Avocado-Black Bean Brownies

First, I should start off by apologizing for the huge gap between my last post and this one.  I don’t have much of an excuse other than I am a giant slacker and will attempt to keep up in the future.  Now, with that being said, I just made some of the best tasting brownies ever and the ingredients resemble salsa more than it resembles a pastry.  Why would I ever change the perfect brownie recipe I had?  Simple: Jess’ doctors recommended she eat a bit lower on the Glycemic Index and with all the white flour and sugar in my regular recipe, it just wasn’t going to cut it.

Avocado Brownies?

Avocado and black bean brownies? What in the...

I played around a bit with this recipe and I think I have it where I want it, but if you want to play some, I’d welcome the ideas.  This still contains some sugar, as I didn’t want to go the artificial sweetener route, but way less than a standard recipe.  As I stated above, the ingredients are a bit “out there,” and if you’re making them for the kids, I’d keep ’em out of the kitchen while you whip these up (I only revealed to Jess what was in them after she raved about how good they were).  

What I decided to do was to replace the butter with a combination of avocado and coconut oil, then replace the flour with black beans and half the sugar with agave nectar. It was an interesting experiment and I was worried, but in the end, I ended up with a very delicious and healthy dessert! Ready to start?

Ingredient Breakdown:

  • 1 Avocado, very ripe
  • 2.5 oz Refined Coconut Oil (more or less)
  • 4 Eggs
  • 15 oz Can of Black Beans (low sodium if possible)
  • 5.8oz Cocoa Powder (not Dutch Process)
  • 6oz Agave Nectar
  • 7oz Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Spray an 8-inch square pan (I prefer glass) with non-stick spray.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar and salt until well blended.
  4. Put the eggs in the food processor and let it run for about 2 minutes.  The eggs should become light yellow and a bit fluffy.
  5. Add your avocado and coconut oil to the processor and run for another two minutes (until smooth).
  6. Scrape down the sides and add your black beans and agave nectar.  Again, run the processor until smooth.
  7. Scrape down sides and add the cocoa powder mixture in two batches.  Continue to run the processor and scrape the sides until all blended and smooth.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepped pan and bake in the oven for 50-75 minutes.
  9. When done, the center of the brownies should register 195°F on a thermometer (or a  toothpick should come out clean).
  10. Rest the brownies for 5 minutes, then slice and serve.

I personally prefer these the next day (after a night in the fridge), but everyone is different.  I also suggest serving these with some vanilla-coconut ice cream.  The texture is sort of a cross between a brownie, fudge and a nice sweet-potato pie, but the flavor is all chocolate brownie.

Avocado Brownie

Avocado & coconut

Avocado Brownie

Preblended eggs

Avocado Brownie

Should look like this

Avocado Brownie

Ready for the oven

I’m hoping that some of you give these a shot and let me know what you thought!  If you have any tips or suggestions, please drop me a comment.

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Down on the farm

Last week I knew I had a three day weekend coming up and I didn’t exactly know what to do with it, so I thought I’d offer my help to anyone who needed it.  Amazingly, the very first person I asked was willing to take me up on my offer and asked if I wanted to drive up to Bonifay to help out on the farm and build a chicken coop.  Can’t say I’ve ever done it, but I’m always up for something new. I was asked to meet up at the farm around 6:30 AM to grab some breakfast before we got started.

Renee Savary, who owns and operates the certified organic farm, is originally from Switzerland and has been living in Florida for the better part of the last two decades.  Prior to buying the farm three years ago and changing her life forever, she was living down in Miami working as a real estate broker and stumbled upon the property she now calls home completely by accident.  Renee is a Master Gardener who has always enjoyed what she calls “real food” and is shocked that we Americans happily shove “scary stuff put in jars” and random additives down our throats without a second thought.  Since starting the farm and producing her preserves (all made using local, organic fruit) she has made it a point to try and explain to anyone who will listen about the fact that they’re being misinformed about what they’re eating.  One additive she hates is Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), which you see in your store-bought preserves, as isn’t being squeezed in from oranges and is instead created in a lab and imported in from China.

I rolled up to Twin Oaks Farm just as the sun was rising and could barely make out the details of the farmhouse in the layer of fog that was clinging to everything.  Renee met me outside, thanked me for coming and ushered me in to the house where she was both cooking breakfast for me as well as making breakfast for her many cats and new puppy, Maxwell.  While waiting for breakfast to cook, I met the one animal allowed inside, Carrot Top the cat, who really enjoys as much attention as you can give him.

Fence

Fence

Farm House

Farm House

Carrot Top

Carrot Top

Kittens

Kittens

My breakfast was three chicken eggs (raised on the farm, of course) some homemade sourdough and homemade preserves… had to get my energy up for the day ahead!  After breakfast, over which there was much discussion, we headed out for the start of the work day.  First up, we had to feed the cats, which was simple enough, then it was time to get the feed ready for the chickens and ducks.  Renee filled about 10 large buckets with certified organic soy-free feed and I carried them over to the tractor, and once finished we headed down to the field.  While Twin Oaks sits on over 90 acres, currently only a portion of it is being actively used, though Renee sees herself eventually scaling up as her requests for eggs have jumped up enormously over the past year.

Tractor in fog

Tractor in fog

Ready, set, cluck!

Ready, set, cluck!

Ducks in the mist

Ducks in the mist

Coming up on the grazing area was beautiful in the fog, and as we got closer we saw a visitor waiting for us, Maxwell, the 3 month old Great Pyrenees.  He might be small now, but these guys get very big and are used as livestock guardian dogs, which is just the reason he’s here.  Lately there has been an unwanted visitor sneaking in and eating chickens and Max has been brought in to make that stop.  Once we disabled Renee’s new solar-powered electric fence, it was time to let loose the chickens and ducks for breakfast and a day of wandering the property.  One thing I learned was that ducks are a bit more neurotic (as Renee calls it) compared to the chickens.  When the coops are opened, the chickens come running out, spread out and start eating… they pretty much ignore you.  The ducks, however, travel in a tight pack and quack loudly when seeing a person, tending to immediately run in the opposite direction.

Watching the flock

Watching the flock

Morning routine

Morning routine

Chicken sunrise

Chicken sunrise

In the doghouse

In the doghouse

Once the animals were out and fed, it was time to head up to the house and start building a new chicken coop.  This coop wasn’t some Ikea-type chicken coop that you may be thinking of… there was no “Insert Part A into Part B” here, this was gonna be built using planks of wood, steel fencing and chicken wire.  With Renee cutting, me drilling and both of us tackling the actual building, we got the wooden bottom and metal upper frame bent and secured into place just in time for a quick snack inside.  I was treated to a bowl of granola from Raw & Juicy, topped with homemade yogurt and homemade preserves, simple and delicious.  We decided to check on the animals to make sure all was well before getting back to work, and one quick look later we were back at it.

Bottom frame

Bottom frame done

Lookin' good!

Lookin' good so far!

