Friday, January 29, 2010

How Cold Weather Affects Vegetable Prices

Winters in colder climates are difficult enough for those who enjoy fruits and vegetables, but the unseasonably cold temperatures in Florida earlier this month have further complicated the situation.

This sign is on display at Fairway, the m
arket where I do most of my shopping for vegetables this time of year:
True enough, string beans are now $4 per pound. During normal winters they are $2.50. (In the height of summer, when they are grown in New Jersey, you can get a pound for $1.)

Last week, the zucchini were feeble-looking, but were selling for $3 per pound. Yesterday, nicer ones from Georgia were $1.29.

Good options in the winter are frozen vegetables. The prices are static and the vegetables are picked and frozen in-season. Just remember to buy vegetables that are just vegetables; there is no reason for processed salt to be an ingredient.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food 101: Michael Pollan on Oprah

Sure, readership of The Delicious Truth is growing, but I’ll acknowledge that Oprah Winfrey probably has a larger following.

And that’s why I couldn’t be happier that food writer Michael Pollan appeared on “The Oprah Show” yesterday to discuss so many of the issues regularly covered here. I would guess that today millions of people are wondering where our chickens come from and how they are raised, questions they never thought to ask before.


As knowledge of the dangers of our modern food supply spreads, the better off we—and future generations—will be. Oprah definitely understands the gravity of this issue and called for a food revolution. Let’s hope the O Factor works its magic.

Click here to watch a four-minute clip of Pollan talking with Oprah yesterday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to Make Filipino Beef (or Chicken or Pork) Adobo

Adobo, a braise based on vinegar and soy sauce, is considered to be the national dish of the Philippines. It usually contains chicken or pork, but I like to cook it with beef short ribs.

Here’s a video illustrating how easy it is to make, with a printed recipe below the video. (Note: some don’t consider the use of coconut milk traditional, but it gives the dish a nice velvety texture.)


video

BEEF SHORT RIBS ADOBO
Yield: 4 servings

3-4 lbs. Beef short ribs
2 Tbs. Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup Chicken stock
1 cup Coconut milk
1 cup Apple cider vinegar
½ cup Soy sauce
1 head Garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 Bay leaves
3 Small, spicy chilies (i.e. Thai)
To taste Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. Heat oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding pot (if necessary), brown short ribs on all sides. (Make sure to dry and season ribs with salt and pepper right before browning.)
  2. Add the chicken stock, coconut milk, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves and chilies. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the ribs are tender (about 1 ½ hours).
  3. Transfer ribs to a plate. Increase heat and reduce sauce to thicker consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaves and chilies. Pour sauce over ribs and serve.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More on Unrefined Sea Salt

Yesterday I wrote about New York City’s initiative to limit the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food. As I mentioned, the stark difference between heavily-processed salt (unhealthy) and unrefined sea salt (essential) has been lost in the discussion.

Unfortunately all salts usually get grouped together, which leads to unfortunate results, including one I witnessed over the weekend in my neighborhood.

In the window of a tiny European-style bakery that sells homemade breads, pastries and cakes was a sign that read:
“Did you know our scones and most of our muffins have no salt. No salt in the vanilla cake or butter cream.”
I was taken aback. This was a high-quality operation baking from scratch; why the avoidance of a key ingredient? In fact, salt brings out the flavor in food, including sweets. (My wife recently forgot to add salt to a chocolate pudding and the lack of oomph was obvious from the first spoonful.)

And had I actually been in the mood for a scone or muffin, I would not have bought one at this bakery, despite its reputation. Sorry, but I want a little salt (and a lot of flavor) in my food.


I think this misguided sign played into our blanket fears about salt, instead of helping us realize how healthy unrefined sea salts are. We would have been better served if the note had read:
“Did you know our scones and most of our muffins contain a pinch of unrefined sea salt, which is essential for numerous body functions and contains over 80 trace elements, which are minerals and micronutrients that our bodies need in extremely small quantities?”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Unrefined Sea Salt: The Salt That Shouldn't Be Avoided

Earlier this month, New York City announced an “initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products,” according to The New York Times.

