Here is one healthy sustainable fish.

Porte or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Porgy or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Stenotomus chrysops, more commonly called porgy or scup, is one of my favorite whole fishes. I didn’t know how to call the fish the first time I bought one, but it was love a first sight. The right size and so fresh I could smell the sea. I like my fish whole. Grilled, steamed, broiled, pan fried. Just give me a whole fish.

I lived on the south shore when I first moved to New York, so I had good access to fresh fish. My curiosity and sense of culinary adventure have always been my best teacher, so although I never heard of a fish called a porgy or a scup before, it was the right size and the right price and I bought a couple on the spot.

Living on the South Shore of Long Island provided good access to fishmongers and local catch and we ate a lot of scup. The fish is just the right size for two modest portions or one big e.g. generous restaurant size portion.

Calculations for whole fish are easy. Count 50% edible and 50% for bones, skin, cooking loss, and all that other stuff. A fish that weighs 1 1/3 pounds (600 grams) as purchased means about 10 ounces (300 grams) cooked. The nutrition nerd in me really diggs those kind of calculations. I prefer using the gram amounts because I can do the arithmetic in my head.

My scup was a resounding success. They do have bones, but practice makes perfect and my daughter learned to tackle whole fish by the age of 12 with skill and gusto.

I no longer live so close to the shore and I have discovered that scup is not easy to come by. Greeks are fish eaters and whole scup or porgy is often served in Greek restaurants. And I also know there have been periods of intense regulation due to over fishing which has periodically limited the catch.

But my favorite Greenmarket fishmonger was the person who told me the real reason. Although scup is plentiful now, they just don’t sell.

“I bring them but no one buys them so I am stuck with the whole lot.” Next question of course is why don’t your other customers like them as much as I do. “Probably because they are sold whole.”

Since early 2013, an national organization called Chefs Collaborative has been holding Trash Fish Dinners around the country to bring attention to undervalued and underutilized species of fish. The goal is to encourage chefs and diners to focus on fish that have historically been left off menus to help to take pressure off of overfished species and help support our fishing communities

Sounds to me like scup fits that description well. It’s plentiful, sustainable, local and underused. Personally I like it much better than tilapia, another popular inexpensive mild flavored fish. The flavor profile is more interesting to my palate and because it’s local I can buy the fish whole. And serving it whole means the filet gets cooked protected by the skin so moisture and flavor are better retained.

So there you have it. For you fish eaters who live on the east coast and are looking for an underutilized “trash” fish to cook whole, give scup a try. Healthy. Sustainable. Delicious. Who can ask for more?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

My favorite sustainable seafood linguine.

clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics

clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics

Sustainability is not technically a nutrition issue or a health issue, but it’s a noble goal. So why not eat more sustainably when we can?

As with many noble goals, what is and is not sustainable is not always easy to decipher, so I am starting with something really obvious. Local fish and shellfish. Fish that are locally sourced and responsibly gathered so as to maintain the population. Living as close to the Atlantic Ocean as I do, seems logical to me.

And since I was in Long Beach, I visited one of my trusted fishmongers and picked up some clams, scallops, and shrimp. Ooooooooops! Clams and scallops are local. Shrimp is not. Baby steps.

My recipe is my own version of that classic dish linguine and clam sauce. My method is really straightforward. Get everything ready to go, prepare any side dishes before you start, decide the time you need to serve, and be prepared to multi-task like crazy!

1 dozen small littleneck clams / 540 grams
2 – 3 dry sea scallops / 100 grams
4 large wild caught domestic shrimp / 100 grams
7/8 cup dry white vermouth / 200 ml
Couple cloves smashed garlic
fresh parsley or basil
2 ounces Italian linguine / 60 grams

Assemble and prep all ingredients before starting. De-sand clams if necessary. You will need a 3 liter covered pot for steaming the clams, a sauté pan large enough to hold cooked pasta, a 2 liter pot for cooking pasta, and a couple of small bowls.

