Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Meals in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine

Today is the last day of our eight-day driving trip through parts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine. Over the next week I'll discuss the food and environmental issues we encountered, but here are links to the two best restaurants in which we ate. They both use produce and/or meats from their own gardens/farms.

Rossmount Inn (St. Andrews, New Brunswick)
Primo Restaurant (Rockland, Maine)

Lunch was usually a picnic. My favorite was the one we ate next to a
small railway museum in Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia using goods from the weekly farmers' market in Halifax, NS.

And sorry about missing yesterday's post. We were in the middle of nowhere, which these days means a place without a wi-fi connection. :-)

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Make Salsa

I’ve got too many tomatoes in my garden, as evidenced by one of my ten tomato plants (photo, right).

One recipe I make that uses a few tomatoes is a quick salsa.
It’s as simple as:

Chop tomatoes, put in bowl (with tomato juices). Add chopped scallion or red onion, parsley or cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix, taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Store the salsa in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat with chips or spoon over chicken, beef or fish.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Does Lack of Early Nutrition Cause Later Illness?

While giving a cooking lesson the other night and explaining my views on diet and nutrition, one of my students asked what the real-life benefits are of eating properly.

“Do you not get cancer?” she wondered.

Coincidentally, I had read a story earlier that week in The New York Times about a 50-year study of moose, their nutrition and their arthritis, and how the evidence correlates to humans.
"The arthritic Bullwinkles got that way because of poor nutrition early in life, an extraordinary 50-year research project has discovered. That could mean, scientists say, that some people’s arthritis can be linked in part to nutritional deficits, in the womb and possibly throughout childhood."
Moose within the studied population who suffered from arthritis “were born during times when food was scarce, so their mothers could not produce enough milk.”

Unfortunately, nutrients are scare for a large segment of our population, especially our babies, toddlers and young children. I’d be willing to bet that an overwhelming percentage of the billions of dollars we spend annually on health care stems from poor early nutrition.
Just ask the moose of Isle Royale, MI.

Click here to read "Moose Offer Trail of Clues on Arthritis."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Make Popcorn, Part 2

Why make your own popcorn? Three reasons are flavor (so much better), health (much less toxic) and cost (pennies instead of dollars).

The finished product (about $0.35 worth of organic kernels):

Monday, August 23, 2010

An Impromptu Indian Dinner: Curried Chickpeas and Kale

For dinner last night I made an Indian dish of chickpeas and purple kale, a variation of chana masala and spinach, a popular item in Indian restaurants.

How I did it:

I heated a little olive oil (canola is fine) in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil was hot but not smoking, I added two chopped onions and sautéed them until translucent. (I stirred often, as I didn’t want the onions to brown.) I added a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas and mixed. I then added about a tablespoon of hot curry powder and mixed.

For a little additional flavor, I added a quick splash of white wine. I then added a big handful of chopped purple kale, stirred for about one minute and turned off the heat. I added some lemon juice, salt and pepper and stirred. I added five or six heaping tablespoons of whole milk yogurt and stirred. I tasted and reseasoned with lemon juice, salt and a little more curry powder.

I served the mixture over brown rice.

There were no leftovers.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sayonara Aldicarb; 25 Years Too Late?

From the better-late-than-never school of pesticide banishment, courtesy of the Environmental Health News earlier this week:
A farm chemical with an infamous history – causing the worst known outbreak of pesticide poisoning in North America – is being phased out under an agreement announced Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Manufacturer Bayer CropScience agreed to stop producing aldicarb, a highly toxic insecticide used to kill pests on cotton and several food crops, by 2015 in all world markets. Use on citrus and potatoes will be prohibited after next year.

Tuesday’s announcement comes 25 years after a highly publicized outbreak of aldicarb poisoning sickened more than 2,000 people who had eaten California watermelons.
How much money do we think Bayer CropScience spent fighting this one?

Click here to read the entire story and to get a better understanding as to why the banning process is so drawn out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Little Planning Can Simplify Your Cooking

I always tell my clients that a little forethought and creativity can simplify cooking at home. One trick is to make more of a meal’s main item than you’ll eat right away, giving you enough to create a second (or third) meal.

For example, for last Friday’s dinner, I sautéed bone-in pork chops to accompany string beans and fried green tomatoes. I bought and cooked an extra pork chop, knowing I would cut it up to use in Saturday night’s Thai red curry with pork and string beans over brown rice.

The added bonus was the unexpected leftovers of the curry, which provided a third meal. For Tuesday’s lunch, I had the curry and rice again
, but with a wrinkle. I wanted the rice to be a different texture, so I made a crispy rice pancake (photo, above right) using a cast iron pan.

