Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mary's Gone Crackers

When I started this blog I imagined a string of product reviews. But I have realized, that when you value whole foods, there are not that many 'products' that fall into that category. Processed foods and prepackaged foods generally contain additives and sugar and alot of the time center around commodity products like corn, wheat and soybeans, all foods that are holding less and less of a market share in my diet. There is one new product that I am excited about. Mary's Gone Crackers.

It wasn't until this afternoon that I even realized that this title is a pun, on one hand the crackers are 'gone' because they are so good you always eat them all. But also, Mary is clearly 'crackers'. Ha! I love that stuff.

What are Mary's Gone Crackers? They are these very crunchy, very savory crackers that are wheat and gluten free and certified organic. Their main ingredients are brown rice, whole quinoa, flax seeds and sesame seeds. I started buying them recently because I have not found a good cracker that is minimally processed enough and some friends at work have become positively hooked on them. Now me too. I have not yet brought them home for the boys, but perhaps I should! I have been buying the herb variety, and I can see the rosemary right there in the cracker! That is refreshing.

Their website states that the cracker recipe was invented in 1994 after Mary and her son were both diagnosed as having Celiac Disease. She started reproducing grain based deserts like brownies and cookies from gluten free grains, but it was the crackers, that she would make at home and bring to parties so that she could enjoy dips and cheese, that really took off. These are crackers that you will love if you are a Celiac, but everyone in my office loves them too, and we do not have wheat sensitivities.

Mary's Gone Crackers has a website where you can purchase cases of their products as well as locate a store to buy them in slightly smaller sizes.

I have lately begun to limit wheat for both myself and my children. Wheat just doesn't supply enough nutrition to form the basis of a healthy diet. I would describe my wheat intake as recreational right now, I love to eat it, but it is not the main event. My family might never be off wheat completely, but I love having a product that is wheat free and organic and still tastes good. Thanks Mary!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CSA Week 17

This week was especially exciting because we worked at the CSA! We are required (not forcefully) by our CSA to work 2-2 hour shifts. You show up and unload the truck, write out the sign that shows people how much to pick up, you help people with their items and then you clean up. One group does the set up and the other group does the break down and clean up. Last year I was home on maternity leave and so I worked an extra shift when they were short. This year, I bailed on my first shift and then today I brought both the kids to help. Actually I have been home this week because our babysitter has been sick. That's part of why I haven't been posting on facebook regularly and haven't been responding to comments so quickly. I mean usually I respond pretty quickly, if I have something intelligent to say. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say.

So I took both the kids. Thing 2 was in the Ergo and Thing 1 was "helping" by staying out of trouble. I was worried that not only would we be no help at all but that we would actually be detrimental to the process. You never know with kids. Sometimes they can play so sweetly and stay out of trouble, and then other times they'll take every opportunity to throw a tantrum and hold you hostage with bad behavior. Today I got off easy. And I think it is important that the kids see that we have to contribute by giving back. Before I got pregnant with Thing 1 I used to be active in my church's soup kitchen. It was a rewarding experience. But having little-bitties is not condusive to that environment. When they get old enough to be able to serve food and help I might start bringing them again. This CSA is a better place for them to cut their proverbial service teeth.
I digress, back to the veggies. This week we got leeks, 2 peppers, one head of lettuce, 2 heads of greens (I chose kale and chard), 2 winter squash, one bunch of herbs (I chose parsley), one bunch of carrots (I got weird ones!! Haha!), one purple tomato (already eaten and not pictured), one large beefsteak tomato, 50 cherry tomatoes and 10 apples. I now have enough apples to do something with them other than eat them raw. I am not sure about a pie, or apple butter. I want to make apple butter, but I am scared I don't have enough. And the Things eat 1-2 apples a day. I discovered that Thing 2 is ready to eat apples now and likes to eat them whole. Thing 1 always prefers them cut up and just like a first born, also liked them peeled. I won't peel them anymore. And most of the time now he just gets an apple whole. Now he'll eat the outside skin and want to throw the rest away, but the skinless core is perfect Thing 2, he will finish it down to the seeds and stem. What a way to let nothing go to waste.

This week I have alot of food hanging around from last week. So I am going to try and cook the squash and puree it and freeze it. I am not sure what to add it to, but some folks have recommended mac and cheese. Maybe mashed potatoes? Also I have the peppers from the last three weeks in my fridge. I think I am going to make pepper jelly. I don't really LIKE peppers, so this might end up as a gift...but many websites recommend cream cheese and crackers? That does sound awesome. And then the apple butter, and pesto. Getting all that cooked and into the freezer should free up some much needed room in my fridge. And help my goal of finishing off all the potatoes that are still hanging around my house!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coconut Oil

I have been doing alot of research about fats recently. I have decided that my family can get everything that it needs from traditional, minimally processed fats like expeller pressed olive oil, butter, lard and now, coconut oil. Most people have some experience with the first three, but not the last. So I thought I would jot down some information about coconut oil for you.

Coconut Oil is a traditional oil of the tropics. It is over 80% saturated fat. But has the same levels of total fats as all the other oils I detailed a couple weeks ago in my article about Lard. Coconut oil will be solid at cooler temperatures, like the grocery store, but at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit it becomes liquid. Imagine my surprise when I purchased some as a solid, knowing it was such a saturated fat, and then the next morning went to use some and it was totally liquid! Because it is a saturated fat it is stable it will remain fresh even at warm temperature, whereas many other unsaturated vegetable oils can go rancid easily. Rancid oils are full of free radicals which can set the stage for cancer and many other degenerative diseases. There is a growing group of people out there that feel that all standard polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean, canola, safflower, corn and the like are all at some level of rancidity. Take a look at this site. The guy's picture is a little weird, but the site is worth a look. Part of the reason I am starting to think this bit about polyunsaturated fats might actually be true is that I first read this concept in Fallon's Nourishing Traditions (I know, I know..I can't shut up about that book!), but then I found it again while researching Coconut Oil and then I came across that last site when I google searched it. I am done with them all, corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, you name them I am done with them! When will our government stop subsidizing foods that are making us sick? NOTE: Olive Oil is a MONOunsaturated fat and does not fall prey to the same instability.

Coconut oil is also has known antibacterial and anti fungal properties from it's high lauric acid content. Lauric Acid is a a fatty acid that is a Medium Chain Triglyceride, or MCT for short. The only other significant source of MCT's in our diet is human breastmilk. And not many of us are really getting that in large quantities. I found some good articles at the website (yeah, the internet is crazy amazing). Brian and Marianita Silhavy write in their article The Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil,

"When Lauric Acid is consumed in the diet either in human breastmilk or in coconut oil, lauric acid forms a monoglyceride called monolaurin, which has been shown to destroy several bacteria and viruses, including listeria monocytogenes and heliocobacter pylori, and protoza such as giardia lamblia. Some of the viruses that have been destoyed by monolaurin include HIV, measles, herpes simplex virus-1, vesicular stomatitis virus, influenza and cytomegalovirus. There is also evidence now that the MCTs in coconut oil kill yeast infections, such as Candida."

The Silhavy's also writes that most long chain triglycerides (such as those found in soybean and safflower oil) are typically stored in the body as fat whereas MCTs are burned for energy, and that MCTs raise the body's metabolism leading to weight loss. In nature, you would never have consumed pure soybean oil. The small particles of fat in soybeans would have been tied up in the proteins and fiber of the bean. How many soybeans would you have to eat as a whole food to get one tablespoon of soybean oil? If someone knows please alert me. It reminds me of all those old cereal commercials with the ridiculous number of bowls of somebody else's cereal you would have to eat... Whereas coconuts are a natural fat source whether you eat them whole or chopped. I feel that the fat in coconut is meant to be eaten because there is so much there! But that is simply me extrapolating, which I am prone to doing.

