Thursday, June 30, 2011

Considering Grass Fed Beef- It Matters What Your Food Eats

A few months ago when we switched to Grass Fed Beef I had a tough time wrapping my head around the increase in price over conventional beef. It took a little while but I stuck with it and seem to have everything under control now. The steak is once again sizzling on the grill. Our household meat intake averaged around twice per week so it wasn't too difficult to get the ball rolling and find the same cuts that we were used to. There were several reasons in our decision to make the switch to Grass Fed Beef. Hopefully you will find these reasons and my beliefs similar to yours, and you will too consider Grass Fed Beef the next time you go to the store or farmers market if you haven't done so already.

The first and initial reason that we switched to Grass Fed Beef were the facilities in which our conventional meat was raised and processed. We wanted absolutely no part of that mess. I understand and support breeding cows for food. I don't understand why they cant have bedding, or room to move around, or food without antibiotics, growth hormones, and animal by products.
Being in the food industry for half of my life I have seen some pretty questionable things with my own eyes when it comes to large scale operations. I have personally felt for many years that larger operations lead to larger mistakes when it comes to potentially hazardous foods like meat. When you have so much meat moving through one place, there is little chance of shutting the line down to "fix" a problem. In other words the meat packing industry keeps operations moving at all costs, no matter what. That's not safe at all ! Now that I have children I am even more cautious about this because time and time again, case after heartbreaking case, there seems to be little to no accountability on the behalf of the meat industry.

The second reason we switched to Grass Fed Beef was that cows eat grass and that's all they should eat. Cows don't naturally have access to grain or corn. They're pasture animals, they eat grass. Conventionally raised beef is fed corn and or grain with growth hormones to fatten the cow up at lightning speed. This isn't so easy on the cow because a cows stomach isn't built to digest or assimilate massive amounts of corn and grain. Only grass.
Because of this risk, the feed lots which fatten up the cow before slaughter have it down to an almost exact science. They have figured out that they have about a 150 - 160 day window in which they can feed the cow a diet of pure grain or corn to fatten it up and get it ready for market before it will basically fall over and die.
In addition to the cow not being designed by nature to eat corn and grain there is the whole issue of those pesky GMO's. Most of the corn and grain used to feed the cows is a GMO. Plus it takes so much fuel to grow the corn, harvest it and move it around that it hardly seems worth the carbon footprint when a cow can just eat grass.

The third reason we made the switch was nutrition. It became quite obvious to me that the reason why so many studies that have been released over the years showing that red meat was unhealthy for us, wasn't due to the meat actually being unhealthy, but rather, the food that the cows were eating was creating unhealthy meat. We need saturated fats in our diets, but all the grains and corn that the cow is fed in the feed lot produces Beef with more of the bad vegetable fats (Omega 6)  and less of the good vegetable fats (Omega 3). For the record Grass Fed Beef is packed with Omega 3 and conventional meat isn't. You could probably eat a hamburger every day for the rest of your life and never have a cholesterol problem if you ate Grass Fed Beef.

The fourth but not final reason for us making the switch to Grass Fed Beef was the flavor. Grass fed beef is soooooo good ! Yes, it's a little more lean that conventional beef, but that issue can be nearly eliminated by purchasing the right cuts to get the job done. If you want a juicy steak, buy a bone-in Ribeye or Delmonico. Don't pick up a Strip steak, that might be a little too lean.
If you live here on the West side I can tell you that Whole Foods here in Venice has a Grass Fed Ribeye that's about $15.00 a pound cheaper than their dry aged conventional meat. 
Give it a try, you'll notice that the flavor of the Beef is easier to appreciate, and doesn't require as much seasoning to make it taste good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stroh's Steak Salad - It's What's For Dinner

For years our Steak Salad was a huge hit. In fact I had a great customer named Frank who used to come in every day for years to have a scoop of Steak Salad and a scoop of Chicken Avocado Salad on top of Mixed Greens for lunch.

