Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Make Crab Cakes or Wild Salmon Cakes

Google "crab cake recipe" or "wild salmon recipe" and in 0.00004 seconds you'll have about 13,278 recipes to choose from.

The majority of these recipes, though, follow the same basic formula: combine one pound of cooked crab or salmon meat with one egg and roughly one quarter cup each of mayonnaise and breadcrumbs. (This is the base for the cakes.) It is essential the consistency is firm and holds together; otherwise, the cakes will fall apart in the pan during cooking.

So many recipes and versions exist because of the different seasonings and vegetables used as add-ins: onions, scallions, chives, peppers, parsley, dill, basil, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, dry mustard powder, paprika, salt, ground pepper, etc.

Personally, I don't use a specific recipe; I add whatever I am in the mood for, balanced by the reality of what I have on hand.

Again, the primary hurdle when making crab or salmon cakes is getting the consistency correct so they don't fall apart in the pan when cooking. If they fall apart in your hand when you are forming the cakes, you have no chance; add a little more mayo or egg. If the mixture is too gooey, add more breadcrumbs. It's a delicate balance.

I find it helpful to refrigerate the mixture before forming cakes and again before cooking for about 30 minutes (if not longer) each. I refrigerated the cakes pictured overnight and they held together perfectly when cooked; there's a chance they may have fallen apart had I tried to cook them the evening I formed them.

Don't forget to squeeze some lemon juice on top of the cakes after cooking. Also, a sauce of equal parts mayonnaise and Dijon mustard is nice for dipping.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Grilling Eggplant, Many Ways, Courtesy of Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman, who has been writing about the politics and ethics of food in The New York Times now for several years, also frequently offers recipes—based on technique—in the Times' Sunday Magazine.

His latest installment, centered on grilling eggplant, describes four techniques, with three recipes for each, using flavors from all over the world and that are easily made at home.

Click here to view the interactive feature, complete with recipes for each dish.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jack LaLanne's Face Workout (Get Better Looking Now!)

Not as good-looking as you used to be? Our idol Jack LaLanne may be of some help. He has a workout regimen for the face (why not?) that may make us all look 10 years younger. (If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch Jack in action.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act Passes Early Hurdle

While drought conditions exist in huge swaths of the country, a flood of chemicals exists . . . everywhere.

Most of these chemicals have never been tested and we are the victims. Why? Because our federal chemical law (Toxic Substances Control Act [TSCA] of 1976) is toothless.

According to Michael Hawthorne, writing in the Chicago Tribune:
"[TSCA] gives the government little power to assess or limit dangers from industrial chemicals. Citing loopholes in the law, the EPA acknowledges that it knows little, if anything, about the safety of most of the 84,000 industrial compounds in commercial use in the U.S.

"Neither regulators nor consumers can tell what specific substances are used in many products, meaning it can take years for independent scientists to identify chemicals, track them in the environment and determine if they cause harm."
However, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is trying to change this and he has been the champion of improved oversight for years. Lautenberg's work is starting to pay off, as his Safe Chemicals Act passed the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday.

Lautenberg has previously described why this issue motivates him:
“The average American has more than 200 industrial chemicals in their body, including dozens linked to cancer and other health problems. The shocking truth is that the current law does not require tests to ensure chemicals used in everyday household products are safe. The EPA does not have the tools to address dangerous substances and even the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws to assure consumers that their products are safe. My 'Safe Chemicals Act' will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to separate the chemicals that help from the chemicals that hurt.”
Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like Lautenberg. The committee's vote split cleanly along party lines, so full Congressional approval will be a difficult fight.

Click here to read all of Hawthorne's article about the vote.

Click here to read coverage by Sandy Bauers, the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Food Prices to Rise as Drought Destroys Corn and Soy

What we have to look forward to, thanks to the unrelenting heat wave and drought conditions prevailing throughout so much of the country, courtesy of The New York Times:
"The worst drought in the United States in nearly a half-century is expected to drive up the price of milk, beef and pork next year, the government said Wednesday, as consumers bear some of the brunt of the sweltering heat that is driving up the cost of feed corn.

