Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Substituting Ingredients in Recipes

When cooking, many people feel handcuffed to recipes. However, it is easy to improvise and substitute ingredients.

For example, if a recipe calls for a red pepper and you only have a yellow one, make the dish anyway using the yellow pepper. No scallions? Don’t hesitate to chop up a yellow or red onion instead.

Yesterday in a cooking lesson, I made guacamole with a student. She had made guacamole before, but always had used cilantro. I had brought parsley, which surprised her. She ended up loving what we made, but she said she never would think to make guacamole unless she had all of her usual ingredients available. Substituting never crossed her mind.

We also made a tomato sauce using onions, zucchini and whole peeled tomatoes (to replace her jarred tomato sauces). We added some parsley to finish the sauce, which nicely rounded out its flavor. Why parsley instead of the more conventional basil? It was as simple as not wanting to spend $2.49 for a huge bunch of basil, of which we were going to use two or three leaves. I knew we were going to use the parsley for the guacamole, so it became a part of the tomato sauce as well.

Feel free to tinker with your usual dishes. The change of flavors will be refreshing, less food may get wasted and you may even save yourself some money when shopping.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Peaches? Blueberries? Bueller?

Seen in a supermarket window in Brooklyn yesterday:
Wait, those are blueberries, not peaches! (Click on photo to enlarge.)

When I got home, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I Googled “Are bl
ueberries also known as southern peaches?”


Every day I become more convinced that our lack of knowledge about what is in the food we eat, where it comes from and how it grows plays a huge role in the existence of our dysfunctional food system. If we were taught and learned some basic facts, I believe we would be less willing to accept most of what the food companies offer us.

And if a su
permarket can’t get it right, how will our children?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hostess vs. Drake's Comparison, 20 Years Later

(Second of two parts)

The second half of the article I wrote for my college newspaper 20 years ago:

In cases of clear defeat, the losing bakery will occasionally lower its prices to attract customers. A two-pack of Twinkies costs $0.59, while two Zoinks can be purchased for only a quarter.

At least one retail food expert, though, believes that price is not significant.

“It all depends on the taste of the people,” UFM manager Phil said yesterday. “If people like the taste, then price don’t mean nothing.”

Phil, a self-proclaimed Entenmann’s lover, is happy with business generated by the battling bakeries.

“All those cakes sell good,” he said.

While the foodstuffs may sell well, not all the products taste good.

In my own little taste test conducted recently, I compared Hostess Twinkies to Drake’s Zoinks, and Drake’s Ring Dings to Hostess’s King Dons.

In the comparison of golden sponge cakes, surprising results were attained. The Twinkie, America’s darling, was resoundingly defeated by the upstart Zoink. I found the Twinkie to be extremely bouncy, and its elasticity was quite bothersome. Furthermore, the Zoink had a more favorable texture, and its overall flavor was subtle, yet effective.

The outcome of the cream-filled chocolate taste test was even more decisive. The Drake’s Ring Ding was delicious. The cake was fluffy and a nice chocolaty aftertaste was experienced. The Hostess King Don, however, was horrible. No chocolate flavor was evident, and the cream filling was overpoweringly sugary.

Since Hostess uses the same cream for all of its treats, the sweetness problem is uniform to all of the bakery’s products. Drake’s creme (the company uses a different spelling) has a less overbearing flavor and is easier to stomach.

While my opinion now leans towards Drake’s products, the debate about which bakery is king will endure as long as man exists and Hassan Duncombe eats.

UFM’s Phil agrees.

“To each his own,” he said.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hostess vs. Drake's, 1990 Revisited

(First of two parts)

Rummaging through some papers the other day, I found a copy of my college’s newspaper from 1990.

On the sports page was a column I wrote about a taste test I conducted between Hostess and Drake’s dessert cakes. Granted, it was the April Fools’ issue, but it is slightly disconcerting to realize that neither I nor the sweets have matured much in two decades.

Here is the article:

Once upon a time, someone invented sugar. Then, some other guy invented the way to make chocolate. On the next day, we had all those different desert cakes. Sweet.

In New York and some other parts of the country, the two major participants in the food wars are Drake’s, made by Drake Bakeries, Inc. of Wayne, N.J. and Hostess, engineered by the Continental Baking Company of St. Louis.

To compare the wonderful world of sweetsville, I ventured to University Food Market, where I observed the two competitors in full battle. Both Drake’s and Hostess were well represented, with colorful and enticing packaging.

After careful study, I realized that one brand controls the market for a specific dessert. For example, the Twinkie, Hostess’s “golden sponge cake with creamy filling,” is world famous, while Drake’s alternative, the Zoink, a “creme filled sponge cake,” occasionally needs the full extent of its 75-year shelf life. Interestingly, as we will see later, the Zoink, as judged by this college junior, beat the Twinkie in a taste test.

Other examples of domination exist. Drake’s Yodels, the company’s best-selling product in 1989, are far more popular than Hostess’s Ho-Ho’s. In addition, Drake’s does better with the Ring Ding than Hostess does with the King Don.

