Friday, November 28, 2008

How did your Thanksgiving meals go?

Ours went very well. This year we decided to stay at home, and shared cooking duties with our next door neighbors. They hosted the event and provided the turkey, stuffing and some sides.

I brought:
Appetizer - a small rack of lamb, herb crusted. This was probably my proudest moment; the lamb was tender, flavorful, perfectly cooked and the herb crust had a really nice texture. They were a hit across the board.

Side dish - curried sweet potatoes. Meant to be a compliment to the lamb. I was very happy with the dish but I didn't get much feedback on it.

Side dish - Pickled beet salad. Hand pickled roasted beets with frenched red onion, julienned and topped with blue cheese and chopped walnuts. I love that dish, but it wasn't a huge hit. Beets still scare people I guess.

Mashed potatoes - flavor and richness were spot-on, but I missed some lumps. Could have used another round with the beater.

2 breads; hand made dinner rolls and an asiago cheese boule. Many compliments on both.

I'm glad it's over; it was nice not having to cook everything, and I'm delighted with the decision to stay home this year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hey y'all. Buttermilk buscuits are harder than they look.

We've been in North Carolina a full year now, and I hadn't perfected buttermilk biscuits.

Do we like biscuits down here? Oh yes, we do.

And this should be simple...a quickbread - no yeast; mix it and bake - couldn't be easier right?

As it turns out, yes and no. They're one of those things that once you've mastered, you wonder how they ever gave you trouble, but man did they give me the business.

I think this is batch 5. Batch 1 was inedible. 2 and 3 were improvements, 4 was a setback and then there were these...yes, 5 batches.

I really think the key to biscuits is not as much about doing things right as it is about avoiding a few critical mistakes; so with that in mind here are the pitfalls:

Not too dry. I tried to make a dough that was much closer to a bread dough and I didn't use near enough liquid. I got a great tip for cutting biscuits out of the rolled dough that also works great as a measure of if your dough is too wet. You use a rocks glass to cut them. (I used a glass that came with a bottle of Macallan scotch several years ago.) You push the glass straight down into the dough, not twisting, and lift. The vacuum holds the biscuit until you tap it out on your baking sheet. Your dough should be just stiff enough to do this.

You have to work fast. I used self rising flour from Aldi. This particular SR flour contains both baking soda and baking powder. Once the buttermilk hits the sodium bicarbonate, it begins releasing CO2 bubbles, so you don't want to waste any time. When you pour the buttermilk, the clock starts ticking. The sooner you get them in the oven the better. Of course this means your oven is already at....

500 degrees. Hot and fast. Took mine under 10 minutes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Beans so nice we fried 'em twice.

Looking for something cheap and delicious? Me too. Here's a good one - last night I made refried beans starting from a bag of dried beans. (.59 cents at Aldi) Very easy, economical and tasty.

Just a warning from experience - I always make too much. Just remember that your beans are going to more than double in size by the time you're done. This holds for just about any dried bean I've used with the possible exception of lentils.

The only tricky part of making this dish is that unless you have a pressure cooker (I don't) you have to soak the beans overnight in a bowl with plenty of water. Then you boil them with salt and some fat for half an hour, or until they're tender to the tooth. As far as which fat to use, I saw recipes calling from vegetable oil to lard and different things in between. I halved the difference and went with vegetable shortening, but I think plain old vegetable oil would work fine, and bacon fat would just be incredible.

When they've boiled up and are nice and tender, you're going to have to gauge if you have enough water. Are the beans covered? Just covered, or is there a couple of inches of water over them? Mine were just covered, and that seemed to work out pretty well. Hit them with the immersion blender. I guess you could use a regular blender, but ugh -no, you really need an immersion blender. If they're too soupy at that point you can always cook them down for a few minutes.

For spices; garlic, chili powder and cumin.

I served it up with a Spanish fried rice, simple pico de gallo and tortillas.

Just ate the leftovers for lunch, and it held up really well. This feeds a family for a couple of bucks and tastes great.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bread and soup.

That's what I had for dinner last night.

Sounds like a prison menu. Wonder bread and Campbell's? Not so much.

The soup - chicken with rice. Started with a lovely chicken stock I made 2 nights ago, diluted, seasoned and added rice and carrots. Very simple, very easy and really good.

The bread - this one turned out really nice despite taking almost no effort. It's the same slack, no-knead recipe I usually use, but I had half a can of tomato paste left over from a shrimp risotto, and I added it to the dough with some rosemary. Went perfectly with the soup. Could have used another 8 minutes in the oven, but everyone was hungry and it was still excellent.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


One of the cooking forums I visit featured a fascinating post regarding the Italian dish spaghetti carbonara. This post took offense to the way the term 'carbonara' is applied at some "Italian" chain restaurants like Olive Garden to describe sauces made with cream, peas and other bastardizations to what is supposed to be a very simple dish with sauce made from egg.

For true carbonara, eggs are mixed with parmesan cheese and then poured over spaghetti that has been cooked, then put into a pan of rendered pancetta and tossed to coat. The residual heat from the pasta cooks the eggs just enough. I actually temper the egg with some of the pasta waster, and use my infrared thermometer to make sure the pasta is no higher than 155 degrees before pouring on the egg. Too hot and the egg will scramble.

For what it's worth I use bacon in mine, as I tend to have it around a lot more often than pancetta, but otherwise I followed his instructions and the dish was fabulous. It's a great comfort food as well as being quick, easy and inexpensive.

While all that is interesting and all, that's not what I'm writing about. The point is that in this post he also described making his own pasta; something I had never done until today, but as I read his description of the process I instantly wanted to try it. I picked up a very reasonably priced pasta rolling machine to make the job a little easier.

The basic pasta recipe is pretty simple; flour, eggs and salt. I used this guy's technique.

As far as flour, I made the fettuccine with AP and the ravioli with bread flour. As I suspected, the bread flour worked significantly better than AP. I couldn't tell a difference before they were cooked, but after cooking the bread flour maintained better tooth.

The fettuccine was just tinted with food coloring, but next time I'll use some spinach for color. The food colors looked OK when the pasta was dry, but once cooked it got much lighter and just looked silly.

The ravioli were really fabulous, I made 2 varieties; acorn squash and mushroom.

Acorn Squash filling:
  • Roasted a halved acorn squash, peeled the meat.
  • Into the processor with a splash of olive oil, some fresh pressed garlic, a healthy pour of Parmesan cheese and a dash of ginger and nutmeg.
  • 6 pulses in the food processor, scrape the sides down and repeat.

Mushroom filling:
  • White button mushrooms sauteed in butter with 2 cloves of roasted garlic.
  • A pour of olive oil and grated Parmesean.
  • About 6 pulses in the food processor.

The acorn squash filling was really good, but the mushroom was outstanding. I could eat that all day long.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My big, fat Greek Collard Greens

You know what's really good for you? Collard greens.
You know what's really boring? Collard greens.
You know what's really yummy? Those Greek stuffed grape leaf things...what are they called?
Oh yeah, dolma! I love those things!

I actually thought this one up all by myself; I'm so proud. Greek meets The South. After I thought it up and wondered if it would work, I found this annoying woman actually had sort of the same idea, but after watching her recipe - I like mine tons better.

The leaves are just de-ribbed collards that I submerged in a big pot of boiling water, salt, lemon juice and vinegar. After they had boiled for a few minutes I fished them out and put them in an ice bath.

The filling:
* Cooked brown rice. Medium grain would have been better, but I had long grain.
* Shredded chicken. I used the breasts for pounded lemon chicken last night, so this was the leftover parts; legs, thighs and wings just cooked in the crock pot for a few hours with some water until the meat was falling off the bone - about 3 hours.
* splash of lemon juice
* finely chopped walnuts. Pine nuts would have been better, but I had walnuts.
* a bit of garlic
* mint
* hint of allspice

Spoonful of filling in each leaf, rolled them out tight, then put them in a covered pan and heated them up with some chicken broth and lemon juice. Everything was already cooked, so I probably could have skipped this, but I had left the rice just a bit on the crunchy side, and I was waiting on another dish to finish, so what the heck.

