Posts Tagged ‘fight back friday’

Shopping Smarter at the Supermarket

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

For those who frequently shop with young children, the goal tends to be to get in, get what you need and get out before a meltdown. Reading nutrition labels and trying to make sense of manufacturer’s nutrition claims is increasingly time-consuming. While the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to regulate misleading claims — like Kellogg’s claiming their sugar-laden cereals increased immunity — for the most part, manufacturers have free reign over how they try to sell you on their products.

nutritioniQShoppers — and its family of grocery stores, including Albertsons, Acme, Bigg’s, Bristol Farms, Cub, Farm Fresh, Jewel-Osco, and Shop ‘n Save — recently unveiled a new program to help customers make sense of the claims. The nutrition iQ program is a grading system that measures food products against seven nutrition benchmarks, and then awards qualifying products a shelf tag stating that it is a good source of whole grains, low in sodium, etc. The guidelines were developed by a health organization, the Joslin Diabetes Center — independent of food manufacturers.

At first glance, this seems like a great tool to help consumers and also to apply market pressure to manufacturers. Early testing showed that consumers did shift their purchases towards products with a nutrition iQ tag. If a manufacturer sees their market share start to slip at participating stores, one would presume they would be encouraged to change their formulas. In fact, some of Shoppers’ own store brand products don’t meet the criteria for their categories, and their in-store nutritionists are working with their manufacturers to make changes.

The labels also provide a little more credibility to claims manufacturers may make on their packaging. It’s almost comical to walk the cereal aisle and see how many of the boldly “NOW WITH WHOLE GRAINS” labeled cereals don’t, in fact, qualify for the nutrition iQ whole grains tag. It’s not that they don’t have whole grains — products also have to fall under a certain sugar threshold before they can even be considered — so they may be too high in sugar and/or have too little actual whole grains. Unfortunately, a number of cereals are still made with the same over-processed grains and then have a whole grain supplement added back. To qualify for the nutrition iQ tag, an actual whole grain must be the first ingredient.

no nutrition iQ tag here

There are no bonus points for organics, so organic soup with high salt content is not going to get a tag. Organic yogurt with a lot of sugar is also disqualified, though you may still prefer that over yogurt with high fructose corn syrup.

The program was rolled out for certain categories of foods to begin with, largely processed ones. While choosing a nutrition iQ-labeled cereal is probably a better choice than one without, I do wonder if it gives an overstated sense of healthfulness — the better choice, still, is probably to skip the cereal and eat oatmeal. But I do think third-party verification of nutrition claims is a step in the right direction.

What do you think, would a store labeling program help you choose better products? How else can we pressure manufacturers to make healthier products?

Shared with Fight Back Friday at the Food Renegade – go check out more recipes and ideas in this week’s round-up.

Disclosure: I received a free lunch and bag of groceries for attending the launch event at Shoppers, as well as a gift card which I donated to charity. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Preserving Summer: Peach Gelato

Friday, August 21st, 2009

redhaven peaches at market

It’s peach season and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they hold out long enough for me to can some for winter. In the meantime, here’s the peach gelato that made me swoon, if I do say so myself.

Ever wonder what the difference is between ice cream and gelato? Sherbet and sorbet? As far as I can tell, from my extensive google research, the difference between ice cream, gelato, sherbet and sorbet is something like this:

  • ice cream, French = milk, cream, eggs
  • ice cream, Philadelphia/American = milk, cream, no eggs
  • gelato = milk, maybe eggs, no cream
  • sorbet = just fruit, no dairy or eggs
  • sherbet = milk, no cream and no eggs

Still confused? Short version: if you taste the cream first, it’s ice cream. If you taste the fruit first, it’s gelato. That’s the official FoodieTots definition at any rate. Now I set out to make Philadelphia-style peach ice cream, but the bottle I had labeled cream was in fact buttermilk; instead I used my cream-top whole milk, so while it has a little cream it is mostly milk. It has the texture and strongly fruit-forward taste of gelato, so that’s what I’m calling it.

peach gelato

Recipe: Peach Gelato

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 peaches (1 1/2 pounds), peeled
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
  • 1 cup cream-top whole milk
  • juice of 1 lemon wedge

Instructions: I use the boil/ice bath method to peel peaches. It seems like a hassle but trust me, it’s a lot easier and time saving in the long run then trying to scrape peels off with a paring knife.  Score the bottom of each peach with a small “x” cut, then drop them into boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them into a colander set in ice water for several seconds, then set on cutting board and leave several minutes to cool. The skins will pretty much slip right off at that point.