I highly recommend that you click on the links and begin to read the varied places where I have found positive information about coconut oil. I don't believe things that I only hear in one place anymore. If I feel that an idea sounds compelling, I look into it. If I can find many varied sources that all say the same thing I begin to see that such an idea might have merit. Coconut Oil seems to also have a healthy industry around it and it properties. While I am not anti-supplement, I definitely think food sources are better than supplements. So rather than pay good money for a lauric acid supplement (yes, they exist), just eat some coconut oil. Oh yeah! I forgot to mention how delicious it is. The oil is mostly flavorless, but I do notice some coconutty overtones. I shamelessly stole a friend's idea and am now putting coconut oil into my oatmeal (and yes I feed this to my children). I have used it to make muffins and it would be great if you are making some Asian inspired dish. I would absolutely stir fry chicken with curry and veggies in coconut oil. Yum. What other uses do my faboo readers have?? I want to know. I would rather not just take one spoonful of this stuff every day, but I will get to that if I can't think of what to do with it. Granola? What do you think? Anybody?


This article is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dogma and a Dip in the Paleo Pool...

Throughout my blog project I have questioned what purpose the blog serves in my life. It is part creative pet-project, part daily writing exercise, part exploration opportunity and part soapbox. Kinda complicated, huh? If nothing else, when you read my posts everyday there should be something interesting in them every day, because they are not all the same. I have cast my net pretty wide on this one.

But ever since I have been reading Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook I feel that my blog project has taken a different turn. Not only is Fallon’s book largely new information to me, some of it goes directly against my conventional thinking. Being raised in the US, I am a product of the 1980s and 90s government attempts to sell us on a low fat diet. And while as an adult I have long believed that fat doesn’t really make us fat, I have long believed that saturated fat does clog our arteries and that animal foods are less healthy for us than vegetable foods. But in reading not only Fallon but some other sites that I have dug up recently, I am not so certain anymore.

First off, on my Notes on Perfection post last week I expressed some concerns for labeling foods as better than each other. I was speaking specifically about whole unprocessed foods, not about real foods versus processed foods. To choose between an apple and an orange as to which is healthier seems so foolish to me! And that is just a simple comparison. Imagine trying to decide between grass fed beef and say spinach. They are COMPLETELY different! It would really be pointless to decide between the two. But as Americans within our culture we do that every day without even realizing it. And there are plenty of Internet sites out there where people are doing just that, ANDI Scores anyone?

Recently in my digging under the tree of nutrition, I have recently discovered the Paleo people. The Paleo Diet assumes, much like I do, that modern food is well, too modern. That we have not evolved much beyond what our Paleolithic ancestors were eating, and so to attain optimal health we should eat like them. That means for the most part that we should be eating meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And some Paleo people feel strongly that you should not be eating anything that could not also be eaten raw. Fine if you want to cook it, but if you cannot digest it raw (i.e.-beans and legumes) then it would not have been in the diet of Paleolithic man. The Paleo Diet also means no grains, no added sweeteners beyond honey and no dairy. This is a very strict diet, but one that I could support because I do recognize after all my reading that you do not need grains and dairy for optimal health. Though I definitely believe that you need vegetables, and I am starting to believe that you need meat. But that is a different story for a different time. So all you vegetarians out there, no worries. I am not going to be slandering your lifestyle anytime soon.

But one thing is for sure, whenever you stand for something it means that you absolutely DO NOT stand for something else. As I was reading last week about the Paleo Diet, I stumbled across a post entitled Are Green Beans Primal or Paleo? To have a blog post come to the conclusion that green beans finally counted as food, from a writer and eater who had previously thought of them as a non-food, well that was enough to get my panties in a wad. Now granted, this writer was writing from a Paleo Diet perspective, and he was arguing that while legumes and beans are off limits in the Paleo diet because of their high lectin content, that green beans didn’t fit the mold because the bean was so small and really what we eat was the more vegetable like pod. My first reaction was to practically spit my coffee out. I have never considered beans or legumes to be unhealthy. In fact next to McDonald’s, HFCS and other even conventionally raised beef, I would have considered beans MORE healthy than most other foods processed or not. Where else in nature do you find protein AND fiber (okay—nuts, but there are some similarities).

Throughout my ‘studies’ since my blog began back in May, I have searched out some new concepts. And though I have been generally been open to them, some beliefs have been harder to topple. I truly believed that I didn’t have time to make my own broth. And I fought it for a while with one excuse after another. But now, I have finally crossed that bridge. I also had some trouble with the idea that saturated fat is important to a person’s diet. I never thought I would throw out my vegetable oils, but that is exactly what I have done. I think now that I have every application covered with lard, butter, olive oil and coconut oil. When I started this blog project I never expected to think of canola, soybean or corn oils as unhealthy, but I actually do now. But of course in hearing someone make a statement like this, I always bristle at first. “Is that person saying I am unhealthy or uneducated about my food?” I said the same thing after the green bean post. When I come across someone being particularly dogmatic about some fringe idea on the Internet I tend to dismiss it. But I try to keep an open mind. I don’t like dogma. Even sometime Sally Fallon is very black and white in her statements of what is healthy and unhealthy, and they don’t always jive with mine. She may be right, but delivery is the key. When speaking to a new audience that firmly believes in their long held conventional beliefs, addressing the reader’s apprehension is key. Fallon does a pretty good job of that in trying to persuade people to drop their conventional nutritional beliefs. But that green bean guy last week that I read on the Internet? Not so much.

In the reading and researching that I have recently been doing, some commonalities rise to the top of the endless sea of information. The Low-fat people are touting a low fat diet that is backed by the USDA and other government agencies and the majority of people in the US, but there is a lot of science that contradicts it. The Raw Food people, the Paleo people, the Atkins people, the Low Carb people and the Real Food people (I suppose if I fit in a group, this would be the one I fall into), all believe that fat is important, that processed foods are killing us, that animal fats in particular are important (except for some Raw people), and the more unadulterated a food source the better. There are so many connections between all of these that it can be said that they all belong in the same branch of nutritional evolution. What separates them are different bits of dogma.

I realized last week, that in this my second trimester at The Table of Promise, my blog project is becoming a tool for me to answer that very personal question, ‘what should I eat?’ And while I love Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, I am not willing to simply let him make all the decisions for me. My mother had a wonderful saying that I still use today “Take the good and leave the rest’. This saying has guided my life by helping me to find the good in anything and disregard the things I don’t like without judgement. The truth is I don’t have to fit into one of the preexisting nutritional groups. I can pick what I like from one or another and leave the rest without disregarding the group as a whole. I for one am trying to reconcile what I should eat with what is available to me, I am after all a modern eater. So perhaps that is the group I will be a part of, the Practical Real Food people. I think it has a nice ring to it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meet My Third Child....

Last weekend I finally met up with the darling of foodies everywhere....All Clad.

I had been admiring them for a while, but I didn't have the guts, the courage, I just couldn't handle it. But thanks to a credit card deal and a generous home sale and some coupon wheeling and dealing, last weekend was finally the day when we could bring these beauties home to stay.

