Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

On this day, Memorial Day 2011, I would like to take a moment to say, "Thank You" to the men and women that have laid down their lives for our country. I would also like to extend that to all of our military, those men and women that set aside their daily lives to go out and risk all, at the behest of the leaders that set their course. Thank you for sacrificing comfort and leisure to put yourself in danger, so that we can enjoy peace and safety. To the family members left behind, thank you for lending us your loved ones. I hope that we may return them to you safely, but if they should perish defending us, we honor them and appreciate all that they have done, and mourn your loss with you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Apple(sauce) for a great teacher (and other grownups)

Even though teacher appreciation was May 3 this year, we never need a date on the calendar to appreciate fine teachers. Growing up as an Army brat, I had quite an extensive sampling of teachers, good, bad, and every stripe in between. Today's post is dedicated to one of my very favorite teachers, Miss Lynn E. Peters. Miss Peters was my second grade teacher in Fulda, Germany, and she was everything an educator should be. She was creative, kind, patient, and she opened the world to her students. Every morning we started the day with poems from Shel Silverstein or with song. I particularly remember us singing "Chicken Soup with Rice" based on the book by the same name by Maurice Sendak, and that Miss Peters had the illustrations for each month lined up under the chalkboard.

Miss Peters taught us to sew (and even to create our own ‘designer' fabric using crayon drawings that she reversed and ironed onto white squares of fabric), that we could make gifts from salt dough (she then baked our creations and applied some sort of laquer), and she was the first person to introduce me to the idea that applesauce came from apples, and not just from jars in the grocery store. She was also the first teacher to say that I had a talent for writing. She holds a special place in my heart for all these reasons and more. I heard she was married a year or two after I moved on from her classroom, so I have no idea where she is or what her name is now, but I hope that life has been kind to her. Wherever you are today, Miss Peters, you made a huge impact on me, and I thank you.

I never see an apple, or even applesauce, that I don't see a kind smile in my memory. Today I offer you my own version of applesauce for grownups. This is not your average store variety, it is cooked with wine and spices (similar to my Baked Apple recipe). Obviously this recipe makes a fairly small amount, but next time I will make a bigger batch. As much as possible, I use organic ingredients, but I especially recommend organic wine.

3 apples (I used a variety of apples that we had left from the last few co-op deliveries)
1 cup organic white wine
1/8 tsp ginger
¼ tsp cardamom
½ tsp coriander seed powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp white pepper
¼ tsp clove
¼-½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
2-4 Tbsp sugar according to taste

Peel, core & chop the apples and put the pieces into the wine, toss the pieces regularly to soak them in wine. (You can use the wine to keep the apple from browning)
Add spices and simmer in a covered pot until very tender.
Puree in a food processor, blender or food mill.
Add sugar to taste.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pear & Yellow Summer Squash Spice Bread

In a recent co-op delivery, we received yellow summer squash, along with pears and apples. That set me to thinking about my recent experiment: Apple Zucchini (Courgette) Spice Bread. After some debate, I decided that I wanted to try a twist on the previous quick bread, and settled on yellow squash with D'anjou pears. Even though the spices are the same chai blend that I developed for the previous loaf, the result changes quite a bit just by switching out the squash and fruit.

I wish they served yellow summer squash like this when I was a kid.

½ cup butter
1 cup + 2 Tbsp organic cane 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 (if you don't have white pepper, you can use black pepper, but the white doesn't show in the cake)
1 yellow summer squash (grated finely, including the skin and any liquid)
2 pears (peeled, cored, and diced)

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)-if using stoneware, check the recommendations of your manufacturer regarding oven temperature.
Prepare a loaf pan (I buttered the pan and lined it with parchment, especially in case any of the fruit touched the bottom or sides).
Cream butter & sugar, add eggs one at a time.
Whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder/soda, salt & spices).
Alternate adding dry ingredients and grated squash, and mix only until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Fold in diced pears and spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
Baked for 60-80 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

*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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't scare me like that, Blogger!

Please excuse a post that is completely not related to food, but I just have to say, "Whew! It's good to have my blog back." The 'fun' started for my blog on Wednesday night when I attempted to access my stats and instead received a screen that claimed 'dragonfly in the kitchen' does not exist and would I like to register that page? After my heart started beating again, I began trying to figure out what was wrong and checked with Blogger. According to their general instructions, I cleared my cache. I also tried another browser, and I did see that my blog actually still existed (relief), but I could not access stats or post anything (grumble). Last night I read forum posts by other frustrated Blog-writers, and found out that I was not alone. Today my page is back, and Blogger assures us that lost comments and pages should be restored (in my case, I am missing a comment or two). This is one reason that I am glad that I usually write and save all my posts locally before I upload and edit them, so I would probably not lose everything, but after eight months I would really be sad to see my blog existence vaporized. Bad Blogger, no cookies for you! Oh, okay, here's a cookie for fixing the issue, but don't DO that to me!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is pink slime what's for dinner?

