Friday, July 31, 2009

Kellogg's Strawberry Milkshake Pop-Tarts Now Have Calcium!

Stop the presses! Kellogg’s Strawberry Milkshake Pop-Tarts now contain calcium.

But shouldn’t they have had it to begin with, being that milk is so rich in calcium?

Alas, the only dairy in the old version was a little cream, which provided less than 1% of the recommended daily intake of calcium. (“Vanilla ice cream flavor” does not qualify as a dairy product.)

The amount of cream (“two percent or less” according to the ingredient list) remains constant in the updated Pop-Tarts. The calcium level, though, now registers at 10%, thanks to the addition of calcium carbonate, which is commonly used as a calcium supplement in foods.

Don’t be fooled by the art on the box, which shows a stream of pink milk flowing into a glass full of more pink milk, a strawberry and a red straw.

Nikki, who answered my phone call to Kellogg’s toll-free number, summed up the Strawberry Milkshake Pop-Tarts perfectly:

“There’s not an actual milkshake in the Pop-Tart; it’s more a flavor thing.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Late Blight Fungus Strikes Tomatoes in the Northeast

Unfortunately, there’s bad news for tomato lovers in the Northeast. Tomato plants on both farms and home gardens in the region are suffering from late blight, a fungus that has recently jumped to potatoes as well.

Late blight spreads quickly in wet weather, which we’ve had plenty of this spring and summer.
Organic tomatoes are especially at risk, since organic farmers can’t use most of the chemical sprays available to conventional farmers.

Tomatoes provide farmers a financial bonanza, as a large beefsteak or heirloom can sell for several dollars. This summer, though, may prove unusually challenging for organic farmers and other farmers who eschew chemical sprays.

Expect to pay more for local tomatoes this season.

Click here to read the article about late blight fungus that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Bread Recipe

Zucchini is abundant this time of year. Using zucchini I grew, I recently made a zucchini-chocolate chip bread. This recipe provides enough batter for two loaves; I froze the second bread.

3 cups - Flour (I used half whole wheat and half white)
½ cup - White sugar
¾ cup - Brown sugar
1 tsp. - Baking powder
1 tsp. - Baking soda
½ tsp. - Kosher salt
1 tsp. - Cinnamon
3 - Eggs, whisked
2 cups - Grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
¾ cup - Canola or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil
3 tsp. - Vanilla extract
1 cup - Chocolate chips (preferably semi-sweet)
1 Tbs. - Butter or oil (to coat loaf pan)

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease loaf pan(s) with butter or oil.

2. Combine first seven (dry) ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, zucchini, oil and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and gently fold until just combined. (Batter will be thick.) Add chocolate chips until just combined.

3. Pour batter into loaf pans. (If you have only one pan, refrigerate remaining batter and bake after first loaf is done.) Place pan on middle rack in oven. Bake for about 35-40 minutes (time will vary depending on your oven). Loaf is done when a toothpick is inserted into the middle and comes out moist. (I like the bread a little gooey, so I remove it when a little batter still clings to the toothpick.)

4. Place loaf pan on a wire cooling rack (if you have) and let bread sit in pan for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan and let completely cool on rack. If there are any leftovers, wrap in foil. Store in refrigerator or at room temperature, depending on personal preference.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How to Make Spinach Pie

From June through October, my garden produces a constant (and sometimes daunting) supply of dark leafy greens. This season I am growing purple kale, mustard greens and Swiss chard, plus I also use the greens of my turnips and beets.

Usually, I’ll just sauté a handful of greens in olive or coconut oil for the quickest and easiest side dish imaginable. I add unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and lemon juice for added flavor and nutrition.

The other day I was in the mood for something different, so I made a greens pie (think spinach pie). Here is how I did it, using phyllo dough for the crust and a rectangular oven-proof baking dish (9X13X2).

I sautéed one chopped onion in olive oil. In a larger pan, I sautéed about 1½ pounds of assorted greens that I had washed and torn into smaller pieces. I let the onions and greens cool. After squeezing excess liquid from the greens, I combined the greens, onion, crumbled feta cheese (just more than half a pound), two whisked eggs and some salt, pepper, ground nutmeg and lemon juice.

