Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables

Pursuant to yesterday’s post—which linked to Mark Bittman’s article about how eating better doesn’t have to mean eating organic—it is important to know that the organic versions of certain fruits and vegetables should be eaten whenever possible.

The Environmental Working Group
just updated its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which lists 47 fruits and vegetables and their corresponding pesticide levels.

The foods with the highest pesticide loads are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines and str
awberries. If possible, choose organic for these fruits and vegetables.

On the other end of the spectrum, onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes and asparagus are relatively free of pesticides when grown conventionally.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bittman: "Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not"

Some people assume that those who eat healthy eat mostly organic foods. However, the concept of eating well shouldn’t be afforded such a narrow focus.

New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman wrote a great piece last week on this topic.

Click here to read the article. Follows is one telling paragraph:

"No matter how carefully I avoided using the word “organic” when I spoke to groups of food enthusiasts about how to eat better, someone in the audience would inevitably ask, “What if I can’t afford to buy organic food?” It seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Junk Food & Marketing in Argentina

Unfortunately, junk food and the marketing to promote it are everywhere, including the bottom of the world.

Tony the Tiger, the star of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, appears on boxes of Zucaritas and Choco Zucaritas. (Azúcar means sugar in Spanish.)

Nestlé sells an ice cream called Sin Parar, which means non-stop. (As in, “Please eat our ice cream sin parar so we can make tons of money.”)

Burger K
ing, on huge billboards, lets us know that “La Whoppermanía Ya Está En Tu Cabeza” or that Whoppermania is already on your mind, even when you're not at a Burger King. (Click on the photo to the left to enlarge.)

Legitimate question: Do you think the beef Burger King uses in its Argentinean Whoppers is grass-fed? I’ll make some calls to
try to find out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wild Berries In Patagonia

For me, a cool aspect of travelling is experiencing things you can’t enjoy at home. Thus, the wild berries I picked and ate in southern Patagonia were of great interest.

The first I came across was the calafate berry (photo, above right), which lends its name to a large town in the region. The berries grow on thorny bushes and resemble blueberries in both color and size. They are on the tart side, though, and are often used to make jams. (Yes, I brought a jar home.)

We also encountered several types of berries that grow in the mountains in unforgiving conditions. These included the small, red murtilla berry, which doe
sn’t have much flavor but is prized for its water content by those stranded for weeks in the mountains (not us).

Unfortunately I forgot to record the name of another berry—this one small, red and poisonous—that our guide thankfully warned me about before I could sample.

My favorite, though, was the chaura berry (photo, left; video, below), which had a pinkish hue and a strawberryish flavor. Actually, the taste reminded me of a fake strawberry flavor, similar to what I remember the taste of the “berries” in Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries being.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Water From Perito Merino Glacier - The Best Ever

I am a big fan of New York City tap water, but it pales in comparison to the water I drank one day while in Argentina.

We took a guided trek on the
Perito Merino Glacier (within Los Glaciares National Park, near El Calafate in the southern part of Argentina) and drank run-off water that is part of the ever-changing dynamic of the glacier.

The water was cold, crystal clean and tasted indescribably crisp. Not knowing the next time I’d be back to the Patagonian Ice Field (the world’s third largest chunk of ice), I drank way more than necessary.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Argentinean Grass-Fed Beef and Lamb

One of the highlights of my trip to Argentina was the meat, which is grass-fed, delicious and available everywhere.

Ubiquitous are parillas, restaurants that center around a huge charcoal or wood-fired grill and offer a wide variety of meats and cuts.

The most popular cut of beef is bife de chorizo (sirloin), but my favorite was ojo de bife (rib eye), which I ate twice. Both times, thankfully, there was plenty of fat on the steak.

Seasoning is simple (usually just salt). Often accompanying the meat is chimic
hurri—a powerful blend of herbs, garlic and oil—which I thought was better eaten on bread rather than the meat.

I also loved the chorizo (sausage) which was juicy and flavorful. (Think a thicker sausage, not a dried Spanish chorizo.)

As we traveled further south, lamb became more popular. Lamb is cooked a little differently than other meats. The animal is cut open lengthwise, spread open, tied to a stake and cooked over an open fire. Twice I had a lamb plate, which consisted of several different cuts, including lamb chops, ribs and crisp skin. I could eat crisp lamb skin for the rest of my life.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food in Argentina - One Man's Opinion

I recently spent two weeks in Argentina and wanted to report on my food experiences there. I’ll offer more detail—including photos and video—over the next several days, but I’ll start with a general overview.

The food was hit or miss. We had some great meals, but also some mediocre ones. Restaurant kitchens seemed a little shy in their use of salt to bring out flavor, and overall, the food was not as bold and bright as I had hoped.

The highlight was the omnipresence of grass-fed meat, thanks to Argentina’s overabundance of grazing land in Patagonia and Las Pampas. Beef was everywhere, while lamb was more popular further south.

