Saturday, July 31, 2010

What is Granulated Garlic?

I have been meaning to research this topic for several weeks. But I was nervous. What if I turned up something negative? How would I do without my precious pungent powder?

I have always had GG in my cupboard. But before Thing 1 and 2 came along I didn't use it that much. I was previously a garlic snob. I chopped or mashed fresh garlic for everything I cooked at home. But after the first Thing came on board I had a hard time with it. Imagine me on 4 hours of sleep with a 6 week old nestled in a bouncy seat on the threshold of our 50 square foot Manhattan galley kitchen trying to recapture some of my former kitchen glory. Thing 1 would be screaming his little head off and what was I doing? Fiddling with a sticky mess of garlic and an enormous knife. When I finally felt the stress of needing to pick him up and cuddle him or nurse him, I had these sticky stinky hands, and then fumbling with my shirt and boobs? Yuk. That's enough to traumatize your baby into never eating garlic.

I had to totally relearn how to cook when I had children. I no longer had time to noodle over the noodles. I needed a way to get everything into a pot and get back to being a mommy. I think that's why I turned to processed food to begin with, because I had a fussy baby and I needed to eat. I didn't know how to quickly prep something and walk away to let it do it's thing. But granulated garlic solved at least one problem. In many recipes it has become my go to spice rather than dirtying up a cutting board, chef's knife and my hands. But what is it? GG is precisely the kind of mysterious food that we all too readily accept. It is not like there is a granulated garlic plant out there where farmers are harvesting little glass jars with shaker tops.

Granulated Garlic (not to be confused with Garlic Powder or Garlic Salt) is dried ground garlic. You might have already guessed that-but you can never assume anything these days!! Garlic is most plentiful in California in the summertime. Fresh Garlic does keep for a several months in cool cellars and probably the conventional garlic you buy in February at the grocery store was grown in California the previous summer. But, GG is a good way of preserving garlic for future use. Garlic has a lot of antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, but just like any plant, these benefits diminish with additional processing and length of time from harvest. So don't fool yourself, GG is not the best way to profit from the health benefits of garlic. But if it is taste in a pinch you are after, you might just have found a soulmate.

Garlic is first harvested and the paper removed. The cloves are then chopped, dried and ground. Some GG and Garlic Powders (garlic powder is simply GG that has been further ground into a powder that is as fine as flour, Garlic Salt is table salt with ground garlic added) have stabilizers and anticaking agents in them so that they will pour better. It is important to seek out a brand that does not include them. I purchase Fairway's store brand. But an amazing store in Evanston, IL is The Spice House. They will ship anything and they have a great house made GG (among hundreds of unbelievable dried spices and herbs and spice blends). I used to have family that lived down the street from their Evanston location. I was so sad when they moved out of Evanston, but they do ship.

GG takes about 20-30 minutes to fully rehydrate and realize it's flavor. So when I use it in a recipe I will add it and allow it time to bloom. I like to add GG to meatballs, but I let the meat rest before I cook them. It is the same with dressings and sauces.

I was so thrilled that my granulated garlic is simple and straight forward. Some folks may feel that the drying and grinding constitutes too much processing to be considered a whole food, and I get it, they are probably right. But once again for me it is about cost/ benefit. If my brand does not contain any funny additives and my source is a trusted purveyor, I say Granulated Garlic gets the green light. Whew! I was sweating this one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The To Do List: Big Brand Name Oat Circles

There is a sunny yellow box inside the homes of countless families' kitchens. There is a single product that is ubiquitous among children of all ages. There is a cereal so friendly it ranks high on the list of 'first foods' for babies without teeth all over the United States.

My brother ate so many of these oat circles growing up that I could hardly stand the smell of them by age 9. When I was a child, sugar cereal was a treat not to be eaten at breakfast. If it was really bad or had marshmallows in it, we could choose to buy it instead of another treat, but it could not be eaten for breakfast. It had to be for an afternoon snack. But we could get non-sugar cereals, and it seemed a popular choice was often the oat circles in the yellow box. But I really didn't like them. So I ate toast or something else.

Then after my kids were born this cereal was everywhere. Now all of a sudden it seemed like it was a household staple. The kids loved them, they made little mess when they feed themselves (Except when you step on them after they have fallen to the floor. I swear half of the dust in my vacuum is cereal dust sucked out of the area rug.), and they were healthy enough to feed to a 7 month old right? What was in it? OATS!! Right? Isn't it oats? I know it doesn't look like oatmeal, but that shouldn't matter.

Then after two years of feeding these brand name oat circles to my kids, I finally picked up the box. This is what it said:

Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phopsphate, Oat Fiber, Wheat Starch. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

There is also a long list of added vitamins and minerals. Aaaaahhhh, enrichment. This enrichment is no different than the flour enrichment I discussed last week.

Now to be fair, this large manufactuerer of brand name cereals puts out alot more dubious products laden with sugar and marketed directly at children. Like I said, my own mother was exasperated by our constant pleas for sugar cereal when my brother and I were children. She put limits on what and how much she would buy and how much we were allowed to eat. This one particular brand of oat circle cereal is not the biggest threat to health out there. It probably does more harm than good when compared to all the highly processed foods heavy with salt and sugar that are so commonplace these days. But still, the long ingredient list surprised me, and one can hardly put it in the whole foods category. So what is all that stuff?

Modified Corn Starch: This additive is a starch derivitive. It is just like a starchy corn flour that the processor adds acids and other chemicals to break down the starches until it becomes almost like a powdered geletin (except it is not animal based geletin at all, it is plant starch based). It's purpose is to act as a thickener or stablizer. I am not a cereal maker, but I would guess it is what helps to keep all that ground up whole wheat oat flour together.

Tripotassium Phosphate: This is a water soluable ionic salt (huh?). It is also used in the food industry as a stabilizer and emulsifier. Oh, and it can be used as a fertilizer (a fertilizer with no nitrogen, but hey when you are eating fertilizer who is counting).

Oat Fiber: Just the germ and bran of the Oat Groat.

Wheat Starch: Exactly like Modified Corn Starch only made from the wheat plant.

Tocopherols: I learned something new recently. I always knew that when you see the word tocopherol you knew they were refering to Vitamin E. Well apparently there are 8 different kinds (read 8 different molecular structures) of vitamin E. Four of these kinds are classified as tocopherols. Beyond that, I guess I just wasn't paying close enough attention in my 11th grade chemistry class. The info is all there, but alot of the true chemistry stuff I just don't get.

By the way--I have been slacking on the bibliography feature of late. All information for today's post came from

So what does all this mean? Upon diving deeper, these oat circles probably do more good than harm as I said. They are mostly oats and they are WHOLE oats, which is way better than eating sausage breakfast sandwiches and pop tarts. But, they do contain salt and sugar and the highly processed starches and stabilizers leaving me wanting something better for my family. I love oatmeal the way it is. I was never looking for a shelf stable version of the thing I love. I gave my kids these oat circles because I am like everyone else out there, I never questioned them.

So I have switched to New Morning Oatios. This brand is organic, lists their ingredients online (try looking for the big guys, their nutritional page is empty) and the nutritional profile is largely the same as the big guys. There is slightly more sugar (2g vs 1g--which is almost nothing anyway) but in New Morning's product sugar is not listed as an ingredient which makes me feel better. And they taste more real to me, more grainy like a whole grain product should.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Apricots in Rose Wine

Most of the CSA fruits we get we eat raw and whole because we do a lot of that around here. But the apricots we got last week were a little sour even though they were perfectly ripe and soft. Thing 1 ate one the night I brought them home and made a funny scrunched up face that we all laughed at.

