Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hummus Varieties Bloom. But Cocoa in Hummus? Blurgh.

There's an interesting article in today's New York Times about how popular hummus has become in the U.S. due to it being low-fat, high-protein and high-fiber (and gluten-free) AND because companies have figured out they can sell more of it here if they blend in non-traditional ingredients like jalapenos, guacamole, artichokes, spinach or even peanut butter.
I've had black bean hummus, which is great if made well (although of course that's not made from chickpeas). The article mentions the idea of putting hummus on a baked potato, which sounds like it might taste o.k.
But, really... "dessert hummus"? Six varieties of it? Hummus with COCOA blended in? As Liz Lemon would say on 30 Rock, blurgh.
(photo credit: New York Times)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gooey Butter Cake and St. Louis Ribs

The fact that my partner is from the St. Louis area means I have been introduced to local treats like St. Louis ribs and gooey butter cake, which is even better tasting than it sounds :-) We were there most of last week and had both. The barbecue was from Lil' Mickey's in St. Peters, and I can say it's correctly rated among "the best ribs in St. Louis." The sauce is AMAZING - great balance of sweet, tangy and spicy. I actually liked the chicken better than the ribs, but both were good. (The pulled pork was good too.)

St. Louis is also home to an oddly named ice cream dessert called "concrete," but I haven't sampled that yet. It's a frozen custard "blended so thick that it and its spoon do not fall out when the cup is turned upside-down."

Of course, when I first moved to central Pennsylvania in 1996, I remember thinking that "potato filling" sounded funny.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Anticancer" Book Advice Boiled Down to 20 Pollan-Style "Food Rules," with My Comments

Thanks to Mike M. for alerting me to this. This week, the author of the book Anticancer: A New Way Of Life put a helpful post online. He starts off by saying "Michael Pollan's recent little gem of a book "Food Rules" inspired me to compile my own 'rules' about what I'd like every person to know about how they can help avoid cancer - or slow it down if they have it."

I think it's definitely worth reading, although I have some comments on specific points --

From his rule 2: "Get in the habit of adding onions, garlic or leeks to all your dishes as you cook."

That one made me laugh a little. Some dishes just aren't suited for that! (Good thing laughing is also good for your health.)
If you do plan to follow that advice, you (and whoever you live with) may find Beano to be really useful!

"3. Go organic: Choose organic foods whenever possible, but remember it's always better to eat broccoli that's been exposed to pesticide than to not eat broccoli at all (the same applies to any other anticancer vegetable)."

Worthwhile advice, although it seems to be easy to find organic apples, for example. I definitely try to stick to organic for anything on the "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables that retain the most pesticide when NOT organically grown. (A longer version of the list is here.) If you can't afford organic everything, that list is a good way to make the best use of your food dollars while also protecting yourself from pesticides.

"4. Spice it up: Add turmeric (with black pepper) when cooking (delicious in salad dressings!). This yellow spice is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent. Remember to add Mediterranean herbs to your food: thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, mint, etc. They don't just add flavor, they can also help reduce the growth of cancer cells."

Worth noting that curry powder usually contains some turmeric.

I've also read that turmeric may help prevent Alzheimer's disease / dementia in later life. So I've been trying to incorporate it more, but it isn't suitable in every dish either. The Anticancer book points out that there's some turmeric in mustard (in the liquid version of store-bought mustard -- I don't know if it's in dry mustard powder).

"5. Skip the potato: Potatoes raise blood sugar, which can feed inflammation and cancer growth. They also contain high levels of pesticide residue (to the point that most potato farmers I know don't eat their own grown potatoes)."

You CAN get organic potatoes. So maybe they're not the best food ever for your blood sugar, but you can at least avoid the pesticides. And there are nutrients in the potato skins. I like to cut up organic potatoes (after rinsing off any dirt, then drying them), leaving the skins ON, spray them with olive oil from my Misto (you can also drizzle the olive oil on instead), sprinkle on some rosemary and other herbs, and roast them in the oven or toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until done.

"10. Keep sweets down to fruits: Cut down on sugar by avoiding sweetened sodas and fruit juices, and skipping dessert or replacing it with fruit (especially stone fruits and berries) after most meals. Read the labels carefully, and steer clear of products that list any type of sugar (including brown sugar, corn syrup, etc.) in the first three ingredients. If you have an incorrigible sweet tooth, try a few squares of dark chocolate containing more than 70% cocoa."

I just don't see myself going that far. I have cut back a little on sweets, and I usually have an apple a day. And I love some dark chocolate during the day, well before bedtime when the caffeine in it might help keep me awake. Personally, I think dark chocolate tastes so much better than milk chocolate. I usually get the dark chocolate that has about a 60% cacao level. I like the 72% cacao dark chocolate too, but Better Half doesn't. And sometimes you just want a cookie -- I think one good choice is Kashi TLC Oatmeal Dark Chocolate cookies. One of them has 130 calories, 4 grams of fiber out of the 30 grams (just over an ounce) entire weight of the cookie.