Considering a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that even a half teaspoon reduction in daily salt intake can have far-reaching benefits for individuals, the city's plan seems like a great idea.
But—as is often the case—it appears that harmful processed foods and ingredients are being grouped with their less-refined cousins, giving the beneficial versions a bad name.

In the media coverage of the salt-reduction initiative, I don’t recall one instance where the difference between processed salt and unrefined salt was discussed. Our bodies need salt (sodium), but, like fat, some versions are healthy and others harmful.

Unrefined sea salt—available in many supermarkets—contains over 80 trace elements (minerals and micronutrients that our bodies need in extremely small quantities) and is necessary for several reasons, including proper cell functioning, protein digestion and muscle contraction. This is the healthy salt, and just a small amount can brighten foods’ flavors.


The salt that New York City wants to limit, though, is a completely different animal. Commercial table salts and the salts used in processed foods have been stripped of their minerals. They are heated to high temperatures, cleaned and bleached with chemicals and administered anti-caking agents.


In simple terms, this processing changes the structure of the salt, not allowing our bodies to properly digest it. The salt builds up in our bodies and we get sick.


More on this tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Van Leeuwen; Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's?

As we saw yesterday, almost every food purchase we make necessitates a visit to the mental checklist of forbidden ingredients. Trying to remember everything can be daunting, but don’t get discouraged; your family will thank you for even one chemical avoided.

You won’t become an expert overnight. Slowly, though, you will learn to pass on foodstuffs containing bleached flour, partially hydrogenated oil, hydrolyzed soy protein and FD&C red 40.

And even when you think you know a bit, quandaries arise. For example, two days ago, we had friends over for dinner and we made a chocolate cake/pudding (gooey!) for dessert. Vanilla ice cream would be the perfect accompaniment.

My favorite (and safest) ice cream is Van Leeuwen, which is available in the New York City area. There are no hormones and antibiotics in the milk and cream used, and no synthetic ingredients or unnecessary additives are ever present.


Unfortunately, the store had no Van Leeuwen vanilla, so I had to decide between—in my mind—the next two best options. But how to choose between Häagen-Dazs
and Ben & Jerry’s?

First, I identified the ingredients that caused me concern. In the
Häagen-Dazs, the most worrisome are the milk and cream that can come from cows administered hormones. (I’ve called the company to find this out.) Ben & Jerry’s, on its container, says its milk is from cows not given growth hormones (thumbs up), but its vanilla ice cream contains guar gum.

I wasn’t completely sure what guar gum is, but I chose it over the hormones, which I wanted nothing to do with. Later, I did some research and found that guar gum (derived from guar beans) is a thickener that also prevents ice crystal formation.


In retrospect, the next time Van Leeuwen isn't available, I'll take a pass on ice cream. I don't want to eat foods with non-essential additives, even if they are harmless (which I'm not completely sure guar gum is).

What we are willing to accept in our food is a personal decision. However, we should—at the very least—be reading ingredient lists, which will help us understand that vanilla ice cream is usually more than just vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Challenge of Feeding Our Families

Last week a mom left a comment on a blog post (“General Mills Yoplait Trix “Yogurt” Should Be Illegal”) that I had written a year ago.

Her comment perfectly captures the challenges so many of us face when making purchasing decisions for ourselves and our
families:
"I found this site when I Googled "Trix yogurt & hyperactivity," because my son ate one yesterday (his first and LAST!), and went into a mad tailspin. When we checked the ingredients all we saw was sugar & chemicals. My husband felt terrible because he bought it thinking it would be a healthy snack—what could be wrong with yogurt? How are they allowed to even call this yogurt?"
The moral of the story? All of us should be reading the ingredient labels on the foodstuffs we are buying, since the chemicals present may explain why our kids (and maybe even us!) are bouncing off the walls.

I am not pulling this out of left field; click here to read about the McCann Report, an English study that showed how “artificial colors . . . in the diet result in increased hyperactivity.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jennifer Steinhauer - "Snack Time Never Ends"

There is a timely article—“Snack Time Never Ends”—in the Dining Section of today’s New York Times.

The author, Jennifer Steinhauer, laments not the constant baking she is asked to do for various events, but the now-engrained belief that every event requires a snack.

However, the incessant snacking isn’t served à la carte; it comes with sides of nutritional and parental-guilt concerns:

"What is especially baffling where I live, in Los Angeles, is how often the kind of parental paranoia that obsesses about school ratings, vaccines and myriad imagined plagues is matched by utter disregard for the nutritional downsides of mowing down Fruit by the Foot every afternoon at 4. Rarely do I see a parent show up on the soccer field with a homemade snack, or even a bag of carrots. Oreos are the post-game snack of choice, even in sports leagues dominated by upper-income parents."
Click here to read the entire article. For another view of snacking, read author Harlan Coben’s first-rate op-ed piece, “Will Play for Food,” written in 2006 but as prescient as ever.

There is one more issue I want to discuss. At the end of Steinhauer’s piece, almost as an aside, she addresses the issue of baking handcuffed because of our kids’ myriad allergies:
"Food allergies are a real problem. But did no one ponder the idea that perhaps the solution is for children to bring their own snacks? Or to eat no snacks at all?"
Reading this, my thought was, “Or that maybe the allergies are partly caused by the mass of synthetic chemicals in the junk food masquerading as snacks?” But that’s a post for another day.

Parents, what do you think about snacking?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Seventh Generation Cleaning Products Gain Momentum

As more of us learn about the dangers of modern foodstuffs, household cleaning products and personal hygiene items sold primarily by multinationals, more of us opt for safer alternatives.

While these corporate behemoths have the money to advertise to large audiences on a grand scale (i.e. Golden Globe Awards, Super Bowl), word can also spread about smaller companies on a grass-roots level, often from friend to friend.

Our new purchasing decisions help increase the smaller producers’ profits, allowing them to advertise more and further spreading their message. A perfect example is Seventh Generation, whose products I have been using for several years. The company has been making non-toxic household cleaning and personal care products for 20 years using plant- and mineral-derived agents.


Using the momentum from the burgeoning green movement, Seventh Generation recently released its first national television advertisement.


Click here to watch the poignant ad that will hopefully resonate and spur more people to buy safer products, avoiding items like laundry detergents full of harsh perfumes, phosphates and optical brighteners and paper towels whitened with chlorine.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More on Earth Fare Food Markets

As I discussed Friday, I recently learned about Earth Fare, a chain of supermarkets in the Southeast.

Comparisons to Whole Foods would be expected, but judging from its website, blogs and videos, the smaller Earth Fare (17 stores) has a much spunkier and irreverent attitude.


For example, CEO Jack Murphy—who appears in most videos—explains how Mother Nature has affected Earth Fare’s ability to stock certain fruits and vegetables that have suffered from the recent freeze in the Florida.


In fact, Murphy says that Earth Fare “won’t sell garbage and will not carry items if the price increase is outrageous.” I find Murphy’s tone refreshing, especially compared to the sterile and defensive statements issued by most of the big food companies when I inquire about their policies and products.


Also refreshing is Earth Fare’s food philosophy, which advocates “foods that are as close to the ground as it gets.” This means not selling foods containing antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, hydrogenated oils, bleached flour and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.


I haven’t been in an Earth Fare market, but I like what I’ve read and can’t wait to visit one of the stores.


Any Earth Fare shoppers want to share their experiences?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where to Shop? A Great New Find: Earth Fare Supermarkets

Living in New York City, I have several excellent options for buying food. Using a combination of farmers’ markets, Fairway and Whole Foods, I am able to purchase the fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy, grains and breads that I always discuss here.

Having access to high-quality food is essential in maintaining a healthy diet. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, as I witnessed recently when I was in another part of the country. At my first stop, the supermarket lacked meats free of hormones and antibiotics, the fruits and vegetables look tired and the breads were pre-sliced commercial brands sold in plastic bags.

Using the latest hand-held technology (not mine), we found a nearby Whole Foods. The presence of grass-fed ground beef, organic whole grains and unbleached breads was worth the 15-minute drive. Yes, the bill was a little more than it would have been at the first market, but my goal was to buy food that I would enjoy and would keep me healthy, not synthetic imitations that lacked flavor and could make me sick.


Thankfully, the options for buying better food are increasing. I just stumbled upon Earth Fare, a chain of 17 markets in four states in the Southeast. I have never been in an Earth Fare store, but judging from the company’s food philosophy, I would be able to eat very well in Greenville, S.C., Johnson City, Tenn. and Boone, N.C.

More about Earth Fare on Monday.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Brown (or Fry) Onions

Browning onions is quick and easy; the flavor is superb. Try adding them to hamburgers, roast beef sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc.

Watch how to brown onions:


video

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Please, Mr. Cow, Come Clean; Mark McGwire Did!

So Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids. (Nixon resigns! Lindbergh lands in Paris!)

Now only if our cows would come clean about their continued steroid (hormone) use. However, unlike McGwire, the estimated 90 percent of American cattle which are shot up with drugs don’t voluntarily take hormones.

Yet they do, and just like McGwire (and Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa) they get really big, really fast. They also produce a lot more milk than they would without hormones. And the sooner they get to slaughter size (months ahead of their natural growth cycle), the quicker they can be processed into supermarket-ready cuts of beef.

Ka-ching!

Unfortunately, the public is getting duped, just like we were in the great home run race of 1998. Many doctors and scientists believe that the hormones are leading to early onset puberty in girls (eight years old in some cases), endocrine disruption, certain cancers and environmental issues (androgynous fish).

Mr. Cow, will you please come clean? If you do, I promise to vote for you for the Animal Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to Save Bread

Do you find yourself throwing out bread because it starts to go stale?

When your bread begins to age, simply cut it into slices and freeze in a plastic bag; it will stay indefinitely. When you want bread, just take a piece from the freezer and heat it in a toaster oven. It will taste as fresh as the day you bought it.

I'll discuss the important differences between fresh and packaged breads in an upcoming post.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Make a Hearty Vegetable Soup

Here’s a recipe for a hearty winter meal that further debunks the myth that cooking is difficult and expensive. The following made about eight portions and cost $9. (Had I not used mostly organic ingredients, it would have totaled $5.) Prep time was 10 minutes and cooking time (mostly unattended) was roughly an hour.

HEARTY WINTER VEGETABLE SOUP

I chopped two onions, two garlic cloves, two carrots, four stalks of celery and four small potatoes and sautéed them in olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat for eight minutes (until the onions were soft).

I then added a 28-ounce can of whole peele
d tomatoes and enough water (about 20 ounces) to cover the vegetables. I added a bay leaf and some peppercorns, brought the mixture to a boil, returned it to a simmer, covered the pot and let the soup simmer until the potatoes and carrots just softened (about 45 minutes).

I turned off the heat and added a can of chickpeas and some leftover kidney beans I had, plus some chopped parsley. I let the soup sit covered for about 15 minutes, and then added unrefined
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

After ladling a
portion into a bowl, I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the soup.

Feel free to use any vegetables you like or have in your refrigerator. For more substance, ad
d cooked whole wheat pasta, cooked whole grains or chunks of whole grain bread to your bowl of soup.

You do not need to be a chef, grandmother or have slept in a Holiday Inn Express to be able to make this. The flavor, nutrition and sense of accomplishment will be much better than anything from a can.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What's Killing the Bats, Bees and Frogs?

Over the past decade, bats, bees and frogs have been dying at an alarming rate. At first, the mass deaths completely puzzled scientists, but now different theories have emerged to help explain the occurrences.

An article published online yesterday in Yale Environment 360, a journal of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, highlights one theory: “Behind Mass Die-Offs, Pesticides Lurk as Culprit.”

Click here to read the full article; it will only take a few minutes.

And here’s the introduction to get you thinking about how pesticides could also be affecting humans:
"In the past dozen years, three new diseases have decimated populations of amphibians, honeybees, and — most recently — bats. Increasingly, scientists suspect that low-level exposure to pesticides could be contributing to this rash of epidemics."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Michael Pollan on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"

Michael Pollan, who I consider to be the best writer and advocate of rethinking our food supply, appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" earlier this week to promote his new book, “Food Rules.”

As always, Pollan presented his beliefs in a clear and concise fashion.


Click here to watch Stewart interview Pollan.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Problems With Our Everyday Ground Beef

Michael Moss, The New York Times reporter who wrote a great investigative piece last fall about contamination in ground beef, wrote another article last week further detailing the safety flaws in our food system.

Moss wrote that Beef Products Inc.—a major supplier of ground beef to McDo
nald’s, Burger King, supermarket chains and the federal school lunch program—uses an ammonia process that, according to Beef Products research, kills E. coli and salmonella.

I think it is extremely important to read the entire article, but the following bullet points will help elucidate the hypocrisy within the food safety system that Moss continually exposes.
  • The U.S.D.A., according to Moss, “accepted the company’s own study as evidence that the treatment was effective.” (Which, alas, it wasn’t.)
  • Because of this blind faith in Beef Products and its research, the U.S.D.A. did not test the company’s ground beef for pathogens, usually a routine act.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Service, the U.S.D.A. division responsible for buying food for the federal school lunch program, did conduct tests and found “E. coli and salmonella pathogens . . . dozens of times in Beef Products meat.”
  • According to Moss, “Top [U.S.D.A.] officials said they were not aware of what their colleagues in the lunch program had been finding for years.”
And a good reason why getting left back a couple times may not be the worst of things:
  • “The school lunch program will not buy meat contaminated with salmonella, [but] the agriculture department does not ban its sale to the general public.”
More on this soon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Special From the Chef: Grilled Mackerel

I don’t eat out that often, but I had a phenomenal meal last night at a sushi restaurant. The best part was that my dinner wasn’t even on the menu.

Spanish mackerel was one of the featured fish, but I didn’t feel like eating sushi or sashimi. I asked the waitress if there were any whole ones, and if yes, would the chef be interested in grilling one for me.

The waitress returned and said the chef was very excited to grill a mackerel (that was caught the previous day) for me. She also told me that the chef had asked if I was Asian!

The fish was perfectly cooked and delicious; I couldn’t have been happier with my luck.

I think I made the chef’s night as well, since he came out while I was eating to make sure his cooking was to my liking.

The moral of the story is that chefs will sometimes be very happy to make a special dish, as long as they have the ingredients and the kitchen isn’t that busy. Sure, you may get a “no,” but there’s also a chance you’ll be treated to a truly great meal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

At the Farmers' Market: How to Sauté Zucchini

Here’s another quick video (how to sauté zucchini) from my cooking demonstration at a local farmers’ market this fall:

video

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best of 2009: Revisiting The Scene at Mecox Bay Dairy

Here's a video post from July highlighting some of the differences between smaller farms where the cattle eat grass (cows' natural diet) and behemoth industrial operations where corn is the main component of the feed. For more information on the differences between grass-fed and corn-fed products, visit eatwild.com; make sure to click on "Benefits for Your Health."

The Scene at Mecox Bay Dairy
(July 6, 2009)

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.

video