But what to do? I don't really like baking pies mid week, I have enough to do to make a decent dinner every night. But I wanted to do something, because I was the only one eating these things raw.

I have become a little obsessed with rose wine this summer. I love white in the summer, but I like to try new flavors. Rose is a big trend in New York right now with a lot of stores dedicating a display to them (including my Vines on Pine). But there aren't any yucky sickly sweet White Zins here. The roses I have been drinking have been delicate dry blends of sauvingnon blanc and grenache among others. The wine is mostly dry white, but the bit of red gives it some depth of flavor. It is really different but lovely. And the blush color is downright sexy, pink but ever so slightly orange like a sunset on a summer day with no humidity. Let's face it, most trends pass over me so I am kind of psyched to be among the ranks of those doing something considered cool before it becomes commonplace. I had never had Pinot Noir before I saw Sideways, for example. I cannot be counted on to be in the know.

Anyway-back to the apricots. I decided to boil them in wine and sugar as a topping to ice cream. There was so much juice that I had to boil the shape out of them to get the syrupy consistency I was looking for. If I had it to do over, I would boil down the wine and sugar into a syrupy first and then add the apricots so that I didn't have to kill them. Then they would retain their shape.

This was unexpectedly good. Very simple, but it had a very sophisticated flavor. A lovely and fitting end to a grilled meal of shrimp, striped bass and zucchinis.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CSA Dinner: Salmon with Fennel and Onion in Cream

This is not a hilarious dinner, it actually came out so well that DH was raving as we ended dinner! The kids did not repeat their previous performance with the salmon, but they ate enough they won't wake up early from hunger, thank God! Please try this recipe, it is amazing. It is also "weeknight easy" and the only fennel recipe that I haven't screwed up in my whole life.
I also implore you to embrace fat-real fat like from cream and olive oil and salmon and avacados. It holds an important place in our diets. As I have cut out Pringles and muffins and Town House crackers, etc I am finding that I have room in my diet for delicious things like cream and butter without consuming so much fat that I gain weight.....oh how wonderful that is.

Salmon with Fennel and Onion in Cream
In a saute pan with a lid, placed 1 chopped onion and 1 bulb of chopped fennel, spread evenly around the pan. Sprinkle 5-6 fresh basil leaves on the veggies. Pour cream over the top, enough so that the veggies look like they are well taken care of, but not drowning in cream. Place a 1 pound filet of wild salmon (FYI-the farmed ones all eat corn feed) on top of the veggies and cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the lid on and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or whenever the fennel is done. Serve over brown rice and do not waste one drop of cream. Get out a spoon if you must.

CSA Week 8

My camera is on it's last legs. It has a day where it works fine and then a day where I can't get it to focus. It is so sad. I apologize about the blurry pictures. I am not sure when we will be able to get a proper camera.
Today from the CSA we got a true haul. We received 5 ears of corn, 2 peppers, a bunch of beets (anyone want to just take these off my hands), 3 zucchinis, 2 onions-like good size guys, a fennel bulb, a head of cabbage (score), 2 tomatoes and 17 peaches. I am so psyched.
Every year I have a handful of favorite recipes that I make with our CSA vegetables. This year I would like to expand our horizons and try some new things. I have some ideas with this haul of veg, but I don't want to spoil them because they might come out really good and be a delightful thing to post about or they might come out really bad and be a hilarious thing to post about. I just wish I was hungry, I would get cracking now...
This evening was a really lovely because DH picked up the veg for me and it was waiting for me when I got home. It had been a really crazy day at the office and DH went out with friends leaving me with everything. But the kids were angels and ate everything up off their plates. And we all settled down for dessert, all three of us eating chunks of blush colored peaches with the juice dripping down our hands. Occasionally the baby would squeal to remind me to give him more and Thing 1 kept asking for more and telling me "These are really good peaches, I like peaches."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Half Sour Pickles

I love a good Jewish Dill Pickle. Usually the ones in the unappetizing green liquid that can be procured at the supermarket leave a little something to be desired.

Last year when we started to be overrun with kirby cucumbers from the CSA I sliced them all and concocted a misguided version of refrigerator pickles. It was a mess of sugar and vinegar and I added some mustard seeds because I remember them floating around at the bottom of my favorite jar. But these things didn't taste a bit like what i had intended. I let them sit in the fridge for 6 months then chucked them. I thought I would never be able to use that tupperware again!

This year, I found a recipe online and went for the gusto. Fermented Half Sour Pickles. I found the recipe online and I had all the ingredients in my kitchen:

Jewish Half Sour Pickles
24-36 Smallish Cucumbers-like kirbys
3 Crumbled bay leaves
6 Cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons of dried dill
1 Tablespoon of dillseed
6 Tablespoons of coarse salt
1 Tablespoon of whole mustard seeds
9 Cups of boiling water

I cut the cucumbers into spears and placed them in a 4 quart bowl (I made a half batch, so they fit just fine into my largest pyrex bowl with lid). Sprinkle the seasonings evenly over the pickles and then the boiling water. Cover with a lid and wrap in a towel. Place a heavy can on top or brick on top and place in a dark place for a week in warm weather and 10 days in cool weather. Skim the top as needed with a clean spoon.

Well the weather in the Northeast this week has been insane. We had a heat advisory most of last week. So I followed the instructions on Tuesday and I left them on my counter wrapped up until Sunday. No additional fermenting needed. They are perfect, just like I remember. They are sour, yet there is no vinegar. The salt keeps the bad buggies away, I ate two and no tummy upset. Though I have read that fermented foods are very healthy for the digestive track. It is too bad that most of the American population is skittish about leaving food on the counter. Try these. They are awesome, and they will totally keep vampires at bay. However, for the sake of my love life, I might cut back on the garlic next time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 84

It is now Day 84 of my blog project. I started this task on May4th, so today would be day 84. Why is this significant?

I have been wanting to do a recap post, but 30 days whizzed by and not much had really happened. 60 days seemed kind of arbitrary and unimportant. And 90 days is smack dab in the middle of next week, I couldn't wait any longer. Also Day 84 is the last day of the first 12 weeks. I think this is fitting since my desire to clean up my food act started with being pregnant and giving birth to my children. 12 weeks is most universally considered to be one trimester of pregnancy, and as many know, 12 weeks is what you most often get from your employer in the form of maternity leave. It is actually the maximum that you can take under the Family Medical Leave Act before your employer doesn't have to give you the exact same job back (It might be 3 months for that...but two weeks more or not, it is a pretty short time).

So now that it is the ending of my first trimester here at The Table of Promise, let me look back at some of the things I have accomplished in my time.

* I am still buying lots of local and/ or organic produce in addition to being in my CSA, no extra points there, but it is the cornerstone of my commitment to fresh whole foods.

*Instead of buying premade pasta sauces, I started making big batches of sauce from scratch and freezing it. The cost is about the same for conventional store brand sauce and my homemade variety from organic tomatoes. My family is pretty psyched too.

* I switched to organic pasta. The boxes are only 12 oz instead of 16 oz and do you know what, we are not going hungry. We probably didn't need the bigger box to begin with. There is a lovely place at my farmer's market that makes uncertified but still organic fresh pastas. I have been recently buying most of our pastas from them. And they have a very good whole wheat variety as well.