Avoiding sweetened pop (or soda if you insist on calling it that) is easier for me. But no more cookies ever? Not happening. :-) I do sometimes try eating a few Frosted Mini Wheats if I am craving cookies - the FMWs are more filling because they have more fiber. (Yes, the FMWs are processed - I don't care. :-)

I am trying to eat berries more often. I keep some frozen bags of organic berries in my freezer since I end up having to rush to use the fresh ones before they go bad -- I buy organic berries since strawberries, for example, are on the Dirty Dozen list. (Plus it's usually only a dollar more for the same size bag of frozen berries if they're organic, and I like to support pesticide-free farming when I can -- the less of those chemicals making their way into our water, the better, I think.)

"12. Make room for exceptions. What matters is what you do on a daily basis, not the occasional treat."

That I can definitely agree with. :-)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food Safety in Pa.: Beyond the Capitol Cafeteria; Two Bills Offered to Improve the System

If you live in Pennsylvania, you've probably heard about the gross-out findings at the cafeteria in the state Capitol building. If not, here's a quick summary: The cafeteria apparently fell through the cracks for four years -- the state and the city each say they thought the other was inspecting it, and neither did. In December, the state did and found several violations, including rodent droppings in multiple places. (You can read the inspection report here.)

In January, a new state inspection found more problems -- ironically on the same day two House committees held a joint hearing partly about the previous month's cafeteria discoveries.

The good news is that this may provide some momentum for getting a food safety bill passed. The sponsor, Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News the bill (H.B. 174) would improve the restaurant inspection process and resolve jurisdictional issues that led to the four-year lapse between inspections of the Capitol cafeteria.

Carroll told the Scranton newspaper the cafeteria's problems could have been avoided if his bill was already law: "My bill links together the inspections with the license renewal and posts the results on the Internet."

As the Chambersburg newspaper reports, under current law, many cities and towns do their own local restaurant inspections instead of having the state do it, but those local governments aren't required to post the reports on the Internet. Some do; others don't. Under Carroll's bill, those reports would have to be forwarded to the state, which would post them online.

The Democratic-majority House passed the bill last June, sending it to the Republican-majority Senate, where it has remained in committee. (Full disclosure: I work for the House Democrats, although I am only expressing MY OWN opinions on this blog. But if you think I'm being partisan, please read to the end of this blog post - you may change your mind. :-)

The Scranton newspaper also reported that "Carroll first introduced the bill several years ago. The House approved it last session (2007-08) but it died in the Senate Appropriations Committee."

The Jan. 26 Philadelphia Inquirer relayed this quote: "It's not stalled," said Kristin Crawford, executive director of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. "We've been reviewing the bill."

Maybe so, but June to February - that's eight months. If you live in Pennsylvania and want to urge your state senator to support House Bill 174, you can find his or her contact info at (If you don't know who your state senator is, you can find out by entering your zip code at the top right of that page.)

You can find the names of the Senate committee members and their contact information here.

The state Senate did recently pass what appears to be its own piece of common-sense food-safety legislation, in response to another incident that has made news in Pennsylvania -- here's a summary from the Jan. 26 Patriot-News:

"Last spring, one of the department’s inspectors laid down the law to the ladies of St. Cecilia’s at a Lenten fish fry. After spotting the women in the kitchen at the Beaver County Catholic church cutting slices of their homemade pies to sell, the state food safety inspector doing the annual inspection ordered them to cease and desist. He warned them that they were about to commit an illegal act — selling baked goods to the public made in an unlicensed kitchen."

This week, the Senate passed a bill 49-0 to address this. As the Patriot-News describes it, the bill would "allow nonprofit groups, including church groups, Boy Scouts and youth sports teams, to sell homemade baked goods, provided they put the consumer on notice that the food was made in an unlicensed, uninspected kitchen."

That bill (S.B. 828) sounds reasonable enough to me, although the devil is in the details sometimes.

Bottom line: Both of these bills sound like common sense, and it seems like the people of Pennsylvania would be better off if both were to become law.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

'Anticancer' Book & Diet - Dark Chocolate! (Not a ton of course)

I plan to read the book Anticancer: A New Way of Life soon. I leafed through it last night at a bookstore and placed a request for it online with the library. The book first came out in September 2008 and contains a lot of advice about which foods to eat and which ones to avoid. One of the foods the author endorses is dark chocolate :-) (not in huge amounts of course). I first got introduced to dark chocolate by someone lactose-intolerant and I think it's so much better than milk chocolate. I like Ghirardelli but there are several good brands.

This post from the author's website contains some basic cost-conscious advice.

(By the way, I've read several books that advise eating more vegetables and fiber, and I don't remember any of them mentioning Beano, which does wonders in reducing or eliminating the flatulence that results from eating those things. I haven't received any coupons from Beano as a result of posting this, and don't expect to. The stuff works. Not on absolutely everything, every time, but since I live with the Human Bloodhound, aka the Super-Smeller, Beano is very useful. :-) (Yes, I borrowed the nickname "Super-Smeller" from "Psych.")