I melted half a stick of butter and unrolled the phyllo dough, trying to keep it covered with a moist towel to prevent it from drying out.

With a pastry brush, I buttered the bottom of the baking dish. I laid ten sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the baking dish, buttering each phyllo sheet before placing the next one on top. I placed the greens mixture on these layers of phyllo. I folded the ends of the phyllo dough that had draped over the sides of the baking dish onto the greens mixture. I used another four sheets of phyllo (folded in half this time, because not as much surface area had to be covered) to make the top crust of the pie.

I baked the pie in a 375° oven until the top browned, about 35 minutes. After letting the dish cool for a bit, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner. Leftovers for lunch the next day were just as good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New York Times: Farms and Antibiotics

Whenever possible, I try to sound the alarm about the dangerous hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other synthetic additives in our food supply.

Specifically, most of us in the United States are not aware how rampant antibiotics are in our industrial feedlots. Be aware that if the meat you are buying isn’t labeled free of antibiotics or organic it’s almost definite that antibiotics were administered to the cow(s) that became your steak, roast or ground beef.

Shouldn’t all foods with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides be labeled as such?

Thankfully, the word is starting to spread. The New York Times joined the growing chorus in an editorial last Friday that called for an end to the administering of antibiotics to farm animals.

Several reasons exist for the need for a ban; the Times focused on one: "In an environment where antibiotics are omnipresent, as they are in industrial agriculture, antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases quickly develop, reducing the effectiveness of common drugs like penicillin and tetracycline."

Read the editorial “Farms and Antibiotics.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Summer Squash Grow

This summer I am growing three varieties of summer squash—yellow straight neck, 8-ball zucchini and Romanesco zucchini. (Click on right photo for greater detail.)

The shapes, colors and flavors of the dozens of varieties of summer squash diff
er greatly, but they all grow in the same fashion.

A squash
plant consists of large leaves attached to hollow vines. The actual vegetable, usually protected from the sun by the large leaves, grows from these vines. (Click on left photo for greater detail.)

Watch this video to learn more:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Turnips Grow

Turnips have been cultivated for about 4,000 years. I have been growing them for 0.0015 percent of that time. Watch my place in history:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Drying Garlic

When we purchase garlic and onions in the supermarket, we are buying them in their dried form. This is not how they come out of the ground when harvested. Rather, just-pulled garlic and onions have a constitution similar to scallions.

The garlic and onions found in stores are first air-dried for several weeks, giving them a much longer shelf life than they would have had if left in their original state. (Again, think scallions.)

In addition, the long stems and roots are cut to facilitate shipping and storage. The photo above shows the garlic I recently pulled from the ground drying. Notice the long stalks (about three feet).

By the way, store garlic and onions in a cool dark place, not in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures negatively affect flavor and texture. (The same storage rule holds true for potatoes and tomatoes.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Harvesting Garlic From My Garden

I just removed the garlic from the ground that I had planted in mid-October (photo, right). I’ll dry it over the course of the next several weeks; I’ll explain more about that process tomorrow.

As a little treat, I took one head, thinly sliced a couple cloves and fried up some garlic chips (think potato chips). The chips were so good that I forgot to take a photo, but here is a quick video of me harvesting the garlic:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Helpful Shopping Strategies

An essential part of eating well is knowing how to shop, especially if you are trying to avoid the hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other synthetic additives that are so rampant in our food supply. But even if you know what you are looking for, the issue of cost can factor into your decisions.

Personally, I try to eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season. For example, I am now in the six-week span when I eat cherries. Literally, in about two weeks, I’ll stop buying cherries and won’t eat them again for 46 weeks.

Cherries, though, are seventh on the Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits and vegetables of which we should be eating organic versions. Luckily, organic cherries aren’t that much more expensive than conventional ones grown with the use of pesticides. In the
two markets (Fairway and Whole Foods) where I regularly shop, organic cherries are $3.99 per pound, versus $2.99 per pound for conventional. In this case, choosing organic is a no-brainer for me.

