Monday, December 31, 2012

Mushrooms as a bed for chicken

Winter is here alright. I know, you're thinking, "you're in California. How bad can it be?" Well, it's cold for us, ok? It got down to 34 degrees last night and there was frost on everything this morning. This kind of weather is perfect for a meal that makes us toasty warm. Chicken on a bed of mushrooms.

Oh, I hated mushrooms as a kid. All slimy and rubbery and moldy. Ick! I’m even still repulsed to this day when I go out into the yard and unearth the weird and wacky specimens that are freely popping up in my lawn. I have to wear gloves – I can’t seem to touch them with my bare hands.

My taste for mushrooms waxes and wanes. Sometimes I like them, other times I don’t. I guess it’s kind of a love/hate relationship, but this is the time of year when I want them.  Their chewy texture and meaty taste adds heartiness to otherwise bland dishes. Their woodsy nature makes them pair especially well with herbs. It’s as if you were going out into the forest. There is something so earthy about mushrooms that makes them ideal to appreciate in the winter.

So I was craving a dish with mushrooms and began searching the archives (i.e., cookbooks). I hadn’t looked in my Silver Palate cookbook in a while and was delighted when lo and behold I found “Chicken with Mushrooms”. How perfect to use mushrooms to boost the flavor of chicken. It is easy to make, although the soaking of the dried mushrooms calls for a 2 hour time span, I don’t know that you can’t achieve this in 30-60 minutes. If you have time, you can certainly go with 2 hours. I went with 1.

If you do an internet search for Silver Palate Chicken with Mushrooms recipe, you’ll find quite a number of sites featuring it. Clearly a popular and much-loved dish over the years. People are in love with it.  You can make this dish with some degree of certainty that it will be one you go to over and over again.

Chicken on a bed of mushrooms

Ingredients:
1/2 cup chicken broth
2/3 ounce dried wild mushrooms, thoroughly rinsed under running water,and drained (such as cepes, morels, etc, all one kind or a mix)
1/3 lb fresh cultivated mushroom, wiped clean with damp paper towel (button)
3 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely-chopped shallot (or 3 green onions, finely-chopped, plus 1 T minced garlic)
2/3 to taste salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup medium port wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

a few tsp. chopped fresh parsley

Directions:
In a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil; pour over the wild mushrooms in a small bowl and let stand for about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thinly slice cleaned mushroom caps, discarding stems.
In a skillet over medium to medium-to-low heat, melt butter and gently saute shallots or onion/garlic mixture for about 5 minutes (do not brown).
Drain liquid from wild mushrooms and reserve.
Finely chop the wild mushrooms and add them and the fresh mushrooms to the skillet with the shallots (or onion/garlic mixture) and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7- 10 minutes.
Add the reserved mushroom liquid, Port, and cream to the skillet and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
Pour mushroom mixture into a shallow baking dish and arrange chicken breast halves in a single layer on top of the mushrooms.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.
Bake in the middle level of the oven for about 25- 30 minutes, until chicken is done.

Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.
Serves 4.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Travel through Cooking


"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, born April 1, 1755

Many people dream of travelling to distant, exotic lands they’ve never been before. But the reality is that most of us won’t get the chance to visit all the places that intrigue us. Instead, we will have to be content to simply read about them or watch travelogues about them. But I believe that one way we can transport ourselves to these exotic places is by cooking their foods.

Eating the cuisine of different countries teaches us something about its inhabitants: their choice of spices and seasonings, their cooking methods, even what foods are available to them. Food traditions speak volumes about people. We can get a glimpse into their lives by seeing how they took what the land and sea offered them and what they did with those things.

We have only to search out ethnic cookbooks to bring ourselves that much closer to them. We are so fortunate to live in a time when cookbooks can be found on just about any ethnicity. I find looking through them to be a lot of fun. Researching foods from a particular area of the world and then searching for the ingredients in markets and specialty shops can be a unique experience. And, the cuisine of others can be inspirational when we need ideas for new things to cook. I mean, how many of us make the same 10 things over and over again?

What a boon to live in a time where a Midwesterner, for instance, can Google “palak paneer” and, in a few clicks, learn how to make a dish from Northern India. Yet, ever since Fanny Farmer set the standard for recipe writing in her cookbook, recipes reduce food to a simple listing of nutrients. While recipes let you make a culture’s food, they don’t offer much illumination on the culture from which that food comes, certainly not as much as the food itself. Recipes usually aren’t created to illuminate culture. They’re just step-by-step directions.

The ideal thing would be to find an ethnic cookbook that includes stories of the people that inhabit this place from which you are cooking, what their traditions are, what the weather is like, what unique cooking vessels they might have and why. Preferably this cookbook will also have lovely pictures, of people, the landscape, and the markets, of course. You will be more deeply immersed in their lives and have a better understanding of who these people are when you cook from these.

