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 FoodNavigator.com 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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stevie Nick's voice was like heavy cream...

It made anything it was added to infinitely better.

Listening to Kenny Loggins and Stevie singing "Whenever I call you friend" and hot damn...he's got a great voice - haven't loved everything he done, but enough - but she just kicks it up a notch. Helps that there must have been some good studio players on this cut. The bass is really nice.

And don't even get me started on Stevie and Lindsey Buckingham. He seems like a dick to me, but the dude can flat out play...and those 2 mixed....it's unreal. Even a few years ago, with her voice really pretty shot she did that duet with him..."Landslide", just her voice and his guitar and it still gave me chills (at least the first few thousand times I heard it). Some people just have to be on frequencies that just mix right. Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. Meatloaf and Jim Steinman. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel...c'mon, I know there's more, help me out here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Shameless plug for stuff I desire.

Hey, if you're not sure what to get me for Christmas....here's some stuff I want.

Fender Standard Telecaster
Rondo Les Paul copy
Blackheart combo amplifier or this Dr. Z amplifier.
Electrolux DLX mixer
A 3 gallon pickle crock
A basic canning kit
SYM 200HD scooter
An upright freezer
This book (whoops, too late, got it at an airport)
How about this book instead?
This awesome Waring waffle maker

A new localvore thinks about winter

I've been trying to eat local products whenever possible for a few months.

The idea is easy; eat the things that are close to you, in season.

In the summer, fruits and vegetables are easy to find local from the farmer's market. But what about winter? Fortunately I live in the south, winters are milder and the growing season is longer, but still...sometime soon, the fall harvest veggies are going to go the way of strawberries.

And dammit, next year I'm freezing some strawberries. I've been putting a lot of thought into the best way to do it, and I have some ideas. Fresh sweet corn too. My idea involves some specialized equipment though, heat sinks, fans - basically I'm going to try to make a mini blast freezer that I can fit inside a larger freezer. I've said too much.....

But there's the rub; freezing, canning - even dehydrating; I don't have tons of freezer space, I don't have any canning stuff. I'm definitely not going to make it through winter on my own stores. And I'm not so swept up in this that I won't give in to imported veggies from time to time; but the important thing for me right now is to do what I can.

I absolutely want to get into canning. I'm fine with high acid stuff for now. I want a pickle crock so bad it hurts.

The wife and I made 25 pounds of tomatoes into a heavenly red sauce yesterday, that's in the freezer. I need a full time, long term storage freezer though. Chest models; I know they're more efficient, but I've also read that things tend to get lost in them, and our garage isn't so big - so it'll be a standing model.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Taco Bell then and now

I worked at Taco Bell when I was in college. It was a few blocks down the street and had flexible hours. This would have been in the early 90's. Then, as today, Taco Bell was often mocked as being inferior food, but I have to say, as someone who worked there, it really wasn't bad at all. Hear me out....

The meat came to the store fresh. To my knowledge, the only other fast food place that dealt with fresh ground beef was Wendy's. (And I know this because I also worked there, in high school)

The cheddar cheese came in giant blocks, and we'd use a garrote-like device to block it and shred it in store. Tomatoes were diced in a hand operated press type machine.

The beans were dried; and had to be steamed and boiled and refried with a giant hand mixer.

The only things that came prepared were the lettuce (shredded and slightly dehydrated, we just added water) nacho cheese sauce and guacamole (that and sour cream came in caulk-gun tubes). Heck, if I remember correctly, we even fried up the taco shells.

Taco Bell was really big into the Value Menu concept then. The big push was 59-79-99. I heard talk that they wanted every menu item to be one of those prices, but that never happened. And I remember thinking our manager was crazy for wanting to charge someone for extra olives on the Mexican pizza because we had transitioned from 4 olive slices to 1. He told me the olives were about half the cost of the whole item. No idea if that was true or not.

It was also the time of 2 failed items; pita pockets and the Lite menu. The lite cheese was really gross. It didn't melt right. I think the meat was the same, just used a smaller serving, but I'm not 100% certain of that.

In any case - I've heard that's all changed now, and that for the past 10 years or so, Taco Bell's food all arrives in the store pre-cooked, and employees now just boil the bags. Can anyone who currently works there confirm??

If it's true, I think this was a poor decision. For one thing, with centralized cooking, something like contaminated beef could impact a lot more people. There's some offset by the fact that they have more uniform control over the cooking, but that's a wash at best. I'd like to do a taste test; freshly cooked and seasoned beef vs. reheated. Same for the beans. Sure, maybe the difference is slight, but I bet I could tell the difference. But the bigger issue is pride. When you made the food yourself, even though it was just Taco Bell, something about being involved in the process gave you a sense of...pride isn't the right word, ownership isn't the right word, and accomplishment isn't the right word either - but it's elements of all those words.

Eh. I don't eat there anymore anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Diet Coke vs. the garage in summer

I found out 2 neat things about Diet Coke this weekend.

1. Summer heat plays hell on aspartame.
2. Because of that, Fountain Diet Coke contains saccharin; plastic bottles (are there glass bottles of Diet Coke?) and cans are just sweetened with aspartame. (Nutrasweet) I had no idea they were different.

In 2000 saccharin was removed from the FDA's list of 'known or suspected human carcinogens' the U.S. Congress repealed the law requiring saccharin products to carry health warning labels.

Good to know.

Anyway, I found this out after trying to figure out why a can of Diet Coke I had at my aunt's house in Myrtle Beach tasted craptacular. She keeps 12 packs in the garage and doesn't drink the stuff. Who knows how long it was there, but it tasted like...carbonated water, really. After 2 different cans tasted horrid, I actually began to think something was wrong with me. For a brief moment I wondered if I had 'burnt' my tastebuds drinking Blenhiem's ginger ale. Did some reading and found the first link, then remembered seeing the stockpile in her garage and it all made sense.

What I don't understand is why fountain Diet Coke is different. Yeah, I get it that saccharin stands up to heat better, but wouldn't most restaurants be air conditioned, as opposed to the average garage of Joe Twelvepack?

Are you in favor of irradating food?