Only thing I will do differently next time is to use lamb (the chicken was great, I just love lamb), and cook the collards a little bit more. I know I'm going to piss off some Greeks by saying this, but I actually liked the collards better than grape leaves; they had no hint of the 'slimy' texture I sometimes encounter with pickled grape leaves.

They were awesome, and this recipe is a winner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mashed potatoes and parsnips with horseradish

We had a beef roast for dinner last night. I had obtained a nice London Broil (top round) from my friend Roger, and as we usually do with beef roasts, I seasoned it with a rub of salt, pepper and herbs and parked it in the fridge overnight, to be roasted in our Ronco rotisserie.

For herbage I keep it pretty simple; rosemary and generic "Italian seasoning" which is usually some combination of marjoram, basil, thyme and oregano.

Someday I'm going to have my very own rosemary plant, but for now I used the dried.

I had picked up some parsnips at the farmer's market with the thought of using them in mashed potatoes, and this seemed like the perfect time - but then inspiration hit. I love, love, love horseradish; especially with rare roast beef. I had purchased a bottle of Harris Teeter branded prepared horseradish a few weeks ago that was particularly wimpy, and I was looking to get rid of it - so I told Jen to use it in the parsnip/potatoes. The combination was really excellent; this is my new favorite side dish for roast beef.

Rainbow cake

What can you do with a box of cake mix and a whole lot of food coloring?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The farmer's market had no leeks this week.

They are supposed to be in season, but I checked every vendor at the farmer's market; no leeks to be found. Some of them hadn't even heard of leeks. And without leeks, I couldn't make potato leak soup, so I ended up in Whole Foods.

I wonder if they just don't grow here?

I used this video as a guide. There were many on YouTube, but this one seemed closest to my style. I used 3 russet potatoes, whereas there are only 2 in the clip. I ended up adding salt at the end, and my broth wasn't even a low-sodium variety. I forgot how much salt potatoes need.

Anyway, it was excellent.

Tomorrow - mashed potatoes and parsnips with horseradish; I can't wait.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Making my own sauerkraut, and gratin potatoes

Last weekend I started a batch of sauerkraut, and yesterday we ate it with dinner.

It was my first attempted at fermenting kraut, and the results were certainly edible, but not outstanding. To be honest I'd prefer grocery store kraut out of a bag to that batch.

I'm not giving up, I learned some things and will do it a little bit different next time. For one thing I'll use less salt.

The side dish that I made to go with the sauerkraut turned out absolutely fantastic though; so I'm very happy about that. I made a potato gratin, with Yukon gold potatoes that, quite frankly, had one foot in the compost heap. Once they were peeled though they seemed OK, smelled nice - so I gave it a go. Slice them thin with a mandoline or V-slicer, and layer them in a buttered casserole dish. I used thin mushroom slices and grated Parmesan cheese, with a bit of cheddar and some grated mozzarella that I had to use up. Then about 3 or 4 ounces of heavy cream and into the oven for 45 minutes covered with foil. I switched the over to broil, took off the foil and gave it another 10 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes and you're ready to serve.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election results

Despite my vote, incumbent North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler successfully defended his seat from opponent Ronnie Ansley this election; although it was a fairly close call at 52% to 48%.

It wasn’t that I was really excited about Ansley; this is his 4th election running for different positions, and he’s a lawyer when he’s not running for something. He had a booth up at the North Carolina State Fair this year, and I stopped to talk a bit. I didn't know what he looked like at that point, so I mistakenly assumed I was about to talk to Mister Ansley himself, but then I saw his picture on a flier and realized that the both was being manned by a volunteer. So I spoke to the volunteer who kept telling me the Ronnie had lots of great ideas, but had trouble explaining them to me, and he also knew very little about the raw milk debate. Oh well.

Troxler is a former farmer, so he’s got that going for him, and the State Farmer’s market is his oversight, and I’ve never seen a better one – so what’s my problem with him?

He lists “Helping agribusiness” as one of his job priorities. Who do you think needs more help; a young farmer trying to run a sustainable farm in this economy or Monsanto and Arthur Daniels Midland? He’s never talked about the environmental impact of CAFO operations in this state. In short - he seems to be a real friend to agribusiness.

So – the results are in, and Steve kept his job. ‘If you can’t beat ‘em; try to get to know them’ is going to be my mantra for Steve. I’m going to try to make it a priority of mine to get to know Mister Troxler and get his opinions on these issues that are important to me. After all, he does supposedly work for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Easy cheese

Would you believe me if I told you that you could make really yummy cheese right now with stuff that you probably have in your refrigerator?

Do you have some milk, an acid (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, vitamin C?) and some seasonings? Do you have an old t-shirt? Then you're ready. Seriously!

What does it taste like? Sort of like a mix between Boursin and cream cheese. It's really good on warm bead.

I'd been wanting to try making mozzarella, but for that you need 2 things that are not found in the typical kitchen, a mozzarella culture and rennet. So I figured that one of these days I would have to try that, and I sort of put the whole idea on the back burner.

Then a few days ago I made a really excellent sweet potato curry, and it got me thinking about some other Indian dishes I enjoy, and I was looking up something to try when I came across a post talking about how easy it was to make paneer. Paneer is the cubed, white cheese often found in some Indian dishes. Reading the recipe, I discovered that I could make it with nothing more than some sort of acid to curdle the milk. Score!

So I tried it; and it was really good. My Indian dish didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but the cheese part was good; and I took the extra cheese and spiced it with garlic powder, salt and chives and let it sit a day in the fridge. We spread that over warm flatbread and I'll tell you what, I could eat that all day long. It would be killer on bagels too.

Is it really easy? Totally easy!

Take a half gallon of whole milk, put it in a pot and heat it over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Slowly pour in your acid. I used vitamin C granules; but you could use lemon or lime juice - I even saw one recipe that used buttermilk. Immediately the milk will start to curdle. I know what you're thinking - why am I spoiling perfectly good milk? You'll just have to trust me, almost all cheese starts this way. How will you know when you've added enough? The whey will be almost clear. It doesn't take much; 3 pinches of my powdered vitamin C. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then line a colander with cheese cloth if you have it, or a t-shirt or bandanna or something like that if you don't. Pour it out, then rinse the curds with cold water for a few minutes, to both wash off the acid and cool them down. Then gather up your ball of curds and squeeze all the liquid out of it that you can. Set a weight of some sort on top of it and park it in the fridge for half an hour. Pour off any liquid that collects and you're about ready to go.

Mine was pretty crumbly at this point, so I kneaded it with just a tiny bit of flour, and let it rest in the fridge for another hour and it seemed to firm up quite a bit. It's ready to eat as is, or you can season it. Chives, salt and garlic powder worked great for me, but it's really a blank slate - go nuts. Nuts? Mmmm, chopped walnuts and honey! That's what I'm going to make tonight.

Edit - made the honey walnut version; it's excellent. This is the yield from about 1/3 of a gallon of whole milk by the way.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pastured meat - why it matters to me.

Why do I pay a lot more for pastured meat? What's the big deal?

There are a couple of reasons - but this is the big one.

"Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond."

Lovely, no? That's just the tip of the iceberg. Read the whole article if you can. I couldn't take it in one sitting.

After you've read as much as you can of that article, read this one for a breath of fresh air. Things should be much less confusing.

Happy Halloween; pizza, bird's nests and beef stroganoff

Happy Halloween! I made pizza; it was decent.

Just made this one with bread flour as I haven't had a chance to get to Randy's for some of the good stuff yet.

I forgot to take pictures of another dish I made this week; beef stroganoff. A very simple recipe, but it turned out really nice. I served it over wide egg noodles, but that wasn't the original plan. Initially I was going to serve it in sweet potato bird's nests. I had never made them before, and didn't bother to even look them up to see how they were made; I just guessed. (Thus the egg noodles; I was smart enough to know I'd better have a 'Plan B' - as it turned out, good thinking.) Well, it turns out I guessed wrong - but results were tasty anyway. I shredded the white sweet potatoes with a standard box grater, but they wouldn't form any cohesive mass. I thought perhaps an egg would help. To the resulting mix I also added a bit of nutmeg. The egg did help, but still not enough to really hold any shape, and I could barely get them into the deep fryer. They turned out sort of like potato pancakes. They were delicious and crunchy, but I really wondered how they were supposed to be made. As it turns out - there's a tool just for that. So now I need to make one of those using off the shelf parts.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I always wondered why God made sweet potatoes.

