Friday, December 30, 2011

A response to "Food Stamped"

We took an interesting documentary DVD out from the library this week - "Food Stamped" - it was written / directed / edited by a couple named Shira and Yoav Potash.   

Shira Potash is a nutritionist, employed directly or indirectly by the food stamp program to teach kids in the public schools about healthy nutrition.     In the documentary this young couple sets out to live for a week, in terms of groceries, on the $50 which is a higher-than-average allotment for a two adult household.   

She did this following the example of a few congressmen and congresswomen who also followed the same challenge for a week.

Points on which I agree with Mrs. Potash's theories:

1)  We have an obesity problem AND a malnutrition problem in this country, especially among the poor.

2) Access to healthy food is difficult for the poorest citizens of our country, especially those without cars in urban environments with only corner stores.

3) A lack of education is one of the biggest problems.

4) Basing a lot of their meals on the cheap and nutritious proteins of beans and eggs was a good starting point.

BUT I also take issue with some of what she demonstrated and said:

1)  She set up some straw men arguments .... the choice is not between living on ramen noodles or buying $5 bottles of organic, gourmet salad dressing.      In trying to still eat not only organic but FRESH organic, she didn't do much to demonstrate the "least of the evils" choices she could have made.    

2) Eating salad and eating out of season produce every day is a new phenomenon, and one that started as almost a parlor trick for the wealthy to show off at their dinner parties.     It is NOT necessary nutritionally.        

3)  Whole Foods and similar gourmet grocery stores are just that - gourmet!    Of course they aren't going to be the source of daily sustenance for anyone who is on a tight enough budget to have only the money provided by food stamps.     Food stamps is a last resort type of thing - and I'm glad it's there for those who really have no other options - but if it DID allow daily consumption of $5/jar coconut oil, it probably would be a bit too generous ...

4)  There was no individual highlighted in the documentary who was doing well in making those dollars stretch.    I certainly agree without a game plan and careful thought it would be hard to feed your family for $1.10/person/day.    But they couldn't find one single person who was doing it pretty well?

5) There was no acknowledgement that her husband might need more food than her - the quantities served seemed to be about equal.    

6) I don't know how you would do this on the challenge, but another factor is that when you're cooking from scratch, you replace different ingredients each week.     This week I might need to buy whole wheat flour and a can of rolled oats, but I'll have enough olive oil and vinegar left from last week to dress my salads ....

So what would I have liked to see her do differently, and what would I like to see her more realistically teaching her students?

1) She slammed canned veggies as less nutritious, but didn't focus on frozen at all ... frozen green beans are likely just as high in nutrients as fresh green beans bought anywhere but a farmers market because of the transportation time .... but are frequently available for $1 for a pound bag.      Same with frozen spinach, frozen corn, frozen peas ....

2)  She indicated she couldn't have peppers and showed a $8.99/pound fresh red organic pepper!   Ummmm ... who would EVER pay that?    I get frozen sliced bell peppers, tri color, for 1.99/pound.    And it's ALL useable ... no seeds/core/stem to throw out, which makes the effective price per pound higher.

3) Skip the expensive bread (either pull out your bread machine or get a normal store brand whole wheat), and instead spend money on a frozen bag of chicken tenderloins.      I think I pay about $8 for a 2.5 pound bag.    Easily enough for a few meals.    In fact one bag of frozen chicken tenderloins and a couple pounds of 80/20 ground beef would allow at least some meat for every dinner.   Or our local Trader Joes has chicken drumsticks, antibiotic free and organic, for about 1.29/pound. 

4) If you're really tight on funds, serve EVERY meal with a generous portion of some type of whole grain carb ... for one dinner she had a beans and greens that they said was tasty, but didn't seem to be enough quantity for her husband.     Especially when you are that tight on portions, grits, whole grain penne, cornbread, whole wheat toast, etc ... all can help fill you up.   

I guess my major issue, especially with someone employed by tax dollars to teach poor kids, is that she wasn't offering PRACTICAL solutions within the realities of poor families.   Whining that they can't afford the most gourmet choices won't help them do a bit better with what they DO have available.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Really easy Unmashed potatoes - organic, unprocessed and cooked in the microwave!

This is unpretentious weeknight cooking to be sure, but also very tasty!

1) wash potatoes  (mine were organic from the CSA)
2) cut them up in bite size pieces (don't peel)
3) place in microwave safe large bowl, cover with water
4) cook until tender (took about 16 minutes in my microwave with about 8 cups of chopped potatoes)
5) pour off water (doesn't need to be too thoroughly)
6) mix in some butter, thyme, paprika, salt  (if you forgot to take butter out of the freezer until now, microwave for one more minute)
7) stir and serve in the same bowl!

So easy, so good ... and don't worry about adding some butter - its still MUCH better for you than most processed foods!

In a pickle? or jars of lovely quickles ...

I don't know why, but it wasn't until AFTER my daughter was born that I started really enjoying pickled foods.   With the weekly bounty of vegetables arriving from the CSA each week, plus my fondness for visiting farmers market in high summer, I've had plenty of fresh produce recently ... sometimes a bit too much.   So I started looking into pickling.   But as a full time working mom, spending 8 precious hours with my hot water canner was a no-go.    But then I started coming across the phrase "refrigerator pickle" and "quickle".   

