Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To (meat) glue or not to glue. . . .

The other night I happened onto yet another disturbing food industry practice, that of using meat glue. Now, at first I confused it with that other horror: pink slime, but no, this is not the same. They are both used to maximize meat profits, and they are both disturbing, but they are also both different. Meat glue is used to fuse smaller bits of meat together into more palatable, more profitable ‘cuts' and improve texture of sausage, yogurt, etc.(*1) Want a pork loin? Well, we can take these smaller scraps of pork, toss them well with a gloved handful of transglutaminase (a/k/a thrombian, meat glue, meat make-up, or Activa), wrap the whole bunch together tightly with plastic wrap, refrigerate for six hours and you now have a solid piece of meat (*2). The French Culinary Institute states that 1kg of meat glue will hold over 100kg of meat together.

We have been told before that most bacteria is on the outside of the meat that we buy, so if we cook the outside thoroughly, that bacteria is killed and it is safe to eat. If we are buying pieces glued together, those edges that are now inside must also be cooked well, but how many people want their steak cooked well-done? It doesn't take much to see that this could open up a potential for food poisoning (*3).

Another concern is the deceitful sale of pieces that would have been sold as stew meat, or ground up to sell or make sausage, as better cuts of meat. The use of meat glue is also how many chicken nuggets are made (separate the meat into a slurry of fibers, add meat glue and shape), along with lunch meats, etc. One could also see how restaurants would be quick to see a potential for profits, since once the meat is cooked it is difficult or impossible to tell, especially if you are not looking for evidence. Aside from those of us with food additive sensitivities, how often does a person think to play CSI at the dinner table?

Thrombian can be made from fermented bacteria or pig or cow plasma, and since labelers are less than forth-coming, this could be another issue. If you choose to be a piscatarian (vegetarian who eats fish or other seafood), you might not want your fish glue together with pork or beef enzymes. For religious reasons (i.e. Muslim and Jewish faiths), you may need to avoid pork, and one would assume the kosher certification would prevent the use of this ingredient, however there is a kosher version of this product.

It is interesting to note that this product has a limited shelf-life, and most variations have to be stored in the freezer. How can you tell if this is still working? Well, there is a test. (*4)
rub a lot of meat glue into a piece of raw chicken
if the chicken smells like chicken, your glue is not good
if it smells like wet dog it is good (really?)

If you are like me, two clues tipped me off as to the manufacturer of this product, those being the word ‘fermented' and the syllable ‘glut' (transglutaminase). That's right, this is made by Ajinomoto, the same folks that make MSG and aspartame and many other products, which is reason enough for me to try to avoid it. Note the word ‘try', since this is yet another stealth ingredient. I suspect avoiding processed food is a good place to start, along with purchasing organic meats (wondering how my butcher will react when I ask if they use meat glue, LOL). It should be noted that this additive is classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) in the US (*5). It is also worth noticing that the European Union has banned its use (*6 This has changed, and apparently the ban has been lifted. Much debate continues on the subject, and there is a movement in Sweden to abolish its use.*7). Safe or not, that doesn't mean that the practice is right, especially if the label and cost do not reflect that a cut of meat has been cobbled together. If I buy a pork loin, I would like one piece of meat. If I choose to buy trimmings, I would ask for them instead.

In the end, this issue will be decided in the court of public opinion only if the jurors are informed. That means that we as a public have to ask questions, talk about what we have read/heard/seen, and we cannot be shy about speaking out about our opinions. I do not dispute a person's right to choose to eat meat glue, monosodium glutamate, aspartame, etc, but I do think that full disclosure should be made so that if a person chooses to avoid such additives, they can do so without having to play Sherlock Holmes. It really isn't elementary, my dear reader.