I find doing this enlightening, because I believe that cooking only from the area in which we grew up feeds isolationism, something a lot of Americans suffer from. I realize it seems a bit simplistic, but I believe that we cannot increase our global understanding and tolerance for different cultures when we simply stick to eating hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken fried steak. How can we not feel somewhat Frenchified when we create a souffle or make Coq au Vin, or feel transported to India when we whip up a Tikka Masala with all its spicy complexities?  How can we not eat these dishes and appreciate their uniqueness, their differences from what we are accustomed to, and not feel even a small connection to the people of these distant lands?

I’ve always believed that everyone should travel outside of one’s country at least once in their lives. It changes you. It opens your mind and offers you a different perspective. It makes you appreciate what you have at home. While we may never get to India, or France, or wherever we dream of going, we can get a little closer through our kitchens.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why you should make your own dog cookies


By now you know I’m an avid label reader. I’ve gotta know what’s in everything I’m considering buying, and that includes dog treats. I’m often repulsed by what I see on dog treat labels. Not surprisingly, a great deal of unhealthy stuff like sugar, flour, colors/dyes, and preservatives can be found there, not to mention “mystery meat” which I’d rather not think of.

You might think I’m nuts for making dog treats for my dog, but here’s why I think you should make your own every once in a while:

·        Healthier – since most dog treats on the market contain questionable ingredients at best, those you make at home will consist of human grade foods that you yourself would eat. I’ve often wondered why humans would feed their pets things that are labeled “not fit for human consumption”. If a thing’s got weird ingredients that YOU wouldn’t eat, why should your pet be eating them? Even if you agree with me and feed your pup one of the “better” treats out there – like from the health food store - many of these treats still contain grains. I really don’t believe that dogs should be eating grains, and that includes wheat, whole wheat, oat flour and the like. See below for more on that.

·    Cheaper – let’s say you are trying to do right by your dog and you buy the healthy, gourmet dog treats from a specialty store, they are likely to be fairly pricey. Sometimes over $4.00/box. If you make them yourself, you can save a good amount of money using things from your pantry.

·      It’s easy – whipping up some dog cookies at home is like making a batch of cookies for yourself or your family. Hey, your dog is family, too! All you need to do is make a dog-appropriate batter, roll it out, use cookie cutters to make shapes (only if you want to), put it on a cookie tray and bake it.

·       Your dog will love them. S/he will also love that you made them. S/he will also love the anticipation of them as they bake. Just like you do as you wait for your chocolate chip cookies.

Store bought dog treats most often contain carbohydrates, which are usually the first ingredient. The reason for this is because they are cheap to use. So what are carbohydrates? They are foods composed of starches, sugar and/or fiber. Carbohydrates are the most common source of energy found in food as most carbs are broken down into glucose (a specific type of sugar). Some common examples are:

- table sugar
- honey
- fruit
- milk
- grains
- vegetables

Proteins and fats are the other two main sources of energy. Proteins do not break down into glucose (sugar). What’s important to remember is that dogs are carnivores...meat eaters. They have very little dietary requirement for carbohydrates. They do require high quality protein from a meat source. There should never be such a thing as a vegetarian dog. This is completely against Nature. Just because you are a vegetarian doesn’t mean your dog should be. Dogs need meat to thrive!

Most dog treat recipes contain some type of flour. Flour is made from grain, usually wheat, but not always. You’ll see whole wheat flour, rice flour, brown rice flour, corn meal, corn flour, oat flour, spelt flour...just to name a few. Some of these flours are gluten free, and some are not. Flour is used to keep dog cookies together. The problem is that flour of any type is made from grain and grains are not a good source of carbohydrates for dogs.

Flour is considered a high glycemic index food. That means it has the ability to spike your dog's blood sugar very high, very quickly, just like in humans. That will put a huge burden on your dog's pancreas over time. In nature, dogs don't eat anything made from flour. Flour is a processed end result of processing grain, something humans do (and probably shouldn’t, but that’s a story for another day).

Many dog treats also contain sugar. This is a serious no, no !!! Just like in humans, with their ever-increasing consumption of carbs, diabetes in our companion animals is also on the rise. Look no further than the carbohydrate content of the foods they are consuming. Diabetes is rampant in cats as well. How crazy is that? Cats are obligate carnivores! They have no dietary requirement for carbohydrates at all.

When making dog treats, or buying dog biscuits at the store, choose a carbohydrate source that is low glycemic. That means it will not raise your dog's blood sugar level too high, or too fast. For this, sweet potatoes and flax meal make excellent choices. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals and are high in fiber. Although sweet potatoes might be higher in natural sugars, the high fiber content regulates the effect of the natural sugars. This keeps blood sugar at a consistent lower level. Flax seed meal supplies fiber, lignans (antioxidant and phyto-estrogen) to fight abnormal cell growth, and alpha-linolenic acid, a plant version of Omega 3 fatty acids. 
Gluten Free Dog Biscuit Recipe

- 1 Lb ground meat ( lamb, beef, chicken, turkey ) Lamb and beef tend to be higher in fat. Chicken and turkey might be a better choice for an overweight dog.
- 1 large sweet potato ( cooked and mashed )
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder ( not garlic salt )or one large clove pressed
- 4 tbsp. ground flax seed meal

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing up very well.
Very lightly, grease a cookie sheet with olive oil. Dump ingredients on cookie sheet and spread evenly and flatly to the sides of pan. This should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Remove pan from oven and use your cookie cutter at this time, if you want. If you don't have a cookie cutter, just score the cookie dough with a knife or pizza cutter, into squares. Put back into the oven and bake for another hour at 250 degrees.