To make the pancake, I heated some olive oil in the pan and then added the leftover rice, pressing it together
with a spatula to help it hold its shape. After the bottom browned, I carefully flipped the pancake to crisp the second side. The reheated pork curry went on top.

My only error was pouring too much sauce on the rice (photo, left), which dulled the rice’s crispiness. But for those of you who have made the Thai curry with me, you know it wasn’t the worst of mistakes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Butter from The Bunten Farm's Milking Devons

I recently tasted the best butter I’ve ever eaten in my life. Sure, Smjör (from Iceland) and Anchor (New Zealand) butters are good, but the butter from The Bunten Farm in Orford, N.H. is sublime.

Unfortunately, after my half pound supply of this deep yellow, creamy and rich butter r
uns out (photo, right) that’s probably it for a while, since The Bunten Farm is a small farm and restaurant operation run by a husband-and-wife team.

The milk used by Bruce and Chris Balch comes from their herd of American Milking Devons, a rare breed
of cattle that numbers less than one thousand. (Most of our milk comes from Holsteins and Jerseys, which produce prodigious amounts of milk.)

The highlights of the dinner I ate there were the dairy products, including the butter, milk, cream and ice cream. I—literally—consumed butter and cream by the spoonful, plain. They were that rich and flavorful, unlike the commercial dairy products available in supermarkets.

We were also lucky enough to get a tour of the Balch’s barn, where we visited part of their herd, including a beautiful three-week-old calf (photo, left). Its color was a striking reddish brown.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peaches Instead of Pills?

Instead of spending an estimated hundreds of billions of dollars annually treating obesity after it takes hold, wouldn’t it make sense to spend a fraction of that on education and providing access to better food?

Granted, almost every industry would be against such a plan—do you really think the drug companies want us eating quinoa and wild salmon instead of white rice and fish sticks?—but it’s nice to daydream.

Or we can start small, as, according to The New York Times, is happening in Massachusetts, where several health centers are giving out coupons usable at local farmers’ markets to at-risk patients.

A foundation called CAVU, for Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited, sponsors the clinics that are administering the veggie project. The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and Wholesome Wave each contributed $10,000 in seed money. (Another arm of the program, at several health centers in Maine, is giving fresh produce vouchers to pregnant mothers.) The program is to run until the end of the farmers’ market season in late fall.
Hopefully the day will arrive soon when we are spending millions of dollars on such programs, not thousands.

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Bevy of Tomatoes

Last year’s tomato crop was a disaster due to the tomato blight that struck the Northeast. This year is a different story, as witnessed by the tomatoes I picked from my garden over the past several days.

I love the range of colors—these are all ripe or almost-ripe—and the names that go with them. For example, the striped greens are called green zebras and the bigger yellows are pineapples.

For a home gardener, tomatoes are also a cash crop. I picked some beautiful scallions yesterday, but a similar bunch would have cost me, at most, $2 at a farmers’ market. The tomatoes pictured, though, would cost at least $35, since organic heirlooms can fetch $4 and more per pound.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Latest News Concerning Factory Farms

Click here to read the latest news in the battle over factory farms, as covered in today’s New York Times.

The lead paragraph:
Concessions by farmers in [Ohio] to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves are the latest sign that so-called factory farming — a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health — is on the verge of significant change.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Great Find at Whole Foods

Whole Foods has made great efforts in the last several years to sell more local food, especially during the growing season.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I saw organic scallions there that looked like scallions I’d pick from my garden or buy at a farmers’ market. The roots hadn’t been trimmed and the green tops were still complete. From top to bottom, some of the scallions were more than two feet long.

The sign above the scallions identified their source as California, but there is no way they would be shipped cross country in such a state. My guess is that they were from a smaller producer from Long Island, upstate New York or New Jersey. I will call Whole Foods today to find out their origin.

I then went to a different market and bought organic scallions from California; the difference (see photo) is obvious. The shorter scallions are from an organic behemoth that saves shipping space and costs by trimming roots and tops.

While a couple inches of scallion greens may seem unimportant, there was actually a marked difference in aroma and flavor between the two bunches of scallions. The (presumably) local scallions, which journeyed a shorter distance to the store and probably were pulled from the ground more recently, were miles better than their well-traveled West Coast cousins.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Environmental Working Group's Fruit & Vegetable List

It’s the middle of summer and fruit and vegetables are in abundance. Since some conventionally grown produce absorbs more pesticides than others, it’s important to know when to buy organic. Instead of guessing, click here for the Environmental Working Group’s helpful list, an essential tool when shopping.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Great Ethnic Recipe from Saveur

When I read cooking magazines, I am not looking for the standard recipes that appear over and over (i.e. grilled salmon with mango salsa . . . yawn).