And that, my friend, is the magic of Macy's.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Potato Leek Soup with Kale Chips

My mother used to make a Baked Potato Soup that was a bomb of pureed potato, sour cream, cheddar cheese, cream and bacon. I always thought of the soup as unhealthy because of how high it was in fat. But it was a special family soup. My mother loved making it and I loved eating it!
Fast forward 15 years and I have changed my views about what is healthy and nutritious. I embrace fats in my diet, especially butter fat from both butter and cream and whole milk (as long as it's a good pastured source). No longer do I think that such a soup should be slandered as unhealthy. There are some considerable alterations that one can make to make this soup more nutritious.
First off, my mother always peeled the potatoes. She was using russet potatoes, or your average Idaho Potatoes. Here in the Northeast, farmers do grow russets, but they are quite a bit smaller here. What I see everywhere are creamer potatoes or waxy potatoes. This time of year you can still find the little 'new' potatoes because the potato season is just beginning. I have gotten a couple pounds of potatoes from our CSA for the last three weeks and they have all been these creamer potatoes with very tender skins. Potatoes with their skins intact are far far more healthy. Potatoes in general I believe receive a bad rap. High in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, copper, potassium, manganese, iron and protein to start, this tuber may have some carbohydrate calories, but it sure supports a nutritious diet. But skins are where alot of the nutrients lie, so keep them on and learn to love them. In this soup you won't even know that they are there. And I did scrub them very very very well.
Second of all (drum roll), I made my own stock for this soup. Last weekend I boiled a pot of chicken bones on low for four hours just like Sally Fallon told me to. Then I boiled it down to a very thick broth and froze them in my silicone muffin cups. I had forgotten where my ice cube trays were. But the muffin cups worked just fine! After all the bitching and moaning I did about making my own stocks, I overcame. Who here is proud of me??

Lastly, I cut back on the amount of bacon. I used about 4 ounces of true artisan bacon from Flying Pigs at the Union Square Green Market. They still use nitrates, but I am not as worried about them after a reader suggested that nitrates occur naturally and non-naturally. I really am trying to investigate all sources of information for a truly independent opinion. I have read that the non-natural sources have been found to be carcinogenic. I need to do more research there. I simply assumed that if I bought artisan bacon at the farmer's market (at $15 a pound no less) that they would not be using nitrates. Read your labels guys! I do know that the pork is pastured and humanely treated though.

Potato Leek Soup
About 2 pounds of potatoes
4 cups of chicken broth (or enough to almost cover the potatoes)
4 ounces of bacon, diced
3-4 small leeks, sliced
1 cup of heavy cream

In a 3 quart saucepan, place the potatoes and broth. Boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer to allow the potatoes to get nice and soft. In a large frying pan, cook the back on medium heat until crispy. Remove the bits and drain the grease, but leave 2-3 tbsp of fat. Fry the leeks in the remaining fat until soft, maybe 10 minutes. When the potatoes are soft, add the leeks into the potato pot. This next step is much easier with an immersion blender, but you can puree using a food processor too. Add the cream (substitute with milk if you wish, or just add milk if the soup is too thick) and puree the leeks and potatoes and their skins, everything all together. Stir in the bacon bits and enjoy. Like really really enjoy.
As far as the Kale chips go, did you know about this? Who's been holding out on me??? I got this recipe from the guy that was standing behind me in the line to pick up my CSA veggies. When he said it was the only way to eat kale I knew I had to give it a try. Thank goodness I stood next to him.
Kale Chips
1 Bunch of hearty kale, the flat kind (I am not sure you can do this with the curly kind, but I am sure a reader will tell me)
Drizzle of olive oil
Kosher or Sea Salt
Cut the very very woody stems off the kale, but leave an inch or so of stem in place as a 'handle'. Spread the kale in one even layer (no overlapping!) on a sheet pan. I had to use two pans for my bunch of kale, which was not all that big. Drizzle the kale with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. But check on them. It went by really really fast for me. Then just remove from the oven and enjoy.
I didn't tell Thing 1 that it was kale. I just told him they were chips. He ate the first one (and crumbled it all over my nice clean couch), and then promptly handed me back the stem and said "I like chips, they are good. I am going to get another one." He must have eaten 10 of them when it was all said and done. Did I hear that right? Did both of my children eat dark leafy greens this week? Score two for Mommy.
Don't forget to check out Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade! There are lots of real food articles to read!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on Perfection

I have been thinking recently about the world's most perfect food.

Is it the pig? Yummy shoulder roasts or lean loin roasts, bacon and the well balanced fat, lard?

Is it broccoli? Firm texture, great raw and cooked. Kids love it as well as most adults, high in calcium, fiber and countless other nutrients. The things you can do with broccoli are endless.

Is it the coconut? Fleshy over sized nuts, pure white, good in sweet applications, but equally good in savory stews an curries. High in protein and fiber all with the healthy properties of coconut oil that you can use in so many different ways.

Is it dark leafy greens? Not much fat or protein, but tons of nutrients, vitamins and mineral, you literally do not have to ever limit your consumption. Go ahead and eat yourself silly, you probably cannot eat so many greens that they would do anything to you except give you a tummy ache from overeating.

Is it Salmon? Protein and Omega-3s, eaten cooked or raw or in between, it doesn't matter. There are fewer heart healthy proteins that also are high in fat that the real food people and the nutritionists both would tell you are good. Virtually impossible to screw up, and my kids will actually eat this?

The truth is, I haven't ever eaten a perfect food from a nutritional perspective. Though if you were talking about a taste perspective, there is this Belgian place downtown that double fries their french fries....

I have several health minded friends that when told about my blog always ask me, 'what is the healthiest thing I can eat, like the most bang for your buck'. And the answer is no answer at all. Every meal counts for eating healthful nutrient rich foods. But the nutrients we all need are supplied over a wide variety of items. I am fairly certain that biologically we have all evolved to eat meat, vegetables and nuts and seeds. But beyond that there are grains and dairy and all manner of other happiness inducing items.

Because our food is alive, all those plants and animals have had to compete against other plants and animals for their share of the earth's resources. When an ecosystem is in balance, there is not too much excess out there. There is enough sunlight for the plants, there are enough plants for the small herbivores to eat, there are enough small herbivores for the large animals to eat and so on. When an ecosystem is in balance one species doesn't get too over populated. It is natures way. Thus it make sense to me that all food sources are here for a reason. One species may be the only kind of their animal group to be able to live a certain place or eat a certain thing that is plentiful there...whatever that reason may be.

We evolved to eat more than one thing. The fact there is not one food to which we have unequivocally adapted should be the first evidence. Cows eat grass. They get insects from that grass for sure, but they have evolved to get what they need from grass and that works out well, because there is a lot of grass out there. But Humans and rats and pigs and possibly some others that we aren't aware of, have all evolved as omnivores. Able to adapt our eating habits to whatever nature throws at us.

So my friends, for your own happiness's sake, stop worrying so much about the perfect food. Apples aren't any better than oranges, there is room in our diets for beef and fish and chicken. Experiment with Olive Oil, lard, coconut oil and butter. We need so many things from different foods. Live your lives, share delicious foods with your families, indulge in the things you really love, eat fat and savor it. There really are only a couple big rules, eat real food, and enjoy yourselves.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CSA Week 16

This week at the CSA we got 2 pounds of potatoes, 2 frying peppers, a couple of hot chiles, a bunch of carrots, one head of lettuce, 5 ears of corn, 3 medium tomatoes, one gorgeous purple tomato, 15 yellow cherry tomatoes, a bunch of basil and a bunch of cilantro (I chose cilantro, you could also choose sage or dill ), 8 apples and one delicious and slightly intimidating acorn squash.