This will dry the treats out. Keep an eye on your oven. The time could be more or less, depending on how hot your oven runs. The treats should be fairly dry and a little crispy, but not burned.

Allow to cool completely. While you’re waiting, I suggest cuddling with your pooch.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

5 ways to make Thanksgiving healthier

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and most of us eagerly await the annual tradition of stuffing ourselves like the French do their geese (fois gras anyone?). Granted, the holiday comes but once a year, so who can deny us the pleasure of breaking out those horribly unhealthy traditional recipes that we just "can't live without" at Thanksgiving? We've gotten so used to eating them year after year. But remember how you feel every year after you've indulged, not to mention the pounds you pack on every year between now and the New Year? Is it really worth it? If you said "hell, yeah", ok, I respect that. Then this article is not for you.

For the rest of us interested in eating well and not overdoing it, I believe we can still enjoy Thanksgiving (or any other food holiday) without depriving ourselves.

Here are my top 5 ways to make better choices while still enjoying yourself:

1. Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to reduce the carb load of a traditional Thanksgiving is by eating very, very small amounts of all the starchy stuff like rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing, candied yams and pies. If you can muster the willpower, avoid them completely. While that's nearly impossible for most of us, make the carbs count. Go for the stuff you REALLY love, not the so-so foods that are just sitting there staring at you, but the things that you've really looked forward to and enjoy, and keep the quantities small. Eating fat along with a carb will keep blood sugar from spiking, so eat some if you're going to partake (butter on the bread, for instance).

2. Beware the appetizers! Steer clear of them. You will fill up quickly eating useless stuff, unless of course there are vegetables involved. Take a bite here and there if you must, but save yourself for dinner.

How cute is that? A turkey veg platter!
Focus on getting as many vegetables in you that you can. The unadulterated kind. The dishes that are healthy and still recognizable as vegetables. Not the green bean casserole drowning in cream of mushroom soup. That doesn't count as a veg. Fiber and antioxidants are your friends, and filling your plate with lots of them is by far the best thing you can do to minimize the damage.

3. Load up on the protein, i.e. the turkey. Next to vegetables, you should fill up on as much of that as you can. You can bet on a great night's sleep with all that tryptophan coursing through your veins, and you've gotten your protein needs met. Take advantage of eating a roasted turkey and don't skimp on it. It is so delicious and we don't usually eat it during the year, so indulge!

4. If you're doing any of the cooking, try to add nuts and seeds to some of the items. They offer healthy fats and fiber and belong so naturally on the Thanksgiving table. In fact, make a bowl of mixed nuts for an appetizer! Add almonds to green beans, walnuts to cranberry sauce, pecans to pie.........oh no, not that, sorry.

5. If you must have pie, then go for a small sliver of it just for the taste. Better yet, eat some berries with cream. Berries are low in sugar and are perhaps the best fruits we can eat. Here's what I'm bringing to my Thanksgiving potluck. I'm going to serve it along with whipped cream.

Mixed Berry Compote

Ingredients:
6 cups fresh or frozen, unsweetened berries (raspberries, strawberries, red currants, or a combination of these)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation:
For fresh berries: stem, wash and dry in collander. For frozen berries: thaw before using.
For a smooth pudding, process berries in a blender, 2 cups at a time, until pureed. For chunkier, process 4 cups, and chop the rest, blending with puree. Stir cornstarch in cold water until smooth. Combine berries and sugar in non-stick saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir cornstarch mixture again, then add into the berry mixture gradually, while still stirring. Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Pour into a serving bowl, or individual dessert bowls. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Makes 4-6 servings.

This is traditionally garnished with a Vanilla Custard Sauce , but you may also use whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or heavy cream.

*This is a German recipe and it's called Rote Gruetze.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sweeten your life a new way

My blood test has again revealed that I have a slightly elevated blood sugar level. This stinks. I thought I was doing a fine job watching my sugar and carb intake since the last blood test but I guess it hasn't been good enough. Time to get serious about it. I do NOT want to become a diabetic. I once heard a health expert say that the healthiest way to eat is to eat like a diabetic. She might be right.

Why? So what do diabetics do to stay healthy? They have to avoid sugar or things that turn into sugar once metabolized by the body. This means potatoes, rice, bread, sweets, even fruit, have to be monitored closely or else overloading will cause an unhealthy rise in blood sugar. If you're like me and like sweets, it would be easy to turn to artificial sweeteners, as many diabetics do. But artificial sweeteners are just that: artificial, and most definitely not healthy, and I avoid them like the plague.

