN BREAST NUGGETS WITH CHEESE, BASEBALL SHAPES – What fun! Sodium-laced gloves, baseballs and bats! How come no shapes of steroids and overpriced tickets?
3. KELLOGG’S LEGO FRUIT FLAVORED SNACKS – My guess is that these Lego-shaped items are similar to gummi bears. They are also available in many different themes, including Hot Wheels, Barbie and SpongeBob SquarePants.

2. BETTY CROCKER LOONEY TUNES FRUIT FLAVORED SNACKS – The same product as #3, but heaven forbid General Mills (which owns Betty Crocker) misses the boat on wreaking havoc on our kids’ health! Why should Kellogg’s have a monopoly?

And this week’s Why Does This Product Exist Award winner:

1. KELLOGG’S POP-TARTS HOT FUDGE SUNDAE TOASTER PASTRIES – I'll post a longer, multi-part blog on this product later this week. In the meantime, let’s play “Where’s the Food?”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Yoplait Trix Yogurt: The Final Frontier

(Third of three parts)
My call to the Yoplait Trix toll-free number was answered by Matt, a customer service representative. Trust me, this call was not outsourced. Matt was the epitome of Generation Y, seemingly more interested in texting his friends than speaking wit
h me.

I began my interrogation by asking Matt what made the Strawberry Punch, Raspberry Rainbow and Wildberry Blue varieties different, being that their ingredients, including the colorants, were identical. (What follows is actual dialogue.)

would think the only thing different is the colorings,” Matt said.

“But the colorings are the same,” I replied.

Perplexed, Matt put me on
hold. There’s a good chance this may have been just a stalling technique so he could vote for an “American Idol” winner. His answer didn’t quell my suspicions.

“They are all the same; the only thing different is the flavoring,” he said.

“Well, what’s the flavoring?” I asked.

Silence from Matt.

“What does natural and artificial flavor mean?” I prodded.

Matt stammered, and then said he’d have to consult a product specialist. “I don’t have that information. He would know.”

I passed on
being put on hold again and moved on to my next line of questioning.

“Wouldn’t it be
better if you put two actual fruits in every cup instead of two fruity colors?”

“So you want actual fruit. That’s a new s
uggestion; I will pass it on.” Matt spoke while he typed: ”Putting . . . actual . . . fruit . . . into . . . yogurt.”

“You know,” he con
tinued, “we have other yogurts that have fruit in them.”

“So who is this product for?”

“A lot of kids like it,” Matt said. “Yogurt is also good for babies, who can’t have the fruit bits, but this has the fruit flavor.”

“But the sugar, high fructose corn syrup and modified corn starch are good for the babies?” I asked.

“Well, it’s extra flavoring and they are FDA approved.”

Ah, the veritable and venerable FDA seal of approval. I am sure that customer service representatives throughout the world are trained to answer in this fashion when there are no sensible answers to a question.
After allowing myself a laugh, I asked Matt if he had every eaten the yogurts.

“Yup, it’s pretty good. We have to do a whole tasting before we start working here.”

“What’s your favorite flavor?”

“I like the Cotton Candy.”

“What? Cotton Candy? I didn’t see that flavor!”

“Yea, it’s really good.”

I found out I also missed Strawberry Kiwi (packaged with the Cotton Candy), plus Very Berry Watermelon and Berry Bolt.

I had one more question and I was curious to see how Matt would handle it. Nonchalant and with aplomb, he did not disappoint.

“Don’t you think this product is better suited for a Toys “R” Us than a supermarket?” I asked.

“I can see where you are coming from, but I’m not sure. I will make a note.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Trix Aren't for Kids (or Anyone)

(Second of three parts)
In order to experience the total Yoplait Trix Yogurt sensory experience, I opened a container of the Watermelon Burst flavor.

Its two colors, a pink and a green, had a synthetic vibrancy that seemed better suited for a bright clown suit than for something edible. The texture was glutinous and thick, but not quite congealed. The smell was pungent, tangy and sweet, with overtones of chemicals. The odor did nothing to whet my appetite.

That being said . . .

For about two hours after I tasted the smidgen of Trix yogurt, my body was off-kilter. It was similar to a sugar rush, and just like the pink and green colors, there was definitely something synthetic (toxic?) about how I felt.

To complete my investigation, I called the toll-free number (1-800-967-5248) printed on the package. What followed was comical, to say the least.