Remove shell, devein shrimp, cut lengthwise, and set aside. Cut scallops in half and set aside. Scrub clams and place in bottom of large pot. Add vermouth, raise heat, cover pot, and steam open. As clams start to open, remove each one to a bowl carefully retaining any cooking liquid. As the shells cool, remove clams from shell, cut in half, and set aside. Strain remaining liquid to remove any sand or grit and set aside.

As clams steam open, add olive oil to sauté pan, sweat garlic, and sauté shrimp and scallops removing each piece as it finishes cooking. Then add reserved clam juice to pan, increase heat, and reduce volume if necessary.

As clam steam open, start pasta cooking water. Do not salt pasta water. Start to cook pasta about 10 minutes prior to serve time. Cook al dente and add to reduced clam juice / vermouth. Add herbs of choice, the clams, shrimp, and scallops back into pasta. Drizzle with good olive oil and serve immediately.

The proportions above serve two people. Those bits of red you see in my photo are the plum tomato I added at the last minute, part of this weeks CSA pickup. Not part of my usual recipe but a delicious addition.

Now this is exciting. I have arranged to get a Porgy at the market next week. Porgies are a locally caught, wonderfully flavorful fish that is not easy to filet because of the bone structure. According to my fishmonger, most of his customers are unwilling to tackle a whole fish so I had to put in a special order. I have no problem cooking the whole fish. In fact, I find it’s the best way to preserve delicate flavor.

So far sustainable fish looks like a good way to go.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How do I feel about GMO labeling?

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

Labeling has been getting lots of buzz lately and there are a couple of really hot issues out there. Natural. Organic. Sustainable. But far and away the hottest and most fiercely contested is GMO.

Last April I attended my state dietetic association meeting and had occasion to talk to a nice lady from Monsanto. I opened by telling her I choose not to eat GMO foods but had come to learn more about the issue. She was informative, engaging and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, not many of my colleagues shared my curiosity so the nice lady and I chatted uninterrupted for a good 40 minutes. She made the case against mandatory labeling but we both agreed voluntary labeling was a good thing.

Now I like labels as much as anyone out there. My reason for studying nutrition in the first place was to learn how to run numbers and make nutrition labels.

Sometimes I use food labels, but I have never looked to the label as my only source of information. So my conversation with the nice lady got me to thinking. How do feel about GMO labels? And what I have come to appreciate is that neither voluntary or mandatory labeling makes much difference to me. Let me explain.

Pictured above is a shrimp salad I put together at the beginning of the summer. I took the picture because the salad presented well on the plate and I selected it at random for this post to explain why a label often doesn’t tell me things I don’t already know?

The shrimp are wild caught from North Carolina purchased from my favorite greenmarket fishmonger told me the origin when I bought them because I asked. The shrimp looked fresh, smelled of the sea, and cost a lot of money. Many places sell shrimp a lot cheaper but I don’t want to eat those shrimp. With or without a label. So I pay more to eat less of an excellent protein.

Those scallions, arugula, radicchio, and cucumber all came from California. No labels because they were fresh and hand selected. Industrial production yes, so not organic or heirloom or local, but carefully selected just the same.

Those tomatoes are hydroponic and they did come in a package with useful information like country of origin so I know they are from Ontario. I use a lot of hydroponic tomatoes because they do the job until local or heirloom tomatoes become available at the end of the summer.

As for the dressing, I make vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Now these labels have value to me because they tell me things I don’t already know. The olive oil label tells me where in California my oil was pressed and even more important the pressing date. The vinegar label tells me the percentage acidity. The salt label tells me the salt is flake and not table. All critically useful information to an obsessive eater like me.

So you see my style of sourcing and eating takes me out of the GMO marketplace. I prefer cooking to opening packages and most of the food I buy has no label because it’s fresh or local.

So what would a GMO or a nonGMO label tell me that I don’t already know? Not much.

As for the larger issues, I am not concerned per se about health risk and GMO. I’ve done enough research over the last few months to determine to my satisfaction that seeds modified in a laboratory are probably as safe as any other seed breeding technique.