The two most common ones on the market today are:

Saccharin (Sweet'n Low) came on the scene in 1879 but has gone back and forth being linked to cancer in lab animals. Many think it's safety is still questionable. I frankly hate the taste.

Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal) was approved by the FDA in 1981. (Let's start by saying that NutraSweet's parent company was the pharmaceutical giant, Searle, which was later purchased by Monsanto. They make Roundup, which kills things. What does that tell you?). Let's take a closer look at what makes up aspartame. It is comprised of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol or wood alcohol, which, when ingested, breaks down into formaldehyde, none of which sounds very healthy or natural. Worse still, aspartame has been the prime suspect in numerous symptoms chronicled in thousands of consumer complaints to the FDA including gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, rashes, depression, seizures, memory loss, blurred vision, slurred speech, and other neurological disorders. There is also evidence that in the last 3 decades since aspartame has been on the scene, the incidence of malignant brain tumors has been steadily on the rise in industrialized countries. Animal testing has indentified an exceedingly high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats. What a bummer, because it tastes pretty darn good! But I’d like to keep my brain, thank you very much.

stevia rebaudiana
There are a few other sweeteners, but none as popular as these. Since I believe that anything artificial should be avoided by those of us who care about our health, what is a sweet tooth to do? There's maple syrup, honey, dates, agave, and molasses, but they all have high sugar content as well, and as far as the body is concerned, sugar is sugar.

Stevia might be the answer.

Known by the official taxonomy name of Stevia Rebaudiana, stevia is a plant of the daisy family that grows naturally in South America. At its full maturity, the plant reaches a height of close to 3', and its green leaves contain large amounts of stevioside - a sweetener estimated to be 300 times as sweet as table sugar. At least 150 species of stevia are believed to exist in North and South America but stevia rebaudiana was found to be the sweetest.

Certain Indian tribes in South America have used stevia for hundreds of years, possibly even before Columbus landed there. Since the natural habitat of this plant is northeastern Paraguay near the Brazilian border, the Indians of that region, called the Guarani, were the first to take advantage of its sweet properties. They commonly used the leaves to enhance the taste of their bitter mate, a tea-like beverage. Eventually the Spaniards caught on to this "sweet herb". Over time crops were being grown all over the world. Because stevia was found to have no known toxicity or adverse health effects, it began being seen as the new sweetener and quickly gained popularity. People loved that it was natural, calorie-free and safe, and that it could literally be cultivated and sold by anyone. Unfortunately, the artificial sweetener industry began to take notice. The FDA launched an aggressive campaign to nip it in the bud. In 1987, they began notifying companies selling herbal products that they could no longer market stevia because it was not an approved food additive. Fortunately some brave souls from the American Herbal Products Association got together and started the fight. Eventually the FDA backed down and was agreeable to make herbal product manufacturers not call it a sweetener, but instead a supplement, and so therefore it is again a legal substance in the US.

I have never tried to bake with stevia though there are a few cookbooks that claim it's possible. So far I've only used it to sweeten tea, my breakfast cereal, or some fruit with yogurt. Some brands are better than others, so you have to experiment to find one you like the taste of. The sweetener can be found as a white powder, either purchased in bulk or in small white packets similar to "the pink stuff" (Sweet 'N Low) or "the blue stuff" (Equal). It can also be found in liquid concentrate form, sold in a little bottle with an eye dropper. I like the liquid best for mixing with cold drinks. The white packets are fine for hot tea. They distribute better in heat than in cold. With some brands, you'll notice a bitter aftertaste. This is normal and it can be remedied by blending stevia with a little honey.

Like I said, I've never cooked with stevia, but the substitutions go something like this:

Sugar                  Stevia powder               Stevia liquid concentrate
1 cup                  1 tsp.                             1 tsp.
1 Tbps.               1/4 tsp.                          6-9 drops
1 tsp.                  a pinch                          2-4 drops

the cookbook
If you're baking, you have to keep in mind that sugar is usually there for a reason. It causes foods to brown, breads to rise, provides texture to baked goods, creams better with butter, and carmelizes, all of which you won't get with stevia. I say, if you're not diabetic and you want dessert, go with sugar. Just don't eat it every day. But for day-to-day stuff like sweetening coffee or tea or cereal or your yogurt, use stevia. You'll save a lot of calories and keep your blood sugar at a normal level, which is all good.

Have you ever cooked or baked with stevia?

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to avoid GM foods

Just a quick post, elaborating on the GMO food labeling issue I posted about last week.

I just came across an interesting website, inspiredeats.net, and the blogger there has a great list of things to avoid and why.


I think you will find it enlightening. I learned a few things reading it. I hope you will, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prop 37 in California

If you live in California, you’ve no doubt heard about a proposition that is on our November ballot that calls for foods to be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms (or GMO’s). This is big. I mean, really big. California would be the first state to have such legislation and that’s a big deal because in many ways California sets the tone for the rest of the nation. California is the world’s 8th largest economy after all (at least as of 2011).