Furthermore, Hostess bakes Crumb Coffee Cakes and Suzy Q’s, while Drake’s counters with Coffee Cakes and Devil Dogs, respectively. Each company makes Fruit Pies, but in both cases, the “fruit” label must be questioned.

Certain cakes have no competition. Hostess’s Sno-Balls are unchallenged, as are Drake’s Funny Bones, a “frosted peanut butter creme filled Devil’s food cake.” Sounds nutritious.

(Tomorrow: The taste testing)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seventh Generation Paper Towels: A Better Option

We don’t have to build a backyard wind turbine or run our cars on used cooking oil to help reduce unnecessary consumption. We can start with paper towels.

The easiest thing we can do to help the greater good is to stop buying paper towels printed with color designs. Can someone give one good reason why we need petroleum-based dyes on paper towels? Talk about waste for no reason!

(If we are relying on printed paper towels for kitchen beautification, we have larger interior design issues. One national brand’s web site advertises that “with a whole range of designer prints, cleaning is now stylish.” Whatever.)

While we’re at it, let’s just stop buying the big national brands (Bounty, Scott, Brawny, etc.) made from virgin pulp and whitened with chlorine. Millions of trees in Canada are cut down annually for disposable paper. The chlorine used in the bleaching process ends up as toxins in our water and air supply.

When shopping, it’s just as easy to now buy paper towels made from 100% recycled paper and whitened without chlorine. Products from Seventh Generation, a leading environmentally-conscious company, are omnipresent, while Marcal has undergone a rebranding to highlight its green roots. (Click on photo for detail of a Seventh Generation package.)

Depending on the store, the prices of the towels using recycled content can actually be cheaper than the national brands. And they absorb just fine.

This is absolutely a no-brainer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Strawberries Grow

Strawberries are in season now. Watch the video to see how they grow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kristof - "Food, Inc."

A new documentary about our food supply—“Food, Inc.”—is playing nationwide and causing a stir. (I am seeing it Wednesday and will let you know my thoughts.)

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times based his column yesterday on the movie. Click here to read Kristof’s column.

I posted a comment to Kristof’s blog, which also discussed the movie. Click here to read my comment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How Dark Leafy Greens Grow

Vitamin and nutrient-rich dark leafy greens (i.e. collard greens, mustard greens, chard and kale) grow from the ground. Leaves form from a stem, and as the plant matures, the older leaves become the outside leaves, with younger leaves developing as inside leaves.

Cutting the older, outside leaves allows the younger, inside leaves to become the outside leaves. The process can continue for months on the same plant, from late spring to late fall.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How Peas Grow

Snap, shelling and snow peas grow the same way. First, the shoots emerge from the ground. Next, flowers appear, with the peas then growing from the flowers. As the peas mature, the flowers wither and fall off the peas.

Watch the video:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Root Vegetables Grow

A video from my garden:

The premature carrot I pulled from the ground in the video (click on the photo for much greater detail):

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Garlic Grows

Garlic bulbs grow in the ground, while the leaves and stalks (scapes) grow above ground. Watch this video to learn more about scapes:

A photo of scapes from yesterday's farmers market in Union Square:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Special Report: Nigel Winterbottom Comes Out of His Shell

In his second report for The Delicious Truth, correspondent Nigel Winterbottom (formerly known as Nigel Hawthorne) once again sacrifices his well-being for the cause of journalism:

To see Nigel's first assignment, click here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How to Cook Asparagus

Asparagus is in season now. Try the following quick and easy recipe:

• Preheat oven to 350.

• Snap ends off asparagus. (If you carefully bend asparagus, they will break naturally. Keep more delicate tops and discard tougher bottoms.)
• Place asparagus on cookie sheet in a single layer.
• Drizzle with olive oil and roll asparagus to coat evenly with oil.

• Sprinkle with unrefined sea salt or Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and (if desired) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
• Place cookie sheet in oven and bake until asparagus start to turn bright green (about 4 to 8 minutes, depending on thickness).

• Remove cookie sheet from oven and let asparagus cool.

VERY IMPORTANT: The asparagus will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven, so fight your urge and remove them before they are 100 percent cooked. Trust me, they will be done! Money-back guarantee!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are Pringles Really Potato Chips?

Yesterday I wrote about a British appellate court’s decision stating that Pringles are potato chips, despite the fact that lawyers from Procter & Gamble (Pringles’ parent) were arguing the contrary. (The case was about dollars and cents, not common sense.)

Seriously, what were the judges thinking?
Coming in flavors such as Mexican Layered Dip, Screamin’ Dill Pickle and Spicy Guacamole should be enough to disqualify Pringles from being considered potato chips (or food, for that matter).

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the corporate lawyers were derelict and failed to present compelling evidence that would have swayed the judges in their favor, saving Procter & Gamble about $30 million per year.

The winning argument?