2 years ago we got baby acorn squashes and I made them for Thing 1 and he ate them up. Last year when I made them again, nope, not even a bite. Hopefully last year was just a fluke. I still have a couple things from last week that I am trying to clear through. I think we'll catch up in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Eggs

I have been most concerned about Thing 2 recently. I know he is going through or about to go through that 12 month growth spurt, never mind that he is 13 months old. But in the last several weeks his hunger is insatiable. At his 1 year doctor's appointment he weighed in at a fairly average 24 pounds and was 31 inches tall. I couldn't believe it! With how chubby he is I was shocked that he would be so above average for his height and so average for his weight. Wouldn't that make him tall and thin?

Lately all he wants to do is eat meat and flour foods like crackers and bread. He will pry the snacks out of your hands. Fruit is okay, he likes fruit. But not every fruit. Blackberries are too sour and if the peach isn't right forget it. He is still a little young and toothless for apples and oranges. Strawberries and blueberries are now out of season. So we are left with bananas and plums. But veggies? Hahahaha! You must be kidding. That child has never once fed himself a vegetable. But I have found that he will eat them if they are disguised. He will not put up a fight if you mash up veggies in yogurt or in mashed potatoes or even in mashed up avocado. But then you have to put it on a spoon, hand him the spoon and then HE will feed himself. Jeez. We have one of those.

So we are trying to get creative to get more veggies in his belly. Recently I bought an immersion blender. It came with a nice cup that you can make smoothies and other things in. The other day I took the cup and put in two eggs, a healthy splash of milk, a half of a shallot, a handful of spinach and a pinch of sea salt. And I blended it until it was pulverized. Then I fried up that green slurry and made....what else, Green Eggs!!

After a tentative start, (it did look like a vegetable after all) he started inhaling it.

Whew! At least I got one point this week!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Organic Valley Coop

A couple weeks ago I posted a long and involved post about milk. The very day it ran, Elizabeth Horton, Director of Public Relations for Organic Valley Coop contacted me to clarify one point in my post. Although Organic Valley's corporate headquarters is located in Wisconsin, their farmers are all across the country. Their milk is bottled regionally in the same regions where it is sold. And the company is cooperatively owned by a network of over 1650 family owned farms.

I didn't mention in my post that my family eats a lot of OV products. I might buy the local milk at my farmer's market, but at my local farmer's market I have not found butter, cottage cheese or sour cream. OV Butter we eat daily. And after starting my dive into Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, I am as encouraged as ever by my family's buttery embrace. But that post was about milk, not butter.

I was pleased that Elizabeth contacted me. I like to know that people are reading. Also, it was more proof that the industry folks do find and read these food blogs. But I already knew that. But what about everything she said, family owned, local milk? I asked her (I really did) "if your milk is regional, then why don't you post that on your cartons?" She pointed me to their website, where they have just launched a 'Who's Your Farmer' Application. I typed in my address and found three farms within 100 miles of my home in New York City where my milk comes from. Nice.

Now my little disclaimer, I don't have ads on my site on purpose. I don't currently need the quarter a day it would generate so much that I would take up all my side bar space pimping myself out. That's not to say I will never have ads on my site, but I am a little guy, ads are pointless right now. And when I am ready, I'll figure out how to advertise in my own way. So I have not been paid or coerced into any of the following.

The biggest problem with clean food in the US is the lack of accessibility. I eat Organic Valley products because of my desire to eat organic with fewer chemical residues, support of family farmers particularly young family farmers, ethical treatment of animals, etc. There are millions of people that buy food at the grocery store, not the farmer's market. Those people need to have access to clean dairy products too. Certain people do not have access local organic pastured dairies, my parents for one. I am not going to judge you if you don't feel like overhauling your life to start shopping at a farmer's market 20 miles from your house. I would hope that food would become a central theme in your life, but that's really up to you. The message on my blog will always remain inclusive rather than exclusive. But, given that there are so many different kinds of consumers, shouldn't there be a equal opportunity dairy where people can feel like they are doing the right thing for their health and the earth even if they have to buy food from the industrial supply? There should. And actually there is.

Organic Valley began in 1988 when now CEO (or as he likes to be called, C-I-E-I-O, get it?) George Siemon organized a group of organic farmer in Southwestern Wisconsin. They all shared a passion for organic farming and family owned and operated farms, and they believed that by working together they could build demand for organic produce and other foods. The group started with produce and soon added dairy products (it was Wisconsin after all). Today, OV is the number one source of organic milk in the US.

I dug a little deeper into their company's philosophy. I don't believe that it is enough to just be 'organic'. The USDA regulations have, until recently, been centered around animals being free from unnecessary antibiotics and eating feed that is free of pesticides. I have always gone one step further and looked for meat and dairy that are pastured. That means they eat grass, but you already knew that. For me that's out of respect for the animal. Cows are ruminants and have evolved to eat (and more importantly digest) grass. When we give cows corn feed they have trouble digesting it (particularly to young cows whose digestive systems have not fully matured). Their bowels become upset and they are more prone to infection. Corn also has the effect of making the cows gain weight faster than if they were pastured. That way a farmer can get a calf up to slaughtering size in about 12-18 months instead of two-three years for a grass fed animal. Lastly, and this is the hardest one to change, Americans have grown to love the taste of corn-fed beef. Corn-fed meat is sweeter, more tender and more fatty. Grass-fed beef is delicious and VERY flavorful, but it could be considered gamier. For ethical reasons I try to stick to grass-fed. And my family is used to it now, so we are happy. But the biggest reason why we prefer grass fed meats is because they are more healthful. Meat and milk that comes from grass fed animals are higher in Omega 3's (as well as having the correct Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio), has a higher concentration of trace minerals and is leaner. Overall, it should be instinctual, grass fed animals are healthier so their meat and milk are healthier.

But back to milk. I checked out the Organic Valley Website in regards to pasturing. Because that was one of my big questions. OV believes in pasturing the animals during the grass growing months. In a bold move of transparency they provided a link to new USDA regulations requiring pasturing for at least 120 days every year for a product to be called organic. It is a site I know well because I have hit it several times in my own research. These new USDA regulations were posted February 2010, so they are relatively new. And that means I should also correct what I said about Horizon in my milk post. They are also now required to pasture their animals to be classified as organic.

But, I said to myself, 120 days? That's only 4 months out of the year. What do the cows eat for the other 8 months? I asked Elizabeth. And she put me in contact with one of their Farm Coordinators. Unfortunately I have been unable to connect with him, unless he wants a phone call at 8pm eastern time! I have asked for the gentleman's email address so that I can contact him on my personal time. I'll let you know what response I get.