For this recipe I use Flank Steak because of its rich flavor, and perfect size and shape for slicing into bite sized cubes. Flank Steak is a long flat cut of meat that comes from the abdominal muscles of the cow. Don't worry that it might be a little tougher than other cuts because it will tenderize nicely with the vinaigrette. Weather you are buying grass fed, or organic, be sure that when choosing a piece of Flank, that you look for a deep red color with no shades of brown or grey whatsoever.

The most important technique used in this recipe is searing. We'll first sear the Flank Steak, then we will finish it off in the oven (unless you have a thin piece) for about fifteen to twenty minutes. When searing anything you must have a "searing" hot pan. This means that you will have to get the pan hotter than you would normally use it. You can tell with your ears if the pan is hot enough when you put the beef in. You should hear a high pitched sizzling sound with a couple of zings and pings and something that sounds like pffsssttttzzzzitiiititiiittt. This is when you know it's hot enough.

Ingredients for roughly six to eight servings:
  • 1.5#   Flank Steak
  • 1       Pint Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1       Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 1/2   Head Celery
  • 3-4   Carrots
  • 1       Cucumber
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Kosher Salt / Pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Prepare the Flank Steak by trimming off any excess fat. Place on top of a sheet pan or large platter so you can season the whole piece of meat. Drizzle a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil on one side and spread it out with the bottom of a spoon. Sprinkle a generous amount of Salt and Black Pepper after you oil the meat. Turn the Flank Steak over and repeat this process.
When meat is served cold it's best to tackle the salt level early because its tough to try to season meat that's been chilled. Try to always use fresh ground pepper in your recipes. You can use a small electric coffee bean grinder or blender to grind the whole peppercorns into a coarse mix or a fine powder. Set the meat aside and turn the heat up under your pan and wait a few minutes.
To test your pan to see if it's hot enough, drop a teaspoon of water into the pan. If the water dances around on top of the pan like a cat on a hot tin roof. If it does than you are ready.
Carefully add the meat to the pan and begin to sear it off. Let the Flank sear for about three to four minutes then flip it over and place it, pan and all in the preheated oven to finish cooking until the temp. reaches your liking. About fifteen to twenty minutes.
I would like to suggest and recommend that for better flavor,  you finish cooking the meat when it's at medium rare or before. You want to end up with a nice outer layer of cooked meat and a juicy red inner layer. Think of a perfectly seared Tuna Barrel ready to be sliced. This is what you're really after.
After you have taken the meat out of the oven, place it in the refrigerator until it is completely cool.
While you are waiting for the meat to cool prepare all of your vegetables. Be sure to use organic vegetables whenever and wherever possible. The difference in flavor over conventionally grown will make everything taste better and is healthier for you ! Thoroughly rinse all of them and peel the Carrots and peel and de-seed the Cucumber.
Dice the carrots, cucumber and celery into a small dice.
Pick the leaves off of the Parsley and finely chop (keep this separate).
Cut all of the cherry tomatoes in half. If you cant find Cherry Tomatoes any Tomato will do just fine.
Unless it took you a couple of hours or so to chop the vegetables, (in which case contact me, so I can show you how to use a knife) the beef should still be cooling off, so take a break and come back to finish it later..

Now that the beef has cooled and the vegetables are chilled it's time to finish the dish. Start off by cutting the Flank Steak into small cubes about the size of the dice on a Vegas Craps table or just a tad bigger. Place them into a large mixing bowl and add the diced vegetables. Start to season everything by adding some salt and pepper and a few splashes of Sherry Vinegar and gently mix. Now add the Cherry Tomatoes and some Olive Oil and mix a little more. Taste a cube of beef and get a sense of how much more seasoning you need. If you want it a little more tangy add some salt and vinegar. If you want it a little more smooth add some Olive Oil.
If you're not sure take a few spoons full of the mixture out and put it in a small bowl, and test the seasoning limits with a smaller portion. You can always add this back into the larger mixture without affecting it flavor wise at all.
After you have seasoned it to your liking, mix the parsley in. Let the completed mix marinate in the fridge for a little while stirring occasionally before serving. You can easily keep this in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to two days.