Dice the peaches and place in a medium stock pot over medium high heat, add honey and seeds of the vanilla bean. Cook until peaches begin to fall apart, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes. Add milk and blend in small batches in a blender, or use an immersion blender in the pot. I recommend the regular blender to make sure there are no chunks — in a home freezer, the chunks of fruit get too icy and aren’t as flavorful as in commercial ice creams. Stir in the lemon juice and pour into a glass bowl or pitcher. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator (I leave it overnight) and then process according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. (I use the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment and mix it for 10-12 minutes, until it thickens and reaches a very soft icy consistency, then freeze for 3-4 hours.) Enjoy!

Shared with Fight Back Fridays at the Food Renegade, because once you’ve had homemade ice cream — or gelato — you’ll never go back to that commercial chemical goop from the supermarket.

Cooking Julia with Kids: Blueberry Clafouti (and a film review)

Friday, August 7th, 2009

julie and julia movie posterThe new film Julie & Julia opens tonight, and if you have even a passing interest in food and cooking I highly suggest you catch it. If you haven’t seen the trailer (or book or blog), it’s a Nora Ephron film about a girl, Julie Powell, who decides to cook and blog her way through Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s an ideal girls-night-out film with splendid acting by Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. It’ll also give you a glimpse into the high-stress juggling act of working by day and food blogging by night, like yours truly, though Julie had only a cat watching, not a hungry child calling for attention every other minute. There’s a catch-22 for food bloggers in discussing this film, as any negative criticism is quickly dismissed as jealousy over the fact that Julie successfully blogged her way to a book and film deal; something that is surely the dream of many food bloggers around the world. I had never read Julie’s blog or book but was familiar with the tale; my main complaint with the movie is not directed at Julie’s character but just that I would have loved to see much more of Julia.

At any rate, my sure-fire pitch for a book deal is also a blatant rip-off of based on Julie’s challenge: my soon-to-be-3-year-old will cook his way through Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking before his 4th birthday. Okay, maybe we’re not quite ready for that, but in honor of his impending 3rd birthday I decided it was time to teach him to crack eggs. We set out to make the ubiquitous Julia Child clafouti(s) — for some reason Julia omits the “s” — but since cherry season here has come and gone I opted to use the last of July’s blueberries, which the husband and the boy picked up at the Del Ray Farmers Market on Saturday.

Julia-inspired Blueberry Clafouti

Recipe: Blueberry Clafouti, adapted from Julia Child

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 – 2 cups blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
powdered sugar

A few words of advice for baking with younger kids: measure and prep all ingredients before hand, then arrange them in the order needed next to the mixing bowl. Have them crack the eggs first and into their own bowl to make fishing out pieces of shell a little easier. Clafoutis is simple to prepare and kids can take charge of mixing all the ingredients but the fruit together in a large bowl. We whisked the eggs together first, then vanilla and almond extracts (almond is my addition), sugar, flour, salt and milk.

foodie tot baking with julia

I wouldn’t dare criticize Julia, but I find it amusing that she speaks so condescendingly of using a blender to make mayonnaise and yet uses one to whip up her clafouti(s) batter. If your child over eagerly dumps in ingredients before the prior ingredients are fully combined, here’s an easy trick to smooth the batter: pour it through a fine mesh sieve, pressing with your spoon to dissolve the lumps.

To bake the clafoutis, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour a thin layer of batter into the bottom of the buttered, wide and shallow baking dish and cook it until it just begins to set, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the blueberries over the batter, and the 1/3 cup reserved sugar over the berries, then top with the remaining batter. Return to oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until custard is puffed and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!

julia's kitchen at smithsonianThe boy scored a bite before bed and declared it “mmm, good.” If you want to introduce your kids to Julia without messing up the kitchen, head over to the American History Museum to see her complete kitchen, including her very own French copper pots and pans which were recently returned by Ephron after being used in the movie. (At the donation event, Julia’s niece Phila Cousins relayed Julia’s incredulous reaction to the Smithsonian’s request for her kitchen. One can only imagine what she would think of the film!)

In the film, Julia writes to her sister, “I think I’m the only American woman in Paris who has as much fun shopping for food as shopping for a dress.” I’m with her, but for a less foodcentric review check out my friend the DC Fashion Gal’s take on the film. Seen in? Love it? Let us know!

I’m sharing this post with the Mastering the Art of French Cooking round-up hosted by La Cuisine d’ Heléne (and #MTAFC on twitter); and sending it over to Fight Back Fridays at the Food Renegade, because Julia wrote MTAFC to empower “American women without cooks” to get into the kitchen, something my fellow real food advocates believe in as well.