I've never liked sweet potatoes. They've got a cloying sweetness that I find repulsive, sort of reminiscent of overcooked carrots. But the farmer's market is absolutely flooded with them; I mean they are everywhere - cheap, abundant and fresh - I had to find a way to eat them.

I posted this problem on a cooking forum that I frequent, and the very first response turned out to be the best - make a curry.

What a great idea; and man, I have to say, it was really, really good. Second attempt at home made naan bread wasn't bad either.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pizza, pickles and tomato sauce this weekend.

MS08-067 really ruined my weekend. Instead of doing all the things I wanted to get done, I sat in front of my laptop screen trying to coordinate chaos.

I did manage to get a few things in though. While I haven't made it up to Pizza Dave's to get some high-protein flour yet, I did go to Target and get a container. In the meantime I did make a pizza dough using bread flour, and it turned out really well. Of all the things I cook, pizza dough is really one of the more difficult ones. I make it hard on myself by never measuring, but if I had to give one critical piece of advice it would be 'don't work with cold dough'. I like slow rise pizza crust, but you've got to give it plenty of time to get up to room temperature before you start stretching it.

No one could complain about the freshness of the pizza sauce; I was busy turning a 25 pound box of tomatoes into what will most likely be the last tomato sauce of the season. I wish we had a standing freezer, but I think we'll have enough to make a tomato sauce dish every other week through winter. The box of tomatoes set me back $6, so what are you gonna do? Made an excellent sauce, really - I think Jennie likes this one even better than the Roma sauce, and that one was a damned good sauce.

Then lastly, I made a bunch of tiny cucumbers into refrigerator pickles. Followed AB's recipe pretty closely, only I didn't have any celery seed, and I added red pepper flake. I'll let you know how those turn out in a few days.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Butternut squash risotto and roasting peanuts

I've gotten much better with my risotto technique. Really, if there's a single trick to it; it's knowing when it's done. That comes with practice, and I've been nailing it pretty well. (My first ones were underdone because I was so scared of it turning to mush.)

Butternut squash is in season and all over the farmer's market. Jen had made it into a soup twice over the past month (sort of, the first one was actually made with acorn squash because I didn't know the difference and picked up the wrong kind) so I was looking to try something different. It seemed a no brainer to combine the squash's fall flavors with my new risotto skills - so that's what I did.

Turned out great! Roasted the squash pieces with cloves, cinnamon and ginger, then through my food mill. Made the risotto as normal, just added the squash puree near the end.

Also at the farmer's market this week; raw peanuts. I picked up about a pound and a half just to try roasting them. I was told to boil them in salt water first, which I did, but they need more salt. Not sure if I should increase the salt concentration or the boiling time to accomplish that. They're still good, but not incredibly different than their commercial counterparts.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Update - High protein flour - it's all who you know...

So my friend Pizza Dave says he'll hook me up with some of his high protein flour. He uses Pilsbury instead of King Arthur; but for my purposes that should be fine.

I went to his excellent pizza joint for lunch yesterday. He recently expanded his dining area, and I hadn't seen it during a lunch rush, wondered if he was filling it up. Wow, was he ever - the place was packed. I got there late for lunch, about 12:30 and there was a nice line and almost no free tables. It was good to see in this scary economy, because he's such a good guy. Anyone who works as hard as he does - good things are going to come his way, but I'm very glad to see that his expansion paid off.

So I want to get at least 7 or 8 pounds of flour from him, and I don't have anything really good to transport/store it in at the moment, but I'll try to take care of that over the weekend and then go see him and get it filled up!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

High protein flour - my Holy Grail

I need to get my hands on some high protein flour. By many accounts, one of the best is Sir Lancelot, by King Arthur flour.

It's protein level is 14.2%, and it's just the thing for chewy bagels and pizza crusts. The problem is that I can't buy it at any of my local grocery stores; Harris Teeter, Kroger, Food Lion, Earth Faire - they've all failed me. I've had to make do with King Arthur bread flour, which comes in at 12.8% protein.

I could order it on-line from King Arthur, but it's very expensive; 3 pounds for $7 before shipping. ($2.33/lb) Another option would be purchasing a 50 bag from a wholesaler, I found this one that's $37 ($0.74 /lb) before shipping but that's a LOT of flour, even for me, and I don't really have a good place to store it. I might be able to find someone to split a bag with over ont he City-data forums, but that's a whole different hassle.

So today at lunch, since I don't have any leftovers from last night AND I have a full punch card from Randy's Pizza; I'm going to go see Pizza Dave, my friend and owner of that Randy's, and see what he uses for flour and see if I can buy some from him.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cows fed ethanol by product more likely to be infected with E. coli

More bad news for corn based ethanol; a new study by the USDA says that distiller's grain; a by product of ethanol production that is used to make cattle feed, increases E. coli levels in their guts by "significant levels" compared to cows that just ate plain corn. (which is also terrible for them)

Wow, that's shocking - who would have thunk it?

Next you'll tell me that if I went out to my yard and ate the grass for dinner that I might have trouble digesting it. Because I'm not a cow.

When are we going to get this through our thick skulls? Cows should eat pasture whenever possible.

Follow up on the UNC FLO students and Smithfield

I was very interested to see if I could find any more news regarding my previous post about the UNC students that were trying to get alternatives to Smithfield products in their dining halls, as I was too busy to research it yesterday.

I did find an excellent article; here's the real highlight for me:

Grass-fed burgers are now served in the Carolina Kitchen kiosk in Lenoir Dining Hall. At $3.99 for a quarter-pound burger, the grass-fed option is a dollar more than a conventional burger—yet, it outsold its conventional counterpart in its first month.

"People pay more if they think that value is there. The health benefits outweigh the price issue," says Skip Herrod, UNC's food service director. He handed out samples at UNC's Focus the Nation event on Jan. 31.

Rich in flavor and moist without a fatty taste, the beef was a hit among samplers.


I really encourage you to read the whole article, there's also a lot of great news coming out of Duke University:

In addition to providing nutritious food, the program supports a thriving local community as well as greatly reduces food miles, resulting in decreased global warming, air pollution, water contamination, traffic congestion and the need for oil. Bon Appetit purchases 16.5 percent of its food from local farmers, and Duke chefs create menus based on seasonality to capitalize on the availability of local products.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Students smack down Smithfield

Sometimes I find the most fascinating stories completely by accident. I'm not even sure how I found this; I think I was searching for data on the number of hog CAFO operations that call North Carolina home.

Anyway - this is old news from back in March of this year. I hadn't even started blogging about food yet, and come to think of it, that was before I read Fast Food Nation and Omnivore's Dilemma, so it probably wouldn't have even sparked my interest.

A group of students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a look around at some of the smaller, pasture raised meat produced by small farmers in the neighborhood, and decided to get some into the dining hall. The dining hall is run by CDS (Campus Dining Services). CDS sat down with the students, but there was, as they say, a 'failure to communicate'. CDS had Smithfield listed as a "sustainable" operation because of their proximity to campus. Never mind the environmental disaster and disgusting conditions at Smithfiled CAFO's.

Smithfield runs the world's largest hog processing facility - according to the article that means 32,000 hogs per day. Some former workers and neighbors were invited to talk about the conditions.

"Duplin resident Devon Hall testified to the horror of living close to knock-you-over stench and toxic hog waste. Smithfield workers including Marvin Steele told of the pork giant's abysmal disregard for worker safety and ruthless, ongoing union-busting effort.

While these speakers delivered devastating indictments against industrial meat production, two others offered a different vision for pork: Eliza MacClean, owner-farmer of above-mentioned Cane Creek Farm; and Jennifer Curtis, of NC Choices, a group trying to break down market obstacles to pastured hog production in an area dominated by Smithfield.

Several hundred students packed the hall, engaged and ready to take action."