I hope you really enjoy this recipe ! Take the time and look for Grass Fed Beef at a good price so that you can really taste and experience the difference. Be sure to stay up to date as my next post will be entirely on Grass Fed Beef.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The "Heavy Pesticide List" -And Why You Should Take It With A Grain Of Salt

When an official list is made, a study is done, or a statement issued concerning the foods we eat, there is always good cause to listen. Recently a list of the ten most pesticide covered crops had been circulating around through multiple different media channels. I first heard it on the radio while in New York a couple of weeks ago, and have seen the actual list several times since.
I'm sure many of us have already memorized it or have tried to do so. I saw my wife giving it a shot yesterday when I stopped her and explained why I thought it might be a bad idea to memorize it and take it for word.

What we don't want to do at this point is vilify, or lay complete confidence in any one particular produce item grown in a field or on a tree.  Let me give you a couple of reasons why. The first reason is the speed at which everything is changing in the fields, farms and  markets. One year it will be the Apples and Celery at the top of the list of the crops that use the heaviest amounts of pesticides and the very next year you could possibly find Spinach and Lettuce at the top of that very same list. There are new pesticides on the market, advances in farm production, and laws and legislation concerning the farming industry passed every year. There is just too much to keep up with for us to start getting technical.
The second reason is that a list creates a false sense of what "safe" is. The list didn't really offer any levels of the amount of pesticides found on any given crop, or if number six on the list had twice as much as number three. Or if any of the crops used GMO seeds. Rather it was split in to the "dirty dozen" and the "clean fifteen". While this information is very valuable if you only purchase those particular 27 items on the list, it doesn't really lend to what I am trying to get across. That is, that you need to buy organic whenever possible.
Just because something appears on a "clean" list, or is said to use less pesticide than the others found on a list doesn't mean it's safe or safer by any means. A crop sprayed with any type of pesticide is too much pesticide. Just think about if you had to hear a drug addict out, and they were spinning around in circles trying to convince you that even though they do drugs, "there ore others out there that do way more". Would you trust this person. I hardly think so.
So be careful when you read a list, the information is there to help you but must be added to everything else you know and will eventually learn. When it comes to eating organic and learning all about it you are your own student and teacher. You're smart.. you'll figure it out.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trapped In The Desert With My Kids- No food just $4 bottled water

Okay, the title might be a little misleading. But I was trapped in a desert with my two boys last week totally unprepared. The desert I am speaking of was the Dulles Desert. Named after Dulles International airport, this was a desolate region that was truly void of fresh, nutritious food. I had shown up unprepared.

The newly coined term "Food Desert" refers to areas both rural and urban with little to no access to healthy foods. Here in Los Angeles there are several, for example, East L.A. and South Central are known as food deserts. If you take drive through them you'll see why. There are fast food establishments peppered all over the place, and small markets offer very little when it comes to either fresh produce or nutritious options. Sad but true. Imagine, all this wonderful food supposedly all around you and you have no access to it. I personally moved here because of the direct access to all of the great produce available year round. Living back East, I was got sick of cooking with, and eating root vegetables all winter long.

On the trip out to New York to visit family my wife had packed enough food and snacks for our plane ride to survive a trip through a real desert. Naturally (no pun intended) when we got to our first layover in Chicago the boys had full bellies and when we got to Rochester they were still satisfied. The trip was a success ! Not only did we not have to spend $30 on three Hamburgers, but we felt great when we got off of the plane. We hit a 100% Organic target with all of the food packed. Snacks are easy to find organic these days, and they have a price point that is just about the same as non organic processed snacks for the most part. They were one of the first things to hit the market when organic foods made their slow debut over the past few years. Some great sources for inexpensive snacks can be found at you local Whole Foods or Co-op bulk section, online, or your local supermarkets private label brand. I provided a list below to give you an idea of what we brought along for snacks.