“Your Honor, how can Pringles be considered potato chips when they have their own distinct section in a New York City supermarket, separate from the potato chips?”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

British Court Rules That Pringles Are Potato Chips

Late last month a British appellate court ruled that Pringles are potato chips, despite the fact that potatoes only make up 42% of a Pringle.

As we’ve seen, there is much deception in the world of food and marketing, but what made this decision so noteworthy was that Procter & Gamble, Pringles’ corporate parent, argued that Pringles aren’t potato chips.


This may come as a huge surprise, but the case had to do with money. In England, potato chips—unlike most food—are subject to a 15% national tax. P&G had actually won a lower court decision last year, using the less-than-50% argument to gain a short-lived victory. The latest ruling, though, will cost P&G about $30 million per year.

Is it any wonder why P&G took the stance it did?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grass-Fed Animals - A Way of Life

During my cooking lessons, the conversation about grass-fed vs. corn-fed meats and dairy often comes up. As I’ve discussed here, grass-fed products are much healthier for us and the environment.

There was an article yesterday in The New York Times Magazine that profiled a husband and wife who went for the whole enchilada (pun intended). Tim and Liz Young didn’t just switch what they ate; they changed how they lived.

They gave up their white collar, suburban lives to become farmers dedicated to raising animals without the use of antibiotics and pesticides. Theirs is a small-scale, hands-on operation, but I’m sure their chicken, pork, turkey and beef is first-rate.

Probably my favorite line from the article was this: “Once they started reading about how to restore the land without using the pesticides recommended by their county extension agent, they learned that they needed to create an entire ecosystem.”

I was so happy (facetiousness intended) to read that the default program being suggested by county extension agents is one based on pesticides.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Eating Seasonally and Locally = Lower Food Costs

One of the benefits of eating seasonally and locally is cheaper food costs, thanks in part to lower transportation costs.

For example, the price of berries has gone down in the past week or two. The origin of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries is now the United States, rather than South America, as was the case for the past several months.

At my local market (in Manhattan), a dry pint of blueberries from North Carolina cost $3.49 yesterday. Just two weeks ago, blueberries from Chile were $6 for a like amount. And in several weeks, when New Jersey blueberries become available, the price should drop to about $2.50 for a dry pint.

Vegetables now in season include asparagus, radishes and arugula. The first of the year’s cherries just arrived in stores, but wait another two weeks or so for the truly sweet ones.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Eating Food Too Hot and Too Cold

During a cooking lesson the other day, I was teaching a student how to sauté. We were tasting what we cooked, but instead of letting Debbie (fictional name used to protect the innocent) eat the food piping hot as she normally would, I had her wait for the food to cool a bit.

She acquiesced and was amazed how much more flavorful the food was when it cooled slightly.

The moral of th
e story? We tend to eat food too cold and too hot, not giving our taste buds a chance to enjoy the food’s true flavor.

In a similar vein, there was an article in this week’s Dining section of The New York Times that discussed the habit of drinking white wine at much colder-than-necessary temperatures:
"Basic science makes clear that raising the temperature at which a wine is served allows the various flavor compounds in a wine to evaporate and rise, thus adding to a wine’s aroma, which contributes greatly to enjoyment on the palate."
As Debbie wi
tnessed the other day, a similar idea holds for food. Give your meal a chance to get closer to room temperature; you may be surprised at the new flavors you are experiencing:
"The other night I pulled a bottle of white Bordeaux from the fridge, a 2006 Blanc de Lynch-Bages. I opened it and poured it right away. It might well have been an anonymous inexpensive white. As it warmed, though, its creamy texture and complexities emerged. It was waxy and floral with depth and detail, even at room temperature."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Early June Garden Update

It’s still early in the growing season, but the greens are thriving, enabling us to have salads of baby purple kale (photo right, foreground), spinach (photo right, background), arugula, baby mustard greens and various baby lettuces.

The salads represent the first true eating (random radishes don’t count in my book) of what I’ve planted over the past two months, and there’s always something special (and delicious) about the first harvest.

The peas and garlic continue to flourish and will be ready soon, while seedlings of summer squash (three types), lemon cucumbers, string beans and basil have appeared in the two weeks since I seeded them.

In addition, the carrots, beets, turnips, Swiss chard and scallions continue their development.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Organic Milk Farms In Trouble

There was a disheartening article in The New York Times last week about the difficulties that many organic dairy farms are facing due to the rising cost of organic feed and decreased demand due to the recession.

To sum up:
"Here in New England, where dairy farms are as much a part of the landscape as whitewashed churches and rocky beaches, organic dairy farmers are bearing the brunt of the nationwide slowdown, in part because of the cost of transporting feed from the Midwest. The contracts of 10 of Maine’s 65 organic dairies will not be renewed by HP Hood, one of the region’s three large processors. In Vermont, 32 dairy farms have closed since Dec. 1, significantly altering the face of New England’s dairy industry."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Special Report: Nigel Hawthorne Tastes Nature

I’m thrilled to announce a new addition to The Delicious Truth team.

Nigel Hawthorne, an accomplished journalist, will be reporting occasionally from the field. Watch his first assignment: