Archive for March, 2009

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Between our home-delivered farm-fresh milk and the cheese addiction my toddler shares, we consume a lot of (hormone-free) dairy products in our house. A favorite way to use up the assorted bits and ends of cheeses in our cheese drawer is my baked macaroni and cheese, with roasted red peppers. I don’t believe in hiding vegetables in food, but I do exploit the “better together” theory of adding vegetables to something the toddler is guaranteed to eat. He loves to look at different colored peppers, but rarely eats them. I find that roasting the peppers first gives them a velvety smooth texture that goes better in creamy pasta than crisp fresh vegetables, making them a little less objectionable to sensitive eaters.

Recipe: Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Red Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 2 roasted red peppers, cut in thin 1-2 inch slices
  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (favorite blend: cave-aged cheddar, smoked gouda, Wallaby)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmigiano (or similar, used Dry Jack recently)

Instructions:

Cook macaroni according to package instructions, but subtract 3 minutes from cooking time. While macaroni cooks, melt butter in saucepan over low heat. When melted, stir in flour, salt and mustard and cook until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and whisk in milk, stirring until lumps are dissolved. Return to high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until boiling. Boil and stir 1 minute, until sauce begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese until melted and smooth.

Drain macaroni. Combine with red peppers and cheese sauce and pour into 2-quart casserole pan. Mix together breadcrumbs and parmigiano cheese and sprinkle over top. Bake 25-30 minutes, until topping is golden. Makes 6 servings. Enjoy!

Shared with Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by its founder, Ruth of Once Upon a Kitchen. Check out this week’s round-up for more yummy pasta inspiration!

Dope-Free Dairy

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Part IV in the Sustainable Family Supper series

dairy cow

What’s the matter with rBST? I’ve written before about how my path to natural and organic food began with a look at milk. When I became pregnant with my son, milk took on a renewed significance as I eliminated sodas and caffeinated beverages from my diet. I finally got around to reading up on bovine growth hormones, a.k.a. rBST or rBGH. You probably already know that they are artificial hormones designed to increase estrogen in female cows, thus increasing their milk production. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in 1993, and like with so many other issues, refused to reexamine its safety despite growing consumer pressure and health concerns. The problem, or problems, are that the unnatural increase in production leads cows to develop infections at much greater rates, requiring them to be more heavily treated with antibiotics, which are passed on to milk consumers and flow out into soil and water with the cows’ waste. Then, there are studies linking rBST with increased breast, prostate and colon cancers in humans. The most galling part of the whole situation, in my opinion, is the ridiculous requirement by the FDA that requires dairy producers who label their milk rBST-free to include a disclaimer stating that “there is no difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and those who are not.” Actually, there are scientific studies showing that rBST is harmful and yet the burden is on the good actors to refrain from impugning the “good” name of the producers who continue to use rBST in the face of such studies.

Consumers Fight Back: The good news is that after repeatedly losing attempts in state legislatures to ban the use of rBST-free labels entirely (hello consumers’ right to know what they’re eating!), in the face of growing consumer pressure against the use of artificial hormones, its creator Monsanto actually sold off the product last year. Meanwhile, consumer campaigns targeting major dairy companies and grocers have successfully forced many companies to voluntarily reject the use of milk from cows treated with rBST. You can sign up to receive alerts from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to stay apprised of the latest. Food & Water Watch offers downloadable and mobile (iPhone/Blackberry) lists of rBST-free brands by state. Last month, Dannon and Yoplait joined the roster of major yogurt producers rejecting rBST milk (Stoneyfield has never used it). In the cheese world, Tillamook‘s farmer cooperative led the industry in adopting a rBST-free policy back in 2005. Cabot Creamery is the latest to get on the drug-free dairy bandwagon, announcing that they will finally stop accepting rBST-containing milk as of August 1, 2009. Even *some* Kraft cheese products (2% milk line) are rBST-free.

Next Stop, Schools: So if consumers won’t buy it, where’s rBST-treated cows milk going? Some is still in use commercially, and of course much winds up in schools. Food & Water Watch has a campaign underway, coinciding with this year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, urging Congress to give schools the ability to let schools choose to use rBST-free and/or organic milk. According to Food & Water Watch, one out of five pints of the milk served to public schoolchildren may contain rBST. (Visit their School Milk action center to learn more.)