* I stopped buying juice for my kids. The truth--they just don't need it. Thing 1 would stay jacked up on sugar all day if he could and Thing 2 has a preference for sweets, so I do not want to go down the same road with him. That is not to say that they will never have juice again. At a restaurant or a birthday party, we will drink juice. But I feel that much more confident about it, because I know it is no longer a daily battle I have to fight. And for anyone who perhaps thought I was buying "juice drinks', nope, I equally dislike 100% whole juice. I would much rather the kids eat real fruit. Which they do by the bucketful. No juice needed.

* I have switched to whole wheat everything. Not only am I making many of our baked goods and eating less flour based foods in general, I am in the habit now of looking for the label 100% whole wheat on everything. I know that anything labeled "whole wheat bread" could be as little as 25-40% whole wheat flour and the rest white flour. I am on a crusade to eliminate as much white flour as I can from our family kitchen. We will encounter it outside the walls of our home, but as a treat I am not as worried about it.

* I am trying not to buy plastic tupperware any more. So far I am doing really well with this. But it takes a very wealthy person to read an article on plastic residue in our food and then the next day throw out everything in their kitchen and replace it with glass. I am throwing old plastic containers away as they wear out and I am replacing them with glass. So Far it is going well. They are alot easier to clean. Who knew?

* I have stopped buying crackers. They are still getting into the house through some well intentioned child caregivers. But most of the overdose is gone.

* The Yellow Box Oat Circles have been replaced with a lower sugar organic version.

* No more Cliff Bars--I am all about Larabars now and I prefer nuts and dried fruit to those.

* I have made a bigger commitment to brown rice. We still keep white rice in the house, but I am really working on it.

* I have started using most dried beans. At our Farmer's Market the folks who sell my organic flours also grow beans. The summer was so wet last year that they have a limited selection this year. But they said everything is amazing this year. So next year? 14 different varieties of beans! Woohoo!

* I have bought Ice Cream only a couple of times since the project began. I keep meaning to make ice cream more often, but it is a hassle. I like the idea of eating it less as a trade off. At least it is still Breyer's, real ingredients.

* I continue to make homemade yogurt most weeks. And I am REALLY REALLY PROUD to say the my kids have had nothing but plain yogurt for months. I have bought plain yogurt a couple times when I ran out of time to make it. But even our baby sitter is giving them bowls of plain yogurt now and we have left the other crappy sugary stuff behind. This is maybe my favorite.

I am sure there are other things. But I can't think of them now. Suffice it to say, I am committed to change and I still have many other things to change. There are so many other things that I haven't been able to research yet. I feel better, I am happier about our food. But most of all we are finding a balance in this, I am not losing my life in this project. However, now that we have settled into a routine, I want to work harder about closing some of the loopholes we have allowed in this. I really want to push myself to see how far we can go to be 100% homemade. I would like to find my breaking point.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

So If I Can't Eat Flour, What the Heck Can I Eat??

So if you are like me after reading all my flour posts, you may come to the conclusion that flour and products made from flour are foods to limit. I am not totally anti flour, but through the course of my research, I have started to see that white flour is a pointless food for us to base our diet around (or even eat at all as it provides almost no nutrition beyond calories), and even whole wheat flour is not as good of a source of the nutrients that we need for optimal health as other foods. Of course whole wheat can be part of a balanced diet for sure, but we don't need to eat products made from wheat flour 3-4 times a day. Probably once day is enough, and if you could cut it out altogether you would not suffer. Remember I am NOT talking about CARBS here, just wheat flour.

But if I give up flour and bread, what the heck will I eat?? First of all, many of my insistent cravings die down when I eat less flour. So you might feel more satiated replacing flour with other whole foods. I do have some suggestions of some yummy food groups to eat for all meals....I believe that there is something here for everyone. **Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a dietitian or a nutritionist, nor am I suggesting that anyone limit their diet to the below only. What I have written are just some things that I like to eat regularly that do not contain flour. And as always, if you have any health issues, discuss dietary changes with a doctor.

Oatmeal (or other whole grain porridge, but oats are my favorite)-you can top it with dried fruit, milk, nuts, the sky is the limit. Steel cut oats or oat groats are a personal favorite
Yogurt-any kind of yogurt. It is good for your digestive track and like oatmeal, you can top it with anything
Fresh fruit
Eggs-anyway you like them! Do some reading on eggs and cholesterol. Most dietitians have recently given eggs a clean slate.
Cheese-omelet anyone?
Breakfast meats-lean ham or even turkey sausage can be a great way to start the day!

Lunch or dinner
I usually have a big salad. This ensures I can get all my fresh raw veggies in a given day. I make sure I have some full fat things in there like avocado or leftover salmon to keep me full. Beans and chicken or other meats and cheese are a great topping too. Think of it as a full meal rather than a bowl of veggies. The protein and healthy fats will keep you filled up all afternoon. A great easy homemade dressing will keep any pesky processed ingredients out of your nummies.
Tuna salad, or any fish
Any meat or eggs
Fresh fruit or veggies
Carbs-remember rice and potatoes, millet and quinoa and other grains? Don't forget all of these very satisfying carbs all are flourless and don't metabolize the way a piece of bread do. My stomach does not react to these types of carbs.
Beans and legumes! What a treasure-truly the unsung heroes of the food world.

Fruit, fresh or dried
Raw veggies
Yogurt or milk (a glass of milk is a great snack) Potato or corn chips are not that healthy, but they are flour free and could be eaten in moderation too. Just don't eat the whole bag-they won't fill you up.

My feeling for myself is that no one food should dominate your diet. I eat a lot of veggies, but I would not want to eat only carrots all day. That couldn't be good! I like a varied diet, many different fruits and veggies, different source of meat and fish and vegetable proteins, and I believe that is why I can eat some floury baked goods once a day and maintain my weight. It is hard to go without flour entirely and it takes time to cut things out. But the above can be a reminder of all the rich and varied things that can remain on your menu if you do decide to go flourless.

In the present day and age we have access to all the tools for optimal health, we just have to listen to our bodies and feed them accordingly. Different people are genetically predisposed to managing types of food differently. Some of us really can eat flour all day with no weight gain, while other people are totally gluten intolerant. I have no doubt that there will be people who read this and think I am crazy to criticize bread and flour when they have been around for so many centuries. But I did the research and I have even provided some links to information that is out there. After you do a little reading of your own, you may be on my side. Are you willing to read for yourself?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guest Blogger: Celiac Disease

I have mentioned Celiac Disease several times this week. What is it?

Celiac Disease is the inability to digest gluten. Gluten is the compound found in the wheat's endosperm (and many other grains including spelt, barley and to a lesser extent oats) that makes bread springy. The disease manifests in gastrointestinal distress, weight loss and other signs of malnutrition, sometimes skin trouble like eczema, and can lead to lactose intolerance, certain forms of cancer and infertility as the disease progresses. The disease causes a breakdown of the villi in your intestines. As the villi break down the body's ability to absorb nutrients is compromised leading to the before mentioned signs of malnutrition. However Celiac Disease is not a wheat allergy, it is a gluten allergy.

A dear friend of mine TQ was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Since I have spent so much time speaking about wheat and flour this week I asked her to write something about her personal experience with the disease.

Flour was the first seriously processed food, or close to it...according to some things I've read.

Contrary to popular belief, our bodies are not actually meant to consume refined flour. Those of us with Celiac Disease and other wheat or gluten intolerances are throw-backs to 10'000 (think that's right but you can look it up) years ago when land cultivation was getting underway in a major way. That's why we can't actually digest the protein gluten, cause we aren't supposed to. It's a foreign protein. I've read this same thought in several of the CD readings. It really struck me since the USDA and FDA recommend ridiculous amounts of flour based foods. If you were a hunter/gatherer, flour would not have been part of your diet at all.

