Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why Go Organic?

I subscribe to the George Mateljan Foundation's World's Healthiest Foods newsletter. It is very informative and I would recommend checking it out. I thought I would share a recent letter with you, I found it very interesting.

March 26, 2007

Dear Friend,

Need more reasons to eat organic? Studies have found that organic farming is highly preferable to conventional agriculture in terms of its effects on the environment. A yearlong experiment, conducted in an established apple orchard on a 4-acre site in the Yakima Valley of central Washington, used some trees raised with conventional synthetic fertilizers; others grown organically without pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilization; and a third group raised on integrated farming, which combines organic and conventional agricultural techniques.

One goal of the study was to compare the amount of nitrogen leaching into the soil. When present in excess of the amounts needed by plants, nitrates percolate through the soil, contaminating surface and groundwater supplies. The researchers measured nitrate leaching during the entire year and found it was 4.4 to 5.6 times higher in the conventional treatment than in the organic treatments, with the integrated treatment in between.

The research team also compared the amount of nitrogen gas released into the atmosphere. Nitrogen compounds from fertilizer can enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Air samples collected in the orchard after the fall and spring fertilizations revealed that organic and integrated soils emitted larger quantities of an environmentally benign gas called dinitrogen (N2) than soils treated with conventional synthetic fertilizer.

Modern conventional farming practices have also led to nutrient-poor food. The mineral content of vegetables has dropped significantly over the last few decades. Today, you need to eat almost twice as many carrots and three times as much broccoli to get the same amount of calcium you would have received from one serving of these vegetables in 1950. The lesson is clear: organically grown foods are the better choice to promote the health of both ourselves and our planet.

George Mateljan

Kramer SB, Reganold JP, Glover JD, Bohannan BJ, Mooney HA. Reduced nitrate leaching and enhanced denitrifier activity and efficiency in organically fertilized soils. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 13; [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 16537377

Davis DR, Epp MD, Riordan HD. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6):669-82. PMID: 15637215

Monday, April 16, 2007

Goodbye Elsie

April 16, 1941 The original Elsie the Cow died. Elsie the cow was originally a cartoon character appearing in ads for Borden Milk. At the 1939 New York World's Fair, when people began asking where Elsie was, Borden's picked a cow originally named 'You'll do Lobelia' from their herd to be Elsie. Elsie stared in commercials, made personal many appearances, and even starred in an RKO movie, 'Little Men.' Elsie was injured in a truck accident in 1941 and had to be put to sleep. She is buried in Plainsboro, New Jersey. .......

Isn’t she sweet? She rode first class, she had her own boudoir and four-poster bed. Should we take a moment to pay our respects? (Those of you who know me, know my love of cows.)

Cows make milk (about 400 glasses of milk per day actually), which is used to make cheese! Cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk and buffalo’s milk – there are hundreds of types of cheeses – hard, soft, smoked, flavored, cubed, shredded, melted, French, Swiss, Welch, farmer’s, artesian. Cheese, glorious cheese.

Cheese is organized into four main types:
.....soft (cottage, cream, mozzarella, brie);
.....semi-soft (Colby, Monterey jack, Queso Fresca);
.....semi-hard (cheddar, provolone, gouda); and
.....hard (parmesan, asiago, gruyere).
The moisture content of the cheese affects its texture and defines which category the cheese belongs to.

Great detailed list of each of these types of cheese

Soft Cheeses
Semi-Soft Cheeses
Semi-Hard Cheeses
Hard Cheeses

Making cheese at home can be really quick, easy and very tasty. This recipe is from Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses by Ricki Carroll.

30 Minute Mozzarella [more like 1 hour]
Yields 3/4 to 1 pound

1 1/2 level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1 gallon pasteurized whole milk
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon lipase powder, dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water and allowed to sit for 20 minutes (optional)
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/4 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup cool water (unchlorinated)
1 teaspoon salt

While stirring add the citric acid solution to the milk at 55° F and mix thoroughly. (If adding lipase, add it now.)

Heat the milk to 88° F over medium/low heat. (The milk will start to curdle.)

Gently stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion, while heating the milk to between 100 and 105° F. Turn off the heat. The curds should be pulling away from the sides of the pot; they are ready to scoop out.

The curds will look like thick yogurt and have a bit of shine to them, and they whey will be clear. If they whey is still milky white, wait a few more minutes.

Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put into a 2-quart microwavable bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve the whey.

Microwave the curds on HIGH for 1 minute. Drain off all excess whey. Gently fold the cheese over and over (as in kneading bread) with your hand or a spoon. This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is too hot to touch (145° F inside the curd).

Microwave two more times for 35 seconds each; add salt to taste after the second time. After each heating, knead again to distribute the heat.

Knead quickly until it is smooth and elastic. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it is done. If the curds break instead of stretch, they are too cool and need to be reheated.

When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls and eat while warm. Or place them in a bowl of ice water to 1/2 hour to bring the inside temperature down rapidly; this will produce a consistent smooth texture throughout the cheese. Although best eaten fresh; if you wait, cover with the reserved whey and store in refrigerator.