"Poultry prices are expected to rise more immediately, the government said in a report. It estimated that consumer price indexes for chicken and turkey would rise 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent later this year."
Corn and soy, the dominant crops we use as filler in processed foods and in the feed we give to our animals, are being destroyed by the high heat and lack of water. Grass-fed meat and dairy, anyone? (Unfortunately it's not so cut and dry, since a lot of grass is, well, really, really dry.)

Another question: Would we be better off if food prices increase, say, ten-fold—to where they should be—and we start to realize how corrupt our food system is? A similar scenario exists in the price of gas; am I the only one hoping for $10 per gallon gas?

Click here to read all of "U.S. Sees Food Prices Rising From Severe Drought."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another Variety of Avocado: Tasting a Reed Avocado

The majority of avocados grown in the United States and sold in markets are the Hass variety. However, similar to other fruits and vegetables, dozens of varieties of avocados exist that we rarely, if ever, see or taste.

Whenever I come across another variety, I buy one to try. My latest find (at my local Whole Foods) was a Reed avocado (left in photo), which is larger than a Hass (right in photo) and is green when ripe.

I found the Reed's flavor to be a little mellower than the Hass's and the texture wasn't as creamy. I prefer the Hass, but at least I can cross off the Reed from varieties I need to try.

For photos and information about other varieties of avocados grown in California, click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Eat, Don't Throw Away, a Melon's Goopy Stuff (Placenta)

In my area, local melons are starting to appear at farmers' markets.

When cutting up a melon (why pay twice the price—if not more—for pre-cut melon?) and removing the seeds, try to save as much of the goop that surrounds the seeds as possible.

This tender flesh (aka placenta) is edible and is usually very sweet. Plus, you paid for it.

The same principle holds for winter squash (butternut, acorn, delicata, etc.).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chemical Companies Trying to Game System (Shocker!)

The latest action alert from Pesticide Action Network (PAN), dealing with aspects of the Farm Bill (how our country eats, decided on by our elected politicians every five years) that won't make the evening news. Bottom line, more nonsense concerning genetically engineered (GE) crops is close to being pushed down our throats (literally and figuratively) and we must let our Congressmen know that we don't like it:
"Several worrisome pro-industry riders, buried deep in the version of the Farm Bill now working its way through the House, would fast-track approval of genetically engineered crops. We need to stop them.

"With 9 new GE crops pending approval — including Dow’s 2,4-D corn and Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready canola — the Big 6 pesticide corporations are hoping to quietly slip these damaging riders through, paving the way for expedited approval of their current and future GE products.

"Don't allow GE crops to be fast-tracked. As the Farm Bill moves towards a vote on the House floor, urge your Representative to reject the proposed biotech riders that would bypass scientific review and undermine oversight of GE crops.

"Farmers across the country are already dealing with the fallout from pesticide-resistant crops, including superweeds resulting from Monsanto's RoundUp Ready product line. The strategy of stacking seeds with herbicide-resistant traits is fast falling apart.

"But instead of abandoning a losing strategy, the pesticide/biotech industry is trying hard to get us all running faster on the same broken pesticide treadmill. The riders attached to the House Farm Bill would eliminate safeguards for farmers while allowing the Big 6 to push through even more GE crops, driving up pesticide use alongside their profit margin.

"Protect farmers & communities. With more herbicide-resistant GE cr
ops comes more use of antiquated, dangerous herbicides. Make sure your Representatives know what's at stake, and reject the riders that would give Monsanto & Co. a free pass."
Take action now!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Properly Store Fresh Herbs, Including Mint

So it seems as if I've been storing fresh herbs incorrectly (or, in a kinder light, not the best way possible). I had been wrapping them in a moist towel, which I then put into a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator.

However, a friend, who grows herbs commercially, offered this advice when I asked him the best way to store fresh mint:
"Herbs are best treated like you would cut flowers -- enough water to cover the cut ends, even better covered loosely with a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Mint will probably root if you leave it long enough!"
(This is the same way to store scallions.)