Better Yet, Drink Organic: If you already drink rBST-free milk, you might also want to consider organic. If you have to choose what to buy organic, organic milk and meat may be more beneficial than organic produce because the pesticides on cows’ feed are concentrated in their digestive system – and nonorganic feed includes genetically-modified (GMO) grain. And make sure that you’re choosing a brand that scores well on the Cornucopia Institute organic dairy study, because while organic certification guarantees that cows are fed GMO- and pesticide-free grain, it does not guarantee that the cows were allowed to graze on grass or treated humanely. Certain big-organic producers (Aurora and Horizon, notably) are only slightly better than conventional feedlot operations. (There’s a reason some store-brand “organic” milk is priced significantly lower – avoid Safeway, Giant, Publix and Costco store brands, which are sourced from Aurora Organics, a company found by the USDA to have “willfully” violated 14 criteria of the federal organic standard. Visit the Organic Consumer Association action page to sign a petition asking these company CEOs to boycott green-washing “organic” suppliers.)

We’re lucky to have a local, though not organic-certified, dairy delivery service, but when I have to buy milk between deliveries or on the road, I try to find Organic Valley. They are a co-operative of farms organized regionally, so the milk you buy may actually be fairly locally-produced, and they provide support to their farmers to make their farms more environmentally-friendly, such as helping their member farms obtain grants to place wind turbines on their farms. I attended a presentation by an Organic Valley farmer at last fall’s Green Festival and fell in love with the adorable pictures of his happy little cows and tale of how they prefer listening to rock music over classical. A recent study found that cows who are called by name (typically signifying a higher level of care) produce more milk, naturally. I may be a little idealistic, but shouldn’t every cow live like that?

What About Raw Milk? I haven’t read enough yet to take an informed opinion on the highly controversial issue of raw milk. Its sale is banned here in Maryland and Virginia (unless in a “cow share” program in VA), so I haven’t had the option of trying it. (At least not since I was a kid with cow-owning friends! Its true nothing else tastes like truly fresh milk.) On the one hand, I’m inclined to trust farmers who are praticing time-tested method,s and raw milk proponents insist that there are a wealth of health benefits to drinking raw. On the other hand, cows are naturally dirty animals! (That’s not a scientific argument, just an observation.) All the more reason to get to know your food’s producers, of course, whatever the product. At any rate, if you want to learn more, CheeseSlave has a great post on the reasons she chooses raw milk and links to more resources.

White House Organic Garden to Feed Local School Kids

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I’ve been offline most of the week, but am catching up on the Victory Gardenersflurry in response to today’s groundbreaking by First Lady Michelle Obama of the White House organic vegetable garden. While walking that fine political line of supporting organic, local foods without offending the industrial farming complex, the Obamas have lately signaled their interest in promoting healthy food, especially for kids. During a February tour of the White House kitchen, Mrs. Obama was quoted as saying,

“And when you’re dealing with kids, for example, you want to get them to try that carrot. Well, if it tastes like a real carrot and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy. So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they’re fresh and local and delicious.”

Their own daughters eat local, organic, sustainable lunches at their exclusive Washington private school, while the farm-to-school effort in the District’s public schools is still in its infancy. So we’re thrilled to see today’s ceremony included local elementary school children, who will be involved in the garden from planting to harvesting. For those interested in replicating the White House garden at home, you can view the plans here. And if you were one of the thousands who signed the “Eat the View” petition to the First Family, be sure to sign the thank you petition too.

For those of us also concerned about the plight of the honeybee, Obama Foodorama reports that the White House will also maintain working beehives.

Our kudos to Mrs. Obama and all involved! (Now about that Food Safety Working Group …. )

Eating down the Fridge (and Pantry and Freezer)

Monday, March 9th, 2009

freezer stashWe’re counting down the days till spring and the official re-opening of our neighborhood farmers market. When I read about Kim O’Donnel’s “Eating Down the Fridgechallenge — a week-long endeavor to be frugal and prevent waste by eating up the food stashed in our fridge, freezer and pantry — it seemed like a great excuse to do a little spring cleaning. We don’t eat a lot of canned goods, but I do have quite the assortment of canned beans and half-used boxes of grains and pastas. And the freezer contains a stash of frozen local fruits and vegetables from last summer that I’ve been remiss in not using up already.

Eating Down the Fridge starts today, so I’ve taken inventory to prepare. My goal is to use up at least 10 of these items this week. And I hope to find some recipe inspiration from the other participants as well. Stay tuned!

Pantry:

  • chipotle peppers
  • dried cherries
  • navy, aduki and cranberry beans
  • crushed tomatoes
  • quinoa, buckwheat and purple prairie barley
  • Spanish sardines
  • chicken and beef broth

Freezer:

  • asparagus
  • shredded zucchini
  • peaches
  • apricots
  • plums
  • cherries
  • sausage
  • shrimp
  • assorted steaks/chops/chicken parts

Fridge:

  • 1/2 bottles of cream and buttermilk
  • many, many slivers and ends of cheeses
  • sweet potato, red pepper, carrots, celery, onions