Here is the list of Organic snacks that we packed for the boys:
  • Fuji Apples
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mix of Cashews, Almonds, Craisins  (from our glass jars with bulk items)
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
  • Yogurt Covered Raisins
  • Seaweed Snacks
  • Grapes
  • Spicy/Cheddar Sesame Snacks
When you travel with your children it's especially important that you make preparations and plan in advance  for their meals and snacks. It's paramount if you are trying to eat only organic, trust me. By planning ahead you won't run into any let downs or surprises and your child's behavior and attitude on the trip will be that much more pleasant. I have taken a lot of road trips and airplane rides with my boys since they were babies and If there's one thing that has always remained the same, it's that they are going to be hungry soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stroh's Quinoa Salad Recipe - Inspired By: "It's Gettin' Real In The Whole Foods Parking Lot"

With the summer home garden starting to ramp up, and seasonal fresh produce all over the place, what better time to go over a few salads that use loads of crisp chopped raw vegetables and wholesome grains and legumes than right now.
I completely understand and sympathize with you if there's any skepticism on this recipe, and possibly similar recipes to follow. A heavy mixture of raw veggies and grains can be a tough one to pass over on people at first. The thought of eating a big pile of grain like Quinoa or Black Eyed Peas just isn't that appetizing. I get it. I really do.  But I urge you to try it.
There are several benefits to adding a recipe like this to your bag of tricks. The original intent of this Blog was to help people start to grab a hold of some organic ingredients at a reasonable price and work them into their daily routine. Subsequently, working dishes like this into your daily routine will bring your food budget waaaaaaay down, and can be a great way to use up those random veggies in the fridge for something other than a science experiment.
Organic Grains and Legumes are really, really inexpensive and about as easy as pasta to cook. They hold in your dry storage area or cupboard for months on end in sealed (keeps bugs out) containers. They are a fundamental building block of proper nutrition, and they're about as filling as anything out there.
I first started using Quinoa after I grew tired of Couscous and started to experiment with other grains. Although technically a grain, Couscous always seems like a pasta to me. And although I've grown tired of it I haven't turned my back on it. I just felt like I needed to see some other grains, you know what I'm saying ?
So without further adieu, here is my recipe for Quinoa Salad.

Stroh's Quinoa Salad 
Packed with protein and gluten free!

Ingredients for about six servings
  • Quinoa                                                              1 1/2 cups
  • Water / Stock                                                        4 cups
  • Cucumber                                                          1
  • Carrot                                                                 3
  • Chives                                                             1 bunch
  • Celery                                                             4-5 stalks
  • Flat Leaf Parsley                                         1 Bunch
  • Red/Yellow Bell Pepper                              1
  • Mint                                                                 Just a few leaves
  • Red Onion                                                          1/2
  • Lemons                                                                2-3
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Kosher Salt/ Pepper
Rinse the Quinoa thoroughly under cold running water. Drain and place in pot with your cooking liquid.Water or Vegetable Stock both cook the Quinoa the same, but a light vegetable stock will give it a little more flavor. Add a healthy pinch of salt to the cooking liquid and bring it to a boil. Once the Quinoa has reached a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot to let cook for about fifteen minutes or until all of the cooking liquid is absorbed and the Quinoa is fluffy. Once the Quinoa is finished, fluff with a fork as you would rice and add a little Olive Oil for to keep the Quinoa from sticking together and clumping. Place it in the refrigerator to cool.

While the Quinoa is cooling prepare all of your vegetables for your knifework. Rinse them thoroughly, peel them, de-seed them and cut them into a small dice. I like to use a rule of thumb that the cut ingredients in your dish should be cut as small as the main ingredient. In other words, the Quinoa is really tiny, so cut the vegetables tiny ! Smaller cut vegetables will also give you an explosion of color in the dish.
Chop the herbs finely and cut the lemons in half.

Remove the cooled Quinoa from the refrigerator and stir in all of the cut vegetables and herbs. The acids in this recipe (Vinegar & Lemon juice) are added to the Quinoa first. My technique is to start off by adding about a tablespoon or two of  the vinegar, and the juice of one lemon. Fold it in to the mixture and add a few tablespoons the Olive Oil. Now add some salt and pepper and taste it for proper seasoning.
Keep tasting it, if it needs more salt or more olive oil, add more, don't be afraid but don't get crazy. The only way you're going to get this, and any other recipe right is if you keep tasting it.
In the our home we haven't ever had a salt and pepper shaker on our dinner table. I'm not forcing anyone to eat it my way, there's just no need when your food is properly seasoned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some quick thoughts on Eggs.