Lastly, some words about pasteurization. Without getting into an ugly debate, I have been doing some reading about pasteurization and am more ready to 'issue a personal statement' as to where I stand in the raw milk debate. I maintain my stance from my earlier post that I have no doubt that raw milk holds some special benefits, but that you do open yourself up to bacterial risk when you drink it. I firmly believe that raw milk should be available for sale for the people that want to drink it, but I am more likely to support farm sales or cooperative buying clubs as I don't believe that the vast majority of people would do the research that the issue requires. I did ask Elizabeth about UHT or Ultra High Temperature Pasteurization. She pointed me to the web page on the OV site that deals with Pasteurization. It is not hidden, it is listed under the main products tab, drill into 'milk' on the left hand side bar and you will see a tab for pasteurization information. It is the fourth tab from the left. Regular pasteurization heats the milk to 165 degrees for 15 seconds. This gives milk a printed shelf life of 16-21 days. UHT raises the temperature of the milk to 280 degrees for only two seconds. This kills EVERYTHING, bacteria, all enzymes and reduces some vitamin and mineral content. The shelf life of UHT milk is 70 days from the date of packaging. Americans hate that food goes bad, so UHT milk is gaining in popularity. The main issue in the raw milk debate is that many people believe that the enzymes in the milk are what allow us to digest the milk at all. The evidence is clear, pasteurization does not significantly alter vitamin content, but if your body can't absorb the vitamins then what's the point. Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions goes as far as to say don't drink ANY pasteurized milk products. But no one that I can find has done a deep dive on how the body digests pasteurized milk. I, for one, can't label pasteurized milk as an unhealthy food. I prefer low temperature pasteurization for sure. My salesperson at Milk Thistle recently told me that their milk still had some enzymes intact because of the low temperature pasteurization. That is where I am most comfortable. OV sells both traditional pasteurization milk and UHT milk. Their cartons are clearly stated, and they have educated their consumers about how to tell their cartons apart. But sadly I checked two different grocery stores in New York that offer a large organic selection, and everything from milk to cream to individual chocolate milks were UHT. I did find, on a very bright note, RAW milk cheddar cheese from OV at Fairway. I have over a pound of raw milk cheese in my fridge right now from Hawthorne Valley. But when we are done I will have to try some from OV. This is a much safer and legal way to get some of the health benefits of raw milk, because the aging of the cheese kills most of the bad buggies. And, you can probably find it near you without too much google searching.

I have to thank Elizabeth for reaching out to me. I have gotten emails from other corporations telling me about donations they are making to this children's food fund or that school lunch program. This was the first time a company contacted me to say 'Hey, look at the way we do business. I invite you to investigate all aspects of our products and practices.' I find that very refreshing. I haven't been paid to say any of this stuff. But also friends, don't expect my blog to be anti capitalist anytime soon either. I believe in the power that business can have when it is managed ethically. I believe every person in this country has a right to have access to clean food. If there is someone out there doing this on a large scale, why the heck wouldn't I work to spread the word?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nourishing Traditions

I am usually a little late on the bandwagon. I don't always hear about things when I should. And even when I do hear about something I can be frightfully stubborn. But finally I got with it and bought Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

Well, I might as well stop blogging, because she pretty much has it all organized for you by nutrient, story in hand. And she has a multitude of recipes that are in line with her traditional real food recipes. Really it is an epic work, well documented and easy to understand. She explains the differences between different fats and how carbohydrates are metabolized by the body. Now I am not currently interpreting her message as 'anti-nutritionism' but more like the modern nutritionists are interpreting the data wrong. But I think her ideas are ones that have merit in that before I read her book I had come to basically the same conclusion through eating food, living life and reading related articles on the Internet.

Now before you think this is going to be a full fledged book review, I haven't finished it. I scored tickets to see Vampire Weekend at Radio City Music Hall this week and that took up basically the only non blogging night I had (not to mention that I missed out on so much sleep that I passed up the following night at 9pm). And it's not like I was going to pass up the chance to spend an evening with those boys. If you waited until I actually finished reading the entire book, I would REALLY look behind the times!

So since you have probably read it, kudos to you for being in the know. And if you don't know about it, well here is a link to Barnes and Noble. The online price is over $9 off the full price. Go and buy this book today. Enjoy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Adventures in Lard: Onion Pie

No Doubt I will lose some readers over the whole lard thing. I mean, this is a borderline taboo subject for us in the US. But I am game. After doing my own research on my minimally processed lard I have realized that it is not the demon fat that everyone makes it out to be. However, I have heard it does taste kind of porky. I chose not to render my own just to save $3. I went to the Flying Pigs in Union Square Green Market. Their stall is definitely there on Fridays. I have been unable to find it any other day of the week, but that might be me, not them. Flying Pigs charges $6 for an 8 ounce container of beautifully rendered leaf lard. Leaf lard is the cleanest, smoothest and least 'porky' of lards. This no bacon grease!

I wanted to use my lard to make a pie crust. But I was hesitant to make a sweet pie, because Lord, what if that lard tasted like pork chops? I didn't want to sink my teeth into a cherry pork flavored pastry. So I settled on a savory application. And when I saw Onion Pie on Agrigril's blog, I knew that was my pork fat method of delivery.

I made the pie crust one evening when the kids got homemade mac and cheese because well, I hadn't made this pie crust at 5am that morning to have it ready to go, so the kids get a 10 minutes dinner. I made my ole' standby pie recipe, 1 1/3 cups of half white flour, 4 ounces of lard (I have been using butter for the past several years), a pinch of salt and 5-6 tablespoons of ice cold water. As you probably know already, mix the lard in with the flour until it resembles a coarse crumb. Then make a well in the center. Add the 5-6 tablespoons of ice cold water and mix the dough all together. The form a ball and then roll out into a circle shaped pie crust with a rolling pin. So many people told me that crusts made of lard were more flaky and tender. But they weren't kidding. This was my first time working with lard, so here is what I experienced. I had had the fat frozen and thawed in the refrigerator. Although the fat had been stored in the fridge for the last couple of days it came up to room temperature very quickly and my hands melted the fat quite easily. It did smell a little like there was a pork roast roasting down the hall. Nothing overwhelming, actually it was good. the crumb was very soft, whereas every time I use butter I still find little hard cold bits when I mix the flour and the butter. Because the dough was so soft I had to use less water, 5 tablespoons only whereas I have used as many as 7 with a butter crust. (Using so much water always made my mother start. Pie crusts were a big family trade in my house growing up, and my mother believe in less water for sure. But she used shortening, who knew back then?)

The lard melted very readily on my hands, but not like shortening does, if you have memories of that growing up. It seems like it took half the bottle of soap to wash shortening off my hands. Not this. The lard melted in a thin, kind of slippery layer on my hands. Washing it off was ridiculously easy. I feel like this has to be related to its goodness as a healthy unprocessed fat (OMG, did she just say that?).

The dough was so soft that I put it back in the fridge to cool down. I rolled it out after Thing 2 went to bed. Thing 1 stayed up to help. I rolled it out and put it (very gently) into my pie plate. I mixed up 5 eggs with some whole milk and heavy cream. I added salt and pepper to taste and about a cup of grated Gruyere cheese. Too bad that I didn't read the whole recipe about cooking the onions and the pie shell first. I tend to get excited about things and blow through the fine print. I just chopped the onions and placed them raw into the unbaked pie shell the same way I would do when I make a spinach and leek quiche. Anyway. I put the onions into the pie shell and poured the mix of egg and cream and cheese over the top. Then I baked that sucker for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. For all my mistakes (honest mistakes I promise), the pie came out amazingly.

And Don't forget to check out Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays! I love to see what real food her readers are cooking.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lemon Basil Prosecco Cocktail

Got some leftover basil? Have a couple of friends coming over?

I get bunches of basil from the CSA that are really too small to make pesto, but too big to use in one pot of sauce or on one pizza. So I always hae some leftover. This time with the leftovers, I made an interesting cocktail. I muddled some basil with equal parts honey and lemon juice. I let the syrup sit overnight and then strained it. If the syrup is too sweet or too sour just adjust for your taste.

I added a little syrup to a glass and filled the rest with prosecco, I would say maybe one part syrup to four or five parts prosecco. It is also good if you mix the syrup with some white wine and a little seltzer, especially if you drink all of the first version and forget to take a picture.