Duck wrangler

Duck wrangler

Puppy love

Puppy love

The next couple hours whizzed by as we built the rear supports and hammered it into place.  Once that was all done we built the front supports and the door frame.  During this time Renee got a visitor so I took a moment to take some pictures of her ducks who had made it up to the house.  Now, one very interesting thing that you’ll notice in the pictures is that these ducks are hanging out in an in-ground pool that has been converted for them to use.  Let me tell you, never have I see happier looking ducks, splashing around and grooming… they were so involved they didn’t even notice me sneaking up for the pictures.  Soon it was time for lunch and we went in and Renee gave me a real treat.  She decided that since she knew I liked them, she’d make me some sauteed chicken livers and onions in a red wine sauce over brown rice along with a fresh salad and homemade vinaigrette.  Now let me tell you something, I could honestly eat that meal once a week for the rest of my life and never get sick of it.  Once lunch and conversation was over, back out we went for the final push to get the coop completed before it was feeding time for the animals.

Just quacking and splashing!

Just quackin' and splashin'!

It almost could be a coop!

It almost could be a coop!

While it doesn’t seem like it, covering the coop with chicken wire took the longest part of the day and in the end we completed everything except installing the door and covering the coop with a tarp.  Not too bad.  As the sun was starting to set we decided to go feed the animals and gather eggs one last time (which I got to do myself… was pretty fun, you should try it if you never have) before I headed home for the day.  Max was quite happy to see us, as were the chickens… whenever Renee came by with food they formed a line and began to follow her.

95% Done!

95% Done!

Feeding time

Feeding time

Bawwk bawk?

Bawwk bawk?

Bawwk bawk?

Bawk bawwk bawk!

In the end, even though I was on the farm from sun-up to sun-down, it was a great experience.  I think that everyone should spend a day like this if they get a chance to just get their hands dirty and to see what it takes to get the food from the field to the plate.  Not only would a day like this benefit you, it’d also help the farmers, who usually can always use a spare hand here or there.  I’d really like to thank Renee for the food, conversation and for allowing me to photograph some of the everyday goings on at the farm.  I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I’m there.  If you’d like to see some more photos from my time out there, please click here to go to my full gallery:  “Not Farmville” Gallery

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Down on the farm

Gluten-Free Spiced Pear Cookies

Ah, Fall… gotta love this season.  Pears, apples, spices… all of them show up in full force to drown us in their comforting tastes and smells.  This weekend I was at the Farmer’s Market (as usual) and decided to pick up a few bags of some dried Asian pears (grown by a local farmer out here) mixed with roasted pecans.    Upon getting home and remembering that I would be attending a showing of No Impact Man with a bunch of locals, I decided to make a batch of cookies to share.  Sadly, the last time I did this I learned that a few of the people attending the movie couldn’t eat gluten, so I decided to roll up my sleeves and make these gluten-free as well.

Mmmmm... tastes like Fall!

Mmmmm... tastes like Fall!

Unfortunately I was only able to get one photo of the cookies and none of the process due to time and how quickly they were snatched up when I unwrapped them (over two dozen gone in a matter of minutes).  Luckily, though,the processes I use in here are covered in previous blog posts which will be linked to as they come up.  Ready to get started?

Ingredient Breakdown:

Dry Goods & Spices

  • 5.6 oz Brown Rice Flour
  • 4.6 oz White Sorghum Flour
  • 0.2 oz Corn Flour
  • 0.2 oz Oat Flour
  • 0.2 oz Garbanzo Flour
  • 0.2 oz Almond Flour/Meal
  • 1.2 oz Corn Starch
  • 0.5 oz Tapioca Starch/Flour
  • 1 tsp Xanthan Gum
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon, ground
  • 1/2 tsp Ginger, powdered
  • 1/2 tsp Cardamom, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Coriander, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Allspice, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Cloves, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Grains of Paradise, ground (optional)

Creaming Goods:

  • 8 oz Butter, melted
  • 10 oz Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 oz White Sugar

Wet Goods:

  • 1 Egg + 1 Egg Yolk (or just 1 Duck Egg)
  • 2 Tbs Whole Milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Almond Extract

Add-Ins:

  • 5 oz Dried Asian Pears (dried pears or apples should also work), diced
  • 3 oz Roasted Pecans, chopped
  • 4 oz White Chocolate, diced
  • 2 Tbs Pear and/or Spiced Liquor (I used Hangar One’s Spiced Pear Vodka)

Frosting:

  • 10g Water, 90°F
  • 1/2 tsp Agar Agar powder (or powdered Gelatin)
  • 30g Golden Syrup (Light Corn Syrup can be used)
  • 1 tsp Glycerin
  • 170g Powdered Sugar (sifted)
  • Shortening (or Vegetable Oil)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1.5 oz Golden Syrup (or Agave Nectar/Maple Syrup)
  • 1 Tbs Water

Whew… got all that?  I know, I know… it’s a lot, but the end result really is worth it. Plus, a lot of this stuff will remain in your kitchen for quite some time, so you’ll get some good use out of it.  Now it’s time to cook… this cookie is made in four stages:  The dough, the fondant, the baking, the frosting.

Instructions:

The Dough:

  1. Mix diced dried fruit with liquor and set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Whisk together all dry goods into a bowl… make sure to blend well.
  3. Cream sugars and butter together for 2 minuted on Medium (it won’t look creamy… more like an oil slick, that’s okay).
  4. Scrape down sides and add in all of the wet goods (egg, extracts, milk), then mix until well combined (about 1 – 2 minutes).
  5. Reduce speed to Low and add dry goods in 3 – 4 batches, making sure the flour is integrated well (stop and scrape down edges as needed).
  6. Stir in all Add-Ins on low, until well combined.
  7. Put plastic wrap directly on the top of the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I usually leave it for the next day).

The Fondant:

  1. Mix the 90°F water and agar/gelatin together until all dissolved.
  2. Mix in the 30g Golden/Corn Syrup and glycerin and stir until combined.
  3. Add powdered sugar and combine until smooth, well combined and not too sticky (using first stirring with a spoon, then kneading with your hands).  It should look something like this (more brown if using golden vs corn syrup).
  4. Form into a log shape, lightly coat with shortening/oil, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and set aside.

The Baking:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Scoop out 1.5 oz of dough, roll into a ball, and set on a cookie sheet (if you use parchment paper, it’ll work easier), about 6 to 8 to a sheet, but don’t crowd.
  3. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating once half-way through.
  4. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, then place on a baking rack to fully cool before frosting.

The Frosting:

  1. Make a double boiler (I use a small glass bowl over a pot of water) and place in the rolled fondant.
  2. When fondant just starts to melt, add in extract, water and the 1.5 oz of syrup/nectar.
  3. Whisk well, until everything is melted and well combined.
  4. Check temp often, try not to let get above 105°F.
  5. When the temp is reached, remove from heat, and use a spoon to drizzle frosting over the cookies.
  6. Let cool for at least 15 minutes so the frosting can solidify.

That’s it!  You’re completely done… you now should have a moist, chewy, spicy fall cookie to satisfy even the most gluten tolerant out there.  Feel free to play around with the flours or the flavorings… would love to hear what some of you come up with!