No word on the outcome, but good to see a younger generation taking an interest in these issues.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

NC State Fair - Food report

Just got home from the North Carolina State Fair. If you read this blog much you know I do try to avoid processed foods, and eat local, whole foods when I can, right?

Yeah, all that pretty much goes out the window for fair food. Saving the world is great, but so is a fresh corn dog if you know what I mean....

We got there pretty early and I was lucky to see some of the food vendors getting ready for their day - one of note, the "Roasted Corn" guys; all of them seemed to be using the same source for their corn, and I took note of where it was coming from, it was on every box: Salinas Valley, CA.

If that name sounds familiar, it has been the source of several large profile E. coli outbreaks. I wasn't so much worried about E. coli in the corn as much as I was about the length of the trip from California to North Carolina. Thank you, slow food movement for teaching me to look for such things. See, it wasn't all in vain, even for fair food - we skipped the corn. That will be the last sacrafice of the day, however....

Overall I would say the food was a let down with 2 exceptions.

The funnel cake I should have taken back for a fresh one. I would have, but I thought if I did and got one right out of the oil that it would have been too hot for my daughter - but in hindsight it still would have been better. Shame on the vendor for giving it to me, shame on me for accepting it.

The fried vegetables were just OK; I make them much better - but I learned from the master. My mom has been going to the same fried vegetable stand at the Ohio State Fair for years, and about 3 or 4 years ago I watched the guy make them and stole his secret.

That's twice I've learned how to make carnival food by just watching and taking mental notes - fried veggies and Kettle corn. Oh, and speaking of Kettle Corn; the guy I learned from earlier this year was at the fair! I almost felt bad for him because he was doing much better business this spring where I first saw him; some sort of art festival in Cary.

The french fries were decent; everything I want out of Fair Fries (wicked hot, salty, with plenty of malt vinegar) but nothing above it.

The winners:

A fresh churned, still soft - like home made, ice cream place that we saw by the Grist Mill exhibit at gate 8. The machines were being cranked by little steam engines. 2 flavors; vanilla and strawberry. We got the vanilla, and it was very nice. I'll say it - better than the dairy barn ice cream at the Ohio State fair.

And lastly, a corn dog from a random midway vendor. Damn I love a corn dog.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One step closer to dry aged beef

As I posted awhile back, I really want to try my hand at dry aging a beef loin primal this winter.

It's tricky business; dry aging. No one really wants to talk about instructions on line, for much the same reasons you won't find too many discussions on building your own parachute - it's a hell of a liability. When you get down to it, you're doing a controlled rot. You need the right temperature and humidity levels. You need to be careful for insects. You have to try not to give yourself food poisoning.

So why even try? For the same reason the world's best steakhouses do it; the resulting beef is amazingly tender and flavorful. Tender because enzymes have started breaking it down, flavorful because it loses so much water. And of course, to say I've done it.

I asked my beef guy, told him this wouldn't be a regular thing, just a one time deal. He was completely confused and began showing me some large roasts from his cooler. I had to stop him and explain that they wouldn't work; that I needed something at least 10 pounds and fresh - not frozen. I explained that I would meet him at the processor with my cooler full of ice.

He pondered it for awhile; thought about the ways he might get in trouble, and then said he could do it, as a one time thing for me.

I said that it would probably be in February, and that I would be in touch.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Signed up for a chicken CSA

I went to the Carrboro farmer's market 2 weeks ago, and while purchasing a chicken, in talking with this particular farmer came to find out that they were opening a fall CSA for chickens.

If you don't know what a CSA is; it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. There are different kinds with different requirements. At their most simple, like this one, you pay for a "share" and then you get something (in this case, chickens) in return at some point in the future.

I had wanted to sign up for a vegetable CSA, but missed the season. You have to sign up early as they fill up quickly.

I had been getting my chickens from another farm at the Raleigh market, and they were both excellent chickens, but these will end up being a bit more affordable, and the pickup location is the Durham market, so it's nice and close. I'll still buy eggs, bacon and sausage from this farm when I'm at the Raleigh market. The plan is to rotate each week between the Raleigh and Durham markets.

I don't know how big they'll end up being, I read somewhere that the limit for slaughter was 4 pounds. With a large chicken we're able to get 3 meals out of them; breast meat for either stir fry, or something pounded like lemon chicken, then the rest of the meat for BBQ or a bastardized catchatorie in the slow cooker and finally a stock out of the carcass that becomes noodle or vegetable soup.

Other than getting really delicious chicken, and supporting small, local agriculture, the other benefit is not having to worry if the chickens are being de-beaked. This farm uses floorless coops that are moved to new pasture daily, and are free to eat insects, worms, grass, frogs, mice, clover or the antibiotic free, animal-by-product-free grain feed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Got Milk?

I learned a bunch of things about milk this week. Most of it somewhat terrifying.

First on deck; in my new home state, North Carolina there an underground community, covert black markets, dark of night back alley dealings in contraband...

Am I talking about something cool like medical marijuana?

Nope. Milk. OK, not just any old milk - raw milk. Unpasteurized, inhomogeneous milk.

Apparently it's illegal to sell raw milk in North Carolina for human consumption. There's a "pet" loophole though. You can buy raw milk to feed your "cat". And there are quite a few folks doing just that.

I've listened to both sides of the argument, and will sum them up:

Pro raw milk:
Real, living milk full of enzymes and helpful bacteria that tastes incredible and can cure everything from asthma to allergies. Pasteurization was introduced in a time when food purity was a joke in this country, and was intended to be a stopgap measure until dairies could be cleaned up, but there were big profits to be had for large dairies and grocery stores because the product now lasted longer and could travel great distances.

Anti raw milk:
There no inspection, regulation, and you'll get listeria, campylobacter or e.coli 0157:H7 and die.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it yet, but I can tell you this much - now I'm 100% determined to get my hands on some. For my pet.

Quite frankly, I see more than a few parallels between pasteurization and irradiation.

Next - Monsanto has decided to sell off it's synthetic hormone rBGH (Posilac) to Eli Lilly for 300 million. I guess they finally got tired of trying to sue everyone who wanted to let consumers know that some milk wasn't produced using artificial hormones.

And Monsanto is trying very hard to be the most evil company in the world.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cream of Cop Out

I'm totally convinced that if we were able to track what happens to cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup when they leave the store, that fewer than 10% are ever actually made into soup.

Green bean caserole. Chicken bake. Chicken with creamy rice....this is the destiny for all those've got a recipe, don't deny it. Every one of you reading this has there's a can of Cream of Something in your pantry right now.

And deep down you know that no good can come from opening a can of the stuff, but you do it anyway.

It's time to stop. It's time for me to open a can of Cream of Intervention on you ass.

Very slowly, keep your hands where I can see them and drop the can opener.

There are 2 ways to go about making "Cream of" soups; adding cream to a regular soup works pretty well if you like a thinner texture. Here's a decent Cream of Asparagus soup recipe that uses this technique.

If you're going for something a little more hearty, like the Campbell's cans, then a bechamel sauce is what you need.

Melt a hunk of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add a little flour. Keep it moving with a wire whisk. This part take a little practice; getting the butter to flour ratio right. I figure you can always add more flour, but taking it away isn't so easy. You're going for a thick sauce texture. It will be a pale yellow at first. What you've made right there is called a roux. (Roo)

Roux is the foundation for a lot of great food, so you should absolutely know how to do this. It is a thickener, but also a flavoring; a foundation. You're halfway to gumbo and etoufee already!

When you first add the flour to the butter and begin whisking, your roux is going to taste very floury and starchy. You need to cook that flavor out. As it cooks, the roux will take on a darker tone. As it darkens, the flavors get deeper and nuttier, but the thickening power is reduced.

For the sauce we're making, a blond roux is fine; but you should experiment; take a roux to peanut better color. See how dark you can get a roux before it burns. It's good to know these things, get a feel for them and practice is cheap.

Back to our sauce. We've got a blond roux, just cooked enough to have cooked out the flour flavor. Meawhile, cook up a few cups of milk. You want it almost boiling. If you put cold milk in a hot roux very bad things happen, and there's no recovery. When the milk is hot, very slowly whisk it in with your roux. Congratulations - it's a bechamel sauce!