I am very lucky in that my CD seems relatively minor in comparison to some folks I've met. I can tolerate very small amount of gluten, like breading on chicken or if it's hidden in a soup I'm ok if it's a small quantity. If I surpass the magic number though, which I do regularly because it's hard to know how much gluten an item contains if there's no label (like at restaurants or if I simply don't read the label) then I will know within two hours. Some people can't even share a toaster with gluten eaters. They have separate utensils, cutting boards, pots and pans. If they get even a whif of gluten, they will have painful symptoms. Celiac is progressive, so presumably I will be like that some day...this is also why some folks don't get diagnosed till later in life.

Life is livable with CD. In a way it's motivation to eat the kind of diet COB is touting, which is much more in line with what our bodies are designed to consume. The things that are healthiest usually don't contain gluten. The things that are made especially gluten free, like GF bread, GF pasta, GF cookies, are harder to get a hold of and expensive. And more over, even though they're ok, they really don't taste as good as their gluten-y counterparts. So in some ways it's easier to go without since eating the real thing brings on severe pain and the replica only tastes so-so and makes you yearn for the real thing even more.

You would be surprised where gluten can be found. It's everywhere! Even modern American soy sauce is made with a gluten derivative, even though it never was before and shouldn't be. It is. Wheat, barley and rye derivatives add texture, flavor and act as preservatives at times. So they sneak into just about everything with a label on it, even your vitamins and pain killers like Tylenol. Unless that label says GF on it, there's probably gluten or a gluten derivative. And there's a reason for it. It rocks. As bad as it is for us, it tastes sooo good. So much of taste is about texture too. My rice flour bread tastes ok, but it's so brittle and crumbly. I opened a new bag the other day and the whole loaf just crumbled out of the bag. No sandwich for me. :( At least once a week I give in and have a real sandwich or pizza or Chinese food and then spend the rest of the evening in the bathroom. It's like the equivalent of drinking too much cause it's fun while it lasts, knowing you'll pay for it later!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Refined Flour, a Brief History

Refined, White or All Purpose Flour, regardless of the title, it is ground wheat endosperm.

But, you ask, if all the nutrition is in the bran and germ, why would we remove it? That seems foolish. Well, it does in retrospect. But we didn't know it at the time.

Ground whole wheat flour has a shelf life of around 6-9 months, due primarily to the fatty acids and oils found within the bran and the germ. This is pretty long by today's standards, but not so several hundred years ago. I am unsure of where white flour was first produced. But I am fairly certain that it was a relatively recent time like within the last 300 years or so. Perhaps a reader will know for sure! Whole wheat flour, on the other hand, has been made using stones to grind it since prehistoric times. But as the world became civilized and towns and cities sprung up in which people were not necessarily living on the farm where their food was grown, it was difficult to harvest it, grind the flour, transport it, sell it and use it within the 6-9 month period before it went rancid. So producers came up with the idea that the problematic parts of the grain should simply be removed. White Flour will last on your shelf indefinitely, because there is nothing in it that will go bad. I have for the last ten years lived by the mantra that your food is supposed to go bad (even if I don't ALWAYS follow it), so already this sounds like something to eat in moderation.

When researching the history of flour and flour making one name kept popping up, Oliver Evans. Evans is credited with creating an automated grist mill to grind flour and that was in the late 1700's (like the last decade of the 1700's) so I imagine that white flour had been around much longer than that. I wish I had more free time to research more of the progression of flour 'technology', but *sigh* there is a job I get paid to do and I do that one first.

In terms of nutrition (and we all like to compare nutrition) Whole Wheat Flour has a pretty different nutritional composition than Unenriched White Flour. Below is the comparison of some more important nutritional aspects in 1 cup of flour....

Whole Wheat Flour-1 Cup
Calories 407 cal
Carbohydrates 87.1 g
Total Fat 2.2 g
Thiamin .5 mg
Calcium 40.8 mg
Iron 4.7 mg
Magnesium 166 mg
Manganese 4.6 mg
Selenium 84.8 mg
Total Omega 3's 45.6 mg
Total Omega 6's 886 mg

Unenriched White Flour-1 Cup
Calories 455
Carbohydrates 95.4 g
Total Fat 1.2 g
Thiamin .1 mg
Calcium 18.7 mg
Iron 1.5 mg
Magnesium 27.5 mg
Manganese .9 mg
Selenium 42.4 mg
Total Omega 3's 27.5 mg
Total Omega 6's 489 mg

What is in there is just numbers to me. I really only know about a couple things on that list, and it is far less than the total list that I found online. I have provided links to both sets of data, whole wheat flour as well as unenriched white flour, just click the links to see more. What is the most important to the average person is that there are fewer amounts of nutrients in the white flour than the whole wheat flour. When flour is enriched a few items are added back in, but those items are only thiamin, iron, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. That is really only some of the B Vitamins and the iron. Whole wheat flour is far more nutritious.

People for years have said in passing that white flour is just like eating pur sugar. I never believed them because it just didn't sound right. Well, I have done the research and it is mostly true. Only mostly true because there is a shred of nutrition in white flour as you can see above. But otherwise, sugar is just a loosely bonded molecule of fructose and glucose that break apart when you digest them. The starch in bread is just a long chain of glucose molecules that all break apart in digestion. Fortunately your body does need glucose, so it is not a total waste. The problem is we get very little else from white flour but glucose and most of us on the Western Diet eat FAR more than we need.

So Enriched Flour only adds in some nutrients. Why those nutrients? There are many nutritional deficiency diseases that came up as I researched this topic. Iron Deficiency, Pellagra and Beriberi are all diseases known to result from a lack of certain vitamins in the diet (iron, niacin and thiamin respectively). It was specifically to help stamp out those diseases in the US that manufacturers first started enriching their wheat flour. Any population that turns to one food source tends to get sick. Not having a varied enough diet has caused a multitude of diseases during the course of history. Seasonality builds in variety in the diet when you live close to the food source. Cherries are only in season for a little while, and the same with carrots and sweet potatoes, even meat can't be consumed all year round because all the calves are born in the spring time. On a side note, even human fertility often dips in the springtime because babies conceived in the spring will be born during the coldest and most inhospitable months of the year. I always found it funny that there were more babies born in August than any other month. I thought it was funny because I thought the holiday season must have gotten alot of people in the mood. But no, it has more to do with babies being born around the harvest time when it would be nice and warm for a while and mom would have had enough to eat to nurse them into fat happy bouncing babies. We evolved this way over time because it worked.

It is the same with our food. When people moved off the farm in the Industrial age (and other ages too) we had large populations living off of one or two foods. We see that to a lesser extent today, however we are still getting more of our calories from corn and wheat than virtually anything else. Enrichment has seen to it that deficiency diseases are a rare thing in this country. And they are, No one reading this should be afraid. So many people these days take a supplement on top of what they eat anyhow, it is almost unheard of in the US. But we can do more to eat a varied diet. Today there are certain populations that still don't have great access to fresh foods, but a vast majority of Americans do and still CHOOSE to eat processed refined grains. I think there is alot of misinformation about where our nutrition is coming from.

Modern science may have added back thiamin, niacin, folic acid, riboflavin and iron. But what else is white flour lacking? What else that we haven't discovered yet is not in this enriched flour? There may still be dozens of nutrients that we do not know are lost in the production of white flour. Where do we draw the line? It is no longer 1700, we are able to consume whole wheat flour well within it's shelf life. Will you choose whole wheat next time?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CSA Week 7

This week at the CSA we got green beans (first time this season!), cippolini onions, chard, many cucumbers, beets, cherry tomatoes (no picture, already consumed), 1 beefstake tomato, 2 zuccinis, and apricots. The Apricots are pretty good. The pits come out easily, but they are kind of sour, so I haven't decided. I might make a rustic pie...they need a little help in the sugar department.

