Make mine Grassfed, please.

In an article in a recent Sunday New York Times, Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg firmly state their argument for purchasing hamburger instead of steaks and other pricier cuts, for several good reasons. In “The Kindest Cut of Meat is Ground”, they explain that ground is the cut that’s “the most sustainable, economical, gastronomically flexible and morally responsible”. When we shoppers purchase 100% grassfed ground meat, we’re supporting our local growers; families who are raising breeds well suited to our region, in the healthiest way possible – on grass, not feedlot fare such as corn and soy.  Cattle are grass grazers by nature; they’re really not designed to digest grains.

Grassfed beef is more expensive than meat processed at the large industrial plants, but it’s much more healthful for humans as well as beasts.  The Mayo Clinic website states that 100% grass fed beef may be part of a heart-healthy diet as it’s both leaner than grain fed, and higher in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and CLA, (conjugated linoleic acid); nutrients that contribute to a healthy diet.

When we buy hamburger at the Farmers’ Market, we know where our food is coming from, and from whom. Halweil and Nierenberg describe how the usual supermarket ground beef from the large commercial meat processing plants comes from animals that are grain-fed, or grain finished on huge feedlots. We all remember the very scary beef recalls in the past few years, and how difficult it is for federal agencies to trace the origins of these products whenever there’s a recall.  One batch of ground meat from this type of feedlot meat can come from hundreds or thousands of different animals. Grassfed, on the other hand, is most often from one animal, one farm.  And if you purchase pasture-raised beef, chicken, eggs, or pork at the Farmers’ Market, then you probably know who your local growers are too. They are always delighted to answer questions and to tell you about the animals they raise.  Choosing ground meat supports our farmers in utilizing all that good meat that’s left over after the more expensive cuts – the steaks and roasts, are taken. This allows us to make good use of the whole animal.

Another point the authors make is that ground meat is also the most “gastronomically flexible” cut.  It shows up in many cuisines around the world; as meatballs, in meat pies, in curries, and soups.  Flexibility translates to recipes too – in many recipes it’s quite easy to bump up your intake of healthful aromatics and vegetables, thereby stretching that pound of ground beef, and stretching your food dollars at the same time. One of my current favorites is curried ground beef with peas and chiles from Raghavan Iyer’s amazing cookbook, “660 Curries”. For weekday meals I often double the amount of vegetables in the recipe.  And our weekday supper version of Bolognese sauce is always plumped up with extra tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion and garlic.

Click on the link below for Halweil’s and Nierenberg’s opinion piece in the SundayReview section of the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/opinion/sunday/the-kindest-cut-of-meat-is-ground.html

OPINION

The Kindest Cut of Meat Is Ground

By BRIAN HALWEIL and DANIELLE NIERENBERG

Published: June 30, 2012

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More Beans for the Pot

Dessert author Lori Longbotham has an article in the current issue of Fine Cooking Magazine, “The New Beans on the Block”. Her article features four legumes: Anasazi, butter, cranberry, and flageolet, with an enticing recipe for each one. Two of the recipes that sound particularly appealing for a cold winter’s night are “Lamb stew with flageolets and herbs” and “Baked butter beans with onions, tomatoes, and feta”.

Longbotham’s article also includes a helpful section on bean cookery.  In a boxout titled “Bean Basics”, she gets things started with all that you need to know, or may have forgotten, about most things bean:

Buying the freshest beans

Soaking beans for quicker, more even cooking

Cook gently, and season at the right time.

In this last section she cautions to wait until the beans have begun to soften, about halfway through cooking, before adding the salt. I had thought we were supposed to wait until they were fully softened, before adding salt or acidic ingredients.  Undercooked, or improperly cooked beans, are definitely not a favorite.  Perhaps a call to the “Splendid Table” show on NPR, to sort one that out.

You might also add a bit of sea vegetable karma to your bean pot by adding a piece of kombu seaweed. I like to purchase it from the bulk section at the Food Coop. A small strip aids digestability and adds some flavor – it’s rich in Umami.

The baked butter bean recipe featured in Lori’s article has just a few, mostly inexpensive, ingredients, and it’s vegetarian. Her recipe calls for home-cooked beans, but one might easily substitute canned.

Fine Cooking Feb/Mar 2012

Visit the Fine Cooking website (www.finecooking.com) to see this recipe from the Feb/Mar 2012 issue, or check it out from the library. Just enter “butter beans” in the Recipe Finder search bar. The online recipe is dated Dec 29, 2011.