Now lets go back a few steps. What would happen if we sauteed some chopped mushrooms in butter, and then added flour to that, and made a roux out of it, then added the hot milk and some heavy cream? What would we have then?

You'd have cream of mushroom soup. Use that in your green bean casserole and taste the difference. You may never buy a can of Cream of Anything again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My bagels kick ass

I made bagels today, and they came out awesome. Why didn't I try this years ago?

  1. 3 tips for kick-ass bagels:
    High protein flour
  2. Knead it forever
  3. Boil for at least 5 minutes per side

They are to die for, and except for the kneading, are really very simple.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shocking! HFCS studies were paid for guessed it!

CBS News reports that the some of the nutritional studies cited in the recent ads for high fructose corn syrup were in fact paid for by companies with a financial stake in the outcome.

"Of the six studies CBS News looked at on the association’s Web site that “Confirm High Fructose Corn Syrup [is] No Different From Sugar,” three were sponsored by groups that stand to profit from research that promotes HFCS.

Oh, hey - Philip Morris called, and they just sponsored a study that says cigarettes are not addictive, and in fact are quite good for you.

Can finances really impact scientific test results??? Is it possible?

Last year, research from the Children’s Hospital Boston suggested that nutrition research, like medical and tobacco research, can be influenced when industry funds the studies. It showed that when studies were sponsored exclusively by food/drinks companies, the conclusions were four to eight times more likely to be favorable to the sponsoring company.

Shocking!!! You mean, that industrial giants might be more interested in profits than our health? Say it ain't so!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chicken and dumplings

So today was a very strange day, but better than last night.

3 year olds and emergency rooms are a combination I don't like one bit. My daughter was very sick this week and ended up in the hospital. There were some intense moments that I don't care to describe here, but the good news is that she's fully recovered. The bad news is that she'll be there for a few days, and Momma will too.

I had been planning a big family dinner of chicken and dumplings, and had made an amazing chicken stock over the weekend just for it. I didn't freeze it because I was going to use it - but then all this happened and I knew I had to make it or throw the stock away, so I made the chicken and dumplings by myself, and so far I'm the only one who has eaten any of it.

But don't feel too sorry for me yet, because OMG the stuff rocks. Turns out I make damn fine chicken and dumplings, and I've never even done it before. But first, full disclosure - I did cheat; I used frozen dumplings. I know, it's sad - and I promise next time I will try to make the dumplings from scratch too. (Ingredients: water, flour - how hard can it be?)

You see - this all started last week. I had a powerful craving for chicken and dumplings from Hog Heaven, which is a spectacular hole in the wall BBQ place in Durham. I'd had it once before, and it's just awesome, my first experience with 'southern' chicken and dumplings (More about that later). Anyway, I talked my wife and daughter into going there last weekend. I drove with visions of chicken and dumplings in my head, walked in the door almost drooling with the anticipation of the chicken and dumplings I was about to have, placed my order....and they were OUT of chicken and dumplings. OUT! Out?? What??! Is this a sick joke? Nope. Someone had come by earlier and cleaned them out.

Defeated, depressed and dejected I "settled" for BBQ (which was awesome). I never sated that craving - and when I get a craving - something has to be done...time to take matters into my own hands.

Really not hard; (especially if you cheat with the dumplings) but time consuming. Especially making the stock from the chicken carcass, which I highly, highly recommend.

Oh yeah, also - by the way, this is southern chicken and dumplings - which is very different than the "C&D" that I grew up with. For example; I'm used to 'drop' dumplings. Not here - they are more like flat noodles, like non-ruffle edged lasagna noodles. And there's nothing else in it (besides seasonings of course) just chicken and dumplings. No carrots, no celery, nada - chicken and dumplings. Simple. Simply awesome.

The C&D from my youth was more like pot pie filling; creamier, like there might be some milk in it, and always with carrots, maybe some celery and peas. I like both a lot, but if pressed to choose one, the southern variety is probably my favorite for it's simplicity and flavor.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One last E.coli outbreak for the summer

Watch out for bagged lettuce:

"SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Dr. Damon T. Arnold, Director for the Illinois Department of Public Health is warning Illinoisans about iceberg lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid’s Produce Company. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has identified Aunt Mid’s Produce Company as the distributor of iceberg lettuce consumed by six Illinois residents during late August to mid-September who have been diagnosed with E coli 0157."

Of course, I don't know about you, but I've never seen this band in stores, and from the description of the 'industrial sized' bags they are probably destined for Food service. The outbreaks have been mostly in Michigan.

Nothing so far linking this to supermarket lettuce, but all the same I'm glad I get my lettuce at the farmer's market.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Slow Greek Fast Food

As you know, I went to the Carrboro Farmer's Market this morning; and I picked up a pound of ground lamb that I wasn't sure what I was going to do with.

As I had a long drive home, I thought about trying my hand at one of my favorite pseudo-Greek foods; gyros. I knew I had seen my man Alton Brown do a Good Eats episode about them, but I couldn't remember much about it.

Some gyro recipes I saw called for beef and lamb, or pork and lamb - I just kept it simple - just the ground lamb. I actually followed Alton's recipe for the meat near verbatim....spiced it fairly heavily with garlic, majoram and rosemary. The whole mix went in the food processor until it was a paste. I rolled it out and squeezed it tight with plastic wrap.

For the tzatziki sauce I strained the yogurt over a tea towel clipped to a bowl and let it drain for a few hours. The resulting thick yogurt was mixed with chopped cucumbers, garlic, olive oil and a little vinegar.

The meat was a major pain in the rear. I have a Ronco rotisserie that normally works pretty well, but I don't have the 'cage' accessory. I needed something to bind up the meat while it cooked. I tried improvising with wire, but it wasn't working. After that I formed it into a loaf and tried to broil it, only to find my oven's broiler is dead. Finally I broiled it with a propane torch that I had purchased awhile back to fix some plumbing issues at the old house. (:D NEVER give up!) After I got a nice char on the outside, I finished it in the oven, which by now was pre-heated.

I gotta say, it turned out really well for all the trouble. The flavor was spot-on, majoram works a lot better than oregano I think, and the rosemary is really nice too. The texture was a little off with a tendency to crumble more than slice, but not bad at all. Jennie really liked it and Lucy ate it without being asked.

Are you going to Carrboro Fair?

Finally made it up to the Carrboro Farmer's Market today. It's just about as far as the Raleigh Market, but in the opposite direction, and I went to both, so it took most of the morning.

It's a really nice market, lots of vendors and lots of support. Parking might have been an issue, but I got lucky.

There weren't any big surprises, just a nice sized farmer's market. More than one vendor selling beef and lamb, quite a few pastured pig vendors. I picked up a chicken from this farm, and in talking to the farmer found out that she's doing a chicken CSA, and they have pickup at the Durham market, so I'm going to sign up for that.

I wanted to talk to Roger about getting a fresh beef loin primal for dry aging, but he was with a customer. His wife wasn't sure if his USDA license would allow for that or not, she's supposed to get back to me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

USDA caught in bed with agribusiness

Out of sunny California comes word today that a federal judge has ordered the USDA to stop spending money to buy ads to defeat a state ballot measure that would ban cramped cages for chickens and other farm animals.

I love this part:

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 13, sponsors of Prop. 2 said the American Egg Board voted to spend $3 million against the ballot measure at a November meeting in Napa. The board is a government-supervised group of 18 egg producers that uses fees from the industry to research and promote egg products.

The USDA assured Prop. 2 sponsors that no such expenditures were planned, the suit said, but documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act confirmed the egg board's plans. Government records also showed that Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaefer had approved the spending and endorsed the advertising, the plaintiffs said.

Ohhh, you mean THAT $3 million expenditure...with my signature on it.

Real nice. Now, while finding the USDA in bed with agribusiness doesn't even shock me anymore, I would like to talk about Prop 2. Is it really a good idea?

You know I hate CAFO operations, you know I'm all for treating the animals we eat with respect; but we're talking about legislation here. It's the wrong way to go about it; like using radiation to sterilize meat instead of trying to keep shit off it in the first place.