Fresh herbs such as mint, oregano, thyme and sage are readily available at farmers' markets throughout the summer. They add great flavor to almost anything (tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, butter, chicken salad, etc.). Among other uses, I've been throwing mint into homemade lemonade (easier than you think!), which is one of the most refreshing drinks imaginable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thirty Seconds of Solace

Sometimes we all need to stop and smell the roses. Or zinnia.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Whole Foods Adds Organic Boxed Beans to Product Line

I just noticed a new product at Whole Foods. The store is now selling—under its house 365 Organic label—different varieties of organic beans (already cooked) in 13.4-ounce BPA-free boxes. The boxes are very convenient when picnicking or eating while traveling.

These boxes further add to the market's line of ready-to-eat beans (organic and non-organic), all of which are cheaper than name brands.

Whole Foods now offers:
  • Non-organic beans in 15-ounce cans for $0.89
  • Organic beans in 15-ounce cans for $1.29
  • Organic beans in 13.4-ounce boxes for $1.49
The Whole Foods cans do contain BPA in their linings, so if one is looking for organic beans in BPA-free cans, Eden is the option ($2.39 or $2.49) for a 15-ounce can.

The Whole Foods boxed beans challenge Fig Foods' boxed beans, which are more expensive ($2.79 for 17.6 ounces).

As I've written previously, buying Whole Foods' 365 Organic products is a great, cost-effective way to enjoy high-quality organic foods.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Computer Ate Ina Garten's Summer Borscht for Breakfast

This is the latest (1:28 p.m.) I've ever posted a blog. The moral of the story? Don't eat Ina Garten's summer borscht when you are working at your computer. Or do eat it when working at your computer but don't spill it all over (and into) the keyboard.

Seriously, "summer borscht" sounds freaking daunting, but it's very straightforward and doesn't take much cooking ability (just a little boiling, chopping and mixing). Actually, it's pretty much foolproof, but—and this, I believe, holds true for all cooking—quality ingredients will make this cold soup superlative.

I used beets, scallions and dill from my garden and Japanese cucumbers from Nevia No, one of my favorite farmers. Also, skip the chicken stock and replace it with two cups of the beet cooking liquid (for a total of 3.5 cups of beet cooking liquid). I didn't have champagne vinegar so I used apple cider vinegar instead. I used unrefined sea salt instead of Kosher salt. The yogurt, sour cream and sugar I used were organic, as was the lemon I squeezed for the lemon juice.

Beware, this makes a lot of borscht, so halving the recipe may not be a bad idea. However, it stays a while in the refrigerator; my computer and I are still enjoying it a week after I made it.

Any questions, let me know.

5 medium fresh beets (about 2 pounds without tops)
Kosher salt
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
16 ounces sour cream, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Champagne vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups medium-diced English cucumber, seeds removed
1/2 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus extra for serving

Place the beets in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook uncovered until the beets are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the beets to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and also set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the beet cooking liquid, the chicken stock, sour cream, yogurt, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, and the pepper. Peel the cooled beets with a small paring knife or rub the skins off with your hands. Cut the beets in small to medium dice. Add the beets, cucumber, scallions, and dill to the soup. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Season, to taste, and serve cold with a dollop of sour cream and an extra sprig of fresh dill.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Genetically-Engineered, Non-Browning Apple? No Thanks!

When did the powers that be determine that we are so desperate for perfection and convenience that a genetically-engineered, non-browning apple is up for discussion? Are we going to hell in a hand basket?

From today's New York Times:
"A small company is trying to bring to market a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when sliced or bruised. But it has much of the rest of the apple industry seeing red.

"The company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says the nonbrowning apple will prove popular with consumers and food service companies and help increase sales of apples, in part by making sliced apples more attractive to serve or sell.

"While Americans have been eating genetically engineered foods since the 1990s, those have been mainly processed foods. The Arctic Apple, as it is being called, could become one of the first genetically engineered versions of a fruit that people directly bite into.

"But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie."
Click here to read the rest of "That Fresh Look, Genetically Buffed."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Make Lebanese Pickled Turnips (Lift) Without Numbers

I've had great success growing turnips this summer. One challenge for those who garden is figuring out what to do with, oh, three dozen turnips that you pull out of the ground on the same day.

Pickling is always a fallback, so I decided to make a big jar of Lebanese pickled turnips (lift). I received instructions from someone who makes them all the time but isn't the best with passing on complete recipes. I spoke with him twice for directions, which was a good thing since he forgot to mention water as an ingredient the first time we talked.