Take a moment and think about all the eggs that we must need as a nation every single day of the week. About a bazillion, right ?
I bet you were thinking about all those delicious breakfast burrito's, scrambled eggs, poached, over easy, hard boiled, the list goes on and on. As someone who has spent some time on the line in hotels and restaurants I'm thinking what you're thinking, and then adding Eggs for Egg wash, batters, cakes, cookies, bread, ice cream, mayo, crabcakes, that list also goes on and on.
Now add vaccinations. The number of Eggs required to produce our nations supply of vaccinations each year is staggering. That number alone lies in the area of about 600 million eggs needed per year. So if you take the 600 million per year and add all those breakfast eggs, cake and cookie eggs and throw in a few for the kids to throw at houses on Halloween, you have a pretty large number. Somewhere in the ballpark of a bazillion.

In order to produce all of these eggs some manipulation of nature must be done. Let me explain, in case you wanted to get in on a little share of the market. First off you can't let the Hen run around the way it was intended. That would be a horrible waste of space. You have to keep the Hen in a space about the size of a sheet of paper. You had better burn the beak off too, so that they don't peck at themselves or the other Hens because when they are confined to a space like this they tend to get a little distressed. Next feed them steady doses of antibiotics so they don't get sick and fortified feed (currently a little hard to come by because the FDA just pulled it due to high levels of arsenic) and now you have a well oiled Egg laying machine.

Does all of this mean that by buying "Cage Free", "Free Range" or "Vegetarian Diet" is the answer to breaking away from a conventionally produced Egg ? Well.. not necessarily so.
As mentioned in a previous blog, the term Free Range only applies to Poultry and not Eggs. Free Range is not a regulated term when it applies to Eggs, and really all that is needed is a door or passageway to the outside. Weather they use it or not is up to them. Cage Free is defined as letting the chickens roam around in the barn not confined to cages. While both of these are in my opinion much, much better in a humane sense than conventional there is still one more classification out there that you should know about and that's "Pastured" Eggs.  Pastured eggs means that the chicken had access to the grass, the sun, bugs and was possibly fed grains and some other feed.
Pastured Eggs are also in fact more nutritious than conventional eggs. Among the benefits of Pastured eggs are 1/4 less saturated fat, 1/3 less cholesterol, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta-carotene,  2/3 more vitamin A, and 4-6 times as much vitamin D. All of this information has to be taken into context, it's not that Pastured eggs are filled with all kinds of things that give them more nutrition than a conventional egg, it's that conventional eggs are less nutritious.

Maybe someday we'll see a renaissance of the old Total Cereal campaign applied to the Pastured Egg industry and the announcer will say instead; " You need to eat this many conventional Eggs to equal one pastured Egg"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One More Recipe Before We Get Back On Track

Broccoli & Cauliflower Sauteed With Garlic

Okay, I'm gonna lay one more popular dish from Stroh's on you before we switch topics. I call this a dish rather than a recipe because there really isn't that much too it. All of the ingredients in the dish can be easily accessed as organic ingredients for just about the same price as conventional. Because Broccoli and Cauliflower are ground crops, purchasing Organic puts that many more layers in between you and harmful contaminates and bacteria from irrigation water. If the price on fresh broccoli or cauliflower at your local market is just too unreasonable, frozen vegetables work the same.

Personally, the ingredient that really sets this dish off for me is the Olive Oil. Don't be afraid to be generous with the dosage for this dish !  I used to have two different olive oils on hand here at our house, one inexpensive olive oil for cooking, and one that was a little more pricey for vinaigrette's, drizzling, etc. But now I stick to just one bottle Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced right here in California. With so many different types of soil and climates here in Cali, there are literally dozens of  varieties out there each offering their own distinctive flavor and characteristics. If you look around you can always find a good one on sale for less than conventional Olive Oil. Store brands like Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Ralphs also offer their own line of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. But remember, the product is not 100% ORGANIC unless it states so on the label and has an approved certifying agent.