With legislation like this, how is it going to be enforced? Who's going to keep all the records? Will it actually force egg producers out of the state?

I would much rather have seen the efforts to get legislation like this passed instead used to educate consumers about what CAFO's do to the environment; how the animals are treated - and show people that there are alternatives and to let consumers have the choice.

There are people that don't care at all if a chicken is kept in a shoebox with it's beak cut off, unable to stand for it's short lifetime; if it means cheaper eggs and 99 cent KFC snackers, then so be it! I think they are idiots, but they exist.

But I also think those people are a minority. If given unbiased information and choices, I do believe people are smarter than they're often given credit for.

VH1 Rock Honors: The Who

I caught the VH1 Rock Honors: The Who concert the other night. I think it was from last year.

I didn't care much for Incubus' set (although I like the band) nor do I 'get' Flaming Lips, but Pearl Jam did a really nice job, and Adam Sandler did a decently amusing intro for the guests of honor and his HIWATT half stack sounded great - really growly.

The Who opened with Baba O'Riley. Not bad at all for some guys in their 60's! Pete was windmilling, jumping around - playing Stratocasters through Fender Vibro Kings, which surprised me. I haven't followed his equipment much over the years, but of course knew he was responsible for the iconic Marshall stack, so I just figured that's what he'd be playing. His Strats (he only used 2 that I could tell) all have an extra knob behind the tailpiece, not sure what that's for.

Roger's voice wasn't in the greatest form, but it wasn't embarrassing. VH1's stage show was horrible. Hey VH1 - you are a visual medium. Blinding, flashing lights on the stage make it impossible to see jack squat. What was the point? Stop it!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Microwave popcorn sucks

When did it happen? Someone please tell me - when did microwave popcorn become the default way that we make popcorn?

Boy did we take a bad turn with that one.

Home made popcorn is awesome, cheap, and good for you. It takes maybe 6 minutes - it's not like you're making a risotto. I'm begging you; drop the bag of Act II and step away from the microwave. If you can shake a pan over a burner you can make beter, cheaper, more healthful popcorn that will taste so good that you might not ever eat the microwave stuff again.

You need popcorn, oil, a pot and salt. I'll break it down by component:

Popcorn: I use the store brand, bagged kind and keep it an an empty Orville Reddenbacher jar. The jar is nicer then a bag for keeping popciorn fresh.

Oil: I'm going to start off right here and say that I make popcorn in coconut oil. Why? Because I've tried the others and coconut tastes best. That said, just about ANY oil you happen to have in your cupboard will work. Even olive oil. Corn oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, rapeseed oil - whatever - it'll work.

Pot: I use a wok to make mine, but just about any large pot with a lid will work too. A rounded, heavy bottom would be ideal. The lid should have at least one vent.

Salt: I use Flavacol, which is an artificial butter flavored salt. It's got that 'movie theater' taste. If you're not into artificial flavor, Pickling salt is excellent to use because the crystals are so much smaller than table salt.

Get the pot on medium high, pour in about 2 tablespoons of oil. When the oil starts to ripple, add about 3 tablespoons of unpopped corn. You want all the kernels to have good oil contact, but don't want them drowning. I add the salt at this phase too. Put on a lid and start shaking.

It'll take 2 or 3 minutes before you begin to hear popping. When it starts slowing down, kill the heat, keep shaking, and let caryover pop the last ones. Quickly dump your corn into a large bowl.

If your pot's lid didn't have good ventilation, your popcorn might be a little bit chewy. This can be fixed. Put the popcorn in an oven-safe metal bowl and put it in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and it'll crisp right up.

I'm making risotto tonight

I'm really psyched ; going to try my hand at risotto.

I've watched about half a dozen tutorials and read dozens of articles on the subject, so I'm fairly confident, and I'm keeping it simple. Just a mushroom risotto.

I found arborio rice by the pound in a self-serve tube at Earth Fare for $2.49 a pound. If it works out well, I might try to find a cheaper mail order supplier.

***3 hours later***

No one told me how long it takes! I think there was some serious time lapse going on in the video footage I saw. I guess that makes sense - it would be really boring to watch someone stir for 20 minutes. Actually, maybe even longer, about 23 I think is where it ended up taking.

Also; I knew I would need a pot of hot liquid, but I hadn't realized how much. Count on at least 10 ounces per serving, probably more. I used canned beef broth - and you should use the low sodium variety. With typical store broth you'll end up way too salty by the time 2 cans of the stuff have condensed.

But it was a success and I'm looking forward to trying it again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fondue for small gatherings

When was the last time you had folks over for fondue? Odds are it's been way too long.

And why is that? It's such a great match to small gatherings. It's fun, encourages conversation, and even bad fondue is pretty good. The only downside I can see is that some of the really good fondue cheeses are very expensive, but there are always alternatives for those with some creativity.

You don't even need a fondue set if you're really casual about it - a couple small pots over low heat and some bamboo skewers would work almost as well.

I recently had a small gathering with 4 pots; I made the oil/meat pot and the cheese/bread pot - our guests were fabulous enough to bring 2 chocolate pots with an over-the-top collection of dippings.

For the meat; couldn't be easier. Chunks of chicken, pre-skewered, white meat on one side of the dish, dark meat on the other. Chunks of beef, some NY strips I had handy. Lastly, some fresh local shrimp. They were big enough that I cut them in half. Cleaned, shelled and de-veined, of course.

Resist the temptation to put 2 pieces of meat per skewer. You won't be able to heat more than a few inches of oil in the pot to the needed temperature, so you've got to make sure the meat stays submerged.

The cheese was a little disappointing. I'm having trouble with it breaking. I'm not sure if that's because I'm doing it too hot, or not hot enough. I used an acid (a sauvignon blanc) and some cornstarch in the cheese, as suggested by my man Alton Brown, and it started out OK, but then it got a bit grainy. But guess what? Still yummy.

And the chocolate that our guests brought? 2 varieties; milk chocolate and white chocolate. I'm not a fan of white chocolate, but I have to say, this one, heavy on the vanilla - was really good. Especially on Oreos and pretzel rods.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

No knead Dutch Oven Bread a big hit at my house

I got a Dutch Oven because cast iron rocks, and I wanted to try my hand and real baked beans.

But as is the case with a new kitchen toy, I had to find some other uses for it.

Last year I got on a pizza dough kick, and was making it every weekend. I learned a lot about the process, and one of the things that I learned was that I really hate kneading, (I'll come back to that) and that I want to void the warranty on my oven (and probably my homeowners policy) by breaking the latch on my oven door so I can cook at 800 degrees using the cleaning cycle, but the wife thinks that's a very bad idea.

Back to kneading; I don't have a mixer. If you wanna get me one, that'd be great - but as of yet, any kneading I do has to be done by hand. I knew from pizza dough that kneading was one way to form gluten, but not the only way - you can also let time do the work for you if you're going for open crumb, chewy kinds of breads. So when I saw my man Alton Brown make a no-knead 'sourdough' (not really a sourdough at all) in his dutch oven I was intrigued.

I was searching for that recipe, in fact, when I stumbled on a very similar variation with a video.

Easy, cheesy, right? Well - yeah, pretty much. There's some things missing in the video that are important, like letting it sit for awhile after the loaf is formed, and I think Alton's temperature works better. But this recipe is very forgiving. I've let it ferment anywhere from 8 to 20 hours, used more and less water, used bread flour, AP flour and I eyeball salt and yeast. Always seems to make something edible.

I haven't found a way of doing it that doesn't make a mess in the kitchen, but that's a small price to pay for fresh bread that's this easy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I want to dry age beef in my garage this winter.

Next time I see my beef farmer, I'm going to ask him if I can work out an unusual request, something I've been thinking about for awhile now.

I want to purchase a whole short loin. The whole primal. No cuts, and not frozen. I'll drive to his butcher when he's there with his cows, find fatty one and take it home, still warm, on ice in my cooler.

I think the trouble will be with the USDA inspector. Maybe Roger is only allowed to sell frozen beef? I don't see why it would make a bit of difference.