However, I won’t be buying organic red, yellow or orange peppers anytime soon, even though the
y are third on the list. Why? They cost $7 per pound. Since one average-size organic pepper costs more than $3, I pass.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t purchase peppers. Instead, I buy peppers grown hydroponically in a greenhouse in Canada. Equally enticing are the facts that no dangerous sprays are used in the growing process and that a package of four peppers (weighing more than a pound) costs $2.99, in-line with the price of th
e conventional peppers we should be avoiding.

Remember, food does not have to be organic to be healthy and safe. And if you buy seasonally, chances are even organic produce won't be cost prohibitive.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Quick and Easy Pasta Sauce

Cooking can be easy. Last night—in about 10 minutes—I made a quick sauce to put over whole wheat pasta. The pasta cooked while I made the sauce.

I sautéed chopped avocado squash (a type of summer squash; see photo right), sliced garlic and halved cherry tomatoes. Feel free to substitute vegetables; try the mixture on top of chicken, fish and grains as well.

Watch how I did it:

The finished dish:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Elizabeth Kolbert: "XXXL - Why are we so fat?"

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes a short essay/book review on our national weight problem. “XXXL – Why are we so fat?” discusses several recently-written books, each with a different theory as to why we (collectively) are overweight.

“The Evolution of Obesity” pins our problems on our evolutionary development, “The Fattening of America” blames our weight gain on financial issues, “The End of Overeating” argues that eating has become entertainment and we’ve been conditioned to overeat, and “Mindless Eating” believes that we rely on external cues—not internal bodily mechanisms—to tell us how much to consume.

(I believe the last three issues have been created and fueled by the big food companies.)

Some of the more interesting (and scary) facts from the article:

  • On average, American men are 17 pounds heavier and American women 19 pounds heavier than they were 30 years ago.
  • In a decade span (late-1970’s to 1980’s) the percentage of overweight Americans increased from a quarter of the population to a third of the population. This gained weight totaled more than one billion pounds.
  • It is estimated that America’s extra weight adds $90 billion to our medical spending. (Please memorize and state this fact when someone says that junk food is much cheaper than real food.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"No Dogs Allowed on Lawn"

Be forewarned that this post’s only connection to food is that I was reading a book about nutrition when the following occurred.

Reading and minding my own business in a public park yesterday, a woman walked her dogs on the park’s grass, no more than 10 feet away from a sign that clearly said, “No Dogs Allowed on Lawn.” (Click on the photo for more detail.)

I carry a camera for moments like this and I snapped several photos. The woman noticed me; I returned to my book thinking that was that.

“Do you want to take a photo of this as well?” she asked seconds later, offering her dog’s doodie in her plastic bag-lined hand.

“No,” I said. “But no . . . dogs . . . allowed . . . on . . . lawn.”

“Were you sitting here?”

“No, but I was before.”

“Then I’ll put it back.” (I have to admit that this was a very funny line by her.)

“No . . . dogs . . . allowed . . . on . . . lawn.”

“Mind your business.”

“It is my business.”

“You’re an asshole. My dog was in the hospital all week with seizures.”

“So was I. And what does that have to do with if he takes a crap on the grass or pavement?”

“You’re an asshole.”

“On your walk home, why don’t you think about how selfish you are?”

“You should think about this the next time you are in the hospital with seizures.”

“I’ll send you the photos.”

Unfortunately, instead of giving me her e-mail address, she flipped me the bird. I think I’ll print the photos and tape them to the “No Dogs Allowed on Lawn” sign.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Read Your Ingredient Lists!

Many of my students are surprised at some of the ingredients found in the foodstuffs in their refrigerators and cabinets. A simple way to avoid this is by taking a minute or two when shopping to read ingredient lists.

If some of a food’s ingredients seem more suited for high school chemistry than the kitchen (the unpronounceable ones and anything with a number), take a pass. You and your family will be better for it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Make a Blueberry Crisp

Blueberries are plentiful and cheap this time of year, so I took advantage and made a blueberry crisp.

The same easy recipe can work for a variety of fruits (i.e. berries, peaches, plums, apricots, apples, pears). As they come to market over the course of the summer an
d fall, I’ll bake those too.