We have no real plans for cooking major stuff this week, so the veggies will probably be mostly consumed as side dishes, nothing interesting. However, I never ate the cucumbers from last week, so I combined them all and made Half Sour Dill Pickles. I found the recipe online in another blog and have provided the link. This is a fermented recipe so there is no vinegar. I found a couple of fermented recipes online and I am slightly skeptical of how it will come out. There has been terrible heat in the Northeast recently, that can only make things pickle faster. I placed everything in a large bowl with bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, a few mustard seeds, dill and dill seed and alot of salt. I have to let them sit a week (maybe less in our current weather state). Fermented foods are traditional and very healthful, think yogurt, kim chee, certain types of soy. But the average American is a little wary of letting their food sit out on the counter for a week. But I am game. I will be your guinea pig. I will tell you how it goes next week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Notes About Different Kinds of Flour

Ever wondered what was with all the diffrerent kinds of flour? And I don't mean just different grains or beans. There are a seemingly endless amount of wheat flours. What are they? What makes them different? Are some better than others? I have put together the most common wheat flours I could find. Let me know if I missed any.

Whole Wheat Flour-In Whole Wheat Flour, all three parts of the seed are finely ground: endosperm, bran and germ are all included. Whole wheat flour is the most nutritious of all the wheat flours.

Brown Flour-Some sites said 85% of the germ and bran are left in the final product. But the miller I buy from tells me their variety is about 50%. I imagine there is a wide variety.

White (or Refined) Flour-In Whie Flour, all the bran and germ have been removed and only the endosperm remains. The endosprem is then finely ground. Much white flour on the market has been bleached to make it whiter than it is in nature, but not all. Do not be fooled by anyone trying to sell you a 'health food' item: when it comes to flour, the terms white, refined and all purpose all refer to the EXACT same kind of flour.

Enriched Flour-As I mentioned yesterday, much of the nutrients of wheat seeds are lost in white flour when the bran and the germ are removed. Enriched Flour is White Flour to which synthetic vitamin supplements have been added. The US Government does not require white flour to be enriched, but much of it is. However in order to be called 'enriched flour' the FDA says that every pound of enriched flour should contain 2.9 milligrams of thiamin, 1.8 milligrams of riboflavin, 24 milligrams of niacin, 0.7 milligrams of folic acid and 20 milligrams of iron. Enrichment is a process which adds synthetic nutrients back to the flour that have been lost when the germ and bran are removed. This is not to be confused with 'fortification' where nutrients are added that were never there in the first place.

Durum Flour-Durum is a kind of wheat, and very hard or high-protein kind of wheat. It is best used in applications like bread and pasta.

Semolina Flour-Semolina Flour is a coarsely ground hard wheat flour. I used to work at a bakery that made a wicked good semolina bread covered in sesame seeds.

Cake or Pastry Flour: Whether Whole Wheat or White Pastry Flour, all cake or pastry flours are simply made from a variety of wheat that has a lower protein content. The result flour yeilds baked goods that are more tender which is good for sweeter softer items.

Sprouted Flour-This is flour where the whole grains have been soaked in water and allowed to sprout before they are ground. I have found some websites that state that allowing the seeds (grains) to sprout changed most of the starch in them into vegetable sugars thus making them much easier to digest. I have started to see sprouted flours and products made from them popping up everywhere.

Vital Gluten Flour-This is a flour that is very very high in gluten, the compound found in the endosperm that makes bread springy. My biggest complaint about completely whole wheat anything is that it crumbles apart. White flour has a higher gluten ratio so it naturally sticks together and doesn't crumble. Vital Gluten Flour can be added to a whole wheat recipe to help it hold together better. It is not for those with Celiac Disease. I bought some this weekend and I am anxious to try it the next time I make whole wheat beet muffins.

Processed foods most often make use of white/ refined flours or enriched flours. Whether or not they are labeled as organic is of no importance to nutrition, there is little if any additional nutrition in an organic white or refined flour. (BTW-I am well aware of recent studies that have found organic produce and plants to be more nutritious than their conventially grown counterparts. However in the case of wheat, there isn't much nutrition found in the endosperm regardless. Now if you want to talk about an organic germ or bran layer versus conventional, now there would be a conversation!) While it is always good to treat the land well, and organic wheat has that going for it, the term 'organic' does not give white flour any additional health benefits. Look for 'whole' flours. I definitely am limiting them for myself to once a day or not at all if I am able, but sometimes it seems that flour and baked goods of some kind are omnipresent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Flour, Day 1

After a week of recipe posting, I get back to things I have actually researched. This one overtook my thinking for more than a week. I searched several sources before I even decided a path for the week. It took me some time to organize my thoughts.

As you have seen over the course of the last few weeks I have had flour on my mind alot. I have thought alot about someone's comment that I could have a gluten sensitivity that fell somewhere on the celiac spectrum. I am still not convinced. But I have continued my attempt to limit my flour intake, and I have noticed that when I do eat a whole croissant or other such floury food (particularly a food made from white or refined flour) my tummy starts acting up about 30 minutes afterward. Fuel for the fire...

But the thought of being sick on an otherwise innocuous food definitely set me off on an Internet treasure hunt.

For simple purposes, Wikipedia defines flour as, "In the culinary sense, flour is a powder made of cereal grains, other seeds or roots." What concerns me about flour (any flour) is the ease with which it is digested. During my research, countless sources have stated that flour has so much surface area as a result of being finely ground that it's carbohydrates are easily and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing a rise in blood sugar followed by a precipitous drop in blood sugar when all the fuel has been consumed. During this processed the message is given out to the pancreas to release insulin and the body goes into fat storage mode. Or so I have read. I believe this up and down blood sugar issue is what I am feeling after I overeat flour rather that celiac disease, but I don't know for sure. With the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the modern era, not to mention all the bad press carbs get these days, I wanted to know more. Is this a food I can safely eat? Eat in moderation? Or never again?

First off, what is with all all these different kinds of flour? Well you can make flour out of any grain or root. But what I am chiefly concerned with this week is WHEAT flour. This is the king grain that we eat in such great quantities in the US and other countries who have adopted a western diet. In a stalk of wheat, the only part that we eat is the seed. A wheat plant is like any other grass, it has leaves and a chaff on which the seeds grow. Wheat seeds are removed from the chaff of the plant and then ground to make flour. The seed itself has three parts, the bran layer which is like an encasement, the germ which is at the base of the seed (and is like that knobby-stemmy part on one half of a peanut-only different because this is wheat and not peanuts) and the endosperm which is the greatest portion of the seed. Check out this cute diagram I found on the Internet.

The greatest amount of fiber and nutrients are found in the bran layer and the germ. The endosperm is food for a growing baby wheat plant, so that is where the energy is stored. Incidentally, this is exactly why it is such good fuel for us.

I consider white flour to be 'the original processed food' because it is a food that is taken out of it's natural context. It is hard to separate parts of a tomato or a head of lettuce from their bit of fiber, or their goodness or vitamins and nutrients. And I think this mindset is where alot of the confusion about white flour comes in. Wheat is different than other plant foods. In a wheat seed, the three easily separable parts each have their own chemical composition. The bran and the germ contain nutrients and B Vitamins and essential fatty acids and alot of fiber. The endosperm contains most of the total calories of the wheat seed-the energy. Energy is important, but when you eat only the endosperm, such as in white flour, you are missing the nutrients that your body really needs for proper function, but you are still getting all the calories. However when you eat all three parts together, your body metabolizes them more properly. White Flour is a food that has been taken out of it's natural context.