As long as the food is safe, I am okay with honoring choice. Some people want food cheap. Some people want food convenient. Some people want food certified and labeled. I am okay with as much diversity and choice as the market wants to offer.

This issues of genetic modification has aroused more passion that any other I can remember. But for now, I don’t need to get into the fight because in terms of how I choose to eat it’s just not going to make much difference.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

OMG Just picked up 8 pounds of tomatoes!

8 pounds do tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

10 enormous tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

I had planned to start putting down some preliminary thoughts on a controversial issue GMO and then my CSA box arrived with 8 pounds of tomatoes. OMG!

One weighty issue immediately replaced by another weighty issue. They were big ones 13 – 14 ounces / 370 grams each. We can’t eat that many tomatoes in one week so now what to do?

I’ve done canning in the past but it’s a hassle and I can’t even remember who my canning equipment got donated to. So I pulled out the iPad and went to work. Pulled up a Household USDA Food Facts Sheet on fresh tomatoes.

• Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store in a plastic bag. Store in a single layer, as stacking tomatoes may cause them to become mushy.

• Fresh tomatoes may be frozen whole, chopped, or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to 8 month

That’s it. I’ll freeze them. Minimal labor, easy, quick, and I have some extra freezer space. All I need is some fresh basil, my trusty tomato knife, a good scrubbing brush, ziplock bags, and some discretionary time.

First step was to wash and scrub well. Remove the core and outside blemishes. Need to work quickly to preserve freshness. Each day they sit on the counter increases risk of further deterioration.

The whole process took me about 40 minutes. Two chopped tomatoes plus a handful of basil per bag. Push out the extra air, zip it up, weight it, and put it in freezer. I ended up with five bags 700 grams / 1.5 pounds each. Cheaper and better than a brick pack and did it myself.

Tomatoes come in with a vengeance this time of year, but those bags are going to look pretty good over the next couple of months. Do I need to count them as processed food? Yes, technically that’s exactly what they are. I’ll settle on minimally processed.

Now for that other weighty matter. Tomatoes got me to thinking about availability. With a seasonal crop that only comes in once per year, cooks need to make adjustments. During the winter when tomatoes are out of season here in the North East I fall back on hydroponic tomatoes usually from Canada. Then I got to wondering. Do you suppose anyone has ever tried to genetically modify a hydroponic tomato for increased flavor?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

End of August means ratatouille.

ratatouille | photo gourmet metrics

ratatouille | photo gourmet metrics

My end of August tradition is a ratatouille. The vegetables are ripe and ready to go in incredible abundance and we love the way it tastes. But trying to write out “my” recipe is really hopeless because I just can’t seem to make the dish the same way each time.

My proportions are usually roughly the same. One big beautiful eggplant will weight about 1 pound / 500 grams. Then I look for an equivalent weight of zucchini and peppers. Green or yellow are both good. As for the peppers, different colors contribute rich beautiful colors. Olive oil, some onion, garlic, basil, or other herb de province and that’s that. And salt. Don’t forget about the salt.

Some recommend cooking it all in the same pot. Others strictly detail the step by step procedure for cooking each vegetable separately before combining them into the final presentation. Most recipes specify stovetop braising, but I though to myself today while I was washing and trimming “I wonder if anyone has ever slow braised a ratatouille in the oven?” And sure enough you can do it that way too. There are celebrity chef versions and regular folk versions. Just in my own collection of books I have several English versions plus at least two French versions.

I have experimented at one time or another with them all and my google search brought up a momentous amount of data which suggests that ratatouille is still trending.

Each year I seem to end up doing something new. So we’ll call this my 2014 version.

I used the two step method of browning in one pot then transferring to bigger pot. Eggplant is a thirsty vegetable so I added extra oil and cut back a little from the zucchini and peppers. After each browsing, I deglazed my pan with white vermouth so as to have a clean start for the next in line. Never tried that one before but it’s a keeper.