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Crushed Red Chile Pepper
  • Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper 
First start a pot of water with a dash of salt and bring it to a rolling boil. Only use as much water as you need. In other words, don't overfill the pot with water it takes that much longer to bring to a boil. As with all green vegetables you must bring the water to a rolling boil before you start the blanching process. Next prepare your Broccoli and Cauliflower. If you are using frozen vegetables than you are ready to go but if it is fresh you need to separate the Broccoli into florets or bite sized pieces. Its my theory that bite sized equals more surface area for the garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil to stick to !
Peel the skin off of the garlic and mince, or use a garlic crusher. Set this off to the side, we'll use it later. When the water is ready add the Cauliflower first and blanch for about four minutes or until just tender. Remove from water and add the Broccoli to blanch next also for about four minutes or until tender. I add the Cauliflower before the Broccoli so I don't color the water green which will in turn color the Cauliflower. 
Place a large skillet or frying pan on medium high heat and add about four to five tablespoons of Olive Oil. Place your minced or crushed garlic in the oil and let it turn golden in color. Remember, golden food is good food. Now add the blanched Broccoli and Cauliflower and either stir it, or if you're brave enough, toss it in the pan to coat everything with the oil and garlic. Saute this whole mixture for about five minutes and add the salt and pepper to season and the crushed red chili pepper. 
Pour the mixture from the pan into a bowl and stir in more Olive Oil until the Broccoli and Cauliflower has a nice sheen to it, but not so much that it will saturate it and gather at the bottom of the dish. Taste it and see if it has the right amount of salt and pepper and hit it with a dash of lemon juice to tie it all up.
This dish is great right away and in my opinion tastes even better cold. It can easily hold in the refrigerator in a sealed container for a couple of days. I hope you enjoy !

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Simple Recipe For You

This Chicken Avocado Salad recipe works great all year long and we used to make tons of it at Stroh's. While there are almost always several varieties of fresh avocados available at your local farmers market or supermarket to choose from, sometimes there aren't any on hand that are ripe yet .  If the avocado isn't quite ready yet, a great technique to help the avocado along in its ripening process is to place it in a paper bag at room temperature to help it ripen for a couple of days. I first came across this technique here in California when my produce purveyor slipped me a case of rock hard avocados. One of the guys in the kitchen put them in a paper bag and sure enough within a couple of days they were ready to go ! As it turns out when Avocados ripen they naturally produce ethylene gas. Placing them in the bag traps the gas and allows the process to speed up.

Recipe - Chicken Avocado Salad

Ingredients for about four servings: 
  • 3 Chicken Breasts                                                       
  • 4 Avocados
  • 1/2 bunch Fresh Cilantro                                           
  • 2 - 3 Lemons
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil                                                  
  • Cider or Champagne Vinegar
  • 1 Red Onion                                                                 
  • Kosher Salt / Fresh Ground Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Start off by rinsing off the chicken breasts and patting them dry with a paper towel then lightly season them with olive oil and salt and pepper. Sear the chicken breasts in a skillet about four minutes or until golden brown and flip them over and place the whole pan in the oven to finish cooking them off. If you aren't sure if they are done and prefer a thermometer than you will need to hit 165 degrees at the center. When they are finished place them directly in the refrigerator to cool. 
Next, cut the ends off of the onion and then cut in half. Make one more cut at a right angle to the face of the onion and shave off razor thin slices. You can do it! Just take your time, keep your fingers out of the way and use a good sharp knife that feels comfortable in your hand. If the onion makes you cry too much put it in the freezer for ten minutes before you slice it and this will reduce the tears.
Pick the leaves off of the cilantro and finely chop them. 
Take the chicken out of the fridge once it's cool and dice it into small bite sized cubes. 
In a mixing bowl combine the chicken, shaved red onion, and cilantro and gently mix them together
Slice the avocados in half and remove the pit, then remove the avocado from the skin.Dice the avocado by placing it on its face and make several evenly spaced cuts lengthwise, and one through the center of the piece by running your blade parallel with the cutting board through the avocado. Next, cut the avocado width wise to create a small dice. Add the diced avocado the the mixing bowl and gently mix the ingredients together. 
Squeeze the lemon juice from all of the lemons to flavor the salad and keep the avocados from turning brown. Add a few tablespoons of the vinegar and a liberal amount of olive oil. Salt and pepper to season and enjoy !