Anyway, I'll have to do this in winter, because I want to try to hang it up my garage. Put some fans on it, keep it right around 40 degrees, watch the humidity, keep it there 2 weeks and then cut off the fat, rot, mold and dry patches and cut it into steaks...difficult without a band saw...hmmm...maybe a butcher could take it from there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup needs commercials?

My daughter likes applesauce.
I had purchased a food mill to make tomato sauce.
It's apple season.

Hopefully you can see where this is going...

So my wife and I spent a few hours 2 weeks ago making turning a box of apples into applesauce. It turned out really well. We even played around a bit with cinnamon in one batch, peaches in another.

In the past, we've always purchased applesauce from Aldi. We had some in the cupboard, so as we were working I picked up a container and read the ingredients. I jokingly told my wife "Oh no, we forgot to put High Fructose Corn Syrup in ours!"

She laughed and asked if I had seen the commercials. I was confused. Commercials for what? For High Fructose Corn Syrup. (HFCS) There are commercials? Yup.

I was in for a sweet surprise! Why would a product that I can't buy in the grocery store need a commercial? And why did these commercials have the same contrived feel as a political attack ad?

The first thing you should notice are the 'products' featured in the 2 commercials. Product 1 is some sort of kid's punch. Product 2 is a popsicle. Both of these things are "sweet", so you would maybe expect to find HFCS. Neither commercial talks about the hundreds of thousands of other products that contain HFCS. If you've got 30 minutes to kill, do this fun little activity. Go to your pantry, cupboards and refrigerator, and see how many of the foods contain HFCS. Go ahead, make 2 piles! What are you waiting for, you're not scared to look are ya? You're in for a sweet surprise.

Next, let's examine the dialouge: "....doesn't have artificial ingredients..."

It doesn't have artificial ingredients? How do you make HFCS? Can you make it at home? Sure! You just need to pick up a few ingredients first.

Production of high fructose corn syrup is a bit complex. Cornstarch originally contains very long chemical chains of pure glucose, which must first be broken down into shorter chains called polysaccharides. This is accomplished by adding an enzyme called alpha-amylase, which is derived from a bacteria.
Once the cornstarch has been broken down, a second enzyme called glucoamylase is added to the vat. Glucoamylase is derived from a fungus called Aspergillus. The continued fermentation converts the slurry into almost pure glucose.
The third step in the processing of high fructose corn syrup is the most expensive. An enzyme called glucose-isomerase is stored in tall columns and the glucose slurry is poured across the top of those columns. The enzyme converts the pure glucose into a combination of fructose and glucose, but not at the final percentages desired. A process called liquid chromatography essentially distills the syrup into 90% fructose. This concentrated fructose product is then blended back into the original mix to create the final 55% fructose, 45% glucose product called high fructose corn syrup.

Mmm, mmm, mmm - just like grandma used to make!

I also wonder exactly what constitutes an artificial ingredient. Is Plutonium a natural ingredient? How about Mercury? Both exist in nature. High fructose corn syrup can't even claim that.

I've been trying to read up on HFCS policy for awhile, and quite frankly I'm still confused as to if the FDA will allow manufacturers to use the phrase "all natural" for products that contain HFCS. The phrase was not used in either commercial.

A website called had this to say:

"In response to an enquiry from FoodNavigator, the US Food and Drink Administration (FDA) recently examined the composition and production process of HFCS.
"We would object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS", said the agency's Geraldine June in April."

That's was in April of 2008. Then...

"Last month, (June, 2008) however, a US federal judge rejected a claim by Stacy Holk, who filed the suit on behalf of herself and other consumers, that the use of the term 'all natural' on Snapple drinks was deceptive because the products contained HFCS.
The case was decided on preemption grounds, and the discrepancy arises from the lack of a clear definition of the term 'natural' from the FDA which leaves the matter open to different interpretations.
Judge Cooper said it was up to the FDA, not the court, to define 'natural'."

Hmmm. It seems the issue is still in contention, though:

...And Ivan Wasserman, an FDA and FTC compliance lawyer and partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, DC, commented: "I do not think that this will be seem as some kind of 'green light' for marketers (to call products with HFCS 'natural')."
"I think the decision, if anything, maintains the status quo. There has been no change in FDA's 'position', and there has been no court decision holding that it is, or is not, misleading to claim a product with HFCS is 'natural'.
So companies will continue to come to their own conclusion, and market their products accordingly."

So if you're concerned about HFCS intake, don't rely on "all natural" products to help you out - read the ingredients.

Is the stuff a poison? I don't believe so. Am I avoiding it when I can? You betcha.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hershey's: We just don't care anymore.

Hershey's, for as long as I can remember, has made pretty crappy chocolate.

Not as bad as the hollow Easter bunnies, or the waxy chocolate foil covered eggs, but certainly nothing to be proud of. Hershey's was like the Plymouth Reliant of the chocolate world.

Even as a youngster picking through Halloween loot, I knew Nestle Crunch kicked the tar out of Hershey's Krackel. Then I went to Switzerland, tasted some of their plain old milk chocolate and realized that Hershey's wasn't even in the same league. No, forget that, they weren't even playing the same game. I couldn't understand how someone who worked for Hershey's could manage to pull themselves out of bed to go make that crap.

Yet still, when push came to shove and it was time to make s'mores - did I turn Judas like my brother-in-law and get Nestle chocolate? No - like a fool I let myself be tugged by nostalgia for the American icon and bought Hershey bars.

Until one day about 5 years ago I noticed something strange. The wrapper. It used to be a brown sleeve with the logo that surrounded an inner, silver foil. No more. Now it was a single wrapper, fashioned to look like the classic wrapper. Ugly Susie didn't even get a pretty dress anymore.

It was the last straw for me, but I was still saddened to see this:

Chocoholics sour on new Hershey’s formula
Former fans kissed off about replacement of cocoa butter with vegetable oil

What’s going on here? On Friday, TODAY consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman reported that Hershey’s has switched to less expensive ingredients in several of its products. In particular, cocoa butter — the ingredient famous for giving chocolate its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture — has been replaced with vegetable oil.
The removal of cocoa butter violates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of milk chocolate, so subtle changes have appeared on the labels of the Hershey’s products with altered recipes. Products once labeled “milk chocolate” now say “chocolate candy,” “made with chocolate” or “chocolatey.”

Apparently cocoa butter costs a bit more than vegetable oil. Hey Hershey, guess what? I know where you can get tons of cow manure that's even cheaper than vegetable oil, why not just use that? You could rename the Take 5 to Take 6; pretzel, caramel, peanut ,peanut butter and cow poo.

Hershey, meanwhile, stands by its products. The company "is committed to making the world's best chocolate," said spokesman Kirk Saville.

Mister Saville is what we call a liar. And what he just said is what we call a whopper. Not to be confused with Whoppers, which are presumably no longer milk chocolate covered either.

You know what I think it is? This is the danger with a public company. And I'll admit that I'm talking out of my ass here as I'm not really well versed on the topic - but it seems to me this is the kind of thing that can happen when you have to answer to shareholders rather than a president who has one job - to keep his eye on the ball.

But my limited research into this fiasco did reveal something unexpected; Hershey's may have gone ahead with this boneheaded idea despite the FDA, but they were not alone in petitioning the FDA to allow them to use vegetable oil and still call it milk chocolate. They're part of an Axis of Evil known as The Chocolate Manufacturers Association whose members include Hershey, Nestlé, and Archer Daniels Midland.

Ah-ha. ADM. Say no more.

Because the problem with irradiated beef is the smell...

Breaking news out of Iowa....

Iowa Ag News Headlines
New Beef Irradiation Process Improves Appearnce[sic], Odor

Iowa Ag Connection - 09/18/2008

An Iowa State University researcher has found that adding certain natural products to beef before irradiating it allows the meat to maintain a healthy, red appearance and inhibits odors that can result from the process.

Odors resulting from the process? There aren't any odors produced by the process, it's a harmless electron beam, right? If there were odors, wouldn't that would mean there were some sort of changes happening to the meat?