To save some chopping time, I tried chopping the onions in the Cuisinart. Ended up with onion mush. I salvaged some of the mush and hand chopped my last yellow onion. Will never make that mistake again.

And instead on braising on top on the stove, I baked my ratatouille uncovered in a slow oven 275 degrees Fahrenheit / 135 degrees Celsius. The ratatouille slowly released its moisture over about 2 1/2 hours. This is easier that watching a pan in the stove so this one is a keeper too.

Since my preference is not too much excess liquid, I usually do a final reduction after the vegetables have are cooked. Just remove the vegetables and boil the remaining juice down to a thick sauce. Makes for a better presentation.

Tonight I will have vegetables for dinner garnished with some grated parmigianno. The ratatouille always tastes better the day after and we will indulge tomorrow with an appropriate protein accompaniment.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Cheaper, better, healthier cookies.

rolled oat, Zante raisin, walnut cookie | photo gourmet-metrics

rolled oat, Zante raisin, walnut cookie | photo gourmet-metrics

Culinary judgment works better for savory than for sweet. That is because sweet usually requires baking and baking requires precision.

Or does it? My mother-in-law remembers her mother’s family, raised in Central Europe, baked without recipes or measurements. This makes sense to me. Practice and experience build good hands and knowing how the dough is suppose to feel goes a long way to getting the proportions right.

Doesn’t really matter because baking illiterates like me need guidance. So when I decided the time had come to bake my own cookies, I went out looking for a recipe or at least a set of proportions to start from.

Rather than page through the tens of thousands cookie recipes available with a key click, I went to the source. Michael Ruhlman wrote a neat book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. My first batch used Ruhlman’s basic butter cookie ratio = 1 part sugar : 2 parts fat : 3 parts flour.

What followed was a year of experimentation. I played around with healthy stuff like whole grains, nuts, dry fruit. I kept the butter because butter just bakes the best. Two eggs, some vanilla, and a pinch of salt got added along the way. One year later, I ended up with a cookie that looks and tastes very different from where I started.

ROLLED OAT, RAISIN, and WALNUT COOKIES

100 grams walnut halves (1 cup)

100 grams white whole wheat flour (7/8 cup)

100 grams rolled oats (1 cup)

100 grams Zante currants or raisins (2/3 cup)

100 grams unsalted butter (7 tablespoons)

100 grams turbinado sugar (1/2 cup)

2 each large eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon flake style salt

Weigh out walnuts and coarsely chop. Place walnuts in bowl, place bowl on scale, and zero out. Now weigh out flour, oats, and currants. Add a pinch of salt and set dry ingredients aside. Next weigh out butter and sugar. Cream butter. Add in sugar, then beat in eggs and add vanilla. Gently fold in dry ingredients. Divide dough into three pieces of equal weight and make rolls. Wrap each roll in plastic and chill until firm. Note that the rolls can be frozen at this point to be used later. Prepare baking sheet or use silicon liner. Cut each roll into 12 pieces and flatten. Bake at 350 degree until the cookies start to darken and fat starts to sizzle around the edges. Cool on rack; store in air tight container. Makes 36 moderately sized cookies.

So what do I have to show for my year of experimentation besides multiple, albeit tasty, mistakes?

A better cookie? That one is hard to call. Taste is 100% subjective so it all depends.

Certainly a cheaper cookie. I used the best ingredients I could find. Walnuts are expensive and I used a generous amount. Organic oats, white whole flour, real vanilla, and Zante currants also add up. Sugar and eggs are reasonably priced. Although tempted, I drew the line at organic butter. The last batch I made cost $9 which works out to between $6 to $7 per pound. Hand made artisan cookies of comparable quality would have cost me upwards of $15 per pound here in New York City.

Certainly a healthier cookie. Whole grains are healthier than refined flour. The fatty acid profile is more favorable because I increased the walnuts (unsaturated fat) and decreased the butter (saturated fat). It’s a dense, filling, satisfying cookie that does not invite gluttony. I weighed two cookies at 35 grams and calculated 160 calories.