It is estimated that up to 70% of the processed foods sold in grocery stores - from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients. And I’ll bet most people don’t know that. In an era of “transparency”, where we want to know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING, you’d think everybody would be on board with this. It just seems like a no-brainer.

In order to understand why there might be those who think this piece of legislation isn’t worthwhile, I had to check out the “No on Prop 37” website to see what on Earth their arguments against it could possibly be. After you get to the site you’ll see their tagline “Stop the deceptive food labeling scheme”. This just gets my goat. I mean, give me a break.

What’s so “deceptive” about Prop 37, when it actually provides information for consumers to make better food buying decisions? The website has some of the lamest arguments against it. They claim the legislation will cause the following:

1.       Higher grocery bills – they’ve estimated that Prop 37 will increase a family’s grocery bills by $400 per year. How they came up with this number is a mystery. I just don’t see how this is possible. If you don’t care that your food consists of GM ingredients, then buy away. No one is forcing anyone to actually buy the labeled foods. If they mean repackaging the foods with the new labeling will increase manufacturing costs which will therefore be passed on to the consumer, I just don’t buy it. Since manufacturers have 18 months to comply, they will likely change their label in the meantime anyway. I hardly think the small price increase in changing the artwork on the label will drive these mega-food conglomerates out of business!

2.       There will be a slew of “shakedown” lawsuits that result from this – those opposing Prop 37 foresee ambulance-chasing lawyers suing family farmers and grocers for “things they didn’t even know they were doing wrong”. This is ridiculous. All grocers need to do is make sure the foods on their shelves comply. They have 18 months in which to do so. How are farmers going to suffer? Maybe many of them will finally switch to growing organic because they have been forced by their buyers to grow GM foods for a while now. How can this be bad?

3.       Special Interest / Arbitrary Exemptions – this one is completely ridiculous. They claim that the foods requiring the labeling are arbitrary. Not really. They were chosen for a reason.
Fruit juice would require labeling, while beer wine and liquor would not
The reason for this is that most fruit juice sold in America contains HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which is made from genetically engineered (GE) corn. Your 100% fruit juice manufacturers will be more than happy to say they are made without any GE ingredients. Beer is brewed from primarily barley and wheat, wine is made from grapes, and liquor distilled from potatoes, etc. so these beverages are typically not made from GE ingredients anyway, so what kind of an argument is that?

Soup sold in a grocery store, but not soup sold at restaurants
This is because most canned soup (think Campbell’s and Progresso and the like) contain GE ingredients while soup made in restaurants will typically be house-made. Monitoring whether or not soup sold at a restaurant contains GE ingredients would be virtually impossible, if not totally unnecessary. Think about it? Do we expect the “soup police” to come in to each establishment and dissect its ingredients? What government agency has the time for that and would it even make any sense? Give me a break.

Soy milk would require labeling, but not cow’s milk
Now that’s an easy one! 91% of soy grown in the U.S. is GE. Cow’s milk is not GE. It comes from… wait for it…yes, COWS! See the Center for Food Safety website.

Snack food sold in a grocery store would require labeling, while the same snack food sold at a snack bar would not
Well, I don’t completely understand that one. Again, I think it’s for the same reason why it would be difficult to monitor restaurants. How can we enforce this at EVERY establishment, be it restaurants or snack bars? It’s much easier to monitor grocery store chains.

Cookies and candy sold by non-profit groups made in America, while fortune cookies and candy made in China are exempt
Wow. This one’s really trying to tug at our heart-strings! What, now we’re going after the mommy bake sales? Oh brother, is nothing sacred? I would venture a guess that most of the cookies and candies baked by these moms and sold by non-profit groups are made from ready-made cookie dough that you just cut and bake, or from cake mixes that contain GE ingredients.  And regarding China: what control do we have over their manufacturing processes over there? Please! We can choose to not buy and eat Chinese food products if we are at all concerned about their safety. Why don’t we stop worrying about what other countries do and worry about our own?

Dog food with meat would require labeling, while meat for human consumption from animals fed GE grains are exempt
Well, I’ve said it before, most of the commercial dog food made in America is utter garbage, made with less-than desirable ingredients that humans wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Most of the common brands (Pedigree, Purina) contain mystery ingredients we'd rather not know about, so labeling would be great. 
Frankly, I’d like to see meat for human consumption labeled, too, for the exact reason the opposition lists. Conventionally produced meat is fed GE grains and that’s too bad because it isn't as good for you as grass-fed meat, but we’ve gotta start somewhere, folks. Let’s tackle the meat and poultry debate down the road. We can’t do everything at once.

4.       Conflicts with Science (they claim there are 400 studies that say GMO’s are “safe”) – you can look to a thousand “studies” that claim there are no adverse health effects of ingesting GE foods, but it depends on who conducts the study and how it is done. I like to think of it this way: for tens of thousands of years Man has survived by eating real food in its natural state and has done just fine. Any time we create Frankenfood, fooling with Mother Nature, we risk compromising our health, because it’s just not the way Nature intended. It’s as simple as that. 