Back to Anticancer -- here's a short description of the book from the author's website:

"When David Servan-Schreiber, a dedicated scientist and doctor, was diagnosed with brain cancer, his life changed. Confronting what medicine knows about the illness and the little-known workings of his body’s natural cancer-fighting capabilities, and marshaling his own will to live, Servan-Schreiber found himself on a fifteen-year journey from disease and relapse into scientific exploration and, finally, to health. Combining memoir, concise explanation of what makes cancer cells thrive and what inhibits them, and drawing on both conventional and alternative ways to slow and prevent cancer, Anticancer is revolutionary."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Food-related humor: "I have to go pick up my monkey"

A coworker told me last fall she had to go pick up her monkey, and I played dumb to be funny, so she emailed me back: "I have a two-year-old, which is a lot like having a monkey. It’s easier if I think of him as a monkey, because then it makes more sense why I have banana on my nice clean suit. :-) "

Back to more typical posts soon, I think..

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NY Times: How Restaurants Use Menu Psychology

This article in today's New York Times is interesting:
"People like the names of mothers, grandmothers and other relatives on their menus, and research shows they are much more likely to buy, say, Grandma’s zucchini cookies, burgers freshly ground at Uncle Sol’s butcher shop this morning and Aunt Phyllis’s famous wedge salad. ...
Tabla is just one of the many restaurants around the country that are feverishly revising their menus. Pounded by the recession, they are hoping that some magic combination of prices, adjectives, fonts, type sizes, ink colors and placement on the page can coax diners into spending a little more money."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Speaking of Adventures in Food: Tarte Tatin

One food adventure that didn't go well for me was the attempt a few months ago to make Tarte Tatin, which is kind of an upside-down caramelized-apple pie. I think it was the Julie & Julia movie that got me wanting to try this, but I can't remember.

Above is what a Tarte Tatin is SUPPOSED to look like (photo credit:

The problem is that the recipe I used called for caramelizing the apples without being able to see them - they were under the puff pastry that serves as the crust. And, given the high heat you use, those apple slices caramelize FAST - mine burned. So when I flipped over the tarte, on top was a gooey black nasty-tasting mess (see above -- yes, I tasted it).
So I think the next time I get an urge for something like that, I'll either have it at a restaurant or try doing something like an upside-down caramelized-apple cake. This recipe from Rachael Ray's Everyday magazine is an example (credit for photo at left: Richard Press/Everyday with Rachael Ray).

There's also a very tempting recipe in the book Rustic Fruit Desserts for upside-down pear chocolate cake that I think could be adapted with apples and maybe also simplified. (There are some amazing photos in this book.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oat-Whole Wheat Pancakes Made with Improvised Buttermilk

The New York Times has an ongoing series called "Recipes for Health," and this weekend I'm attempting to make these pancakes, but without the blueberries. A weekend with a lot of snow seems like a good time for a breakfast or brunch that takes longer than my usual breakfast of pouring a bowl of Kashi cereal. (I'm also planning to make a simple chicken soup that's based on a Joy of Cooking recipe, plus apple crisp, probably based more on the Food Matters recipe.)

In addition to skipping the blueberries, I'm also not using buttermilk in the pancake batter. We don't keep buttermilk on hand, since it's unlikely we would use a whole container before it would go bad. So I tried a tip I found several places online -- adding "a tablespoon of lemon juice into a cup of milk and letting it sit for about five minutes." Apparently the key thing with the buttermilk is that the acid in it reacts with the baking soda to make the pancakes fluffy. Several websites also say you can use vinegar instead of the lemon juice.

UPDATE: The pancakes turned out ok, although they definitely cook differently than regular pancakes. They do spread out some but they stay a LOT thicker than regular pancakes. The recipe says to drop 3-4 tablespoons' worth at a time into the pan (or on the griddle). That makes HUGE pancakes. More importantly, at that size, they get brown on the bottom while the top is still a bit runny, so you'll get some "splat" in the pan when you flip them over. They still cook up ok -- they just aren't as perfectly round and pretty, if that matters to you. :-)

Instead, I would recommend making them at a smaller size so they cook more evenly. In any case, these pancakes are definitely "a quick, substantial breakfast" as the NYT website says.

NOTE: After you get done making the batter, you're supposed to put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour - and overnight is fine (we refrigerated ours overnight).

Better Half put some dried cranberries in one of the pancakes as it cooked, and he liked it.

(photo credit: New York Times)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Funny: Not taking healthy food TOO seriously

The hilarious Lewis Black, from his "White Album":

The people who told us about sun block were the same people who told us, when I was a kid, that eggs were good. So I ate a lot of eggs. 10 years later they said they were bad. I went, 'Well, I just ate the eggs!' So I stopped eating eggs, and 10 years later they said they were good again! Well, then I ate twice as many, and then they said they were bad. Well, now I'm really screwed! Then they said they're good, they're bad, they're good, the whites are good, t-the yellows - MAKE UP YOUR MIND! It's breakfast! I gotta eat!