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Gluten-Free Spiced Pear Cookies

Think outside the drum

As anyone who has turned on a TV in the past month knows, there is a massive plume of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  Recently I moved to the Gulf Coast and instantly took to eating locally and enjoying the fresh seafood, but that time is now over.  With the larger and larger fishing bans, many fishermen are choosing to do other things to get paid, resulting in many local restaurants running out of product.  The wildlife is suffering, the economy is suffering and there is currently no end in sight.  Even when the geyser is turned off, it’ll still take decades to clean the mess, and even then, our addiction to oil won’t stop.

Outside the drum

Hands Across...

Outside the drum

Get a shirt!

Outside the drum

Another gathering

Outside the drum

Need diff power

Many people are blaming BP for this issue, and while it was their rig, all the other competing companies have rigs in the gulf with the same “plans” in case something happens.  The people tying to boycott the company are not realizing a few things:

  1. BP doesn’t own most of these BP stations, local people do and it can cost thousands for them to break their contract and sell another gas “brand.”
  2. If you stop giving BP money, they won’t be able to pay the people they’ve wronged. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if they go broke, all the fishermen and others they’ve wronged won’t get a dime.
  3. Boycotting BP just gives the money to someone like Exxon (I somehow remember them having a spill) or someone else. How will that help?

There is really only one solution at this point and it is simple:  Start embracing alternate energy sources.

Outside the drum

Dave thanking us for joining him

Outside the drum

People starting to gather for the event

I know what some of you are thinking:  “It’s impossible!” “It’s hard!” “I won’t until celebrities/politicians/etc do!”  And to you I simply have to say: “Grow up.”  That’s right, grow up and stop thinking only of yourself.  Yes, switching from oil will be hard, no it’s not impossible and anyone who waits for someone else to do it first is a fool.  We humans have come up with many reasons/excuses for why we use oil as much as we do:

  • We can’t think far enough ahead to see what it’ll do.
  • We don’t care about what happens to the planet after we’re gone.
  • We don’t believe oil use causes any harm.
  • It’s cheap, easy and (seems) plentiful.
  • Etc, etc, etc…

What does that say about us as a species?  We like to act superior and speak of how much knowledge we have, yet we burn the remains of the ancient creatures that came before us to power our daily lives.  We have the ability to harness the power of the sun, the wind, the water and even the heat from the Earth itself.  These energies create less disease-causing pollution and are sustainable, and yet… and yet we choose to shun them because it’s easier to not change.  Even in the face of a future oil crash and after our oil was effectively turned off in 1973 for a short time, we continue to use.  Because of oil’s strangle hold on us we’re at the mercy of a handful of countries in the Middle East, and to loosen their grip we choose to, in a certain politician’s words, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”  Oil has literally shaped both America’s policies abroad as well as our environment.  And it’s not just America.  You see, there’s a secret the oil companies have:

They have major oil spills around the world every year, it’s just usually not reported.

Did you know, for example, that in Nigeria, they’ve had the equivalent of one “Exxon Valdez” sized spill a year for the past 50 years?  Not just that, but oil spills happen all the time and usually are bigger than the ones we Americans know about, for example, over 5,500,000 tons of oil was spilled between 1910 and 2010 worldwide (this doesn’t include all spills and doesn’t include the ongoing in Nigeria or the Gulf).  During this time period the “Exxon Valdez” comes in at just 35th place with a mere 37,000 tons of oil being spilled (that’s less than 1% of the total oil spilled in the last century).  To get an idea, one ton of crude is equal to 308 gallons (or 7.33 barrels).  This means over one and a half BILLION gallons have been spilled in the past 100 years.  That equals an average of 16,940,000 gallons (403,333 barrels) being spilled somewhere each year.

I feel this is completely unconscionably.

So what can a single person do to help?  Well, here are some ideas:

  1. Replace all “energy eating” devices with modern energy saving ones (light-bulbs, appliances, vehicles, etc).
  2. Bike/walk more if going short distances (things like Bionix and Xtracycle will help a lot to accomplish this).
  3. Set your computers (and other devices) to go to sleep when not in use.
  4. If you have the ability, convert to solar or wind power to help with your power usage.
  5. Vote for politicians that agree with these goals, research before you go to the polls (don’t stick to party lines “just because”).
  6. Write companies and ask them to conserve energy and to find ways to reduce their oil usage.
  7. Eat locally (in season), cook more meals yourself and also buy goods made locally.

While some are obvious to how they help, the last suggestion usually throws people for a loop.  What a lot of people don’t think about is how their eating habits directly affect their oil usage.  First, you have to think of travel cost.  For those living up north, to get your “fresh” strawberries in December they have to travel by truck or plane from California, Florida or Mexico to your grocery store.  This uses many bags, boxes, machines and trucks/planes to gather, pack, ship, store and sell these berries.  Each part of this uses some form of fuel, from the creation of the plastic bags to the machines used to move the berries to the vehicles used to ship them.  The worst part is that in the end, many of these berries will go to waste when they’re not all purchased.  If one were to eat local, you might not be able to have fresh berries in Winter, but you’ll save fuel and also look forward to them come summertime.

Outside the drum

Time to go beyond

Outside the drum

Reclaim our America

Outside the drum

Just liked this shot

Second, many things in the US are made from corn.  Plastics, almost everything you get from a fast food company, and most junk food are made from corn.  This might not seem like a problem, but it takes about 5.5 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer required to grow an acre of corn and 2008 the US grew 86 million acres of corn (this was down from 2007).  That translates into approximately 47,300,000 gallons used just to grow corn.  Why are they growing all that corn, anyway?  Long story short, it’s used to produce everything from the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in your soda to plastics to almost any food additive you can imagine.  If we were to start cooking more and eating/shopping local, we wouldn’t need all this corn and the land could be used to produce other food (reducing the need to use all the fertilizer or ship corn all over the country for processing).

If that isn’t enough, how about this?  One issue we face in the US is a growing unemployment coupled with a rising illegal immigrant population.  Part of this issue is directly related to our current agriculture policies in that it relies on the cheap labor as much as it relies on the oil.  If the undocumented labor goes away, the system would fall apart as no unemployed person wants these jobs.  In fact, to prove it, they’ve started a campaign called “Take Our Jobs.” From the site:

Take Our Jobs is a national campaign led by United Farm Workers aimed at hiring U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farm workers.  The effort spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled, leading to more jobs moving off shore.

As part of the movement, the campaign is sending a letter to U.S. lawmakers, offering up farm workers who are “ready to welcome citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields.” The campaign is encouraging Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions in locations across the country. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply.

By choosing to eat from local, smaller farms, you directly impact this cause.  If the large industries can’t make money with their monocultures grown on their large farms, they won’t need to hire undocumented workers to keep the costs down (and will use less oil).  Now, the price of food will go up some, but that isn’t a horrible thing.  If people learned to cook for themselves like many others in the world do, they’d realize that their dollar can go a long way.  Plus, the food being purchased would most likely (if local) be of better quality and better for you, usually causing a reduction of medical costs later on in life. And if all that’s not enough, you’d be directly helping your local economy instead of sending your money to who knows where.