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Does An 'Organic' Label Mean ?

The badge of honor, the mark of excellence, a symbol you can trust. You know the one I'm talking about. You've all seen it by now. The prominently displayed USDA ORGANIC logo. What does this logo mean and who gets to use it ? Thankfully enough it's pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

In the last blog I discussed a couple of points about taking control of some single ingredients in your kitchen. These are easy to identify as "organic" because there is only one ingredient to deal with. Often these single ingredient items are certified by any one of roughly 60 certifying agents authorized by the USDA to do inspections. Examples of single item ingredients are produce, milk, cheese, meat, and eggs. These products have the USDA seal on them and carry the certifying agencies name on them as well.

For the rest of the organically labeled foods out there (with more than one ingredient) there are four simple categories of which you should know and understand.

The first category is 100% ORGANIC . If all of the ingredients in a product with the exception of water and salt can proclaim to be certified organic than the product can proudly proclaim 100% ORGANIC in a prominent position on the front of the package. Sometimes the manufacturer of the product will choose not to use the USDA ORGANIC logo and will instead label it as 100% ORGANIC,which is your assurance that this product is in fact organic. You will also find the words CERTIFIED ORGANIC BY followed by the name of the authorized certifying agency, along with its seal. An example of this found on many products here in L.A. is the C.C.O.F. seal or California Certified Organic Farmers.  Only a farmer who sells less than $5,000 a year worth of product is exempt from having to become certified.

The second category of labeling is for packaged foods which contain 95% - 99% Organic ingredients by weight, not including water or salt. These products are are allowed to label themselves as ORGANIC, or the phrase 9X% ORGANIC. In most cases you will still see the USDA organic seal, but it is optional. You will definitely see the emblem of the certifying agency and an ingredients list clearly identifying the organic items, along with the words CERTIFIED ORGANIC BY followed by the certifying agency name and seal. You will not see the claim 100% percent organic. A perfect example of this in my house is our peanut butter. 98% of the peanut butter is made from organic peanuts. But the sugar and oil that make up the other 2% are not organic. The words 98% ORGANIC is found on the label along with the certifying agency which in this case is the C.C.O.F.

The third category of labeling is for packaged foods which contain 70%-94% organic. These products can use the phrase MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS on the package along with a list of the main organic ingredient names on the main display of the package. The percentage of organic content and the USDA-authorized certifying agent seal may be used on the main display panel that contains at least 70% organic ingredients. The USDA seal is not permitted on any of these products and doing so could result in a $10,000 fine per incident.

The fourth category of labeling is for packaged foods which contain less than 70% organic. These products have some organic ingredients, but the total organic content is less than 70 percent of the product not including water or salt. You won't find the word ORGANIC in big letters on this package. It is strictly forbidden. You wont find any sign of organic emblems from anybody on this package, either. Certifying insignias are prohibited. But you could just possibly find the words X% ORGANIC INGREDIENTS, and the specific organic ingredients will be identified in the ingredients list.

Hang on, not done yet.... we just covered organics. Organics are regulated and the definitions are clear, with assured boundaries separating the different degrees. But what about all of the other labeling claims made out there on packages found on the supermarket shelves ? Very few of them are federally regulated and their definitions can be dodgy at best.

The first that comes to mind is the "All Natural" claim. It implies that there are no preservatives , colors, artificial flavors or other synthetic additives. This claim does not tell us how anything was cultivated or raised. Of course the apple used in applesauce is "all natural", or the pig that was butchered into bacon is "all natural" there are no synthetic apples or pigs. Even apples sprayed with pesticides are identified as "all natural" simply because they are not synthetic. Another close variation of this claim is "100% Natural Ingredients.
There is also the famed "Antibiotic Free", another unapproved and unverified claim. It is also about as unclear as can be in the sense that the the USDA actually does sanction two similar claims:"no antibiotics administered" and "raised without antibiotics". There is a strong implication here that the producers did NOT use antibiotics in their animal feed. But even though the USDA is supposed to be accountable for proper use of these claims, it presently has no verification system in place. Only organic-labeled meats are truly verified to be antibiotic free.
Another one that is out there which is one of my personal favorites is "Free Range". This is a partially regulated, general claim implying that a meat or poultry product, including eggs, comes from an animal raised in the open air or that it was free to roam. The USDA regulates this claim for poultry only, not beef or eggs.

and with a little practice you will see right through many of the ridiculous claims out there. Almost all of the information above can change at a moments notice that is why it is important to check out a few websites from time to time to stay up to date. To check out the U.S. National Organic Program, and to get the latest changes in food labeling procedures, go to the Website and see for yourself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When you open your cupboard.....