Those against Prop 37 have everything to gain by keeping people ignorant about where their food comes from. By passing this proposition, people might become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices in this era of declining health and obesity. Do we really want to live in a country where people are kept in the dark? This isn’t a country that suppresses knowledge to control its people, is it?

Their argument that those who are funding this Prop are putting profits in front of science is completely ridiculous. It's about caring about quality food! Some of California's most successful natural food companies, such as Nature’s Path, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps and Lundberg Family Farms, have naturally invested in it because they can afford to. Unfortunately, it takes money to get things done in the political system, no matter which side you're on. This is reality.

But let's look at the list of those financially supporting the No Vote (between just 2 major chemical companies, Monsanto and DuPont, they’ve invested over $12,000,000. Pepsico, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills and the Kellogg Company are right behind them)! They have a lot at stake here. If this passes they will be forced to fess up to their crap ingredients and that might be bad for the junk food business. It’s far better for them if we stay stupid, folks.

In support of Prop 37 are a number of celebrities like food writer Michael Pollan, the Slow Food movement guy I’ve written about before, Carlo Petrini, famous chefs Alice Waters, Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin, who all believe in quality food and transparency.

If anyone is to be attacked for being “deceptive”, it’s the No on Prop 37 advocates

It’s clear to me. I hope you’ll join me in voting “Yes” on Prop 37 November 6. 

For more information on California’s Right to Know, click here

For information on how to avoid eating GMO foods, I just came across this fantastic post at www.inspiredeats.net which you might find interesting.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How I plan my weekly menu


Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
I have been very fortunate to have spent a lot of  vacations in Europe since my early childhood - my first visit being at the age of 4. I’d spend weeks, if not months, visiting aunts, uncles and cousins, seeing much of Germany and its neighbors. Over the years, as my interest in food and cultures developed, I grew to want to see the markets that the natives shop at in the countries I visited. One thing I noticed was how the Europeans grocery shop much more frequently than we do in the States. 


Mercato Centrale, Florence, Italy
One of my favorite markets was in Hungary, the Central Market Hall, where I could have spent a few days! Stall after stall of family run businesses selling everything from spices and liquor, fruits and vegetables, to baked goods, cheeses, meats and flowers. At one stall I had some of the best strudel I have ever had, made fresh by what appeared to be a brother and sister rolling out dough by hand and working it, filling it, and cutting it as if they had done it a thousand times before (and likely had). Another such monster market was the central market, or Mercato Centrale, in Florence, Italy, equally fascinating in the enormous variety of foods offered. These huge everything-under-one-roof markets are incredible, but what's most charming are the mom and pop markets at the corners of everyday neighborhoods. Many cities in America offer the same thing, clearly transplants from the Old World.

Regardless of market size, I think the Europeans shop frequently for food because they are sticklers for freshness and because they simply can. Many of my relatives (i.e., the women) were stay-at-home moms and had time to. Maybe it also helped that they had  markets close by, often within walking distance, so it was easy to pop in if they needed something. My one aunt, for instance, had a butcher across the street, and a grocer and baker around the corner from her. She didn’t have far to go on foot and never bought more than she could carry. 


When you shop more frequently, you can plan your menu day-to-day, getting whatever you’re in the mood for. But I can’t imagine going to the store every day or even every other day myself – even if I had the time. Stores are too far from home, and most of us work and have too many other errands to run. So I plan my meals in advance, as I’m sure many of you do, to avoid multiple trips and to save time.

But creating a weekly menu rather than a daily one requires organization and planning. I have a rough framework I always use. With 7 dinners to plan, I nearly always include 2 chicken or turkey dishes, 2-3 fish, 1 egg, 1 pork, and 1 vegetarian (tofu or bean) night to keep it interesting. Then I think about what’s in season vegetable-wise, what I’m in the mood for, and most importantly, what’s left in the pantry and refrigerator that needs to be eaten! Then I start looking through my recipe collections and from there start make my shopping lists.

A typical weekly menu at my house will look something like this one:

Monday – A good day to go vegetarian as we usually had meat over the weekend. It might be something simple like a Frittata with a plethora of vegetables bought at the farmer’s market. Or maybe a Bean and Veggie Soup I may have made on Sunday when I had more time

Tuesday – Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce or turkey “burgers” wrapped in lettuce leaves, big mixed green salad with veggies and sunflower seeds or nuts

Wednesday – This has to be a fast and easy dinner because I bike ride after work. Pistachio-crusted tilapia with sautéed spinach with garlic and butter is quick to whip up and oh so delicious. If it’s asparagus season, I like to cook some and then drizzle over a little (ok, a lot) of ready-made Trader Joe’s Hollandaise sauce. It goes really well with the fish, too