Outside the Drum

Great potluck, all local made!

Outside the Drum

Renee of Twin Oaks Farm, a local farmer

No matter what happens, it won’t be easy, but why shouldn’t we be up for the challenge?  We could be the next “Greatest Generation,” but the war we’d win would be for clean energy and a massive reduction in fossil fuels.  We could make a stand and show our children’s children that we did care.  That we heard the call to action and stepped up.

Some organizations that are working to help with this goal are Hands Across the Sand and Reclaim Our America.  Recently I attended events put on by both organizations and met and was joined by the founder of Hands Across the Sand (Dave Rauschkolb) as well as the Executive VP of Reclaim Our America (Jenifer Kuntz).  These groups are small, but growing and have one simple goal:  Reduce our oil usage and focus our efforts on alternative fuel sources.  The photos you see peppered throughout this article were taken at the events and I think it shows that this spill has brought our oil usage to the forefront of many people’s minds.  If you want to learn more about what you can do, feel free to contact one of these organizations and I’m sure they can point you in the right direction.

Outside the Drum

Bike more, eat local, consume less

Outside the Drum

Save a cow, drink a beer.

I know not everyone agrees with the need to reduce oil usage, citing everything from the economy to jobs, but put it this way:  These spills hurt the economy and jobs each time they happen, why not switch to a cleaner energy source that can create just as many jobs as oil?

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Last July I was introduced to the lovely thing that is a squash blossom by my CSA and since stuffing and frying them, I’ve been waiting all year to do it again.  The funny thing about this?  I posted a pic online when I made them and since then my uncle asks me for the recipe every time we see each other.  Now, usually we don’t see each other much, but since we have both moved to the area we seem to constantly run into each other and I end up hearing another request for a post about squash blossoms.

Squash

The picture in question... man, I love this time of year!

The week before last I was at the Farmer’s Market and I thought I saw blossoms and got very excited, only to be informed they were daylilies. Lucky for me, though, when I told them that I was hopeful for squash blossoms, they told me to stop by next week and they’d see what they could do.  As I walked up to their booth this last weekend I saw a bag of something orange greet me.  Turns out, just for me, they plucked 11 squash blossoms.  How glorious!

I had thought about doing something different, but I couldn’t help myself… I had to stuff ’em and fry ’em!  The bright side?  My uncle will finally have his recipe.  The brighter side?  So will all of you!

Ingredient Breakdown:

  • 10-12 Squash Blossoms (Fresh, 2 days is about all you got in the fridge after picking)
  • 1 large clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Salt, halved
  • 3/4 c Shredded Gouda (Goat, Parrano, etc)
  • 1/2 c Grated Cheese (Mizithra, Parmesan, Romano, etc)
  • 1 Tbs Fresh Herbs (Parsley, Oregano, Thyme), minced
  • 1 Tbs Fresh Basil, minced
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp Milk (optional)
  • 1 1/2 c White Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • Black Pepper
  • Canola/Vegetable Oil  (enough to fill a pan 1/2″ deep)

Quick clarifications.  I’ve made this recipe twice now and I’ve realized that the cheeses and herbs can be altered a bit and will work great.  First time I made this I used a fresh goat gouda, mizithra cheese, basil and parsley.  Second time I made this I used parrano, parmesan, mizithra, parsley, oregano, thyme and basil.  Both times were awesome, so I think you should be able to tweak those components a bit. Also, try and use the blossoms as soon as possible as they really will only last 1 – 2 days after picking.

Instructions:

  1. Mix the cheeses, herbs, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine remaining 1/4 tsp salt, baking powder and flour, stir, spread onto a plate and set aside.
  3. Mix eggs and milk (if using) in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Remove the pistil (long pointy thing in the center of the flower) from the blossoms carefully (the flowers rip easily… tweezers will help here).
  5. Stuff cheese mixture into flowers, try not to overfill, twist or press flowers closed.
  6. Heat oil over medium heat.
  7. When oil is hot, dredge each flower in flour, followed by the egg mixture, followed by flour once more.
  8. Place three to four blossoms into the oil and cook until golden brown, turning occasionally.
  9. Drain on paper towels, serve with marinara sauce and eat up!

Now for the making of shots:

Squash

Cheese & Herbs

Squash

Pistil in middle

Squash

Stuffed!

Squash

1st Dredge

Squash

2nd Dredge

Squash

Fry, baby, fry!

Squash

Draining

Squash

Final product!

Hopefully this season you get a chance to try these… they’re quite addicting and make you look forward to this time of year and the Farmer’s Market.  Since this is the only thing I’ve ever done with these, what is your favorite blossom recipe?

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Triple By-Pass: KFC’s new creation?

By now, almost everyone has heard about KFC’s sandwich, the Double Down, but what could possibly top it?  With KFC riding high on all this press, you know they’ll have to somehow one-up this creation… it’s simply good marketing sense.  Recently it was reported that they were extending the item’s time on the menu through the summer and had estimated their 10,000,000th sandwich would be sold in May.  Straight from Mr. Javier Benito, executive vice president of marketing and food innovation for KFC:

This truly an example of popular demand. Our plans were to feature the product only through May 23, but millions of Double Down fans have spoken and we won’t disappoint them. You’ll continue to be able to get the Double Down at KFC this summer.

So what will be seen once this is removed from the menu?  Well, I was contacted yesterday and shown an advertisement for what could be the Double Down’s successor:  The KFC Triple By-Pass. Now, like the Double Down, this “sandwich” contains no bread and looks to be just as difficult to eat (if not more-so). Let’s check out the breakdown:

  • Eight Original Recipe Chicken Fillets
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Pork Roll
  • Fried Eggs
  • American, Swiss, Cheddar & Pepper Jack Cheeses
  • Leaf Lettuce

Not too shabby for its $12.95 price tag (the combo price isn’t listed), but the big question is: Will it sell?

Gaze into the abyss and see what stares back...

Gaze into the abyss and see what stares back...

To be honest, I’m not thinking it will, but not because of the price.  For those of you who looked at the full image you’ll not that it’s not real, sadly.  No, this “advertisement” is a creation by MAD Magazine for their upcoming 504th issue (which you can pick up June 15th), and yet, could very well be a real item some day in the future.  In fact, there already is an item for sale called the “Triple Bypass,” and while it isn’t chicken, it may be able to kill you.  Yes, I’m speaking about the burgers from the Heart Attack Grill:

I’m not even sure that many patties even legal on a sandwich, but at least you eat free if you’re over 350 lbs.  Good thing all the waitstaff dress in nurse uniforms… perhaps it’ll get you into the ER faster?

So, this whole discussion has left me with a couple questions that I’d love to hear your answers to:

  1. Since the KFC Triple By-Pass isn’t available to purchase (due to it not being real), who out there will be willing to create one and eat it in the name of delicious, delicious science?
  2. What will be the next “extreme” menu item at a national fast food franchise?  What could you dream up and for who?

Really, at this point almost nothing is off the table, so I’d love to see what people think, and if anyone out there wants to actually take on the challenge of creating (and eating) the Triple By-Pass, shoot me an e-mail!