I love throwing a party for no good reason. Not that you need a good reason to have a cocktail when you're the parents of small children! Mine give me good reasons all day long! Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CSA Week 15

This week at the CSA we recieved 2 roma tomatoes, 3 medium tomatoes and 25 cherry tomatoes. I chose one bunch of swiss chard (gorgeous green chard), a bunch of leeks, 16 small potatoes, a small head of lettuce, two great handfuls of green beans, a bunch of beets (Anyone want my beets? They are free if you are willing to pick up!), a seductive bunch of sage and 10 green and slightly underripe peaches. I am planning one last batch of sauce before the tomatoes are all gone, and I am thinking potato leek soup because that sounds amazing and I have some chicken bones leftover to start making my own stocks.
I got home late since I picked up my share tonight and took out a container of my frozen Sunday Sauce for dinner with some whole wheat pasta I picked up at the Farmer's Market over the weekend. I got the pasta on the table on time (Whew!) but Thing 1 only ate a little bit. It was because the peaches were sitting out on the table. He cried and cried for peaches. Good I know, but fruit is dessert in our home. I told him he had to eat so much pasta before he could have peaches. So he cried and complained, and I spoke and explained, and finally after 5-10 minutes, you know what he did? He ate his pasta. Mommy: 1, Thing 1: 0. Well, that was today's score. Had it been a longer time period no doubt the score would have been more like Mommy: 12, Thing 1: 976.
Too bad though that the peach was kind of green tasting and underripe. Oh well. There is a chill in the air, and no doubt apples will soon be pushing peaches out of our weekly share. *Sigh* I am mourning the summer. It will be at least 7 cold months until I will see her again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lard, You Might Not Know As Much As You Think You Know

She. Did. Not. Just. Say. That.

Oh I assure you I did.

I have never really eaten Lard in it's most convenient form: tub. I have, of course, eaten bacon, but the rents hated the pork flavor so much that they just tossed the leftover bacon grease. I bought a pre-made pie crust in the days before I had a Table of Promise sitting in my house. Those folks used half shortening and half lard. I was Horrified to discover that gem. The container had two pie crusts and after I discovered what I was eating, I threw the other one away. This is how much we have been pre-programmed to stay away from animal fats like lard and tallow. Those saturated fat laiden items will surely kill us, right?

I have said this before at The Table of Promise, nutritionists aren't specific to their audience when they speak. They address the public as a total, but I have found that two specific groups are listening, the older crowd who are afraid that what they eat will shorten their life span and the younger crowd who are afraid that what they eat will make them fat and unattractive. The problem is that now all our health and food information is about how fat equals a shorter life span and this lumps both the groups together and just adds one more layer to all the misinformation. Lard however, is a different story. Everyone, including me until recently, is pretty well positive that lard is unhealthy, will make you fat faster than other fats and eventually will kill you by clogging your arteries. Does that pretty much sum it up?

I stumbled across lard recently on the Internet. I cannot now remember why. But the article I found was very interesting and peaked my curiosity. It suggested that maybe lard isn't as bad for us as we had all originally thought.

All fats are fat. Yeah, that is right. But some are saturated and some are unsaturated. Some contain traces of water (like butter) that make them actually less calorie dense than their liquid cousins, but that water is just taking up space. Some fats are just fat, and some have trace minerals and vitamins in them. So it is not that cut and dried. I will explain.

I like the website They have alot of good info, and it is largely unbiased. They just have alot of tables and charts and allow you to draw your own conclusions. I looked up several things on their website in preparation for this post.

First off, Corn and Canola Oil. Both Corn and Canola oil were lumped together because I have to assume they have similar nutritional properties. (Side note:A Tablespoon is a VOLUME measurement, and some of the fats here are DENSER than other, so sometimes one tablespoon is 12 grams and other times a tablespoon is 14 grams. That does make a difference in the final nutrional data in comparison) So first off corn and canola oil have 124 calories in each tablespoon. One tablespoon of corn oil has 14 grams of total fat, 8% of which is saturated, 59% is monounsaturated and 29% is polyunsaturated (yeah-that only adds up to 96%, the website doesn't explain and I can only work with the numbers I am given). The total Omega-3 fatty acids are 813 mg and the Omega-6 fatty acids are 3217 mg (there are no established RDA's for the essential fatty acids....yet). A tablespoon of Corn Oil or Canola Oil also contain 10% of your daily Vitamin E intake and 7% of your daily Vitamin K intake and no phytosterols (more on that later).

A tablespoon of Olive Oil weighs 13g and has 119 calories. One tbsp has 13.5 grams of total fat, 14% of which is saturated, 73% is monounsaturated and 11% is polyunsaturated. The total Omega-3's are 103mg, and the total Omega-6's are 1318mg. One tbsp of Olive oil also contains 10% of your daily vitamin K intake, 10% f your vitamin E intake and 29.8 mg of phytosterols. Phytosterols are compounds found in plant fats that can reduce your cholestorol. Although Wikipedia states that corn oil contains sterols, said they did not. I wonder who is true.

Now butter is an animal fat, but it contains some water, so that affects it weight, fat content and calories for the volume measurement of one tablespoon. A tablespoon of butter weighs 14g and has 100 calories. It has 11.4 g of total fat, and of that 63% is saturated fat, 25% is monounsaturated fat and 4% is polyunsaturated fat. Total Omega-3's are 44.1mg and the total Omega-6's are 382mg. One tablespoon of butter also contains 7% of your daily Vitamin A intake, 2% of your daily Vitamin E intake, and 1% of your Vitamin K intake.

Shortening, the hydrogenated vegetable oil that was created to replace lard has been found to be really really bad for us. Even the government recommends that the daily intake for transfat be ZERO. Even though everyone for decades told us margarine was better for us than butter, they were all wrong. We are still wrong about something and we just don't know it yet, I am sure of it. But let's look at the stats, shall we? One tbsp of shortening weighs in at 12 g and has 113 calories. One tbsp also has 13 grams of fat, of which 25% is saturated fat, 42% is monounsaturated fat, 28% is polyunsaturated fat and 13% is trans fat. Total Omega-3's are 240mg and total Omega-6's are 3343mg. One tbsp of shortening will give you 6.8% of your daily Vitamin K intake.

And lastly we have arrived at lard. Take a look at what I found. One tablespoon of lard weighs in at 12g and has 115 calories. One tbsp of lard has 13 grams of total fat, 39% of which is saturated fat, 45% is monounsaturated fat and 11% is polyunsaturated fat. It's total Omega-3's are 128mg and total Omega-6's are 1300mg. One tbsp of lard will also give you 6.3mg of choline, the same compound in egg yolks.

Now I didn't list out all these stats to help you find the ONE item which is the best for you. That would suggest that I think that eating the same thing day after day is good for you! No, a body needs variety, and a body needs different kinds and sources of fats. But I prefer the ones found unprocessed in nature, like butter, basic pressed olive or peanut oil and lard. So what did I take away from all these stats? First-all of these fats have some saturated fat in them. Although modern nutritionism has made saturated fats out to be so bad, even oh-so-holy olive oil does contain some saturated fat. Secondly-lard is made from primarily UNsaturated fats (the good kind). And lastly-lard is lower in saturated fat than butter.