Empanadas (varying in quality) with beef, chicken, cheese and onions, greens and other fillings were commonplace. So too were pizza and pasta, thanks to the heavy Italian immigration to Argentina in the first half of the 20th century.

Fish wasn’t as popular, but we did eat some delicious freshwater river varieties. The fruits and vegetables were lackluster. The bread was substandard, while the ice cream was better than average.

Argentina has a deserved wine reputation (a lot of Malbec), and a handful of quality artisanal beer makers have emerged in the last decade. The water from the Perito Merino Glacier that I collected myself (literally) was the best water I’ve ever tasted.

Highly processed junk food was readily available (shocker!) in supermarkets.

I’ll go into more detail in upcoming posts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Vegetable Garden at The White House

I was going to start posting today about the food aspects of my recent trip to Argentina, but I couldn't let the fact that the White House will soon have a vegetable garden go untouched.

(The rumor is that Michelle Obama is a reader of The Delicious Truth and got the idea from a past post.

Here's the White House garden article from The New York Times.

Check back on Monday for the first of several blogs detailing my food experiences in Argentina.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Responses to Kristof's Column

And here are the Letters to the Editor responding to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's March 12 column ("Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health") that I posted a link to yesterday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nicholas Kristof: "Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health "

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's last two columns have been about the dangers of commercial hog farming and, specifically, the use of antibiotics in livestock feed.

Click here to read Kristof's column from March 12.

Click here to read Kristof's column from March 15.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to Saute Dark Leafy Greens

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, cook something green (or red or purple):

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eat Your Dark Leafy Greens

Some of the healthiest foods we can eat are dark, leafy green vegetables. Examples are kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens and dandelion.

These greens are relatively cheap ($2-$3 per bunch, depending on variety and time of year) and are full of nutrients, including vitamins K, A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and fiber.

I’ll post a video tomorrow showing an easy way to prepare greens that works for all varieties.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Some Good Things About Whole Foods

For several reasons, I’ve never been a big fan of Whole Foods. (No, everything isn’t organic.)

That being said, I’ve recently started dropping in about once a week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at some of the things I’ve seen.

Whole Foods has no conscience when it comes to most of its pricing, but, if you are a savvy shopper, deals can be found. From my observation, it seems that every department is usually running a special of the day or week.

For example, two weeks ago I bought flounder filets for $7.99 per pound, a steep discount from the usual price of $12.99. (No, I didn’t get food poisoning.)

I was also very impressed with the mismarked price policy. I bought an item marked $6.49 that rang up at checkout as $6.99. The cashier pointed me to Customer Service, where I was promptly—and with no questions asked—given a full refund for the product. I was only looking for the $0.50, not the $6.99!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Recipe For Roasted Vegetable Dip

Tired of relying on store-bought (and usually unhealthy) dips for your hors d’oeuvres table? Making your own is actually easier than you think.

The following roasted vegetable dip is delicious and perfect for any occasion. This recipe makes about a pint, enough to serve at a small dinner party. Feel free to double or triple it.

  • Preheat oven to 400. Cut one large eggplant, one red onion (peeled), two red peppers (seeded) and two garlic cloves (peeled) into 1-inch cubes. Toss veggies in a large bowl with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Spread on a cookie sheet and roast in oven for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing occasionally during cooking. Let cool.
  • Put veggies into bowl of food processor and process until almost smooth. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Dip will stay (in refrigerator) up to five days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Froot Loops Cereal Straws Are Not Good For You

(Third of three parts)

Kellogg’s does not limit the aggressive marketing of Froot Loops Cereal Straws to the packaging and website. The game continued when I called Kellogg’s and spoke with Grace, a customer service representative.

Rob: “I’m calling about the Froot Loops Cereal Straws. I don’t understan
d them."

Grace: “It’s like a little snack, mainly for a child.”

R: “For a child? I took one bite about three hours ago and I am still flying.”

G: “The product itself co
ntains sugar; it’s the second ingredient. Do you find it a little bit too sweet?”

R: “That would be an understatement.”

G: “Well, I eat a lot of sweets and I like them. They taste just like the cereal.”

R: “Do you have any children?”

G: “Yes, I have a 6-month-old.”

R: “Are you going to give this to your kid?”

G: “Not yet, but maybe when she gets a little older, like when she is a year. I don’t see why not.”

A lot of parents tell me their kids want certain products. I hear the argument that conceding is one way of avoiding tantrums, especially from an older child who kno
ws what he wants.

But does a 1-year-old really know that he wants a Froot Loops Cereal Straw? By giving this to her baby, Grace will potentially condition her baby’s palate to the tastes of junk “food.” As the child grows, her taste buds will need the saltiness, sweetness and contrived textures found in processed and packaged products.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kellogg's Froot Loops Cereal Straws Live!

(Second of three parts)

When I was a kid, my aunt would buy Froot Loops for me as a special treat when I visited her. Thankfully she lived in Florida and my consumption was minimal.