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Take Le Whif of this

I’ll admit it: I love candy.  I especially love candy from other countries or candy made with non-standard (in the US, anyway) ingredients.  While visiting my brother and sister this past weekend for her college graduation, Jess and I slipped away to the mall and checked out the candy store.  Among the many candies from around the world they had the most intriguing item.  Called “Le Whif,” it was a tube of chocolate powder that you were supposed to “whif” into your mouth.  Each tube was said to hold 8 “whifs,” claimed to taste like chocolate, and was mostly organic.  You know I had to purchase it.  The flavors I had to choose from were “Chocolate,” “Chocolate Raspberry,” “Chocolate Mint (the only artificially flavored one),” and “Coffee.”  I decided to buy a variety pack, which contained one stick of each flavor, except coffee.

Whif

Le Whif

Whif

Three easy steps

Whif

Looks tasty!

Whif

Not a whistle

As you can see, the box closely resembles a cigarette box with three tubes inside that resemble plastic cigars.  The instructions on the box (and included inside) are very simple:  Open, Whif, Close.  Before trying this, I decided to go look on their website to find out more information and amazingly it seems that this little stick is a bit more technical than it seems:

“Le Whif is a new delicious approach to eating and breathing.  With Le Whif, we inhale food, like chocolate, into our mouths and taste it, without chewing, an experience of flavor without a single calorie.

Invented by Harvard Professor David Edwards, in collaboration with students, designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs working in Edwards’ ArtScience Labs centered around Le Laboratoire, in Paris, Le Whif contains hundreds of milligrams of tiny food particles.

When you place Le Whif between your lips, and breathe in gently, the particle are picked up by the air stream, enter your mouth, and fall onto your tongue.  You puff, as if to breathe, and suddenly you have an experience of flavor.

Le Whif uses particle engineering to form natural food substances, like chocolate, in particle sizes that are small enough to become airborne though too large to enter the lungs. The design, which builds on decades of aerosol science work by David Edwards and his colleagues, directs food particles to the mouth following the air that accompanies a natural inhalation.”

Nothing like particle engineering to make one’s mouth water, eh?  The cool thing is that this whole idea started as a  science experiment when it came to vaccines as can be seen here:

The idea was to create a new way to inhale drugs and vaccines. The article appeared in the Journal Science at a propitious time. Concerns of eliminating needles for diabetic patients drove scientists to consider inhaling insulin.  This paper showed how to do it simply and led to the creation of David’s first company, AIR (see Idea 4). For more check this http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9188534

Stemming from that, they got the idea to move onto food:

The idea was to breathe food, starting with chocolate.  This idea came to David while having lunch at Thierry Marx’s restaurant near Bordeaux.  Later several Harvard students contributed to the idea, including Jonathan Kamler, and leaders of the Laboratoire incubator, LaboGroup, including Jose Sanchez and Tom Hadfield.

And it looks like the future may be “Le Whaf,” as you can see:

The idea was to create a new way of eating by breathing liquid droplets.  If whiffing was breathing dry particles, whaffing would be breathing wet particles. David conceived this on the basis of work done at his company Pulmatrix (Idea 7) and later it was designed by French culinary designer Marc Bretillot.

How cool is all of that?  Anywho, after dinner on my last night there, I gathered Jess and my siblings together for what would end up being a very interesting dessert.  I handed out the sticks and we “whiffed.”  Shockingly, it tasted good… and chocolaty. The flavor came through very well and weirdly gave the effect on your tongue that you had just eaten something.  We also learned a valuable lesson:  Don’t inhale. Seriously, just pretend you’re Bill Clinton when you use these or you’ll end up hacking up a lung.  How do I know this?  Well, my brother has been known to smoke the occasional cigar and habit caused him to go ahead and inhale.  He described the chain of events like this:

  1. This is kind of weird, I don’t get anything.
  2. Wait, I think I taste chocolate!
  3. This is pretty good!
  4. Wait a minute, I’m inhaling this…
  5. It’s in my lungs… it’s in my lungs!!
  6. <hacking for the next hour>

Yes, I believe we may have given my brother Chocolatier’s Lung… not a good thing. This was snapped seconds before the hacking started:

Whif

Remember kids, don't put chocolate in your lungs!

I know the website mentions inhaling and that the particles won’t enter your lungs, and that might be, but on the safe side, you may want to avoid doing that.  Other than that mishap, we all really enjoyed the product… I’d have to say I enjoyed the plain chocolate the best (we tried each of them), but all were good.  I wish there was a way to have made the mint non-artificial so they could have been able to throw on an “all-natural” label, but two outta three ain’t bad.  Next time I’m there I’ll have try the coffee flavor as well.

So, have you “whiffed” your food?  What is your favorite non-traditional candy?

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Yo, Gurt, make your own!

So, a few of you may have read my previous post about yogurt where I said that I would attempt to make my own next.  Well, that time has come!  The other day I bought a quart of milk from a local dairy for $3.00, and one “starter” yogurt for $1.34.  If all went well I’d have a whole quart of yogurt for less than $5.00.  Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself!  So, first of all you need all of this stuff:

Yogurt

Turns out it's not really rocket science... who knew?

A quick breakdown in case you don’t like trying to figure out what’s going on there:

  1. A pot
  2. A digital therometer
  3. Whole Milk (local if you can get it)
  4. Starter yogurt (plain, live cultures), room temp
  5. Bottles to hold the yogurt, sterilized
  6. Heating pad (not pictured)

Surprised?  I was… turns out you really don’t need much to make your own yogurt except time.  The first thing you need to do is to put about a tablespoon of yogurt “starter” in each bottle (per 2 cups of milk). Next, fill up your sink with icewater.  Why?  Because as soon as we get the milk to the right temperature, we’ll need to cool that pot down as fast as possible.  Next, pour your milk into the pot and secure the thermometer so that it’s in the liquid, but not touching the bottom.

Slowly heat the milk on medium-low, stirring, until it hits 180-185 degrees.  As soon as it hits 180, immediately take the pot off the stove and put it in the sink until the temperature of the milk reaches 110 degrees.  While cooling, setup your heating pad.  I just got one of my extra large pads, placed it on the counter and set it to “medium.”  Once your milk hits the 110 degree mark, it’s time to bottle.

Pour a small amount of the milk into the bottles and blend with the starter.  Once mixed, go ahead and pour the rest in.  Mix well, seal with the cover, and place in the heating pad.  Your goal is to keep the bottles between 110 and 120 degrees for 8 – 10 hours.  Periodically you may need to check on your heating pad to make sure it hasn’t turned off, or that your bottles haven’t gotten too cold.  I found that using the thermometer on the outside of the bottle gave me a good ballpark of the temp inside, but if any of you have a better way, I’d love to try it!

Yogurt

183... perfect!

Yogurt

Rest, my beauties...

Yogurt

118, right on!

So, you’ve waited the time, you’ve babied the bottles… what next?  Simple, just open it, stir until it is very well mixed, re-seal, and toss into the back of your fridge until cold.  You see, this stops the bacteria from feeding, which will make the yogurt less tart, though a bit less thick.  The next day, open it up and take a taste… if all went well, it’ll taste, well, like yogurt!