I believe that there are alot of people out there that do not understand how calories and nutrients (read vitamins and minerals) interact with one another. A food can have calories without nutrients. But regardless of whether you are getting enough calories, your body still needs nutrients for things like proper cell division and brain function (to mention just two of the billion things it needs nutrients for). And if your body is not getting enough nutrients then it will tell you with hunger, the call to eat more. @ years ago when I cleaned up my diet and started eating 5 fruits and veggies a day and cut out most of the simple carbs, I immediately noticed my cravings going away. I still don't have cravings and I attribute it to my body having all the nutrients it needs. Food for thought.

Tomorrow: What are the real differences between kinds of flours?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Whole Wheat Beet Muffins

Last week, I asked for suggestions for the beets from the CSA. I got a couple in the comments section (and thank you to everyone who chimed in) but one brave reader emailed me saying I should take a zucchini bread recipe and substitute the zucs for beets. And that is just what I did.

The truth is that I just don't like beets. Beets have a passionate following. I even met a woman at the farmer's market this weekend who was standing behind me with only a bunch of beets. Before I started speaking with her I wanted to ask her 'I got mine from the CSA, what's your excuse?' So all the suggestions where the beets stayed in their original form, or were pureed to display their true beety essence, well, I never much considered them. I was looking for a recipe where the beet flavor was totally covered up. They taste like sweet dirt to me.

Sunday while DH and Thing 2 napped away the hot afternoon, I plopped Thing 1 on the counter and got to work on those beets. Thing 1 actually could help this time. I put him to work washing the beets and later mixing. He broke a jar of paprika (not sure what he planned on doing with that) and I did cut my finger on an unswept glass shard after everyone went to bed, but overall they turned out pretty well. And by the way, there was no glass in the muffins-the mixing bowls were pretty far away from the scene of the accident.

I have another question. How many changes do I have to make to a recipe before I can just say that the recipe is mine? I found a recipe on another blog for whole wheat zucchini muffins, but I lowered the sugar, raised the oil to help the batter loosen up and I substituted the beets. Can I say that this is a Table of Promise original?? Am I allowed? Or would that be egotistical plagiarism?

Whole Wheat Beet Muffins
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
3/4 cup of peanut oil
2/3 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of shredded beets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the dry ingredients, set aside. Whisk together wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and then stir in the shredded beets. I pray that you will heed my words and use a food processor to grate the beets. If you do not, there is a good chance that you will look as though you committed a murder when you are done grating all those beets. And it doesn't wash off right away, so plan on every fool you meet knowing what the last thing you cooked was. Now put the batter into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

These are pretty good. They are perfectly sweet enough, no need for the extra sugar. Thing 2 devoured them right off the bat. Thing 1 only picked at it at first and did come back for more, but I think next time I will throw in a little cocoa powder and tell him it is a chocolate cupcake. There is nothing like a couple of white lies to get your kids to establish a healthy relationship with food.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vegetable Beef Soup

A four pound brisket can be a true gift, the leftovers of which yielding soft tacos with guacamole and tomatoes or oven baked empanadas with spicy sour cream, paninis with caramelized onions or creamy beef casserole with green beans. Or it can turn into the never ending meal. By the fourth reincarnation I am generally happy to see it all go. I have learned that a four pound brisket is a little too big for our family. But I buy most of our meat directly from the farm it is raised on through my CSA, so I can't exactly choose the brisket I want. I tell them I want one, I can request a small one, but that might mean I only get a 2 pounder. I usually just let them choose one for me. Consequently a lot of times I save them for company. There are usually leftovers but not so many that it puts our food life on hold for a week.

This week when our family came over we were 5 adults and 2 kids that eat table foods and we still had about 3/4 of a pound of brisket leftover, and that was after cooking and trimming. I decided to make vegetable beef soup, a simple dish, but I have decided that there is an art to it. I also was desperate to get rid of the back log of veggies that I had built up in the house, not to mention the pile of amazing green beans and the zucchini as big as Thing 2's leg that my sister in law brought over from her organic garden.

In a big pot I boiled carrots, corn, green beans, celery, half that ridiculous zucchini, a leek, an onion, green beans, broccoli and a garlic scape in a rich beef broth. I added barley at the very beginning and the leftover chopped brisket. Then I just let it cook for about 2 hours. Aaaaahhhh, the walkaway. I do so love it. Strangely enough the kids ate it for the babysitter, but not me. Oh well, at least they ate it. I do have a little soup secret that my mother in law taught me. My MIL makes great soups (among other things). I use bouillon to make the broth, and I just slip in a little extra to give the broth a great meaty taste. For the last couple years I have been buying the Better Than Bouillon products because, well, they are better than bouillon. It is more like a demi glace paste and the flavor is really meaty rather than just salty. This soup freezes really well too. And since it made a gallon and a half I am glad of that!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gooseberry and Sour Cherry Crumble

Of all the desserts I have ever made I was the saddest to not have any leftovers of this one.

Those precious little gems above? Those are gooseberries. My mother LOVED gooseberries. One day after driving home from somewhere far away, like Dallas or something, she walked in the door and said 'I'm making a gooseberry pie'. She made really really good pies. Gooseberries were her all time favorite berry. She had stopped at a roadside stand and picked up a quart. It was a life changing pie for me. But her gooseberries were green. And I never saw them again. I have never seen them in a grocery store. I am not saying they aren't there, but I think they might be too delicate for widespread distribution.

When Thing 1 and I got to the farmer's market last weekend, these plump flirtatious berries were just sitting there. They were liken sirens (like Homer's sirens, not police sirens). I could not leave them there. When I prepped them at home (they have little stemmies on both sides) I tasted one raw. These delicious beauties tasted like raspberries and red wine. They are pretty tart, but man oh man so good. I only bought a pint and that was not quite enough for a pie. So I got took a couple handfuls of the sour cherries that I got before we went on vacation out of the freezer. I mixed everything together with maybe 2/3 of a cup of sugar. And because I was also cooking a huge dinner, I didn't have time to make a full-on double crust. So I mixed up some crumble topping and went on my way. I just plopped the berries and cherries into the pie pan and spread the topping over them. It was very easy and very satisfying.

Crumble Topping
1/3 of a cup of one minute or quick oats
1/3 of a cup of flour (I used brown flour, you could probably use whole wheat, certainly you could use all purpose or white flour)
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/4 of a cup of sliced or slivered almonds (crushed walnuts would be good too)
4 tablespoons of butter cut into chunks

Combines all ingredients except the butter. Mix together well in a large bowl with room enough for working. Cut the butter and using your fingers (or one of those pastry thingies) work the butter in the same way you would in a pie crust. When the butter is incorporated and the mix resembles coarse meal, pour the topping onto your fruit (the fruit should already be in the pie pan). I suggest starting in the middle and working the crumbs to the sides slowly otherwise it could get messy. Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes.

What an amazing flavor. Really a treat. This would be delicious with fresh ice cream, but I had none. So we poured fresh cream over the top. I might never bother whipping cream ever again. I wanted two bowls of this, but there was not enough for seconds. It was the only thing with no leftovers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Bear with me a minute. I need to just put the last nail on my soapbox.....okay. There we go.