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Winter Soup

 

Nash's monster leeks, Ballard Market Blog

Homemade soup warms and comforts body and soul on these long, dark, damp Northwest nights. We arrive home rather late several evenings during the week, chilled and hungry, to a cold hearth and anxious dogs. Last night we had a hearty broccoli  soup waiting in  the fridge; very quickly it was on the stove heating up while we tended to dogs and wood stove.

Having one or two batches of soup ready in the refrigerator is like gold in the bank.  Some evenings we finish at work so late that we’re too tired to dig around in the crisper to start prepping vegetables for the evening meal.  But homemade soup can quickly satisfy cravings for comfort and nourishment, as well as dish up a couple of servings from the venerable vegetable kingdom.

Last year we purchased a stick blender, or immersion blender, and it very quickly became the tool of choice in the winter kitchen.  I’m still astonished at how nicely it works at pureeing large batches of simmered broccoli, spinach, or different combinations of squash and other root vegetables.  And I’m delighted, every time I use my new kitchen tool, at how incredibly easy the clean-up is – especially compared with a food processor or regular blender.  The latter can be a little scary for pureeing hot soups; too hot or too much soup and “thar she blows” – the top and the soup can explode all over the kitchen.

Martha Rose Shulman, the wonderful  New York Times “Recipes for Health”  writer, has several soups featured in her column this month. “Leek, Turnip and Rice Soup” looks rather intriguing, and I happen to live in a household where turnips are not just a literary reference.

Her recipe calls for just a few ingredients, some of which are optional or suggested. The recipe is for a large enough batch that one might easily freeze half, or just make half the recipe, if not cooking for a larger family.

Shulman says the soup is “fragrant and delicious, either pureed or left chunky”.  So, stick blender or not, enjoy some soup.

Link to the Martha Rose Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” column in the “Fitness & Nutrition” section of the  New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/health/nutrition/leek-turnip-and-rice-soup-recipes-for-health.html

Her recipe follows;     

Leek, Turnip, and Rice Soup

By MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN

Published: December 13, 2011

 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced

1 pound turnips, cut in 1/2-inch dice

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 quarts vegetable stock, chicken stock or water

Salt to taste

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup rice, preferably arborio

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Garlic croutons for serving (optional)

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the leeks. Cook, stirring often, until leeks are beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the turnips and continue to cook, stirring often, until the turnips are translucent and the leeks thoroughly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the stock or water, salt, bay leaf and rice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. If serving as is, add pepper, stir in the parsley and serve, over croutons if desired, passing Parmesan at the table for sprinkling.

Note: For a puréed soup, use an immersion blender (or a regular blender, working in batches and placing a kitchen towel over the top to avoid splashing) until the mixture is very smooth. Return to the pot, heat through and adjust salt. Stir in the pepper and parsley and serve, passing Parmesan at the table for sprinkling.

Yield: 4 servings.

Advance preparation: You can make this a day ahead, but omit the rice. About 30 minutes before serving, bring back to a simmer, add the rice and simmer until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. If you let the soup sit with the rice, it will continue to absorb the broth.

Nutritional information per serving: 158 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 3 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 27 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 73 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 3 grams protein

 

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A new twist on MyPlate

The November 2011 Harvard Health Letter has a few quibbles with  the USDA’s revamped food guide pyramid , the new “MyPlate”, launched last summer. The newsletter’s editors argue that instead of giving us a better working guide for healthier eating, the USDA  oversimplified the task, and in doing so, some very key guideposts to better eating were missed.

There are several areas where the the Harvard Health Letter, or HHL, does a much better job of stating what’s key, and  what we really want to strive for, in the way we  think about and enjoy our food.

Eat whole grains; really try to limit the refined, highly processed carbs that have proven to be so problematic in our modern diets. HHL warns emphatically that these refined grain products are basically treated like sugar in the human body, possibly leading to diabetes, heart disease and other diseases.

 

 

The Harvard Health editors also note that MyPlate doesn’t really give us the low down on which vegetables to eat, or, rather, not eat. Potatoes are a no-no they argue, they’re not much better than refined carbohydrates in how they affect blood sugar levels in the body. And the Harvard Health Letter does specify eating LOTS of vegetables, aiming for variety as well as quantity. No argument there.

Healthful fats and oils get some positive press too. Although a number of juries are still out on exactly which fats we should be consuming, there seems to be full agreement on olive oil as a very healthful fat. “Healthy fats reduce harmful cholesterol and are good for the heart, and Americans don’t consume enough of these healthful oils each day.”  The newsletter  also recommends limiting butter and avoiding trans fat. Some would argue the point on butter, especially “pastured” butter, but there’s no disagreement about finally ridding our diets of trans fats.

The Port Townsend Public Library subscribes to the Harvard Health Letter.

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Ratatouille Time

 
Ratatouille season is here; local tomatoes are starting to make an appearance at the market. All the other usual ingredients for this sublime provencal stew are now in abundance at several farmers’ stalls: sleek, deep purple Japanese aubergines, long squiggley peppers, plump young onions, and several kinds of zucchini, or courgette. 
 
There are many, many recipes for ratatouille, and a number of different methods  of preparing the dish. Several sources note that it may be either entree or side dish, and suggest serving it with pasta, bread or rice. It is always the main event at my house –  and we adore serving it on a very soft polenta.  Bread is de rigeur, needed  to mop up all that yummy sauce from the braising.
 
Something else we really love about Ratatouille is that after enjoying it as a summer supper, it then works  really well as leftovers. Ratatouille sandwiches on sourdough bread or good chewey baguette are delicious;  it also fills omlettes  and fritattas quite nicely. It dresses pasta, served either hot,  or at room temperature as a pasta salad with extra basil.
 
As for method of cooking; in Provence one would probably saute the different vegetables separately, then add to a larger casserole or roasting pan to finish braising. This sounds  a bit fussy and time consuming, but  really wonderful when you have the time.
 
 
 
 Following is a less laborious version from Epicurious:
 
 
 
  
 
Eating Well’s site gives several different versions, including one with roasted vegetables.
 
 
 
Bon appetit!
 
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USDA serves up something new

The USDA Food Pyramid has taken a hike off into the sunset. Hopefully, much of the confusion associated with it  over the years will  disappear too.  Today the USDA releases a new symbol, rather than try to twist the  food pyramid, yet again, into a better representation of healthier eating.

Welcome to the USDA’s MyPlate, which, at first glance, already makes a whole lot more sense.

USDA’s MyPlate
 
   
    Visit www.choosemyplate.gov  for tips on nutrition, planning healthy menus, and creating a personalized program.
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The king, the queen of vegetables

Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

Asparagus was  my first food “faux pas” during my student days in France. My delightful French family thought it rather amusing that we Americans eat so many foods with our hands, except asparagus. The first time we sat down at table to feast on those huge succulent white spears, I delicately picked up my fork and knife and quietly proceeded to go to  it. Frederic, the papa, started chortling with laughter, exclaiming that I must put down the silver and enjoy the springtime feast the French (correct) way; dipping the spears into the butter sauce using one’s fingers, not fork. “And do not forget the serviette”,  he admonished me with another laugh.

In these leaner times, we  look forward to a springtime celebration of asparagus  omitting  the rich butter or hollandaise sauce.  Asparagus has been called a king, and even a queen, of vegetables. For all that it gives us in flavor, fiber, and nutrition, it is at least a prince of that realm. It’s a good source of fiber, A, B and C vitamins, as well as vitamin K, and minerals.

Our Washington state crop is showing up in markets now, so let the feasts begin…

Oven-blasting, or high heat roasting is a favorite method.

Washington Asparagus Commission

For 2 people:

          1 lb asparagus, bottoms trimmed

          Extra virgin olive oil, enough to drizzle

          Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash asparagus and trim bottoms; they should snap easily, separating woody parts from the tender part of the spears. Line a cookie sheet or heavy broiler pan with parchment paper, if desired. Drizzle olive oil over spears and toss gently. This is easiest to do using your hands. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or so, turning spears once or twice. They should carmelize a bit, intensifying the flavor with the bits of browning. Serve and bon appetit!

I sometimes roast them a  bit longer and slower at 400 degrees; depending on what other prep is ensuing in the kitchen.

Mark Bittman has a real love affair going with asparagus, he writes love letter/recipes every year: His blog at the New York Times  chronicles several years worth of these – his April 30th post “Thirteen (Plus) Years of Asparagus” is destined to finally budge me from my oven-blasting groove. Several of his recipes include tarragon, which I’m going to replant at home as soon as the weather warms.

The link to Mark Bittman’s blog at nytimes.com;

http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/30/thirteen-plus-years-of-asparagus/

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