I also like the idea that lard is a natural fat. We began domesticating pigs in around 7000BC. There is no doubt in my mind that we have evolved to eat them and their fat. Humans have been eating it for thousands of years. We have been eating corn oil and shortening for less than one hundred years and they require really aggressive processing. We also know that at least one of those two foods we have managed to really screw up by creating trans fatty acids. So when it comes to fat, I like to keep to a couple rules. First off, I don't fry at home. Deep frying is too difficult and creates alot of (expensive) waste. I am eating less and less of this delicious food group even at restaurants, but here's to my health! Also, I will eat natural fats, but I like to make sure that my food doesn't taste greasy. At least then I know that the amount of fat is within balance and I am probably not eating too much. And lastly, the French would say "je n'est pas faim". Roughly translated it means "I do not have hunger". I try to stop eating when I no longer have hunger, rather than waiting until I am full (it is a really different perspective, no?). These are the ways that I can have my butter and my lard without too much guilt and no pooch hangin' over the skinny jeans.

And now that I have that cleared up, I think I am going to go make a pie crust.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kirsten Gillibrand Wants to Force Grocery Stores to Post Recall Information

I have been ambivalent towards our junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand ever since Governor Patterson appointed her in 2008. I was, like many other New Yorkers, surprised that out of the pool of eager candidates Patterson would choose such a starry eyed right leaning new comer. I don't mind her flip flopping on gun control issues because her constituency has changed since her days as a local representative for her rural upstate community. Now that she represents communities like the South Bronx, her stand on major issues should change to reflect the needs of those in her jurisdiction.

Yesterday I first heard that Gillibrand was suggesting that grocery stores post information about food recalls so that consumers could be informed. This steams me because once again Gillibrand seems uninformed about what the real problem is. Forcing grocery stores (many of which in NYC's five boroughs are privately owned franchises rather than huge chains with out of state central management) to post recall information is a bit like assigning blame to those businesses. "We sold you tainted meat, so sorry, maybe you should shop somewhere else from now on." And fining them for non compliance is even worse!

The problems with food safety in this country have been created by huge central processors. It is not fair to have the grocery store owners clean up the mess of these irresponsible processors. Besides, this bit of legislation would highlight the fact that the FDA does not have the authority to issue a recall. And that most recalls happen after the bulk of the recall foods have been consumed or have gone bad. Did you know that the eggs of the recent Iowa egg recall were sold in June and July? The peak of illness were recorded by the CDC in late June and early July. The recall was issued August 13th. How many of you have 6 week old eggs in your refrigerator? It took them 6 weeks to issue a recall once they saw that instances of illnesses were declining. I think this is a case of corporate irresponsibility.

Ms. Gillibrand, please do not endorse this bit of legislation. Do not make small business owners do the dirty work for dirty processors. I have no doubt that the food industry will endorse this plan, but don't fall for it!! This will not make us safer, it will only shift the blame!

My Bouillon Conundrum

For the past couple of years I have been using a bouillon paste in all my soups, stews, sauces, gravies, etc, called Better Than Bouillon. Anywhere I would use broth I would throw in a little of this bouillon paste. If I ran out or didn't find any bouillon paste at the store I would have some Knorr bouillon hanging around just in case. I have a million reasons not to make fresh stock, I use my time to focus on cooking other things, I don't have freezer space to store great blocks of frozen stock. Bouillon is cheap and it's convenient.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my Organic Better Than Bouillon contained Maltodextrin, a highly processed corn based sweetener. I was totally bummed. I don't have time or energy to make stock! Please Lord don't take away my bouillon paste! I decided in my heart this would be one thing, one weird food additive that I could live with. After all the other ingredients were Chicken Meat and Natural Juices, salt, cane sugar, natural flavor, dried onion, potato starch, dried garlic, turmeric and spice extractives. This is a pretty good list of ingredients (despite the starch and the two forms of sugar) considering the time savings. You know me, I am all about cost/ benefit.

I went to the store last weekend looking for more Better Than Bouillon when I saw that they were out of the organic variety. Rats. I checked out the ingredients of the non organic variety, still Chicken was the first ingredient, but there were a lot of iso- and -ates and -iums on the list. Why was it so different than the organic version?! I was kind of irritated. I didn't have a back up product. I looked at the Knorr bouillon cubes and saw what was in them. Shock rolled over me. The first ingredient was salt (no surprise, but I am irritated nonetheless) then the ingredients went south, palm oil, mono sodium glutamate, hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrogenated beef fat (Wait? Wasn't this CHICKEN stock? Why is beef the first animal ingredient?), hydrogenated soybean oil, sugar, cooked chicken meat (OH! There is the chicken. We are at ingredient number 8 in case you weren't counting), yeast extract, corn starch, chicken fat and the list goes really downhill from there. There are 23 ingredients altogether in Knorr's Chicken Bouillon Cubes. I will never buy that willingly again. If I ever buy Knorr bouillon cubes again you better believe that there will be some kind of story attached that includes snow, a house full of stranded out of town family and a couple of closed grocery stores.

I looked around, there weren't a lot of options. I took the container of the non organic Better Than Bouillon in my cart and walked around the grocery store deep in thought. Should I eat this? Did I have any other choice? I checked the organic section and didn't find any other bouillon cubes that contained animal flavors (they were all veggies) so I went back to where the conventional bouillons were. I looked again. At the very top I found a product labeled Demi-Glace. A good sign! I picked up the 16 ounce container-it was 26 dollars!! Holy Mackerel! I have no doubt that it was worth it, but we were having a party that afternoon and I already had 40 bucks worth of cheese in my cart. Not a good week to spend a ton of cash on meat paste. They did have smaller containers, of 1.5 ounces. They cost $4.29, yipes! My 4 ounce Better Than Bouillon cost me $4.49. However the More Than Gourmet Demi Glace has the best ingredient list out there, Chicken Stock, Roasted Chicken Stock, Mirepoix Stock (carrot, celery and onion), Dried Chicken Stock, Salt, Gelatin, Water and white wine. I did buy the 1.5 ounce container.

I used this product recently to make soup for the Things. It added alot of meaty flavor, but not as much salt as I am used to. I added alot more salt to my soup than I usually do which leads me to believe that the broths I have been using until now really are just all salt. But I also had a great idea. I should just make my own demi-glace. I have admitted that I don't have time to make stock every week. I really don't have the freezer space to store stock long term (I am not just making that one up). But when I looked online the recipe is a 25 hour marathon of french reduction cooking (Is anyone even going to look at that link now that I have said that?). So then I thought, perhaps I can simply make some homemade brown stock from roasted bones and veg, and boil it until it is super concentrated. I do have room to store that! In fact, I put in a meat order from the CSA this weekend and I included some beef bones. Hopefully mine will turn out well.

I will still probably buy the Better Than Bouillon organic variety the next time I see it because of the cost and time savings. I am educated enough to know that this makes up a super small amount of processed ingredients compared to the total. (We eat less than a tablespoon of this a week, and the processed ingredients are so minimal in the product itself.) However, when I make some concentrated brown stock, I'll let you know how it turns out. I really really wish that Better Than Bouillon would just eliminate the Maltodextrin and potato starch. Anyone know someone who works there?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pic of the Week: Homemade Pizza with Ricotta, Baby Onions and White Truffle Oil

Take my homemade whole wheat pizza crust. Top with handmade ricotta, baby onions, Parmesan cheese and finish with a little white truffle oil and cracked black pepper. I can't guarantee that your kids will eat it, but hey, more for you.
Who says that real food has to be rabbit food? And who said that gourmet food has to be complicated?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mexican Fiesta: Pork Tacos and Mexican Rice

There is a young lady in my office, let's call her WKG. She is a bold young woman. She moved to the city when she was 18 or so (just like me), very independent. She is quite pretty and sassy. She makes up funny words like 'fabulocity' and has fresh nicknames for some of the VPs, which make the rest of us blush, because she somehow gets away with all this brashness. She adds a refreshing air to our office.