I need a minute to rant. Earlier today I found myself at a fruit stall at the Union Square Green Market looking blankly at some lovely red currants that I had no intention of buying. I was only standing there because I was evesdropping on a woman who was grilling the man working at the stand on what was sprayed and why and what was organic and what wasn't. Normally I would be supportive of anyone looking to investigate their food and what was in it. And I do firmly believe that it was her right to do so, so please do not misinterpret the subject of my rant. But her tone was so off-putting and curt that I couldn't help but put in my two cents here in relative anonymity on the internet. This customer with her gorgeous child sitting on her hip asked about everything and why does everything need to be sprayed and so on and so forth. But she was kind of rude to the nice young man who was just explaining that they (like virtually every other stall in the green market) only spray when they have to, and not everything has to be sprayed and all the sprays wash off with water and their cherries are always sprayed.

I learned in much the same way, asking questions about what the farmer's did. But I am no farmer, and I am not going to question the motives of anyone who has bringing produce to market for decades. I understand there are reasons why a great many farmers do not grow conventional produce. Being rude to the farmer because they are not producing organic produce doesn't sit well with me. And I have said before that I still firmly believe that buying local is more important to me than buying organic. I'd rather wash those New York State berries than walk across the street to the Whole Foods flagship store and get some organic ones from California. But that's me. Perhaps she had an allergy to the pesticide residue (but I doubt it).

There is a cult of die hard organic/ biodynamic heads out there. And that's great, I prefer to buy from biodynamic farms when I can. On the Green Scale from 1-10, they rank at 10. I imagine I still fall somewhere around a 6-7 on that scale, but that's on a good day. But in the interest of all those people who are closer to a 3, will all you high ranking people stop faulting them for wanting to move up a bit? If a person realizes that being green and environmentally responsible is important to them, are they expected to all at once stop buying plastic bags and buy everything organic and only buy organic fabrics with organic dyes? I believe these changes happen over time, one by one. I have made so many good changes since Day 1 of my blog. But I am still a work in progress.

But there are pure biodynamic organic people who are using this very positive movement to divide people and say "I am better and more informed than you". Well I do not condone it. I believe that the only way to continue this movement is to encourage those who haven't started down the path. I think we should all be eating organic whole foods, and someday perhaps we all will. But until then, keep on moving up the Green Scale. It doesn't matter if you are a 2 or a 9, what matters is that you want to move closer to that ideal of 10. And being encouraging of those comin' up behind ya' doesn't hurt either.

CSA Week 6

This week at the CSA we got big beautiful broccoli, sweet white turnips that the farmer said you had to try at some point in the season, scallions, chard, a hearty variety of kale, one yellow squash and one stripy guy, red leaf lettuce, 4 tiny cucumbers and cherries.

I have been so tired with DH working late this week that I don't feel like cooking much. However I have pulled through. After the Things found there way to dreamland I finished up the last of last week's scallions and some spinach that I never should have bought at the farmer's market last weekend. I fried the scallions in a little oil, added a few ounces of pork sausage and let that fry for a while. Then I added a half a cup of cooked kasha. Although I wasn't sure what kasha was, and after I cooked it I wasn't sure that I liked it, but I was starving. After the kasha I tossed in the spinach and the last of that fat squash my SIL gave us this weekend (The kids ate most of it for din din tonight). This was actually good. Different, but good.

And do you know what I didn't find out until after I ate? Kasha is (are) buckwheat groats.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Great Family Dinner

DH and I were so pleased to host his two sisters and brother in law to our home on Saturday! We haven't had them over since their cutie twins were born last December. We have been busy too, I feel like the better part of this year had just slipped away from us!

It was a great opportunity to make some yummy dishes and use up some CSA veggies in the process. The menu? Crock Pot Brisket simmered with paprika, garlic and a beer, Kohlrabi slaw, Cheese Grits and Barbecue Beans. I gave you the recipe for the beans on yesterday evening, so here is the rest of them:

Kohlrabi Slaw
1 Medium Kohlrabi, purple or green-it doesn't matter
2-3 Carrots
1 head of adolescent Bok Choy (you could use half a small head of cabbage, I had the bok choy so I used it, it was perfectly fine raw)

I grated all the ingredients in the food processor and then mixed them up with the dressing. For the dressing, I just whisk everything together. Best to let it sit for a couple hours before serving.

Asian Slaw Dressing
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 squirt of honey or table sugar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

There is not much that is sustainable, organic or even healthful about these Cheese Grits. But they are good enough that family shows up on time when they know they are being served. I have not found a local or organic source of grits. There is local and organic polenta to be had, but you really need white hominy grits for this, they taste different than yellow corn polenta. I just used Quaker Grits which unfortunately has been enriched.

Cheese Grits
1 cup White Hominy Grits
4 cups Water
1/3 cup of heavy cream (or half and half or milk) About 5-6 ounces of cheese, cheddar, or Parmesan work well, I like a salty cheese Dash of Granulated Garlic

Boil the water on a high flame. When water is at a rolling boil, sprinkle the grits in. Let them cook until the are soft, maybe 10-15 minutes. Add the cream and then the cheese. You can shred the cheese, but I am lazy so I usually just chop it. Add the garlic powder. Stir often, and when the cheese has melted you are all done. Be prepared to make these again.

I would also supply the Brisket recipe, but I just took a 4 pounder and slow cooked it in the Crock Pot for 6-8 hours. I like to let it braise in beer. It is right good. It falls apart for sandwiches but is nice in slices too.

This dinner was a huge success!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bacon with No Nitrates?

On Saturday in preparation for our family coming over for dinner, Thing 1 and I went to the farmer's market and the grocery store just the two of us.

I hadn't had a chance to make a list and fortunately that ended up meaning that we bought less than we needed rather than way more! But I was disorganized, right smack dab in the middle of a week during which I have been particularly disorganized. It seems my head is always in the clouds. I was so forgetful that I kept backtracking to go back and get things I had forgotten. Anyone who has ever been to the Fairway in Harlem knows that the aisles are narrow and stuff is just packed in wherever they can fit it. A shopper going back and thwarting the normal customer traffic flow is often given dirty looks.

After finishing my shopping I realized that I had forgotten to buy bacon. I don't keep bacon in the house so this was a pretty big deal, and I don't often look at the display of bacon and say 'there's my preferred brand'. But I wanted to make barbecue beans so I moved against the traffic flow one last time and went back to the cold room.

Fairway in Harlem has an enormous room that is entirely refrigerated. And that is where they keep the meat counter, the racks of milk, aisle after aisle of meat, eggs, juice, yogurt and a fish counter among other things. Bacon is of course in there.

I checked out the Fairway brand because I usually like their stuff. The third or fourth ingredient was sodium nitrate. I was hoping to find an organic bacon, but definitely one without nitrates. I didn't even bother looking at the less expensive major brands. I looked a the gourmet brands. Applewood smoked, all vegetarian diet (read-corn, not grass, but still better than normal animal fare which often includes remnants of their brethren), all of the gourmet varieties had sodium nitrate as well!! So frustrating. With Thing 1 freezing in the cart, a stranger stopped to give us one of the jackets that the store provides to customers shopping in the cold room. No doubt everyone was looking at me saying 'how could that mother bring her three year old in the cold room in shorts and not give him a jacket??!!' But I thought this bacon thing would be easy. I only needed one thing, how long could I be in that cold room?

Finally after looking through every package I found one that was labeled 'Uncured'. Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon. They explained to me the problem right on the back of the package-"The USDA regulates that certain products not preserved by adding sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate or a salt cure be called UNCURED. For our Uncured products, we instead add natural celery powder, which contains naturally occurring nitrates that bring depth of flavor while inhibiting bacteria and helping the pork retain its color." Finally, my son could leave the cold room.