To make the fruit filling, I started by buttering a 9-inch glass pie dish. I then added enough blueberries (about a pint) to fill the dish. I squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, plus added 1 tablespoon of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. I mixed everything together.

For the topping, I mixed 1 cup flour (½ unbleached white, ½ whole wheat), ½ cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 cup oats and ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt in a bowl. I then added 1 stick of slightly softened Anchor butter, cut into smaller cub

Next came the only possibly difficult part: combining the butter and dry ingredients into a streusel-like topping. I used my fingertips to clump together the two until no dry ingredients were still powdery. The butter and dry ingredients were now one, stuck together in a moist mixture.

I spread th
is mixture evenly over the filling and baked the crisp in a 375 degree oven until the fruit started to bubble and the topping turned golden brown (about 45 minutes). I like it a little cold, but feel free to serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Look At Immature Blackberries

Many of us buy and eat food without knowing how it grows. Here’s a video showing blackberries before they mature.

I’ll post a recipe and video for making blackberry jam when I pick the blackberries in the next two or three weeks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Importance of Crop Rotation

In both home gardens and huge farms, rotating vegetables is vital to keeping pests and diseases at bay. Unfortunately, many of our farms in the Midwest dedicated to commodity crops (soybeans, corn, etc.) plant the same items in the same areas year after year. The soil, depleted of certain minerals and nutrients, becomes unhealthy. To counter this, pesticides are sprayed, which end up in both our food and water supply.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beach Peas - A Wild (and Edible) Food

As I have previously written, there are dozens—if not hundreds—of varieties of most fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, we are privy to only one or two (not the most flavorful) of each when we shop at the supermarket. Much of what we eat is dictated by how growing and transport issues affect the big food companies’ bottom lines.

Some lesser-known varieties can be found in farmers’ markets, while others appear in more unlikely places; wild foods, which our ancestors domesticated to create agriculture and a steady food supply, are still plentiful.

Watch the video below for an example.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Narragansett Turkey

In the video below, see how beautiful and healthy a turkey should look. The bird is a Narragansett, one of the most popular varieties of domesticated turkeys in the early 20th century, but now labeled as threatened by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Thankfully, the Narragansett is making a comeback with small-scale farmers who are trying to meet the demand of a growing market for quality, non-industrial food.

The Broad Breasted White, by far the most popular commercial turkey variety (Thanksgiving and other times), isn’t this beautiful when alive or tasty when dead. In addition, the Broad Breasted White, because of the way it has been bred to have huge amounts of breast meat and shorter legs, cannot reproduce without human help.

Shouldn’t we be demanding heritage breeds, rather than varieties with no flavor that are full of hormones and antibiotics, and require in vitro fertilization to propagate?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Scene at Mecox Bay Dairy

This weekend I visited Mecox Bay Dairy, which has the only dairy herd on Long Island. Mecox produces outstanding cheeses using raw milk from grass-fed cows.

This is a much different scene than what would be found at a
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), where almost all of our meat and dairy products come from.

(Tomorrow: my encounter with Tom the Turkey.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Peeling Roasted (or Charred) Peppers

Removing the skin from roasted peppers can be a little messy, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to Roast (or Char) Peppers

Watch this video to learn how to roast (or char) peppers in your kitchen. The same technique can be used outdoors on a grill.

(Tomorrow: How to peel the peppers)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Documentary: "Food, Inc."

I saw the documentary “Food, Inc.” last night.

The good news is that my wife officially no longer thinks I am totally crazy.

The bad news is that not enough people will see this movie, which illustrates how all parts of our food system are controlled by a handful of self-serving multinational corporations.

The movie echoes much of what I have been championing for several years and does a great job addressing core issues.

Our industrial food complex is an intricate system that is hidden from public view. A seemingly innocuous package of chicken, beef or produce is far from innocuous. If more of us knew how our food is grown and produced (under the banner of safe and wholesome products) there would be a revolt.
Our future depends on all of us knowing.

I wish I were exaggerating, but through my work of teaching people how to buy and cook real food, I am witness to how our collective lack of food knowledge affects our health.

To see where “Food, Inc.” is playing, click here.