I recently wrote a post about meat glue, and in light of the reactions that I received, I also felt that it would be a good idea to share some information about another food industry item: pink slime. If you have watched Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" or "Food, Inc.", you may have heard about it, but if you haven't you may want to brace yourself. Pink slime is what it is usually called, but it also goes by the name ammoniated boneless lean beef trimmings, or even more misleading, it can simply be called boneless lean beef trimmings. This is a PC way of saying undesirable meat scraps (parts that at one time were reserved strictly for pet food, sometimes also referred to as ‘sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor') that have been run through a centrifuge to separate out the fat, treated with ammonium hydroxide (to kill the pathogens like E. coli) and frozen into blocks or chips of a mash-like substance. Alarmingly the company that makes this additive produces 7 million pounds a week. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the process is approved by the USDA, and that they allow up to 15% of a pound of meat to be made up of this filler. Since the ammonia is classified as a processing agent, it does not have to be listed on the ingredients list for the foods that you eat.

Where might you encounter this product? It is used in fast food (hamburgers, tacos, etc), low-fat hot dogs, taco meat, various processed meat products, and even school lunches and the ground beef from your supermarket. I wont name names, but if you have eaten at the big chain, fast-food establishments, you have more than likely eaten pink slime. I don't know about you, but having it ‘my way' should not include meat-like substances that have to be treated with disinfectant. While we are on the subject, I wasn't happy when I knew this stuff was used in dog food, so you can imagine how I felt when I found out that it had been put on our menus without notice. By the way, this has probably been going on for quite a while, since I found an article from January 2005 that described the process and company quite clearly, and a reference from a 2002 USDA email . The company has been in business since 1981, but I don't know when they started production of this particular product.

I would like to address a particular point in this debate. The proponents of this method focus on the ammonia and how it is a naturally occurring substance. As little as I like the idea of the use of ammonia, or the conditions that lead to the need for such decontamination (feed lots, mass-production of beef, etc.), my primary objection is the slime itself.  As is the case with meat glue, I take issue with  the deceit of this practice. How many consumers would (or will) choose to eat this additive? Shouldn't we have that choice?

If you feel as I do, you may be asking how you can avoid this product. The best way to avoid the slime is to buy grass-fed beef straight from the butcher, and don't be squeamish about asking if your butcher adds ammoniated filler. You can also join a meat co-op or select a chuck roast and ask the butcher to grind it while you wait, or even take it home and grind it yourself. It goes without saying that it would also be wise to make your own hamburgers, and skip the drive-through. 

I doubt it is the last gruesome tidbit that we will discover, and as hard as it is to know this information, I would rather face the facts of what we are up against. We are NOT powerless to cause change, especially as more people become aware of the truth and start to vote with their dollar. If we demand a change, and hit food-like producers where it hurts (the pocketbook), they will have no choice but to change their method of operation to start selling real, quality food. 

Follow-up: Pink slime revisited

If you would like to read more, here are several articles that I found in my research of this topic:

Baked Oatmeal

I recently began to wonder about cooking oatmeal in the oven. After all, I had found that oven-cooked brown rice was simplicity itself, and most things seem to benefit from some time in the oven. After some research, I discovered references to Amish recipes for baked oatmeal. After reading a few versions, I figured out this version. This is a cross between granola and oatmeal cookies. I would like to take this opportunity to add a word of caution. This is a high fiber recipe, so I suggest a single serving to start (and perhaps leave the chia seeds out the first time you try this). After all, fiber is good, but it certainly has the power to move you, if you know what I mean. ;)

I know the serving looks large, but this is a small plate.

2 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup melted coconut oil
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup raw sugar
½-1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander seed powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
¼-½ cup dried fruit of choice (this time I used cranberries)
3 cups organic oats
1 rounded Tbsp chia seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C*)
In a baking dish, beat the eggs and combine them with the milk, melted butter and coconut oil, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, coriander seed powder, salt and baking powder.
Add the oats and dried fruit, mix thoroughly.
Bake for 30-45 minutes until the mixture is set and browned to taste.
Serve warm, and leftovers can easily be reheated.

*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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sweet & Condensed Milk (homemade)

I have always had a sweet tooth, and I have always loved milk, so as a child, sweetened condensed milk was a real treat for me. I know that it is intended to be an ingredient used to make candy and desserts, but I remember a spoon and a can. Of course I never thought about food when I was a kid, or even much up until the last decade or so.

Recently I have seen candy recipes that call for sweetened condensed milk, and I started thinking about the cans that are commercially available and weighing my options. Not that there is an issue with the list of ingredients: milk and sugar, except that I haven't seen an organic option. Well, that and the cans that I imagine are lined to prevent metallic taste transfer (and what is usually in the lining material).

Which these thoughts in mind, I looked at a few recipes and decided to go my own way. The process took me a little over two hours of patient stirring and monitoring, but I think the results will work beautifully in candy, coffee and tea, and it definitely went well on the end of a spoon. ;) In the future I may try some flavor variations.

After several hours in the refrigerator.

6 cups organic milk (I used whole milk)
4 cups or organic pure cane sugar
glass jars (I used 4 8oz & 3 4oz jars)

Stir sugar into milk in a medium size pot until sugar is dissolved.
Place on medium heat (adjust to keep the mixture steaming, but turn down if/when it starts to boil).
The mixture will gradually darken and thicken, cook until it is the desired consistency. Be patient, and if you want to test the milk, put a spoon or two of the mixture in a small cup and place it in the freezer for a few minutes.
Refrigerate jars and use in a timely fashion. I don't know how long this would remain 'good', but I made this with some candy experiments in mind, and I sent a small jar with Hubby to work (for coffee and tea).

You can see how the condensed milk coats the spoon.