Yogurt

Curds and whey

Yogurt

Yogurt!

Yogurt

Not cottage cheese

You may notice the chunky look of the yogurt… I promise the texture isn’t like cottage cheese (nor is the taste), it just looks like it.  I’ve been told that if you strain it, it’ll come together nicer, but then you lose all the goodness in the whey, so I left it.  What’s left to do now?  Nothing but eating!  I’ve dressed mine up with some strawberry preserves and walnuts (yum!), but the possibilities are almost endless.

Yogurt

Mmmm... tasty! Really, what did I do before yogurt?

Now, this was my first time doing this, but it won’t be my last.  Does anyone else out there have any tips or tricks for me (and everyone else) when it comes to making yogurt?  Don’t be shy!

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

I’m blue (da ba dee da ba die)

First of all, I’m not turning into a Smurf or a Na’vi or anything.  Secondly, no, I have no idea why I’m turning blue.  Yesterday I was doing my usual exercise after work (walking fast uphill on a treadmill) when suddenly my finger felt funny.  Looking at it, I noticed it was kind of swollen, but I figured that maybe I hadn’t had enough water or something.  I slowed down, drank some water and waited… no change.  We finished, went home, and I decided I’d cook dinner (had a Chicken Alfredo of sorts planned).  I tossed the chicken in the microwave to finish defrosting it and started chopping some broccoli. Well, I guess I should make that tried to start chopping broccoli. You see, by now my finger was so swollen that it refused to bend all the way and it made it awkward to hold the knife.  I took a look at it and thought it looked a bit purple or bluish and asked Jess to check it out.  The second she looked at it she told me to get to the doctor.

Blue

Yo, listen up here's a story about a little guy that has a blue finger...

I, being the smart guy I am, asked her to instead look it up online.  Turns out, there isn’t much about this on the ol’ interwebs, so off to the doctor we went.  I was completely at a loss, as I haven’t hit my finger on anything, it’s not in pain, and is just awkwardly swollen.  We get get to the office, wait for a couple thousand years, and finally get seen.  The doctor is perplexed.  I was informed he’s never seen a spread like this for a finger that wasn’t broken and he questioned me for what seemed like forever, but I had no answers for him.  Now came the poking and prodding.  No matter what he did, it didn’t hurt, just felt uncomfortable… kinda “full” sorta.  He told me that if it hurt or if it tingled or if I felt nothing this would be easier, but since it felt normal all he could assume is that somehow I managed to burst a blood vessel.  The current working theory is that I did something to weaken or cause a very slight break in the blood vessel on Sunday, so when I worked out (and my blood pressure rose) on Monday, it fully burst, causing the weird blue finger.

Blue

It's blue (da ba dee da ba die), it's blue (if it was green I would cry)...

Pure weirdness.  As a bonus, as I was being worked over, it was noticed that my heart isn’t sounding quite right… cue the EKG!  Yep, it looks like my heart is missing a beat or something… the doctor said that it was “regularly irregular” and that since I’m asymptomatic, it’s not an emergency, but something that needs to be researched.  Nice.  You know, I don’t eat trans fats, I eat Omega-3s… what more does my heart want from me?  Oh well, at least the doc isn’t that worried about it.

The best part of the story?  I returned home to remember that I never put the chicken back in the fridge… it had been sitting in the microwave for close to 5 hours.  D’oh!  Into the trash it went… guess I’ll be having chicken sausage instead.  Anyway, at this point I just need to get my finger to turn back to a normal size and color and I’ll be good.  I never realized how often I bend the thing, but it turns out while typing and writing, I do it quite a bit.  Has this, or any other medical mystery, happened to any one of you (or someone you know)?

Posted in Around the House | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Oreo Schmoreo

Is there any cookie more American than the Oreo?  Something about that sweet filling and slightly salty chocolate cookie just appeals to many of us here in the US.  Now, it turns out, that’s not exactly the same worldwide. For example, while China loves them, they have a less sweet version, wafer version, and when the Oreo was launched in the UK in 2008, it caused a bit of a controversy:

“It’s a very sickly-sweet, dark biscuit and I was expecting more from it”.  And it takes itself too seriously, he says of the ad slogan.

“It’s like someone rudely coming into your home and telling you how to arrange your settee. It arrives here and says: ‘I’m Oreo and this is what you do with me.’

“Well we’ve had biscuits for a long time and we know what to do.”

So what’s with all this Oreo talk, you ask?  Well, I wanted to make my own chocolate cookie with “creme” filling, but I didn’t want to make a sandwich cookie.  Nope, I wanted it to look like an everyday chocolate cookie on the outside and be filled with a creme of sorts on the inside.  After much experimentation (I honestly made one cookie at a time, testing techniques, even sitting and watching the cookie bake), I came up with this:

This is milk's favorite cookie.

Sorry Oreo, but *this* is actually milk's favorite cookie. No hard feelings?

This was the 5th attempt at getting it right.  The first couple exploded while the next couple just didn’t work out well at all.  The taste is quite similar to the Oreo… the chocolate is a bit salty, the center is a very sweet vanilla creme, everything you’d think it was.  The texture is softer than an Oreo, though it’s not chewy and the center matches very well.  While there isn’t the “fun” of pulling it apart and eating the bits separately, you also don’t get the issue of the cookie shattering around the filling.

One big change between these and the classic Oreo is the ingredient list.  Now, currently Oreo doesn’t have any partially-hydrogenated oils (remember that whole fiasco?), but it still could be better.  Here are the ingredients:

Sugar, Wheat Flour, High Oleic Canola Oil (and/or Palm Oil and/or Canola Oil and/or Soybean Oil), Cocoa (processed w/ Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cornstarch, Baking Soda (and/or Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Chocolate

Here is what is in mine:

Wheat Flour, Brown Sugar, Butter, Sugar, Cocoa (raw), Egg, Palm Oil, Corn Flour, Baking Soda, Milk, Salt, Vanilla

You see, doesn’t that seem a lot better?  At the very least, it’s things you can go pick up in your local supermarket.  So, are you ready to cook?  Let me warn you, these are a bit complicated, but totally worth it (try ’em warmed up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top…).  First up, the “creme” filling:

Ingredient Breakdown:

  • 2 c Powdered Sugar (sifted, not packed)
  • 1/2 c White Flour (sifted, not packed)
  • 1 Tbs Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 c Palm Oil Shortening
  • 1/4 c Butter (room temp)

Instructions:

  1. Mix butter, shortening, milk and vanilla together until well combined.
  2. Mix flour and powdered sugar together.
  3. Add sugar mixture to shortening mixture in 4 batches, mixing with a spoon (or by hand) until it reaches a thick, smooth consistency.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to solidify slightly.

Alright, then… now the filling is all done. Should look something like this:

Creme filling

We both know you'll be eating this with a spoon, but you don't have to admit it.

This actually will make a little more filling than is needed for the cookies, but it’s better than too less (plus, we all know you’ll be eating it while you cook). Next up, the cookie dough!