My first foray into Froot Loops since 1980:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Froot Loops Cereal Straws Are Not Food

(First of three parts)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine worried that I would soon run out of ridiculous products to chronicle. Unfortunately, I think he’s wrong.

The latest treasure I uncovered was Kellogg’s Froot Loops Cereal Straws, which, according to the box, are “Fruity, crunchy tubes for milk-sippin’ fun!” that are “strAWESOME any time of the day!”

Yes. Cereal straws. To use to drink milk.

While I’ve become slightly inured to the sugar and petroleum-based synthetic dyes used in these products, I am still flabbergasted at the intricate websites created to help market them.

The Froot Loops Cereal Straws website is a work of art. It’s worth the click just to hear the theme song—“Dip-Sip-Munch”—which is a very catchy tune (I listened about 20 times) that sounds like a mix of The Detroit Cobras and The White Stripes:

Just dip ‘em in and sip, sip, sip . . .
And pull ’em out and munch, munch, munch . . .

All together now, dip, sip, munch . . .

So fun to dip, sip, munch . . .
I’m not saying to not eat sweets. I just think there are better options than cereal straws, be it real chocolate chip cookies, dried fruit or ice cream.

And if you are going to give your kids Froot Loops Cereal Straws, realize they aren’t food and shouldn’t be treated as such. For our children to think this stuff is food will only create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thankfully, though, Kellogg’s has our best interests in mind. For those of us who don’t like froot (or fruit), the cereal straws are available in Cocoa Krispies flavor as well.

(Tomorrow: Opening a box of Froot Loops Cereal Straws)

Friday, March 6, 2009

How to Cook Portobello Mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms can be cooked similarly to how we roasted beets. The mushrooms should take about 15-20 minutes in a 400° oven.

It’s this easy:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is It Time For a Palace Revolt?

Please don’t tell me that it’s not possible to effect change from a grassroots level.

Witness the recent uproar over Facebook’s change in its terms of service. Not only did Facebook retract, but Mark Zuckerberg is now having a go at socialism. According to my Facebook homepage, “Facebook is announcing a new approach that allows users to have a role in determining the policies that govern the site.”

A second example is PepsiCo pulling the plug on its new Tropicana packaging, which was just introduced in January. Why? According to The New York Times, “The about-face comes after consumers complained about the makeover in letters, e-mail messages and telephone calls and clamored for a return of the original look.”

Why can’t we do the same in the case of some of the ridiculous food products that actually have a tangible impact on society? Sure, Tropicana’s new orange juice containers are pretty bad, but the doomed design doesn’t have the same far-reaching health and economic ramifications as Yoplait Trix Yogurt, Quaker Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs and Oscar Mayer Lunchables.

As a society, shouldn't we be collectively incensed at what’s inside the orange juice container?

Why haven’t we been moved to act? Is there not a leader for the movement?

I hereby nominate myself to be the spokesperson. Anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Harlan Coben - Kids, Sports and Snack Time

Yesterday’s post was a quickie on my favorite snacks, which jogged my memory about an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times from several years ago.

Harlan Coben, the author (and parent), wrote a comical and serious article about team snacks within the realm of youth sports.

I am not a parent, but I completely agree with Coben. Even if you don’t agree, you must admit that some of his lines are classic:

“Do our kids need yet another bag of Doritos and a juice box with enough sugar to coat a Honda Odyssey? Can’t they just finish playing and have some water?”

“The scheduled snack is yet another way we cater to our child’s every whim. Guess what? Precious can go an hour — maybe more! — without eating.”

“This isn’t about ruining anyone’s fun or being the food police, but does the fun always have to revolve around food? Do you know what should be fun when your kid plays soccer? Playing soccer.”

Bravo, Mr. Coben.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What to Eat for a Snack - My Favorites

Sometimes I get a little hungry during the day and need a little snack.

My favorites (all of which take less than seven seconds to prepare):
  • A mini peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • A chunk of cheese
  • A piece of fresh fruit
  • A piece of dark chocolate
  • A handful of nuts and/or dried fruit
Obviously I’m pretty strict about what I eat, so there are qualifications. The peanut butter is always just peanuts, the jelly has limited added sugar, the cheese is usually from raw milk, the fruit is seasonal, the dark chocolate is 85% cocoa content and the nuts and dried fruit are organic.

I know some people think I’m a little (little?) cuckoo, but I truly feel that eating well is worth the extra (minimal) effort. Preparing and snacking on the above foods takes the same effort as munching on similar foodstuffs of dubious origin.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ingredients In Popular Cereals

Sugar is a common ingredient in many breakfast cereals. And I’m not just talking about the candy-like choices such as Cap’n Crunch, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs.

The five ingredients in Corn Flakes are milled corn, sugar, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup and salt.

Cheerios contain whole grain oats, modified corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, oat fiber and wheat starch.

Raisin Bran is made from whole wheat, raisins, wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt and malt flavoring.

Mark Bittman recently wrote about other breakfast options—many based on whole grains—in the Dining section of The New York Times.