As I read more recipes, many seemed to have a basic theme:  2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt, brought to boil and poured over a jar of prepared veggies and spices (peppercorns, whole allspice, garlic cloves, cloves, hot peppers, etc).     We later discovered that any that don't have a distinct garlic bite needed more sugar, so I added a sugar syrup the next day to the beets and the tupperware container full of mixed veggies that didn't fit in the jars.    

Here's my results: 

Beets, with some freeze dried ginger, allspice, cloves, sugar, peppercorns in jar:

Greens beans, carrots with minced freeze dried garlic, peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds, little sugar, onion:

cucumber slices with significant garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My top secret brownie recipe

This gets really good reviews every time I bring it to work, so I figured I would share.  

1)  buy a box of brownie mix (or better yet get it practically free with a double coupon on sale)

2)  store on shelf for really long time

3)  open brownie mix, preheat oven

4) replace "oil" listed on box with equal quantity of melted butter

5) replace "water" listed on box with equal quantity of cold leftover coffee

6) add eggs per instructions, stir it all together

7) add a handful of roadkill bunny (i.e. chopped dark chocolate - the lindt store sells broken bunnies cheap post Easter)

8) add a handful of mini marshmallows

You will have to bake this a bit longer than the box says because of the extra gooiness from the added chocolate and marshmallow.      I like it served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Everything on the grill

One of my goals in the summer is to have yummy meals without heating up the kitchen, so I grill just about everything, especially the wonderful produce coming from my CSA.   I facilitated this by buying some sturdy metal pans - two 8" bread pans, and a quarter sheet pan ... both WITHOUT non-stick, so I didn't have to worry about the high temperatures on the grill:

Cauliflower and/or broccoli:   wash, chop into bite size pieces, put in bread pan, shave a bit of butter on top, cover with foil, cook on top rack of grill.

Beets:  remove stems and leaves, wash well but GENTLY so as not to remove skin.    Place in bread pan, add about an inch of water, cover with foil, cook on top rack.     Take off, allow to cool, use fingers to rub off the skin, then slice and keep in fridge for salads the next day.   Beets are naturally sweet but need a touch of salt or a little salad dressing in a salad  ... or serve warm, sprinkled with some chevre and toasted almonds ... or make a beet and green bean salad with a bit of Italian vinaigrette ....

Green Beans:  butter/bread pan as above

Potatoes and spring onions:   same idea as this, but chop the potatoes small, and the onions thin.    Mix with some butter or oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme and paprika.   Cook with the sheet pan directly on the grill (closer to the heat), and stir frequently.

Squash:  Slice zucchini or other summer squash thin, mix with one thinly sliced onion and one red bell pepper.   Drizzle with olive oil, salt and black pepper.   Cover tightly with foil and cook on the top rack until the onion is completely cooked.  

Dessert:   wash, (pit if cherries, cut if strawberries or rhubarb), toss in a bread pan with just a little sugar, break 1/2 a frozen pie crust over the top in small pieces, bake uncovered on top grill rack!  I've now made them with multiple combinations of sour cherries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and rhubarb ... every one turned out great!     I lean towards under sweetening.   You can always serve with some vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is one of those "oops forgo the picutre before it was devoured" posts .... but I'm getting a CSA share from Lancaster Farm Fresh again this year after two years off.     One of the unusual vegetables in this past Monday's share was Kohlrabi.

I looked up how to cook them and found a variety of suggestions ... but I didn't want to heat up the kitchen.   so I washed them, sliced off the leaves, sliced them into 1/2" slices, and put them in a metal dish with some butter.    I covered that with foil and put it on top rack of my grill.    Sooooooo good!   It's like a cross between a tender broccolli stalk and an artichoke heart.

Yum Yum Yum 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cheese drawer odds and ends Mac & Cheese

A loose recipe I make every so often when I have some good cheese on hand ....

1st. Boil and drain one pound of pasta to al dente, drain and set aside. (I tend to use penne or ziti, but if you have elbows on hand, that is fine too)

2nd. Make a roux - melt half a stick of butter in a large pot. Whisk in about a quarter cup flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it's a light brown with a light scent of toast.

3rd. Mix in about a pint of milk, stirring constantly as it comes up to temperature (the flour will thicken the liquid as it comes to a boil). Season with mustard (dry powder or a prepared dijon or brown would be best), a few tablespoons of sherry or white wine, paprika, garlic powder or finely minced garlic, onion powder, pepper (preferably white pepper), nutmeg.

4th. Mix in about a pound of cheese, shredded. In my last batch I think I used fontina, cheddar, parmesan and a little bit each of Parrano and swiss. Any "real" cheese (except those studded with apricots or jalapenos) will work. Items that say "velveeta" or "cheese product" just won't do. This is a GREAT way to use up any bits in your cheese drawer. Anything from asiago to ricotta to brie to dubliner .... your mac and cheese will be different each time, but for a mouse like me, always a success. Save a little of one type for the top. Mix the rest in, stirring until it is all melted.

5th. Mix the pasta into the milk/cheese mixture. Taste to make sure it is seasoned to your liking. If you want, add some chopped ham or turkey or chicken (cooked) at this point. You could also mix in any veggie that is not high water content - already roasted pepper or cooked and drained peas, for instance.

6th. Divide into casserole dishes. This will make two good size round casserole dishes, or one generous 13 x 9 plus a bit left over.

7th. Top with the reserved cheese you saved for the top, and if desired some buttered panko crumbs or bread crumbs or crushed ritz crackers.

8th. Refrigerate for later or pop into a 375 degree oven until bubbly.