Chef Jen’s notes: I was able to find rennet tables in the ice cream topping aisle of the market and both rennet and citric acid can be found in the health food stores (bulk spice aisle). I was unable to find lipase. I know all of these itmes are readily available online. Make sure you have a clean pair of dish washing gloves available, the cheese gets extremely hot and is too hard to handle without them.

For my cream cheese loving fans, here are a few links to making your own cream cheese.

Making Cream Cheese At Home
How To Make Cream Cheese

I have not made cream cheese (but am now inspired to do so) so I cannot authenticate either of these recipes. I think I will soon be making some cream cheese and will post on it when I do.

My next post will be back to spring ingredients, I just could not resist my first love (cheese).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ripe Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a sour, astringent tasting vegetable, which is normally eaten as a fruit. Its tart nature is usually married with a large amount of sugar in pies, cobblers, jams and other desserts. This perennial plant grows well in regions with a cold winter, as it needs the cold for its winter dormancy – growing well in areas such as Siberia and Alaska.
The name rhubarb derives from the Latin rha barbarum. Rhubarb was found growing along the banks of the Rha river, the previous name for the Volga river. (The geography buff in me has to give a bit of information – the Volga is the longest river in Europe, starting in the northwestern part of Russia and draining in the Caspian Sea – see map) The Romans considered Russia to be barbarian territory. So the name rha barbarum, literally means from the barbarian, Rha.

The red and green, celery-like stalks are the only edible parts of the rhubarb plant. Rhubarb is high in Vitamins A & C and dietary fiber. The leaves and roots of the plant are toxic due to the excessive amount of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is corrosive to your body tissue, removing calcium from the blood.

When buying rhubarb, look for stalks with a bright, vivid color and ones that feel dry, firm, and crisp. Avoid stalks that are limp or wilted or have brown areas. About an hour before cooking with rhubarb, stand the stalks in cold water to refresh and crisp them.

Looking for a road trip? Kankakee, Illinois, about 45 miles south of Chicago is hosting their annual Rhubarb Festival on Sunday, May 20. With live music, rhubarb pie eating and tours of their one-room school house it sounds like an interesting stop.

Make about 4 cups

1 cup diced rhubarb
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced white onions
1 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Refrigerate. Serve cold with tortilla chips.

Serves 4


3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon ground garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 cups 1/2" cubed fresh rhubarb, about 1 1/2 lbs
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup dried tart cherries or golden raisins

2 pork tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds -- trimmed)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish

For the chutney:
Combine first 8 ingredients in heavy large Dutch oven. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb, onion and dried cherries; increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

For the pork:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Sprinkle pork with cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to roasting pan. Brush pork with 6 tablespoons chutney. Roast until thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 155°F, brushing occasionally with 6 more tablespoons chutney, about 25 minutes. Slice pork into medallions.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with remaining chutney.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Succulent Strawberries

Strawberries are another springtime favorite. These delicious red berries are the world’s most widely distributed fruit. A member of the rose family, it is the only fruit to have its seeds on the outside and is indigenous to almost every continent, exceptions being Africa and Australia.

There are two types of strawberries, an old-word variety (duchesnea) native to Europe and the new-world variety (fragaria) we consume today which are a hybrid of North American and South American berries. The species name fragaria comes from the root word fragans, a Latin term meaning sweet smelling.

And there is nothing like the sweet smell of strawberries. I love the berries right off the plant, warm from the spring sun. Strawberries are a common dessert fair – strawberry shortcake, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry jam. And we think of strawberries classically paired with cream or champagne. Strawberries are great when paired with:
Almonds.................Crème fraiche..................Port
Basil.......................Currant, black.................Rhubarb
Brown sugar............Figs...............................Sherry
Champagne.............Grand Marnier.................Sour cream
Cognac...................Maple syrup....................Vinegar, balsamic
Cointreau................Mascarpone...................Wine, esp. red
Cream cheese..........Pepper, black or pink
Taken from Culinary artistry (by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page ©1996)
Strawberry Cream Cheese
1 cup strawberries, hulled
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
powdered sugar, to taste
Mash the strawberries into the cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time until you have received your desired sweetness level (will depend on sweetness of berries).
Spread on toasted bagels or bread, or apple slices . Or serve with pretzel rods.
Strawberry Spring Salad Variations: Try substituting spinach for the greens. Add thinly sliced red onions. Substitue pecans or almonds for the pine nuts. Add a cheese, like brie or feta.
Strawberries in Red Wine Serve with alone or warmed slightly over vanilla ice cream.
Strawberry Cream Dream Muffins For my cream cheese loving fans - a strawberry and cream cheese muffin with a center of white chocolate
Strawberry Recipes Michigan Dept of Ag recipes (scroll down to find list for strawberries)
Find the closed market to your home and in a few weeks, go find some delicious red berries:
Michigan's Farmers Market and U-Pick Directory A guide to finding your own locally grown berries