Furthermore they notate that their products are all natural, no antibiotics, no added hormones all vegetarian feeds and humanely raised on environmentally sustainable family farms. They even go as far as to point out that federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork. Rather than taking credit for no hormones as evidence of their character, they alert the customer that they are just following the rules. I find this refreshing. Who knew that the USDA prohibited the use of hormones in pork? I suppose the Pork lobby is slightly underfunded.

My beans were awesome! If I do say so myself..........

Barbecue Baked (or stove top boiled, but who's counting) Beans
Soak you pinto beans over night. Boil them in plenty of water. If you have 1 cup of beans start with 4-5 cups of water. If you get low, just add more, if you add too much, turn the heat up higher to let the water evaporate.. For every cup of beans, add 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 strips of bacon diced a good shake of paprika and a good shake of granulated garlic. I boiled them for about 4 hours. If you used canned beans it would take less time, but I boiled them low and took a nap while the kids slept.

They turned out great!

My Low(er)-Flour Diet

Last week I mentioned that I was sick from all the flour after our trip to Block Island. I cut back on flour all week and here are all the floury items I consumed last week:

Tuesday-croutons on my salad for lunch
Wednesday-croutons on my salad for lunch, half a cookie for a snack (it was a pretty big half), bread with dinner (I ate at a real restaurant, where someone takes your order and they take reservations-and there were no children present, Thank You DH!!!!!!!)
Thursday-croutons on my salad for lunch, a couple of dumplings with dinner (Not the asian kind of dumplings, the southern comfort kind. I made chicken and dumplings for the family for the night I went out, but DH didn't leave me that many dumplings.)
Friday-sandwich for lunch with crusty bread, pasta with the kids for dinner
Saturday-small sandwich for lunch, crumble topping on dessert (gooseberry and sour cherry crumble, numnumnum, more on that later this week)
Sunday-Are you ready? Pancakes for breakfast, pizzeria pizza for lunch, homemade whole wheat muffins for a snack and whole wheat pasta for dinner. Oy. And I have to say I really felt the difference. I was literally sick from all the flour.

There were several times that I reached for the kids pasta or the scraps of their sandwiches. But because I was really trying to limit my flour intake I resisted for the sake of science (or whatever this qualifies as).

I do believe though that I feel better when I limit the flour foods I eat. I did not however restrict my carb intake. I ate rice one night, all manner of vegetables, granola and oatmeal for breakfast. I do feel like I feel better when I eat some carbs, whole grains, and of course I am passionate about veggies. But what is it about the flour that makes me so sick? I do not have celiac disease, that much I know. But I can't stand how sluggish I feel after so much flour.

But this 'experiment' has left me with all kinds of questions. I have begun my research into the history of flour and what makes it tick. I should have something for you next week. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Have you ever purchased something because the packaging was beautiful?

I try to remain a logical consumer and purchase items based on their function in my life. I didn't need a bottle of raspberry vinegar. Actually, spending $9 on anything frivolous at the grocery store feels kind of silly, kind of like I got sucked into the food marketing machine. I have still only used 2 tablespoons of the bottle of blood orange bitters I bought last fall, I mean, how many champagne cocktails can anyone really drink? But fortunately this story has a happy ending.

Last Sunday I purchased a bottle of Belberry Royal Selection Raspberry Vinegar. Fairway Grocery Stores have a whole group of their products. They sit together with other expensive chutneys and jams and vinegars. Needless to say it is a display I rarely walk up to. But I was on the market for some new vinegar. And the ruby color really caught my eye. But it was the bottle that really hooked me. It is thick and heavy with a shortish neck at a right angle to the main part of the contents portion. And the product is made in Belgium (not exactly local) and the label is printed in French or Flemish or something. I can read a little French but much of this label escaped me. This made it all the more alluring. I popped it in my cart before Thing 1 could over turn the entire display.

When I got home I opened the bottle. Immediately the smell of fresh raspberries transported me. I actually got a nice visual in my brain of a handmade basket spilling over and fresh luscious red raspberries rolling out onto the counter. The vinegar is sweet and sour, but tastes absolutely fresh as though it has little or no added sugar. There are no labels that I can read so I am a little creeped by the lack of info. But my taste buds are telling me this is okay. So I made a vinaigrette and a luscious spinach and tat soi salad. (I had never heard of tat soi either, it is kind of like chinese spinach, quite good).

Raspberry Vinaigrette
Raspberry Vinegar (maybe 2-3 tablespoons) Small squirt of dijon mustard (maybe a teaspoon, don't try to substitute yellow or brown mustard)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil to taste

In a large bowl mix the vinegar and mustard, salt and pepper together with a whisk. When you have a nice mix start to drizzle the olive oil in. Continue to whisk as you incorporate the oil. Taste often and add as much oil as you like until you get the taste you desire. Most chefs recommend a 1-4 vinegar to olive oil ratio. I like my dressings more tart and go for a 1-2 or 1-3. But this vinegar was so sweet a 1-2 was quite palatable.

Salad dressing was the first thing I learned to make that I normally bought at the store pre-made. My parents often dressed their salads with oil and vinegar, but to this day that is not my preferred dressing. At 16 I thought the idea of homemade salad dressing was revolutionary. Today, I guess I still do.

You know what else would be really good? You could puree fresh or defrosted raspberries, strain out the seeds and mix the puree with some white wine vinegar and then proceed with the recipe. Either way, this is one new dressing that I'll be making again!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nuts & Trail Mix

I think nuts get a bad rap. They are filled with goodness, high in proteins and good fats. So many nutritionists are careful to tell people that nuts are healthy 'but don't consume too many as they are high in fat'. Meanwhile they are forgetting the important fact that nuts are also high in fiber and all that fat and fiber is very filling and very healthy. I don't know anyone who can eat an entire container of nuts, but I know plenty of people who could put away a bag of cheese puffs (no nutrition there). And don't forget nuts are soooo darn tasty. They are high on my list of 'happy foods'. I have a couple of nut recipes I would like to share. I prefer toasted nuts. Too many raw nuts give me a tummy ache. I have been told that raw nuts are better, higher in nutrition, but I have not done the research. If someone knows please comment!

Really Awesome Trail Mix
1/2 cup of almonds
1 cup of peanuts
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 dried cherries
1/2 milk chocolate chips

Mix all together and enjoy. This is such a great snack and good for the kids. There is some sugar from the fruit and of course getting Thing 1 to eat chocolate is about as hard as getting a sunburn on a hot day. But overall it is packed with protein and really good fats. However I will say at the beach, the chocolate chips kind of melted and got everywhere, sticking all the nuts and fruit together. I don't think it was such a bad thing, but it was pretty messy. We did throw a lttle of it on top of granola for a snack also. It was wicked.

White Chocolate & Blueberry Mix
1 cup of almonds
1 cup of dreid bluberries
1/2 cup of white chocolate chips

Mix and enjoy! This is a personal favorite (of mine and my office gals). I was allergic to cocoa and chocolate as a kid so I still have a soft spot in my heart for white chocolate.

A Good Topping for Everything
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 tbsp sesame seeds

This is a mix that I altered from an Elie Kreiger recipe (a personal Food Network favorite) In her recipe she mixes them with maple syrup for a pancake topping. I like the the plain unsweetened mix to top yogurt and berries. It is also great on granola, oatmeal and even ice cream. I need some protein in the morning, and a couple tablespoons of this really keeps me full all morning. And of course it is packed with fiber.

Yum! Enjoy!