And certainly a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction. This is my ratio. The recipe works just the way I want it to and the proportions work by weight. If I have to measure, my preference is round numbers on my scale. Easy to measure and easy to make. But that’s just me and my simplistic mind.

Baking illiterates often don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But even I have to admit that a couple of cookies mid afternoon with coffee or tea is very satisfying.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Elizabeth David, measurement, culinary judgment.

French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David, Reprinted with revision 1970, page 124.

French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David, Reprinted with revision 1970, page 125.

I adore Elizabeth David. For so many reasons. Her attitude. Her wit. Her unshakable common sense. The way she writes about the food she loves. And I especially love her human approach to measurement.

Pictured above is a page from French Provincial Cooking. It’s the opening paragraph for the chapter on Weights and Measurement. Her words were a breath of fresh air to this American ear raised to measure with cups and spoons according to the rigid methodology of sifting, spooning, and leveling developed by Fanny Farmer and in her Boston School of Cooking Cookbook. I have paraphrased Elizabeth David’s text as follows:

The dangerous person in the kitchen is the one who goes rigidly by weigh, measurements, thermometers, and scales … The tradition of French cookery writers, with a few notable exceptions, is to give only rather vague directions as to quantities, oven temperatures and timing. American cookery writers are inclined to err in the other direction, specifying to the last drop and the ultimate grain the quantities so salt, sugar, powdered herbs, spices, and so on, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination or discretion of the cook … Seasonings and flavoring are surely a question of taste; they are the elements which give individual character to each person’s cookery. And then there is always a question of what happens to be available. One cook will trudge for miles to buy a sprig of thyme because the directions for the stew tell her to include ‘a bouquet of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf’. Another will cheerfully leave it out. A third will substitute some other herb, a fourth will abandon the whole project as being too much worry and trouble, a fifth will be careful always to have a small supply of at least common herbs and spices in her store cupboard. It is not for me or anyone else to say which one is acting correctly. It is a question of temperament …

The really good cooks I know seem to have one thing in common. They tend to ignore recipes. Well I don’t mean completely ignore, but the really good cooks I know are more likely to do things their own way and less likely to follow the measurements and ingredients with dogmatic precision.

More than once I have been asked by one of the not so good cooks I know to salvage a situation using my culinary instinct. Like the time my sister was preparing a crab dish. She was carefully measuring out the required 1/2 teaspoon salt, her hand slipped, and a lot of salt went in before she could steady the container. She was expecting company that night and panicked. So I just rinsed off the crab, did a second béchamel, and no one was any the wiser.

When I look at a recipe, I see a framework for creativity. And if I make a mistake, so what? That is called human error and it happens to the best of us. Maybe I have created a new masterpiece. Much to my surprise and delight I have discovered that as long as you don’t broadcast the mistake, most people sitting at the table never know the difference. Like the time I found the sour cream for the beef stroganoff still sitting on the counter after dinner.

I do expect some things from a recipe. A listing of ingredients. Basic proportions. A sensible set of guidelines to help me out along the way. I don’t care if the ingredients are listed in order of use. Or how they are listed although my preference is by weight in grams. What I do not expect is guaranteed success. That will depend more on my culinary judgment than on my ability to execute a series of steps in the right order.

Now dietitian in me is beginning to speculate … What role would culinary judgment have to play in nutrition / healthy eating? Hummmmmmm … I will have to give that one some serious thought.

Tags:

Can we eat healthy and high fat?

summer flounder | gourmet metrics

summer flounder | gourmet metrics

 

Wednesday is fish night and summer flounder is what I served for supper a couple weeks ago. The piece I picked out weighing about 2/3 pound (300 grams) so at $15 a pound, I paid about $10.

At my table small is beautiful, so a little bit of protein goes a long way. Just the two of us that night and we split the flounder. That piece pictured above was my half. Cooked and ready to serve let’s say about 4 ounces (120 grams) which by American standards is on the skimpy side. But taste wise and protein wise (15 grams) it’s enough for me.