Instead, the recipes that grab my attention tend to be ethnic dishes employing unique flavor combinations or techniques. It’s a bonus if the recipes are straightforward and easy to make.

A perfect example is a great recipe that appears in the August/September issue (“The Greece Issue”) of Saveur and caught my eye immediately. It’s for alevropita, a feta tart “that is a beloved specialty in the mountain villages of Epirus, in northwestern Greece.”

The key is making sure the bottom of the tart turns crisp. When I made this in a full-sized baking sheet (as the recipe calls for), the middle of the tart didn't brown on the bottom. When I halved the recipe and cooked it in a smaller baking sheet, the results were spectacular. (That being said, if you like softer over crisp, don't pay attention to what I just wrote!)

Here’s the fully recipe, courtesy of Saveur:

6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. vodka
1 egg

1 1⁄4 cups flour, sifted

1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt

1⁄8 tsp. baking powder
10 oz. feta, crumbled
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1. Heat oven to 500°. Put an 18" x 13" x 1" rimmed baking sheet into oven for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together 2 tbsp. oil, vodka, egg, and 1 cup water in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and whisk until smooth.

3. Brush remaining oil over bottom of hot pan and add batter, smoothing batter with a rubber spatula to coat the bottom evenly, if necessary. Distribute cheese evenly over batter, and dot with butter. Bake, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden brown and crunchy, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

SERVES 8 – 10

Friday, August 6, 2010

A New Take on Local AND Fresh

Whole Foods has really made a push recently to let shoppers know where their food is comes from.

But a West Coast supermarket chain has taken the idea of local and fresh to a whole new level.

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Make a Greens/Ricotta/Mozzarella Lasagna

I’m a big fan of improvisation in the kitchen.

As I’ve discussed, I make greens pies (using phyllo dough) all the time using greens from my garden. I also frequently cook spinach/ricotta/mozzarella lasagna (using frozen spinach).

Over the weekend I cut a ton of purple kale. But being that my freezer is full of greens pies, the last thing I needed to do was to make more. So, how about a purple kale/ricotta/mozzarella lasagna?

The only difference between using the frozen and fresh greens is that I had to cook the raw purple kale, let it cool and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Frozen spinach is already cooked, so I just let it thaw before squeezing.

Here’s how to make a greens/ricotta/mozzarella lasagna, using a boatload (not a technical term) of fresh greens or three 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, lasagna noodles, a little less than a pound each of ricotta cheese and mozzarella cheese, a quarter pound of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar grating cheese, salt and pepper:
Coat bottom of 9 X 13 oven-proof dish (I use glass) with thin layer of olive oil. Cook the number of lasagna noodles needed to cover dish’s surface to seriously al dente (about 5 minutes). Place lasagna sheets side-by-side on bottom of dish. Put same amount of noodles in water and cook same way.

While these are cooking, spread one third of greens, ricotta, mozzarella and grated cheese—plus salt and pepper to taste—on top of first batch of noodles. When second batch of noodles is seriously al dente, place them on top of first layer of greens and cheese. Repeat the process using second third of greens and cheese. Repeat a third time.

If you want your lasagna open (greens and cheese showing) you are done. If you want it closed (layer of noodles showing), cook more noodles. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and/or top starts to brown. If you are making a closed lasagna, feel free to put more mozzarella on top of the fourth layer of noodles.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chemicals in Everyday Life: Where's the Oversight?

I believe the avoidance of synthetic chemicals—whether they exist in our food, water, personal health care products, furniture, etc.—is essential to healthy living.

In today’s world, though, sidestepping the chemicals is virtually impossible because of their pervasiveness. (What is coming out of my computer as I type this?)

It would be helpful if we had some guidance as to the safety of these chemicals, an issue discussed in yesterday’s Washington Post. But the lack of knowledge and oversight is truly frightening, as there are, according to the Post:
“. . . huge gaps in the government's knowledge about chemicals in everyday consumer products, from furniture to clothing to children's products. Under current laws, the government has little or no information about the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the U.S. market today.”
Click here to read the story. It’ll hopefully scare us enough to send emails to our senators and representatives, since, according to the article:
"Bills pending in Congress would revamp the way the government regulates chemicals, forcing companies to prove that new chemicals are safe before using them and requiring health and safety assessments of existing chemicals . . ."

Monday, August 2, 2010

America's Oldest Farm to Close

Well, I guess all good things eventually come to an end. Tuttle Farm, the oldest continually operating farm in the United States—378 years in the same family!—is closing.

Click here to read Verlyn Klinkenborg’s appreciation in yesterday’s New York Times.