(Tomorrow: My conversation with Matt, the customer service representative)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

General Mills Yoplait Trix "Yogurt" Should Be Illegal

(First of three parts)
Do not be fooled by General Mills Yoplait Trix Lowfat Yogurt. Several of this product's ingredients, including its sugars (disguised with various names) and artificial colors, are dangerous.

Also disconcerting is its residence in the seemingly healthy neighborhood of supermarkets’ yogurt sections, which leads parents to believe that they are doing right in feeding this to their children. In reality, this product’s existence is akin to the worst fraud perpetrated by any Wall Street executive.

Traditionally, yogurt is the product of introducing a bacterial culture into milk. Yoplait Trix, however, is more criminal than traditional. How else to explain the absence of any fruit in the six flavors I encountered (Watermelon Burst, Strawberry Punch, Strawberry Banana Bash, Raspberry Rainbow, Wildberry Blue and Triple Cherry)? And the marketing claims that there are “2 FRUITY COLORS IN EVERY CUP!” and that “Twice the color means twice the fun!”?

One package is comprised of six 4-ounce cu
ps. Three cups are one flavor, and the other three cups are a second flavor. I examined the ingredients of the six flavors and was surprised to learn that the contents were constant for all six, with only two small exceptions. The Triple Cherry did not contain artificial flavor and the artificial colorants varied slightly for three of the six. Huh?
Yes, the ingredient lists for the Strawberry Punch, Raspberry Rainbow and Wildberry Blue are exactly the same: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate Added to Maintain Freshness, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Red #40, Blue #1, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.

(Tomorrow: Opening a container of Watermelon Burst)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“Healthier” Junk Food Is Still Junk

A New York Times article on Sunday focused on the attempt by McDonald’s to rebrand itself, with the goal of increasing sales. One route has been to offer apple slices, salads and white-meat Chicken McNuggets. Sorry, but these changes don’t absolve McDonald’s from the fact that most of its offerings are really bad for you. The 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” made this painfully clear.

The big food companies understand the immediacy of current health issues and are trying to secure their market share and profits by introducing “healthier” food choices. Granted, the companies make more money when their products contain simple ingredients, but they can ill afford to lose customers who are looking for better options.

Thus, the companies release variants of their original products in an ostensibly healthier form. These items are slightly costlier to produce, but the companies will trade (minimally) reduced profits for consumer brand loyalty. The public is the loser, though, since these new products are often as noxious as the originals.

Frito-Lay, for example, has added Multigrain Tortilla Chips to its Tostitos product line, joining its White Corn Tortilla Chips. Corn, vegetable oil and salt are the three ingredients in the white corn variety. The multigrain chips—in addition to the corn, oil and salt—contain corn starch, whole buckwheat flour, whole oat flour, sugar, toasted corn germ and whole wheat flour.

Yes, the whole grain flours are a positive, but I would guess that most consumers would never think the revered multigrain chips contain more sodium, fat, calories and sugar than their hillbilly cousins.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Top 5 Ridiculous Edible Foodlike Substances of the Week

The Delicious Truth will now appear daily!

Mondays will feature a list of idiotic packaged foodstuffs that I've recently encountered in the supermarket.

Here goes:

5. DORITOS COLLISIONS - Since one poisonous flavor at a time isn't enough, our friends at Doritos have decided to
give us "2 flavors - 1 bag."

the ingredients is “pineapple juice powder.” Don Ho would not feel fine if he ate this.

3. KRAFT BAGEL-FULS – Thankfully, Kraft puts the cream cheese in the “bagel” for us, since we are so busy that we can’t take the five seconds to do it ourselves.

2. RITZ BITS CRACKER SANDWICHES CONFETTI CRÈME FLAVOR – According to the Nabisco World website, “Ritz Bits Confetti Crème Cracker Sandwiches are built for fun – it's the snack that puts playtime into overdrive!” My interpretation: “It’s the snack that causes Rob’s health insurance to be so exorbitant, since he has to subsidize the medical bills of the kids who eat this crap.”

And this week’s Why Does This Product Exist Award winner:

1. YOPLAIT TRIX LOWFAT YOGURT – Thankfully there are “2 FRUITY COLORS IN EVERY CUP!” since there is no actual fruit in any of the six flavors I found (Watermelon Burst, Strawberry Punch, Strawberry Banana Bash, Raspberry Rainbow, Wildberry Blue and Triple Cherry). I'll post a longer, multi-part blog on this product later this week.