Fresh from the Fields of Athenry

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

If you’ve ever taken a close look at the lamb that floods the grocery stores around this time each year, you might have noticed that it nearly all comes from New Zealand or Australia. Even our neighborhood butcher, who sources most of his meat from here in Virginia, gets his lamb from outside the area.  But looking to create a more sustainable Passover/Easter menu last year (we celebrate both, so Easter dinner is usually leavening-free, though not strictly Kosher), I was thrilled to meet the “lamb lady,” Elaine Boland, at our local organic grocer, MOM’s. We served her leg of lamb last Easter and found it to be the freshest, most tender, and flavorful lamb any of us had ever tasted.

Sadly, MOM’s no longer stocks Elaine’s lamb (they have a largely vegetarian customer base), so on a recent sunny spring day my sister-in-law, the toddler and I hit the road to visit the farm in person. Fields of Athenry, near Middleburg, Va., is just over an hour’s drive from the District. The family farm is nestled in the foot hills of the Bull Run Mountains, and the drive through Virginia’s horse country with freshly blossoming trees and new spring grass just popping up could not be more refreshing.

sheep

Pulling up to the stately country house, a troupe of friendly dogs rushed out to greet us. A voice called from down the hill, beckoning us down to the watering station and chicken coop. Geese chased each other in the pond, while ewes and lambs lazed about in the sun. A chicken sauntered up and lured the toddler to follow him over to see the chickens and (heritage) turkeys nesting. Two llamas and a horse rounded out the menagerie, all looking content as they soaked up the sun on the grassy hillside.

chicken farm virginia

After visiting with the animals, we ventured into the store. A children’s area with chalk and crayons kept the boy entertained while Elaine and her assistant filled me in on the freshly processed, 30-day aged Black Angus beef that had literally just arrived from the butcher. (Cows and additional sheep are pastured at other locations nearby in Virginia and Pennsylvania.) I picked up some NY strip and short ribs, and selected a lamb shoulder from the freezer. They had just sold most of the lamb to one of the local restaurants they supply. (Last summer, we sampled the phenomenal Baa Baa Black Sheep pizza, with Athenry’s lamb sausage, feta, tomatoes, spinach and balsamic glaze, at Fireworks Wood-Fired Pizza in Leesburg – which, incidentally, has an impressive craft beer list as well as locally-sourced pizza toppings.)

puppy As we witnessed, all the animals raised by Fields of Athenry are able to roam and graze freely, grass-fed and well cared for. In fact, their methods met Alice Waters’ exacting standards and Athenry’s lamb was served at Waters’ exclusive Inaugural dinner party earlier this year.

We had arrived near closing time, and Elaine was rushing out to pick up her kids from school, but took a minute to invite the boy inside the house to meet her 14-day-old puppies. He had been pretty excited by the geese and sheep, (singing “We’re going to the sheep farm, the sheep farm…” as he got dressed that morning) but the look of pride and wonder as he gently held a tiny puppy under his arm was truly priceless. (Click here for more photos from our visit.)

Fields of Athenry is open this weekend (Sat. 10am-3pm, closed Sundays), and is accepting orders for Easter weekend until noon next Weds., April 8. (Note that they will be closed Easter Saturday, so all orders will have to be picked up by Friday, April 10.) They deliver to various drop-off points in Loudoun County (see below), and with enough interest, may be able to arrange a drop-off in Northern Virginia – so do sign up for their email list and let them know if you’d be interested. And if you’d like to visit the farm, be sure to check the event schedule for upcoming “Farm to Community Health Outreach” seminars.

Where to Find: Fields of Athenry’s sustainable meat products (lamb/beef/chicken and heritage turkey for Thanksgiving) are delivered by pre-order to locations in Broadlands, Ashburn, Leesburg and Reston, and are available at the farm five days a week (Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. and Sat.).

And, their meats are served at Equinox in DC and these Loudoun County, Va., restaurants: Good Stone Inn, Tuscarora Mill, South Street Under, Fireworks, Midas Touch, Bluemont Vineyards, Natural Mercantile of Hamilton, thewinekitchenVintage 50, and American Flatbread.

Lastly, one of my favorite Passover/Easter lamb recipes is “Roasted leg of lamb with Artichokes” from Gourmet. I’ve also made one with a shallot red wine sauce, but can’t find it at the moment.

(Shared with Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday – check out the round-up for great info and ideas from fellow real foodies.)