Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food and Cooking: Not Sexist at All

The main excuse I hear for not going to all natural, real food after "It's too expensive!" (which is a fallacy after counting in the factors of nutrition, and healthcare costs from eating crap) is "I don't have time to make so many things from scratch!".

This *is* a real problem, because good food does take time.  My solution?  Single-income households or switching to local produce and meats exclusively.  Some of us can't switch to local, because the support structure just isn't there after decades of factory farming.  I have also worked out a system of once-a-month cooking, but that's not the topic of the post today, and doesn't completely solve the problem.  There's no getting around the fact that if you want nothing but nutritionally sound food, one person is going to have to stay in the kitchen full time, figuratively speaking.  Most time is spent planning outside the actual room.

Before my colleague feminists complain, I did NOT say that women should stay in the kitchen.  I said we need to switch back to a single income family model.  If that means the man stays home, that's okay too.  For single parents without domestic help, I feel for you.  Feeding a family with good, wholesome food, staying away from additives, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, mono-sodium glutamate, hydrogenated fats, and the rest of the nutritional pitfalls is a FULL TIME JOB.  They will benefit most from a plan-ahead, cook-it-all-in-one-weekend-and-freeze-it approach.  But that's another post.

Food suppliers have made it very, very difficult to find out exactly what's in your food.  They like this obscurity.  It means they can cheapen their product without damaging its perceived value.  So we parents/spouses/partners who are responsible for what goes on the table have mountains of research to do if we want to buy national brands.  Who puts "All-Natural" on their label, when in reality their cows are kept on feed lots, wallowing hip-deep in the filth of a thousand other cows?  Who claims to be organic, even though they lost their certification a year ago when they increased their herd size?  Who feeds their pigs anti-biotics and growth hormones?  You can't find that on a label, at least not in any standardized, accountable form, and if you think how the animal is treated while it matures doesn't affect what the meat is like, think again.

You know the old saying "You are what you eat"?  Well, consider that you are what you eat eats, too.  How nutritionally valuable do you think the milk will be if the cows that it came from were fed gummy worms AS FEED?

Or think of the example of the grocery store tomato.  They look pretty and red, thanks to ethelyne gas, even though they were picked way too early and were grown off-season with too little sunlight to develop their true flavor.  That tomato is going to taste like cardboard.  You may have even noticed a trend lately in NON-organic produce... it's gotten less pretty, more blemished.  I even found a bug in a head of non-organic lettuce recently.  A really big one, too.

I'm not sure if this is non-organic producers cutting costs even further, by relaxing their quality control standards to let more produce pass through, or if it's a deliberate attempt to make their product look organic, even if they can't claim it with certification.  Or a simple response to a growing consumer trend to prefer something that is less than perfect.

They are certainly on the ball if that is the case.  People are getting fed up with factory food.

I can remember opening a bag of Ruffles potato chips when I was a kid, and being delighted by the snowy white, crisp and tasty, perfectly ovoid contents.  Have you opened a bag lately?  (Considering the oil has changed in the last thirty years, and quite possibly the genetic structure of the potatoes themselves, I'm kinda hoping not)  Now when you open them, you see more misshapen chips, more "accidental" brown peels left on, more green spots... when there used to be none.  Why?  Is it a response to the economy, or a response to what is (hopefully) a growing consumer acceptance of something less-than-picture-perfect?

Since I've gone on for the length of a novel already, I'll wrap this up.  But please consider... is it worth upgrading to that shiny new car next year, and having to have two incomes coming in to afford it, if you have to switch to nothing but fast food and take-out dinner because you're both too exhausted to cook?  And then, because you're eating crap food, you get even more tired, get sick more often?  Is it really worth it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Food and Cooking: Making Your Own

Wow, with the start of the new school year and leap to Senior High for my daughter, I totally lost track of the time.  That, and the disappointing results of my garden due to unspecified pests of some type, have kept me from posting.

I have loved Stove Top Stuffing ever since I was a kid.  Something about the flavor and texture combination made me really, really happy.  I rediscovered this joy recently when I bought some on a sale-inspired whim.  I was shocked and saddened when, AFTER I brought it home, I read the ingredients list and found out that it contained High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Not only that, but it was the SECOND ingredient on the list, obscured by the long sub-list of ingredients for the flour.  I know, I should have read the label in the store, at least to look for semi-expected bad ingredients like MSG (which is also in there, dangit, along with a crap-ton of hydrogenated fats).

I know it didn't have these ingredients when I was ten.  Okay, I don't *know* for sure, since I wasn't a label reader then, but I'd be willing to bet it's changed a lot.  It certainly doesn't taste the same.

So I decided to scour the internet for a clone recipe to make my own mix, and make it healthier.  I've seen many, over the years, in books like "Make Your Own Groceries" (now sadly out of print and selling for over $50 per used book on Amazon) and I knew it could be done.  I found several, including this one on, and another on a blog titled "Feeding the Crew", but I didn't like either one.  The recipe used bouillon cubes, which to me seems odd, and unnecessary.  Just use granules in the first place!  Plus they don't go into the dried celery part, which might discourage some people as it's not readily available in all grocery stores.  The blogger's version was good, but adds a small amount of sugar to the mix.  The less sugar you feed your family, the less they expect it, and the less they crave it.  I don't think it's necessary to add sweetener to a stuffing.

I had a batch of baguettes that hadn't turned out right because I missed a crucial step (that basting with water and blast of steam when they enter the oven is very, very important to the classic crackling crisp crust).  I decided it was time to attempt the mix, but I'd use a modified combination of the two recipes to make something I would be happy to use.

Stuffing Mix

1 1/2 baguettes, sliced thin and cubed -OR- 6 cups cubed bread, dried (see below)
2 stalks of celery, finely diced and dried (see below)
3 tablespoons dried diced onions (I use an organic store brand)
2 tablespoons dried parsley (purchased organic, or home-dried organic)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
6 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules, optional (you can omit if you plan to use home-made chicken stock for prepping the stuffing)

Place all ingredients in an airtight container and shake vigorously to combine.  To use, combine 1 2/3 cups water and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan, -OR- 1 2/3 cups chicken stock in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and add 2 cups mix.  Stir and cover.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Fluff and serve.

*Notes:  You can dry your own celery and bread for this recipe easily, and without fancy gadgets.  Take the finely diced celery and spread it in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Place the cookie sheet in the oven and turn the oven on to as low a setting as you can manage where it still kicks out a bit of heat.  My oven has a digital readout, and will only go down to 170°, so if you have digital, I recommend that setting.  My old dial stoves had something like 120° on the readout, but I swear the heating element wouldn't come on until I set it to at least 150°.  So use your judgement... you know your equipment!  My celery dried in about three hours.  The goal here is something that won't spoil if you leave it in the cupboard, so make sure it's dry.  My celery shriveled to 25% of its original size, and even though the pieces started out the size of pencil erasers, they were teeny-tiny after dehydration.  The same procedure will work for the bread cubes, although you don't need the foil.  The foil is in case the celery sticks, and there's not enough natural sugar or moisture in the bread for that to be a problem.