There are probably as many variations of this recipe as there are villages in Lebanon (confirmed by Googling "marinated turnips lift") and I'm sure they are all pretty good. Water to vinegar ratios will vary, as will the amount of salt used. Unfortunately, my source forgot to mention garlic, which every recipe I saw online includes. I'll make another batch using garlic and see if it makes a difference.

Here are the instructions I received, which included no exact measurements whatsoever:
"Cut turnips (you don't have to peel) into size like French fry and fill three-quarters of jar. Also add a small beet (peel it) that you've cut into four pieces. Add water to height of turnips and add salt. Mix and taste. Add more salt if you need to. Add white or red vinegar (it doesn't matter, whatever you have) to top of jar. Put in refrigerator, you can eat after three days."
Mine are in their third day of marinating and they've turned the desired light pink color (thanks to the beet). I just tasted one and they are very good, but I think the missing garlic would add a nice kick.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New York Times: Summer Camp Food Comes of Age

An article in today's New York Times ("At Camp, It's Not Grub, It's Cuisine") shines light on the improved food at some summer camps, an adjunct to our increasing awareness of the import of healthy food:
"The locavore farm-to-table movement has also had an impact on the camps, many of which are in rural areas. Ballibay turns to local farms for produce, beef, chicken and honey.

"More camps have vegetable gardens. According to a 2011 survey of 218 camps nationwide by the American Camp Association, a membership organization, 34 percent have added gardening and cooking as activities in the last five years. At Ballibay, Aviva Friedman, 20, an environmental studies major at the State University at Binghamton, is the gardening and food educator. She enlists campers to prepare the evening snack: the other day they were grating zucchini from the garden for zucchini bread, made with rice flour to be gluten free.

"As a result, daily salad bars could do double duty at hotel luncheon receptions. To please palates ranging in age from 6 to 40, particularly at larger camps where nearly 500 campers and 300 staff members eat three meals a day, salad bars might have at least two dozen choices, including beets, cauliflower, edamame, artichoke hearts and three types of hummus. And deli bars, pasta bars and potato bars. The breakfast bar always features a cornucopia of fruits (goodbye, Froot Loops!), and granola and low-fat yogurt.

"None of this would fly without the cooperation, even the insistence, of campers themselves."
Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eating Well Easily Is Within Everyone's Grasp

Eating well (or better) does not have to entail cooking gourmet dishes daily. Instead, deconstructing meals and snacks into their individual ingredients may be a better route to take if one feels overwhelmed, a condition the incessant drumbeat of Big Food's marketing machine does not help.

Having ingredients on hand to work with, though, is essential, but easily conquerable. Let's look at a snack—"yogurt with stuff"—I just made for myself, one that takes absolutely no cooking skill whatsoever.

What did I do? I put plain whole milk (fat!) yogurt, uncooked rolled oats, walnuts, chopped strawberries, cinnamon and maple syrup into a bowl and mixed everything together. (Unfortunately, I was out of artificial colors, refined sugars, thickeners and stabilizers.)

Seriously, most of the ingredients will last for months (if not years) in the refrigerator or freezer (oats, walnuts, cinnamon, maple syrup) and only the yogurt and strawberries are perishable. (Dried fruit is a worthy substitute for fresh, but I had berries from the farmers' market in my refrigerator.)

Obviously Big Food doesn't want us to eat this way, but, inherently, our bodies know it is right.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Make Creamed Spinach, Using Rutabaga Greens

Over the weekend I made pulled chicken sandwiches using the barbeque sauce I wrote about several months ago. I needed one or two side dishes and wanted to use vegetables from my garden.

Cole slaw seemed like a natural, but I'm not growing any red cabbage, so that wasn't a possibility. How about creamed spinach, but using a different dark leafy green? Perfect, especially since some of the rutabaga I planted in the spring were ready to pull from the ground and their greens were lush, to say the least. One huge vat of creamed rutabaga greens coming on up!

Not remembering the last time I made creamed spinach, I followed my instincts. I melted butter in a soup pot and then sautéed onion and garlic in the butter. I added the chopped rutabaga greens (probably equal to two or three supermarket bunches of kale or collard greens) and cooked, stirring occasionally, until the greens started to wilt and reduce in volume. I added some unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and a cup of heavy cream. I continued to cook the greens, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until they soaked up the cream and thickened into creamed spinach consistency.

I tasted, reseasoned with some more salt, pepper and a little lemon juice and enjoyed a delicious side dish to accompany the sandwiches.

Feel free to use kale, collard greens, broccoli greens or chard to make this.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Non-Toxic (I Hope) Personal Hygiene/Health Care Products

Following Monday's post ("Natural Personal Health Care Products Multiply"), a reader asked me for a list of the personal hygiene products I use. This may be a little too much information for some of you, but others may find it helpful to see the number of companies making quality items and also to get suggestions on specific products.

How did I come to choose the products I use? I try to avoid ingredients/chemicals that are possible endocrine disruptors and/or carcinogenic. So, no parabens, pthalates, aluminums, artificial colors, artificial fragrances, etc. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database is a useful tool when researching products.

Also, the products have to work. It took me three or four deodorants to find one that doesn't find me smelling—after 20 minutes—like a puppy's arse. Seriously, differently scented products of the same brand can have varying results. Remember, personal hygiene products are very . . . personal.

So . . . here's the very personal list of Rob's personal hygiene products. (I am definitely running the risk of taking a lot of flak for posting this, but for those of you who doubt my altruistic leanings, pafooey! Just don't send a link to this post to my father-in-law.)

Toothpaste: Nature's Gate Cool Mint Gel Toothpaste
Deodorant: Jason Calming Lavender Deodorant Stick
Soap (bar): Sappho Hill Natural (Fragrance-Free) Soap
Soap (liquid): Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Unscented Liquid Soap (diluted with water)
Shaving Gel: Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented Shaving Gel
Shampoo: Burt's Bees More Moisture Baobab Shampoo
Conditioner: Burt's Bees More Moisture Baobab Conditioner
Hair Gel (hey, I gotta look good!): Burt's Bees Avocado Butter Pre-Shampoo Hair Treatment
Face Cleanser: Beauty Without Cruelty Herbal Cream Facial Cleanser
Face Moisturizer: Indian Meadow Herbals Wild Blueberry Lotion for Sensitive Skin
Sunscreen: Nature's Gate Mineral Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 20 Sunscreen

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy July 4th

The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gary Taubes: "What Really Makes Us Fat"

Gary Taubes just wrote another opinion piece in The New York Times, this one analyzing the "calorie is a calorie" argument in relation to a recent clinical trial that shed new light on the discussion.

As always, Taubes takes a measured look at the facts and advocates good science, not personal beliefs.

The start of the "What Really Makes Us Fat":
"A calorie is a calorie. This truism has been the foundation of nutritional wisdom and our beliefs about obesity since the 1960s.

"What it means is that a calorie of protein will generate the same energy when metabolized in a living organism as a calorie of fat or carbohydrate. When talking about obesity or why we get fat, evoking the phrase 'a calorie is a calorie' is almost invariably used to imply that what we eat is relatively unimportant. We get fat because we take in more calories than we expend; we get lean if we do the opposite. Anyone who tells you otherwise, by this logic, is trying to sell you something.

"But not everyone buys this calorie argument, and the dispute erupted in full force again last week. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a clinical trial by Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital and his collaborators. While the media tended to treat the study as another diet trial — what should we eat to maintain weight loss? — it spoke to a far more fundamental issue: What actually causes obesity? Why do we get fat in the first place? Too many calories? Or something else?"
Click here to read the entire piece.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Natural Personal Health Care Products Multiply

The number of better food products free of hormones, antibiotics, artificial colors, refined sugars, preservatives and a seemingly endless list of additives continues to grow. Now, the same is happening with personal health care products.

Several years ago I wrote a post about toothpaste and the only alternative brand that was widely available then was Tom's of Maine (owned by Colgate-Palmolive since 2006). However, the choices have since multiplied and newer brands often go further in avoiding ingredients that many people wish not to use.

After almost two decades of using Tom's toothpaste, I recently switched to Nature's Gate natural toothpaste, which is fluoride free, paraben free and does not contain sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate. And, of course, no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners are used.

These toothpastes cost a little more, but coupons are generally easy to find. Personally, I think the extra cost is worth it.