She is Mexican and originally from El Paso. We were talking recently about Mexican food because I love it, and she knows how to make it. We have recently been making tacos often at home. But I have been unhappy with it. It requires a lot of effort, dishes and it makes a mess. My gut said it should be easier. WKG agreed. She told me to take some shredded meat-anything beef, chicken or pork and make some salsa and add some radishes (radishes??) and wrap it in a soft corn tortilla. Sounds good to me, and a lot easier than the fixings I usually make which includes putting the rice and beans INSIDE the taco and then it's so full it is spilling out the sides. (My dear friend TQ, who supplied that amazing salsa recipe last week, is clutching her chest right now in horror.)

So what about that rice, I asked WKG. How the heck do you make that unctuous red rice I always get in Mexican restaurants. I have made some crummy versions, but it never turns out right. WKG told me her secrets and it included white rice and canned tomato sauce and bouillon. I said to her-you know? I bet I can make this with all fresh ingredients and brown rice and it would taste just as good. She wasn't so sure-that wasn't the way her mother made it. I told her to give me a shot and - would let her know how it went. So here is what I did.
Mexican Rice
I took one cup of brown rice and sauteed it in a large skillet with a lid in some butter, about 1 and a half tablespoons. When the rice turned golden I threw in 2 medium chopped tomatoes and half of a diced medium sized onion. I would have added some garlic too, but I was out. Instead I added granulated garlic and some salt and pepper. I let that cook for a couple minutes all the while stirring the rice. I added 2 1/2 cups of water and a half a teaspoon of the bouillon paste I always use in place of homemade broth. After it came back to a boil, I put the heat on low and put the lid on and let it cook for about 45 minutes until the rice was fully tender.

Earlier in the day I made the salsa while the kiddies slept. I had a glorious collection of tomatoes, one green heirloom tomato that was ripe and green, not just unripe. I also had yellow as well as orange cherry tomatoes, and I had standard red tomatoes. To make my salsa I chopped all these tomatoes and marinated them with chopped cilantro, lime juice and a little flavorless oil. I used organic sunflower oil. I also added half of a MINCED (and I mean minced) habanero pepper that I roasted off the skin over my stove's burner. I let it all marinate in the fridge for 3-4 hours. It looked like candy all mixed up.

For the tacos I just took some leftover pork from a pork butt that I made in the crock pot earlier in the week. The pieces that were left were super fatty. So I trimmed most of the fat off and threw the chunks into a dry skillet. The fat melted off immediately and crisped up the pork nicely. I did just as WKG recommended. I chopped up some CSA radishes, had my tomato salad/ salsa and some sliced avocado all wrapped up in some sprouted corn tortillas. And the rice? It was wicked. It tasted just like the restaurant versions I have loved, but somehow better. It was saucy instead of dry. It was deliciously salty, a great accompaniment to the tacos. In the picture I have poured some yogurt over the rice. I am no longer buying sour cream. It tastes just like yogurt to me, and yogurt I feel is more nutritious anyway. One less thing to buy.

What an awesome dinner. The kind that you just don't ever want to end. Thanks TQ and WKG for the inspiration and recipes. These are total keepers I think I can finally retire the over stuffed tacos.

And don't forget to Check in over at Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grape Jelly

Even though we all enjoyed last week's farmer's market grapes, I bought too many (which I do a lot) and mid week I ended up with a lot of overripe grapes that were in danger of turning. I wasn't about to throw them out, so I decided to make grape jelly. I have never made jelly, so I wasn't sure if I had enough grapes to even make any jelly. I thought I would end up with a couple of tablespoons at most. Oh well, it was worth the shot just for the experience.

I went online and found massive recipes requiring 5 or 6 pounds of grapes. Some requested a mix of overripe grapes and new young grapes because young grapes have more pectin. Almost all the recipes used one cup of sugar to every cup of juice, which means that the resulting jelly would be probably twice as sweet as simple syrup. Scary. Now that we are eating more unsweetened things and less foods that are even naturally sweet other than whole fruits, really sugary items practically hurt my teeth.

I also have an issue with all the jam recipes for every fruit that I find online. They all seem to request three times as much sugar than they need and they call for pectin. That annoys me. It is not like the early Americans walked to the dry goods store to squander their money on sugar, and it is also not likely that the local dry goods store had little packets of pectin for sale. Yet a tradition of preserving fruit flourished all the same.

I say to hell with all the modern conveniences like powdered pectin. There is an easier way. Apples.

Apples are virtually flavorless when added to jams. The flesh disintegrates when over cooked. And they are natural little pectin bombs. Pectin is of course the natural substance that thickens jam and makes jelly, well....gel-y.
I took one quart of grapes and washed them and removed the stems and leaves. I put them into a large dutch oven with a little water (you don't really need the water, but I had so few grapes that they would have evaporated and dried up before they had cooked long enough. If you have 5-6 pounds of grapes, you'll have so much juice that this won't be an issue). And I added one diced apple, skins on and everything. Thing 1 went to town on the fruit with a potato masher and then I let the fruit boil until the grape skins came off and the apples started to fall apart. Then I let it cook maybe 5 minutes more.

I strained the fruit and juice. I lined a strainer with an old thin burp cloth I have that is a little thicker than cheese cloth, but it's pretty close. When you just have the juice, put it back on to boil and you can throw out the skins and pulp. Let the water boil out until it gets thick and viscous and the bubbles get slower and thicker. Then add the sugar. I had only about a cup of juice left after boiling it away. I wanted to include a reduced amount of sugar, so I added a half a cup of. After tasting the finished jelly, the juice was soooooo sweet itself I probably only needed a quarter of a cup, actually I probably didn't need any but I was nervous. I boiled the sugar juice mixture just a little longer and then took it off and poured it into a glass jam jar. Then I held my breath. The whole process took me about 45 minutes.

I put Thing 1 to bed, and the jelly was cool but it wasn't so gelled. I thought all was lost. So I put the jar into the fridge and went to bed thinking, if it doesn't gel up we can always just pour the syrup over ice cream or into seltzer for grape soda, or even make a cocktail from it!

When I woke up the next morning I went to the fridge before any of the kids woke up. And to my surprise, the jelly was wiggly and looked runny, but when I went to spoon some out, it had totally JELLED! Admittedly I needed to have boiled it some more so that it didn't come out runny but it was good. Next time I will boil it more and add less sugar. But this was super easy and required little more than basic kitchen utensils and some know how. No crazy canning equipment, no store bought pectin. Maybe next time I'll try it with honey and no sugar for a super natural treat.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CSA Week 14

This week at the CSA we got 4 tomatoes, a big bag of onions, a pound and a half of potatoes-I chose the little ones, a bunch of kale, one bok choy, one bunch of basil, one bunch of carrots (yum), two peppers, 5 ears of corn and 10 peaches.
I admit. I am in the bottom of a food valley. I am stuck in a rut. I have made too much labor intensive food recently. I have too many kids that won't eat anything but bread and meat. I need some super quick recipes that utilise many veggies that I actually have. I have made the mistake of buying whatever I want at the farmer's market and now I am stuck with a ton of stuff that doesn't go together. It might be curry time again.
This week ahead of me I foresee a potato and sausage bake and possibly an onion pie (thanks for the recipe Agrigirl-I cannot think of a more fitting use for the lard I recently bought at the farmer's market). And you want to find out how that goes, you'll just have to keep reading.