Thursday – I do Yoga weekly and I’m always inspired to eat something Indian on those nights (I know, I’m funny like that).  Chicken Tikka Masala, cauliflower florets sautéed with ginger and onions, and either basmati rice or poppadum (lentil crackers) alongside some mango chutney or tamarind paste, and then either some ready-made Bharta or Palak Paneer that just needs to be heated. It’s a lot of food, but then we've got enough for lunch the next day

Friday – I get home a little earlier on Fridays, so I have a bit more time to spend in the kitchen than on a regular “school night” so it might be Rosemary and fennel-crusted pork tenderloin, with boiled or roasted red potatoes, and a veggie puree, all of which actually doesn't take that long to prepare

Saturday – This has to be a fairly easy meal since Saturdays are busy with bike riding, grocery shopping and housecleaning. Maybe something that can be grilled, like Salmon with a spice rub or chipotle raspberry BBQ glaze, along with something like steamed green beans or sautéed Swiss chard

Sunday – Usually a big cooking day. I make stuff to take to work for lunch, I might make dessert or cook a soup. Dinner will usually be something that takes a while, too, like Pulled Pork or a whole roasted Chicken with roasted vegetables and a big salad.

Does this take effort? Absolutely. 

But then, everything in life that is worth anything, takes effort.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The wonders of the worldwide web

The internet is truly amazing. Where else can we reach the entire world with our message? I would never have thought that I would have such a reach with this humble blog of mine. In just over 2 years, I have had over 8,000 page views. All that, for just a simple girl who loves food.


Blogspot, also known as Blogger, is managed by Google. Google scans the internet 24/7 for information - all those "spiders" and "bots" and whatnot. 

And because those geeks at Google are masters of information gathering, I can see which of my posts are the most read, how readers are coming in to my site (via google search, to blogspot directly, through facebook, etc.) and which countries are doing the reading.
Sometimes I'm rather surprised by which posts get the most action. "The Sandwich" is an all-time favorite (with 444 page views as of today), followed by my "Flavor Profile" posts on herbs (283) and spices (220). Others, that I thought were more interesting received less attention. It just goes to show you - it's hard to predict sometimes.


But what I was most interested to learn was "Who in the world is reading my Blog?".

Not surprisingly, the country with the most readership is the United States, and next comes Germany (thanks to the family). Those are the obvious ones. 

But what about these, where I know maybe 1 person, or not a single soul

Canada
Russia
Australia
India
Philippines
Vietnam
United Kingdom
France
Poland
Botswana
Italy
Finland
Slovenia
Ukraine

Amazing, isn't it? I thought it was pretty cool and thought maybe you'd find it cool, too.

In summary, I want to thank everyone, wherever you are, for coming here and reading. Thank you for your support. As always, feel free to send me your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Eating Locally

We hear a lot about eating locally, but why should we do it?

Here are a few good reasons.

  • Local food is fresher and tastes better. It hasn't been trucked or flown in from thousands of miles away. If you don't think there's a taste difference between lettuce wrapped in plastic for a few days and lettuce picked fresh that morning, with some of the dirt still on it, think again!
  • Local foods are seasonal and taste better.  We have become used to seeing foods at the supermarket that wouldn't ordinarily be there because they aren't in season where we live. Usually these items come from the other hemisphere where they are enjoying the opposite season, so the foods are in season THERE, not here. Why not wait until next summer when we yearn again for the sweet taste of apricots or nectarines? They will taste even better if we wait. (You've heard the saying: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder").
  • Local foods have less environmental impact. Look for farmers who follow organic, or at least, sustainable growing practices and energy use to minimize the food's environmental impact. And again, trucking or flying it in from somewhere else is an enormous waste of fossil fuel. With current gas prices, think what this will do to the price of food! Eat from your local farmer!
  • Local foods preserve green space and farmland. Isn't it lovely to see some bits and pieces of agriculture in between the cities where you live? Help support that. Green is beautiful!
  • Local foods promote food safety. The fewer steps between your food's source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination. Most of those e.coli outbreaks were from mega-food producers, not the little guys.
  • Local foods support your local economy. I'd rather hand over my hard-earned dollars to my  local farmers instead of some food corporation in another city, state or country.
  • Local foods promote variety. Corporations are only interested in growing what can withstand a long truck haul with minimal bruising and damage. The local grower cares about variety. My local fruit guys sell at least 8 different kinds of plums in the summer, each one unique in color and flavor. You're not going to see that at the supermarket.
  • Local foods create community. Knowing where your food is from connects you to the people who raise and grow it. At the farmer's market you can usually look the farmer in the eye and get to know him or her. You don't get that at the supermarket either.
Am I down on supermarkets? You betcha.


For a great list of how to eat locally, check out this link.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pulled Pork


When Fall hits, it’s only natural to want to make dishes that are hearty and satisfying. Soups, stews, braised meats with vegetables are all good this time of year. The kind of food that "sticks to your ribs", as my mother would say.