Dong Uk Ahn, animal science professor at Iowa State University, has worked for years to make irradiated beef more appealing."There are two major problems with irradiated meat," said Ahn. "One is color change. People buy meat on the basis of color. If they see that purple-red and bright-red color, they feel that it's fresher. If the color is brown or gray, no one is going to buy that meat. The other problem is odor."By adding an antioxidant and vitamin E -- both natural compounds found in living organisms -- to beef, Ahn was able to keep the meat's appealing color.

Sorry Dong, but I don't see 2 problems with irradiated meat, just one; that it's irradiated.

But the fact that you are adding chemicals to it in order to hide the fact that you've fundamentally changed the meat by irradiating it in the first place sure does give me the warm fuzzies.

Irradiating and storing the meat with those additives in oxygen-permeable bags or vinyl wraps allow irradiation odor to evaporate quickly while preventing color change and odor-causing lipid oxidation.

Irradiating meat is the process of passing meat through a high-intensity, non-radioactive electron beam to kill bacteria, such as e. coli, salmonella and listeria, that may cause the consumer to become ill. Ahn's method involves mixing in an antioxidant (ascorbic acid), and vitamin E (tocopherol) to the ground beef before irradiating it to allow oxygen to bind to the meat to retain the color. The color change and odor that comes from irradiating meat is due to the oxidation of lipids and pigments, and small changes in proteins in the meat. Ahn's process slows down oxidation and removes the unfamiliar odor from irradiated meat. (Emphasis mine)

Small changes in meat proteins, you say? Well, shucks, I guess if they're small they must be OK. But I do wonder why the odor is unfamiliar?

Ahn's research involves ground beef since that is the type of meat most likely to benefit from the treatment. Ahn found the best way to get his additive into the meat is by mixing his additives into the meat during or after grinding, but before the meat is pressed into patties. Ahn says irradiating beef has safety advantages for consumers and no loss of food value. "The process benefits those who need it most, people who may be susceptible to illness brought on by the bacteria -- children, the elderly and others. And the nutritional value of the meat is not affected," he said.Meat treated with irradiation is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and available at grocery stores or through companies by mail order. Currently, irradiated meat is mostly sold frozen. So, the rich, red color is less important to consumers than if they were buying fresh meat.Currently, Ahn's research cannot be used on meat available to consumers. Irradiation is considered an additive by the FDA. Meat cannot have more than one additive by regulation. Ahn is hoping the FDA changes irradiation's classification from an additive to a treatment, or approves the use of irradiation in processed meat, a petition that has been pending since 1999."Once that hurdle is gone, there will be a lot of people who will be interested in this technology and bringing it to the marketplace." Ahn said.

Alright, for the record let me state this - if you want to buy irradiated beef because you're immune system is weak, or you want a safer alternative for your child or gandparent - I do not have any problem with that. Would I feed it to my daughter? Hell no, but I don't want to limit your choices. I think grass fed beef from a farmer is safer, but to each their own.

And furthermore, while I do not consider the issue of saftey of irradiated beef to be resolved to my satisfaction, I know that many people much smarter than myself have signed off on it.

Others have not. According to Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago: "The government's assertion that irradiated food is safe for human consumption does not even pass the laugh test."

We just don't know all of the implications of this technology.

What I am very concerned about is irradiated foods becomeing a mainstream, rather than niche product. Already Omaha Steaks' ground beef is irradiated. Dairy Queen is serving it. It has already been introduced into school lunch programs. Thankfully, it didn't sell well, but that doesn't mean "Big Ag" is done pushing for it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Omaha Steaks sells irradiated ground beef

I just read a U.S.News & World Report article about irradiated food. There wasn't much in the article that was news to me, except for one tidbit - Omaha Steaks uses it, but only on their ground beef, not their steaks.

Let me just say something about Omaha Steaks. I buy my beef from a farmer; his name is Roger. Roger raises cows on a pasture for most of their lives, and then a few months before slaughter they're finished on a bit of grain, but mainly hay that's been doused with black strap molasses. I like Roger, but I pay him a lot of money for beef. I'm willing to do it, because I think Roger is on to something. I like that he plays music for his cows. I like that he doesn't use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. I like that he doesn't inject his cows with any hormones, and that he supervises their slaughter.

It's worth a few bucks more to me. Quite a bit more, actually compared to supermarket prices. But Roger's beef is a steal compared to Omaha Steak prices.

I can't figure this out at all. Is it all USDA Prime? Doesn't appear to be. The 7 Points of Distinction only say that it is USDA inspected. Big deal - all beef sold to the public is.

Is it all dry aged? No, it's "Naturally Aged". I don't know what that means. How long? Wet or dry aged? That could rally mean just about anything.

So I haven't exactly been in a big hurry to buy myself some Omaha Beef, but this was still quite a shock to me; they're ridiculous, but they've been around awhile and are certainly what I'd consider to be a 'mainstream' supplier. What's odd though is that the on-line catalog doesn't mention it. There's a DPF catalog that does. I think it's slightly shady.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hormel supplier abuses pigs

PETA video shows pigs abused at Iowa farm

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- An undercover video taken at an Iowa pig farm shows workers hitting sows with metal rods, slamming piglets on a concrete floor and bragging about jamming rods up into sows' hindquarters.
On the video, obtained by The Associated Press, a supervisor tells an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that when he gets angry or a sow won't move, "I grab one of these rods and jam it in her ass.""

"...According to PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich, the video shows eight people directly abusing animals.
"Abuse on factory farms is the absolute norm, not the exception, and anyone eating factory-farmed meat is paying to support it," Friedrich said."

I think PETA is a terrorist and extremist organization, and anything they have to say should be taken as suspect - but I'm inclined to believe Bruce Friedrich regarding abuse on factory farms being the norm. Why? How many of these hog CAFO facilities are open to the public? Why'd they have to go undercover to obtain this video?

Any place that produces food we eat ought to provide absolute transparency. Want to tour the facility? Sure thing - come on down anytime, we'll show you around. Think the USDA has your back? Just remember that the 6.6 million pounds of ground beef recalled this summer by Nebraska beef was from a USDA inspected operation.

We've had our heads in the sand far too long when it comes to meat. If you're going to eat it, you should know where it comes from. This is why I don't buy fast food anymore. This is exactly why all of my meat comes from small farmers that live near me and that I trust. Ready to ditch Hormel? There are alternatives.

In agribusiness the bottom line is all that matters, and when the bottom line is your only compass this is exactly what you get. It's the same reason WalMart is such a depressing place, the unrelenting drive to do it cheaper, no matter the real costs.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are vegetarians just picky eaters?

I was having an on-line debate with vegetarian who claimed that the human body was not adapted to eating meat. As proof, he offered up that our teeth are too dull and our intestines are too long, and besides, if you'd just look at the studies, meat eaters have higher rates of cancer (and erectile dysfunction, for some reason he kept bringing that symptom up, it was odd) than vegetarians.

I countered with that fact that my incisors are pretty good at cutting meat, that my stomach produces enzymes that break down components that are found only in meat, and that there's no vegetable that offers complete protein, and a purely vegetarian diet is easy to have iron, B12 and protein deficiencies. Also that bacon cooking is the best smell ever. Your body knows what it wants, and it wants pot roast.

The cancer studies? I'll gladly give him the point that vegetarians are going to have lower rates of cancer than someone who eats processed meat, fast food, gets no fiber and thinks ketchup is a vegetable. Find me a bunch of twins who lead identical lives as far as exercise and environment, but where one is vegetarian and the enjoys a grass-fed steak now and then, a farm fresh egg for breakfast on Sundays and pastured chicken a few times a week and we can compare cancer rates and I'd be willing to bet they'd be identical.

My opponent and I did have some common ground, we both think CAFO's are horrible. We both think that large beef processing plants are evil. I'll even go so far as to grant him that the world would be better off if we ate less beef. But stop eating meat? That's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Speaking of faces - that's another argument isn't it, 'I wont eat anything with a face'. Well that's just stupid. Cockroaches have faces, how do you feel about killing them? And roaches are pretty closely related to shrimp and crayfish, and from there it's a very short hop to lobster.

My theory is that vegetarians are just picky eaters. Like some sort of spoiled brats that won't eat their dinner.

God went to a lot of work to give us cows. Some plantets don't have any cows.

Are you in favor of irradating food?