1. Green Prophet by Miriam Kresh "Meat Glue: It's Everywhere, But We Don't Know It"
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXXrB3rz-xU
3. Green Prophet by Miriam Kresh "Meat Glue: The Meat Industry's Dirty Secret"
4. http://www.cookingissues.com/primers/transglutaminase-aka-meat-glue/ Section IV.
5. http://recipebookonline.blogspot.com/2011/04/meat-glue-contains-blood-plasmawhat.html
6. Food Safety New Presented by Zach Mallove "EU Bans "Meat Glue"
7. http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/306060

Additional resource:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Apple Zucchini (Courgette) Spice Bread

A while back I was thinking about zucchini, and this idea for an Apple Zucchini Spice Bread came to me. I sat down and wrote everything out (except the exact spices and amounts) and kept an eye on my co-op to see when they would be sending a courgette (the French name for zucchini ‡). This week, I received two pretty squash, and I headed to the kitchen. I joked to a friend that this is my mad scientist lab time. I settled down to the real work, which was deciding which spices to add and how much of each. This may sound odd, but I often do these things by smell, sniffing two spices together gives me an idea if that is the combination that I want. This time I was going for a delicate chai spice blend involving seven different spices, but I didn't want the spice to overpower the apples. Everyone that tried this reacted favorably, and I think this may actually be my new favorite quick-bread.

Here is the first loaf, hot out of the oven. If you look close, you
can see chunks of apples peaking through the crust.

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar (since the apples were not very sweet, I added 2 Tbsp sugar)
2 eggs
2 cups flour (1½ cup all-purpose+½ cup whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
¼ tsp coriander seed powder
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp white pepper (you can use black pepper, but I didn't want the pepper to show)
1 zucchini (courgette) finely grated including the skin and any liquid
2 apples (peeled, cored, and diced) I used pink lady

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)- if using stoneware, check the recommendations of your manufacturer regarding oven temperature.
Prepare loaf pan (I buttered the pan and lined the bottom with parchment)
Cream butter & sugar, add eggs one at a time.
Whisk dry ingredients together.
Alternately add dry ingredients and grated zucchini (courgette) and mix only until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Fold in diced apples and spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean (I needed 80 minuted, but I monitored the loaf the entire time).

Enjoying a still-warm slice with a hot cup of organic Assam black tea

‡Wiki page "Zucchini"

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baked Apples

As you probably already know, I am partway through my first blog giveaway (sponsored by Bennington Potters). Since I have this beautiful new Banneton baker I wanted to write a recipe to celebrate, and in testing it out, I got some photos to share with you. I decided I wanted to have a nice blend of spices similar to a chai; plain old cinnamon just would not do. As always, I recommend using as many organic ingredients as you can.

Prepping to make baked apples. The apples looked so pretty
 against that blue agate, that I just had to take a picture.

These apples, right out of the oven, bubbling and smelling
great, were fork-tender but still held together.

4 apples
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp coriander seed powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp clove
1/8 tsp ginger
½ cup white wine
½ cup raisins
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)- if using stoneware, Bennington Potters recommend starting at 200°F (app. 95°C*), and then warm to temp in the first 10 minutes after you put the dish in the oven.
Wash and core the apples, then peel them and place in the baking dish, drizzle white wine over the apple to prevent browning, reserving enough for remaining apples. Repeat until all apples are prepped. Pour remaining wine over the peeled apples.
Add the raisins to the wine.
Mix spices and sugar and sprinkle over the apples and wine.
Gentle pour the melted butter over the apples and put them into the oven to bake.
Bake for app. 1 hour. You can turn the apples or baste them as needed to keep them moist.
Serve with raisins and some of the juices poured over the apples. You can also add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a few cookies for a decontructed apple pie.
These reheat nicely, and any remaining juice can be saved and used in another dessert or poured over rice pudding, cinnamon toast, French toast, or ice cream.

Baked apples are served!

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Our first event: a chance to win a piece of Bennington Potters Stoneware

I have exciting news for my readers. We are having our very first giveaway. If you have read my blog for long, or if you notice my background photo, you have probably seen some lovely stoneware from Bennington Potters. They have generously sent me a sample piece of pottery and offered one to share with my readers. 