When you open your cupboards or fridge, whats in there ? Are you proud of whats in there ? If we all actually lived by the proverb "you are what you eat", would you be happy with yourself ?
Chances are if you thought about it for a moment you wouldn't be. So let's take a moment to look in our cupboards and see whats in there.

There can be some very simple changes made towards an organic movement in your life that we tend to overlook at first. I think that when people first think about the term organic and how it applies to the food that they are able to readily purchase, the first thing that comes to mind is the fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables so far have taken the limelight when it comes to the household Organic ingredient list and sometimes the prices can be alarming to say the least. This can be really discouraging to someone who is interested in making the move to Organic. It doesn't leave a good impression and has made many a instant critic of it all.

So let's overlook the fresh produce for a moment and take a look at the dry goods in your kitchen. For our family these include things like sugar, flour, rice, oatmeal, quinoa, asst. beans, spices, cereals, etc. These items are really the building blocks for just about all of our meals as well as yours. Even if you are eating out a lot, or buying ready to eat meals, these ingredients are essentially still the foundation to finishing touch for the food on your plate. Just like fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods are grown in some type of a field, paddy, or grove before they are processed into the final product ready for market. This is why they are equally as important to be Organic as the "fresh" produce that we buy.

Another reason to focus on the dry goods is that it's really the easiest area to take control of first. The dry goods in our kitchen last for weeks at a time, so resupplying them is easy. Start with the flour and sugar then move to grains and cereals and so on. When you buy it in bulk and put it in your own reusable glass container it will probably be cheaper than buying the paper sack of conventional flour or sugar anyhow. I guarantee it will also taste better and make a far superior final product. After looking around for glass containers, I found that the best price and styles offered for glass containers come from IKEA.

So there you have it, by simply replacing some dry goods in your kitchen for the same price if not cheaper, you have already made some huge changes in your diet, in your life, and for the environment.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where to begin

Many families and individuals change their diets for a multitude of reasons. For our family it was a news report that stated Staph Bacteria was found in over 40% of the meat at local supermarkets here in Los Angeles.The change for our family would be to a kitchen filled with all organic ingredients from which we would cook our food with now on.
As a family we had already been pretty conscious of what we ate. We ate almost all of our meals at home, dining out maybe twice a month at most on average. I had been to culinary school and knew a thing or two about food and technique so it was natural for me to prepare all of our meals at home where we could have complete control over what we ate. It's not that we are militant about any one type of food or other, it was simply that we enjoyed food prepared in our home more than in a restaurant.
Now that we are about three months into this new diet there have been many changes in how we eat and how we think about our food and their respective sources. It wasn't easy, but we got our daily food bill for two adults and two children, three meals a day and snacks (kids eat a lot !) down to under $30 a day. This also on occassion includes some things like paper towels and soap which could easily burn up that whole $30 in an instant. As a natural bi product, eating this way has also effortlessly changed some of our spending habits and consumption habits by realizing that at times, we are consuming just way too much for no good reason whatsoever.
So I would like to dedicate this blog to helping people understand why they should consider a set of rules when it comes to what they eat. I'm not asking you to eat raw food, go on a two week master cleanse, give up the devils white sugar, or even become a vegan. All I'm asking is that you give it a try. Be more aware of what you are eating and what you are feeding your family. Start adding organic ingredients into your kitchen. Ask yourself where did this food come from ? Who grew it?  Is there a single component in the ingredient list that has even actually grown in a field of soil ? Can this food hurt me if I keep eating it at the rate I am eating it ? More to come.....