One of my favorite things is pulled pork. It’s rich and warming on a crisp evening. I described it to a friend of mine and when she said how good that sounded, I decided to make it for her when she came over next. Which is what I did last night.

The recipe I originally started with was a lot spicier, calling for a can of chipotle peppers. My husband and I could barely get it down, it was so hot. The next time I was in the mood for pulled pork, I made modifications, using barbeque sauce instead, but it lacked a bit of punch. The next time I made it, I used chipotle barbeque sauce which added just enough spice without torching our lips and intestines. I think it’s just right the way it is now.

It’s a super simple recipe to make. All you need is time, as in all afternoon, so it’s best made on the weekend. You could try it in a slow cooker, but it won’t be totally the same unless you brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker. This is the oven variety.


Pulled Pork

Ingredients

·         2 onions, peeled and quartered
·         1 whole pork butt (pork shoulder roast), bone-in
·         Salt and freshly ground black pepper
·         1/2 to 1 can real Coca-Cola, with sugar (not diet)
·         ½ bottle chipotle barbeque sauce

Directions
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Place the onion quarters in the bottom of a pot. Trim roast of some of the fat but leave the roast whole and if it has a bone, leave that in. Sprinkle the meat all over with salt and pepper, and then place on top of the onions. Pour just enough of the cola so that the liquid comes up to the middle of the roast. You don't want it to swim in too much liquid. Then add the chipotle barbeque sauce over the top.
Cover the pot, put in the oven and cook for at least 5 hours, preferably 6, depending on the size of your roast. Turn the meat 2 or 3 times during the cooking process. The last time you turn it, you might want to leave the lid partially off in order to get some carmelization on the meat. Otherwise, put the lid fully back on.
When it’s done, the meat should be fork-tender and easy to shred.  Shred the meat completely (either inside or outside of the pot) but return pork to the juice until you serve it. This is delicious and super easy.

It would go quite well with a bottle of Grenache. This lighter red wine would be perfect with the sweetness of the pork and its sauce. I'll usually serve this with potatoes, but you could drain some of the liquid or maybe reduce it to a thicker consistency and serve it as a pulled pork sandwich.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What I'm drinking now

On Labor Day, friends Lorine and Todd came over for a barbeque. Lorine and I used to work together in the hotel business where we learned we share an appreciation for good food and good wine. We had been trying to get together for a long time, so it was great that we finally made it happen.

Our guests were kind enough to contribute many tasty things to our dinner party but my favorite (besides the mesquite and lime-marinated shrimp!) was the wine, made from a varietal I had never really considered before. I discovered that was a huge shame and have them to thank for enlightening me.

The wine was fantastic and went exceptionally well with our grilled foods. Light, soft, and without the harsh tannins that often exemplify red wines, it was smooth and easily drinkable and unfortunately gone rather soon.

Grenache grapes
My research revealed that Grenache is one of the most widely-planted red wine grape varieties in the world. It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions like those found in Spain, the south of France and California’s San Joaquin Valley. The grape most likely originated in Spain where it is called Garnacha, but it eventually migrated north into France. It is now found in California and Australia as well.

The wine label
Opolo Vineyards hails from Paso Robles, California. Set apart by unique climate and geography, Paso Robles Wine Country provides prime growing conditions for more than 40 varietals planted over 26,000 acres of vineyards. Nearly 200 wineries craft these grapes into premium wines, gaining recognition around the world. The fruit, the wines and the distinct environment have quickly made Paso Robles California's third largest and fastest growing wine region. And I love visiting it when we’re up seeing the in-laws, as you may have gathered from a previous post.

Because the fruit itself lacks color, acid and tannin, it is often blended with other varieties, especially those that are more assertive. In Australia in particular, it is a component of “GSM”: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, which, by the way, is a great combination.  In Rhône wines it comprises up to 80% of the grapes used.

Grenache is generally a bit spicy, definitely berry-flavored and soft and has a high sugar and alcohol content. It has flavor notes reminiscent of raspberry, strawberry, coffee, gingerbread, honey, leather, black pepper, spices and sometimes roasted nuts.

Because Grenache pairs well with game, grilled meats and stews, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy it, when the weather starts cooling and we begin making these kinds of dishes.

If you’re not much of a red wine drinker, Grenache is a great introduction into the world of reds. Its lighter, fruitier nature, and the fact that it has little or none of the tannins normally associated with reds, might sway you in the direction of reds once and for all.

Our dinner guests picked up this bottle at the winery itself. If you can’t make it to Opolo, then you might find it at Total Wine, BevMo, or your local wine shop. If not, try another Grenache from one of the recommended growing regions and see what you think.

It would be delicious with stews such as Coq au Vin or Beef Bourguignon, grilled steak or roasted pork tenderloin, but I could also see it with just about anything, really. For vegetarian cuisine, grilled Portobello mushrooms or a hearty lasagna would work well.

Recommended growing regions
Southern Rhône (France), Sardinia (Italy), Navarra (Spain), Paso Robles (Central Coast of California), and Australia.

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