Ingredient Breakdown:

  • 8 oz Unsalted Butter (melted and cooled slightly)
  • 11 oz Bread Flour
  • 1 oz Corn Flour
  • 3 oz Cocoa Powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1.5 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 2.5 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 oz White Sugar
  • 8 oz Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 3 Tbs Whole Milk
  • 1.5 tsp Vanilla Extract

Instructions:

  1. Whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, and cocoa in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl and set aside.
  3. Put the butter in the large bowl, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the mixture for two minutes on medium speed (it won’t really cream as much as it’ll resemble an oil slick, but that’s okay).
  4. Add the egg mixture to the sugars and butter and mix on low until well combined (about a minute).
  5. Slowly incorporate the flour/cocoa mixture, one third at a time, until thoroughly combined.  The dough should be very thick, but not crumbly.  Add milk/flour to adjust the texture if needed (use your best judgment here).
  6. Chill for at least two hours.

If you’re wondering just how thick the batter should be, it should be something like this:

Cookie dough

That weird design is due to me patting it down with a spatula, so you know.

Make sure you have some time available before starting the next part, as you have to assemble, then bake these cookies… it can be time intensive depending on how many you make.

Instructions (cont):

  1. Place oven rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 375°F before baking.
  2. Scoop out 1 oz of dough and roll into a ball.  Split the balls into two even halves and flatten into rounds.
  3. Place .4 oz of the filling into the center of one of the halves, then take the other side and gently pinch together the seams (like a ravioli) so that the filling doesn’t come out (check out the last time I did this here).
  4. Once the filling is sealed in, gently pat into a smooth round oval.  The cookie won’t rise that much, so the size and shape you make it here will be very close to how it looks in the end.
  5. Place the cookies on a plate and back in the fridge for about 10 minutes, just to harden back up.
  6. Take out the cookies and poke some holes on the top to vent the steam from the filling (this is important, cookie will explode a bit if you skip this step).
  7. Place the cookie onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, placing just 6 – 8 cookies per sheet
  8. Bake for 10 minutes or so, rotating the pan halfway.  Make sure that the filling hasn’t erupted out of the cookie (alternatively, just sit and watch ’em bake).
  9. Cool 2 – 3 minutes on the pan before transferring to a cooling rack.
  10. Eat and enjoy.  Refrigerate cookies for storage as the filling has butter in it and isn’t a fan of long-term room temperatures.

Here’s a shot of the assembly, also a bonus shot of me watching the cookies bake with my cat, Mishka, who refused to leave me alone for some reason.

Construction

Some of the construction

Weird cat

She's a very weird cat some days...

All in all, this cookie was a pain in the butt to make, but in the end it was exactly what I wanted it to be.  Jess simply can’t stop eating them, in fact, her go to dessert has turned into one of these cookies, warmed up, topped with vanilla ice cream.  If any of you out there try this, please let me know your results!

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | 16 Comments

Yogurt – Not just a Yoda parody

First and foremost, this isn’t a “how to make yogurt” post, mainly because I’ve never made it from scratch.  This post, however, is about the yogurt 99% of you eat: The stuff from the store.  Lately yogurt has become the “in thing” and not only do you have the normal everyday stuff, you have things like Activia and Danactive on TV all the time with their advertisements.  So, in this post I’m gonna go through a couple of things:

  1. Why the “usual” yogurt is pretty fake.
  2. Why you don’t need to pay for “specialty” yogurts.
  3. Why you should just buy plain yogurt.

Sounds like a blast, right?  Well, just remember, you should learn something every day and today it looks like it’ll be yogurt.  Let’s get crackin’!

1.  Why the “usual” yogurt is pretty fake.

Yogurt, in the traditional sense, is milk that has been cultured with different bacterias that change the flavor, consistency and nutrition.  Pretty simple, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that most yogurts sold on store shelves have a bit more than milk and bacteria.  Example… this is what is in Yoplait Original – Harvest Peach yogurt:

Cultured Pastuerized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Peaches, Modified Corn Starch, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Kosher Gelatin, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phospate, Pectin, Colored with Annatto Exrtract, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3

Here’s a second, Dannon Activia – Vanilla:

Cultured Grade A Reduced Fat Milk, Fructose Syrup, Sugar, Contains Less than 1% of Fructose, Whey Protein Concentrate, Corn Starch, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid

If you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot more than the few ingredients required,” then you hit the nail right on the head.  The issue is that most people who like yogurt grew up eating the stuff that was made using all sorts of fillers and stabilizers and such to give the yogurt the flavor and texture that it has.  It turns out most “traditional” yogurt doesn’t have that texture.  Of course, there is a way to have your yogurt and not have all the added stuff:  Buy Greek Yogurt.  Most Greek yogurts on the market don’t have any fillers because they are thick, due to having the moisture taken out of them.  An example, Chobani Greek Yogurt – Plain:

Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk.

A second, just so you can see what’s in the flavored version, here is Chobani Greek Yogurt – Peach (to compare to the Yoplait Peach):

Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, Evaporated Cane Juice, Peaches, Locust Bean Gum, Pectin, Natural Flavor.

That’s it.  Really… just the requirements.  For me, if I have the choice between 6 ingredients and 14 ingredients to get me to the same product (peach yogurt), I’m gonna go for the 6.

Yogurt

May the schwartz be with you! Wait, wrong Yogurt...

2.  Why you don’t need to pay for “specialty” yogurts.

This week my little sister was visiting she mentioned to me that she had been buying Activia because it had “Bifidus Regularis” in it so it would make her stomach feel better.  It was at this point I felt the need to explain to her what that actually was.  You see, Dannon figured out an awesome marketing tactic: Take something that everyone uses, give it a new name, then have your commercials say you’re the only one who has it.  It’s as if KFC declared their chicken breed to be “Chicken Tastius” and only they use it.  Don’t take it from me, take it from them:

What is Bifidus Regularis™?
Bifidus Regularis™ is the marketing name of the natural probiotic culture in Activia® and Activia Light that has been clinically proven to survive passage through the digestive system, arriving into the large intestine as a live culture. Activia® and Activia Light with Bifidus Regularis™ are proven to help with slow intestinal transit. The scientific name of the Bifidus Regularis is Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010.

As well as:

Why is L. casei Immunitas® unique?
There are many L. casei culture strains, some already present in human intestinal flora. First identified in 1919, L. casei strains are used in a number of dairy products worldwide. The L. casei Immunitas® culture in DanActive is a proprietary strain that can only be found in Dannon’s DanActive. L. casei Immunitas® is the “fanciful” trademarked name for the L. casei culture that is only found in DanActive. This strain was selected by Danone Vitapole, Danone’s international research center.

Pretty much everyone who puts L. casei in their product uses their own strain.  The company Yakult Honsha in Japan uses the L. casei Shirota strain to do the same thing that Dannon does.  So what’s the issue here?  Well, you’re both paying a premium for these products as well as getting all the extra fillers.  Going back to Chobani (only because it’s what I happen to buy):

Probiotics aid the gut by increasing the number of helpful bacteria, and inhibiting harmful bacteria, and may strengthen the body’s immune response.  […]  And just in case you’re wondering, yes Chobani Greek Yogurt does contain “good bacteria.” Each cup has three unique strains of probiotcs:

1. L. Casei
2. L. Acidophilus
3. Bifidus

Well, look at that!  They have their own unique strains, too!  Not only that, but both L. Casei and Bifidus are in their product together.  Yep, you don’t need to buy two yogurts for the same effect.