Several years back I was hunting for something outstanding for an "Us" gift. Dear Hubby and I usually buy something for the two of us to enjoy on big holidays or milestones. On this particular occasion I happened upon Bennington Potters, and they became a part of our family. We are slowly getting together a few pieces of their fine stoneware, and both my husband and I treasure them. I can't count the number of times when either he or I will turn away from a shelf full of other plates or bowls to wash our 'special' dishes for a meal. You can imagine, then, how excited I am to announce that Bennington Potters has gifted a piece to me and has authorized me to offer my readers a chance to win another. I have been wanting to host a blog give-away event for quite a while, and for my first event I get to offer you one of my very favorite things.

Here is the lovely gift that they sent, a Handled Banneton & Crock set in blue agate.

***UPDATE: After using these dishes on a daily basis, we still love the look, but unfortunately the  glaze doesn't hold up to regular use. On the dinner plates in particular, we have found that the irregular surface (the plates are not completely level, a characteristic that we originally chalked up to an acceptable variance resulting from being handmade) has allowed certain spots to become dull, almost as if the have been sanded. We stopped stacking them, but even so, the wear is such that we have made the difficult decision to stop collecting and using BP dinnerware. We have set aside the plates and several other items for use as purely decorative items. 

***Most of this post has been deleted, as my opinion of the product and company has changed significantly. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

By now you probably wont be surprised to see another sweet potato recipe from me, but you might be surprised at the choice. In chatting with a friend the other day I had an idea for this Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili. In this case I chose to have beef in the chili, but you could easily make this a vegetarian dish. I also decided to leave out tomatoes completely. This chili is mildly spicy (it could be tweaked hotter with more spice), but by omitting the tomato, we skipped the acidity. We served this with a blue cheese and scallion biscuit (I'll post that recipe when I get it just so). I had some black beans on hand that I had soaked and planned for a different meal; normally I would add more beans, but we still enjoyed this as it is written. . . . We both went back for seconds and Hubby said he wouldn't have minded thirds.

1½ lbs grass-fed beef
1 large sweet potato (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped and browned in olive oil)
1 cup red wine (optional)
2½ tsp Ancho chili powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
2½ tsp ground cumin seed
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups black beans (soaked and cooked until fork tender, substitute canned if you prefer)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
water or wine as needed to keep the chili moist while it cooks

Brown the onions in olive oil in a stock pot, remove and set aside.
Brown the grass-fed beef with the chili, paprika and cumin, add the sweet potatoes, onions, beans, wine, water and remaining spices. Simmer until everything is well-blended and the sweet potato is tender and begins to break down.
Serve with biscuits or crackers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Variety, it is the spice of life.

As I have mentioned in previous entries, I love to drink tea. Until recently my tea selection demanded the largest portion of my kitchen real estate. Recently, however, my spice collection has begun to eclipse my tea collection. I love variety in my cup, and also on my plate. As much as a painter needs a full palette of colors, so too, I need a full spectrum of flavors with which to create.
The more that I work to create tasty and safe dishes, the more that I find new herbs and spices that I want to try. After going to several stores searching for certain items, and coming home empty-handed, I finally decided to try an online source. As a result, a package of organic spices are on their way to my house. As per usual for a mother hen like me, I check for updates on the shipping tracking information. No child ever watched the Santa Radar more avidly than I monitor incoming kitchen goodies.
This order has a selection ranging from rosemary powder to marshmallow powder, mullein to rose hips, dill seed to juniper berries, and more. They are all organic, and many of them are new to me. Fingers crossed that they are all of good quality and that the projects that I have in mind work as well as I am imagining. I still have to find a good source for cassia, and I would like to get a bunch of organic vanilla beans to play with, along with a bigger selection of salts on hand, but I am getting there one flavor at a time.

Update: The order arrived and I am happy with what I see. Here are a couple photos that I took of some of the spices.

Cinnamon sticks,
rose hips and basil
Spice order cinnamon sticks, star anise,
brown mustard seed, coriander seed powder, bay leaves, dill seed,
coriander seed, dill weed and juniper berries