Some of my more zealous colleagues look at flounder as a low calorie / low fat option because the fish is so lean. Not me. Now I love flounder or fluke as some call it because the flesh is so delicate and the taste so subtle, but even this eater has to admit that all by itself flounder tends to be on the bland side.

My way to cook flounder is to pan-fry in olive oil, season with salt, kiss with pepper, finish with whisper of unsalted butter, and serve with a twist of lemon. Delicious but not low fat.

For the rest of the plate, steamed local spinach and farro. Local fresh spinach has plenty of flavor and to my taste at least needs nothing else, not even salt. I added some farro for whole grain carbohydrate but I took the picture before putting it on the plate. We finished off with a salad of finely diced kohlrabi, red Boston lettuce, Napa cabbage, and a couple of hydro-tomatoes dressed with my vinaigrette. And local blueberries for dessert.

The calorie count ran around 650 per person. Not a big meal by American standards but more than enough for us. It was a work night and we prefer not to have a heavy meal before going to bed.

Sounds pretty healthy doesn’t it? Let’s take a look.

Protein. A modest portion. Bonus points for seafood.

Vegetables. 6 different kinds of vegetables, total of 2 cups. Bonus points for dark green.

Fruit. Blueberries, rich in Anthocyanins, 1/2 cup. Bonus points for whole fruit.

Whole Grain. Farro is a wheat (not gluten free) and one of my favorite ancient grains. Bonus points for whole grain.

Fatty Acid Ratio: excellent which means more olive oil and less butter.

Sodium. 780 mg for the meal and 33% DV.

And for added value the meal qualifies as sustainable and affordable. In New York, flounder is local and not currently overfished. And despite the high price per pound, a modest serving size makes the cost manageable.

But there is always that question from the back of the room. How about fat? No problem. I’m a nutrition nerd and I always have the numbers. The percentage is above the recommended cut off which puts my meal into the high fat range. Not a meal for someone who needs to adhere to a low fat regime or who believes only low fat meals are healthy.

And because regulatory compliance is cast in concrete leaving little flexibility for humans to exercise judgment, labeling my meal healthy would be illegal.

It’s what I call healthy versus healthy.

And that’s why, when it comes to my own table, I exercise culinary judgment.

“Judgment is to law as water is to crops. It should not be surprising that law has become brittle, and society along with it.” The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard, 1994

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does it matter where my garlic came from?

photo | gourmet metrics

 

That is one beautiful, robust clove of garlic pictured above. It came from a small local market where I do a lot of my shopping. It stored well down to the last piece, no shriveling or mold spots, and cooked up beautifully with all the rich umami flavor I expect from an honest clove.

The garlic was imported. The sign above said “IMPORTED GARLIC” but no information on the country of origin was included.

So I started looking around for someone to ask. The store is run by a bunch of guys who love the business I give them but do not always have time or inclination for all my questions.

Now I am not easy. I want to know everything about everything. That’s me. A real pain in the ass. So when I shop for food I am always attentive to managing a constant tension between my desire to know and someone else’s desire not to be bothered.

And my observation over the years is that guys who work in the food business usually do not appreciate curious ladies with questions, unless they work at Whole Foods. But I was not shopping Whole Foods that day.

My first try was the young man attending to scallions. His English was at best somewhat broken but he understood my question, just smiled when I asked if he knew where the garlic came from and he just said ” Nooooo … ”

One of the managers would probably would have known was elbow deep in piles of delivery papers so I decided not to interrupt.

Then I saw one of the principles, usually tolerant of my insatiable curiosity. As I approached he took a quick turn from my path into the refrigerator storage room. So I gave up, paid for my purchases, and left the store garlic in hand.

In the parking lot behind the store is a holding shed for produce to wait before it goes into the store for sale. I was parked near the holding shed so I put my bags in the car, went back to door to the shed, and looked in.

No one there. But I could see lots of boxes. I know the country of origin always appears on shipping crates or boxes. So I went in and started poking around and I found it!

Printed clearly on one of the boxes were these two words: GARLIC Argentina. No other indicators like organic or fair trade or nonGMO, but I had my country of origin.

But I got to thinking on the drive home, is it my right to know? Where do you draw the line between frivolous curiosity and legitimate need? Sometimes it is critically important. If there is a recall for example, where that cantaloupe or peach came from becomes critically important. Clearly a legitimate need.

And then there is that very long list of other nice to know things like fair trade or nonGMO or organic or heirloom. These labels are good marketing tools, but do they fall into the category of legitimate need?

Thinking through the issue on the drive home, I conceded that it’s not really my right to know unless it is a safety issue.

Developing a good relationship with your customers has encourage many vendors to make it their business to answer questions. That is why I have such good relations with many of the Whole Foods staff. But this particular store I shop at does not have that kind of business. It’s a family affair and run by people who have been in the produce for two generations. Twice a week they go to the Hunts Point distribution center and refresh the stock. I shop there because they are expert at buying produce. And for perks, they bring in blood oranges from Sicily in the winter and green figs from California in the late summer.

Besides there is more than one way to discover a country of origin. I had my answer and came home with a great garlic. So I have decided to cut them slack on this country of origin issue.

Tags: , , , ,

Okay three cheers for butter! But now what are we suppose to do?

My mother and I disagreed about a lot of things, but butter was right up there near the top of the list. She thought margarine was healthier and I thought butter tasted better. Kids never win these debates, but you know exactly what I did as soon as I grew up. That’s right, I used butter. OMG did I use butter!

Nothing like living and cooking in France to encourage a lavish use of butter and we were going through a pound a week easy. As all good things come to an end, so did my butter indulgence. My cooking horizons expanded. Olive oil moved into my pantry replacing butter as my fat of choice. And along the way, before I actually went back to study nutrition, I picked up one of those pivotal books in my culinary nutrition education.

The original Laurel’s Kitchen came out of the Berkeley counter culture vegetarian movement and was published 1976. My version, The New Lauren’s Kitchen was published about 10 years later and is still in print today, a testament to the book’s enduring value and our collective hunger for healthy eating.  Reduced fat was the nutritional byword at that time, but even back then we loved out butter and Laurel offered an ingenious solution.

As she put it in the preface for the Better-Butter recipe: “This is surely one of the most popular of all our recipes. It offers an easy spreading alternative to margarine, which can otherwise be the most highly processed — and salted — food in a natural foods kitchen. Better-Butter combines butter (for flavor) with the unsaturated fats of good-quality oil. The result is a spread that’s as low in saturated fat as margarine, but without hydrogenation, processing, and additives.”

Note that the comparison with margarine was made prior to the arrival of soft spreads.

The battle between butter versus margarine rages to this day.  Industrial production versus the real thing. Fresh, natural, organic butter churned from grass fed, pastured raised cows versus phytosterol enhanced, expeller expressed soft spread from nonGMO grown, mono-unsaturated canola oil.

Being older now and hopefully wiser, this dietitian still finds herself sitting right in the middle in the line of fire from both sides. There is evidence to support the argument that saturated fats should be minimized and replaced with polyunsaturated fats. And there is evidence to support the argument that saturated fats are actually not the most toxic natural substance known to mankind and their potential for harm has been overstated.

If butter is your thing, this dietitian says enjoy it but exercise moderation just in case. If soft spread is your thing, this dietitian says enjoy it and feel confident that the product has been engineered to eliminate those truly unhealthy hydrogenated fatty acids.

And for those of you looking for a third option, give better-butter a try. Half butter and half olive oil is credible, good tasting alternative. The original recipe used volume measure, but being the nutrition nerd I am, my preference is to use the scale and do weight measurement. Both ways work.

Better-butter is a great tasting homemade do it yourself alternative.

And Laurel was right about one more thing. Even just out of the refrigerator, better-butter really is easy spreading. And that is the really cool part.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,