Yogurt

I tell ya, marketing departments should get more credit, they're sneaky!

3.  Why you should just buy plain yogurt.

Most yogurts come in the usual flavors like peach, blueberry, etc.  That’s all fine and well, but why should you have to let the yogurt company choose your flavor?  I’ve started buying interesting preserves, like golden plum, pear calamondine, fig and others and just mixing them in myself.

Yogurt

I doubt most of you have ever had these flavors in a yogurt, have ya?

Not only does it help you control the amount of sugar and such that you have (as you get to add it to taste), but it also allows you to get creative.  Fig yogurt is heavenly.  Seriously.  I usually buy preserves/jams/etc from the Farmer’s Market and use it in my yogurt.  By doing this I’m both supporting a very local business as well as getting flavors I usually wouldn’t (fyi, you can get some of these from Twin Oaks Farm online).  This morning I decided to have Pear Calamondine with a splash of my homemade vanilla extract…

Yogurt

Much tastier than the random stuff you could buy already mixed.

Doesn’t that look much better than the stuff you get already put together?  Seriously, give it a try!  Next I’m gonna try to make my own, as I have access to a local dairy farm and I’ve been wanting to try for a bit.  Have any of you ever made your own?  Do you have your own favorite things to do with yogurt?

Posted in Meal Ideas & Recipes | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Mmm… you can taste the machinery!

I don’t know if any of you caught the small blurb in the NY Times, but it turns out that the US eats more processed food than any other country.  Period.  In fact, it turns out that even some people at the USDA realize that the average American doesn’t really care what goes into their mouth.  According to Mark Gehlhar from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS):

Americans tend to graze rather than sit down and eat a full meal, so the food is tailored for convenience and Americans do not seem to be as discerning about quality.

That’s pretty harsh, but also kinda true.  Have you ever just wandered around the supermarket?  Between the Cheez Whiz, Chocolate-Chip Pancakes on a Stick and Guacamole made without those pesky avocados, it does kinda make you wonder when Americans just stopped caring what they ate.

Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods. […]

The Japanese eat a large amount of packaged frozen seafood, but it undergoes very little processing and has few chemical additives. Some Europeans eat a similar amount of packaged food per capita as Americans, but much of it is bakery bread and dairy products, rather than things like frozen toaster pastries and artificial nondairy creamer.

They have a big ol’ graph that went along with the article for you to check out:

Packaged vs Real Food

Packaged vs Real Food (click to go to the full graph)

You may notice that not only does the US lead in processed food, if you add all the pounds per capita, we also just plain eat more than the others.  Insane, isn’t it?  I mean, the easiest conclusion you could reach from the data above is that Americans want to eat low-quality, highly processed foods.  Why?  What would cause a people to put take off their kitchen apron and throw on a muumuu?

Hopefully with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on a major network and Michelle Obama bringing the cause of local, fresh foods to the front line, these facts will change over time.

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

KFC: Return of the Double Down

You heard it here first, folks.  The Double Down, of which I posted about before (be sure and check it out) is about to hit KFC nationwide:

It's back!

It's back and out for blood!!

The KFC Double Down is Real! No Fooling. @ KFC

The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real and it’s coming April 12th! This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original Recipe® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel’s Sauce. This product is so meaty, there’s no room for a bun!The Double Down comes in two versions: Original Recipe® or Grilled and the nutrition information is below.

And the nutrition info:

Did anyone think this day would come?  I honestly thought the news was a practical joke, but after talking to the PR person who contacted me, I honestly believe them. Not only do they have the site, but the Nutrition Data (pdf) has already been updated with the sandwich.  The only difference between the one I tried and the new model is the addition of a “Grilled” version, which I’m sure to try out for SCIENCE!

Get ready America… The Double Down is coming.  So… who’s gettin’ one?

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Sandra Lee: Great chef or greatest chef?

There aren’t really any great chefs any more.  Everyone seems to pick a niche and stay there, be it “sustainable” seafood or “eating local,” these so-called chefs aren’t innovating, they’re just appealing to the lowest common denominator.  Not Sandra Lee, though.  Sandra Lee is a true domestic goddess.  While other “chefs” might brag about learning from another chef, or great cooking school, Sandra has no problems admitting that the only training she had was at a recreational two-week course at Ottowa’s Le Cordon Bleu.  Hell, she even tells people that she didn’t complete it:

I was scraping beef tendons and I thought, ‘I’m outta here!  […]  When you look at a recipe you want to know that at least four of the ingredients are available at your grocery store. It’s more cost-effective and less time-consuming.”

That’s the kind of raw talent that I respect.  She’s also got a very good point.  A lot of these “celebrity” chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver talk about eating locally or in season.  Who has time for that?  Sandra Lee is living off the land, so to speak.  Like early settlers before her, Sandra is using the food that is provided to her, cheaply and easily.  It doesn’t matter if that $0.49 can of corn came from China, it’s way cheaper (and easier) than going to the local Farmer’s Market, buying a cob of corn (for a dollar!!) and shucking it yourself.  Who has time for that?

The biggest issue, as I see it, is that not many other chefs seem to recognize her genius.  Many ignore her, but some, like Anthony Bourdain, make it a point to attack her.

She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, “I can do that. That’s not intimidating.” All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you’ve done something really special. The most terrifying thing I’ve seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don’t burst into flames. It’s a war crime on television. You’ll scream.

Seriously, that is uncalled for.  At least Sandra isn’t pretentious… her show is called Semi-Homemade.  It lays it right out there.  What the hell is “No Reservations?”  It sounds like he just barges into places without making a reservation.  Also, is he even a cook?  From what I’ve heard, on his shows other people do the cooking!  And when it comes to the Kwanzaa cake, he just doesn’t understand her special talent for turning the boring into the awesome.  See it for yourself:

You see?  He has no leg to stand on here.  That is pure skill and talent and she should be proud.  Chef Lee doesn’t need a gimmick like “farm to table” or anything like that because she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.  She doesn’t need to try and explain the “science” behind ingredients like Alton Brown, that realm is left to those who don’t understand the true workings of food.  So here and now I’m declaring Sandra Lee the best celebrity chef and perhaps the best chef in America right now.

I will say, Sandra does have some competition in the wings, though.  With up and comer Rachael Ray waiting in the wings, I could see Sandra retiring in the next few years and letting her take over.  Perhaps they could have their own show, with Sandra showing Rachael how she could make her meals even faster if she just bought even more ready made items from the store?  I think we have a hit on our hands, people… Food Network Gold.

With all that said, I declare today, April 1st 2010, Sandra Lee Appreciation Day.  Please do your best to make at least one meal from her near endless supply.  And of course, now I must ask you… Sandra Lee: Great chef or greatest chef?

—————

Ed. Note: April Fools!!

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments