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Archive for August, 2007

The Subtleties of Salt

I’ve been experimenting with pesto lately, and tonight I finally succeeded–that is, except for its overwhelming saltiness.  True, I wasn’t exactly following the recipe, but I distinctly remember adding precisely the amount of salt prescribed.  Perturbed, I scrutinized the recipe again.  Oh.  There it was: 1 tsp kosher salt.  Argh!  I used my special, fine sea salt.

You may already know why my dish turned out too salty, but I bet you don’t know all of the cool stuff I just learned on the internet about kosher salt.  I certainly didn’t, and I’m generally familiar with different salts.  So, here’s a little primer:

Lesson #1: Kosher salt, by volume, is less potent than regular table salt (or any other finely ground salt).  As you may have noticed before, it’s much coarser, which means that it doesn’t pack as finely.  When a recipe calls for 1 tsp of kosher salt and you need to substitute table salt, you should only use 1/2 tsp.  Likewise, if you’re using kosher salt instead of table salt, simply double the amount called for in the recipe.  (By the way, if a recipe doesn’t specify a kind of salt, it’s asking for table salt.)  This is precisely why my pesto turned out entirely too salty.  I substituted finely ground sea salt for kosher salt without adjusting for volume.  <beating head against wall>

Lesson #2: Kosher salt isn’t called kosher because it’s safe for Orthodox Jews to eat.  This was news to me!  Actually, all salt is technically kosher.  We should really refer to kosher salt as koshering salt, because it is used to draw the blood out of meat during the koshering process.  The koshering technique requires larger granules of salt that will not dissolve too quickly–thus, the coarse, flake-style salt we call “kosher.”  (Incidentally, this reveals an oft-ignored principle of cooking: you should always salt your meat after cooking it; otherwise, the salt will draw out too much moisture.)

Lesson #3:  Chefs prefer kosher salt.  Well, I knew that, and you probably know that too, but here’s why.  They have two good reasons.  First, unlike table salt, kosher salt does not have any additives, like iodine or caking agents.  Many insist that these pollutants, particularly iodine, add a metallic overtone to salt, so they prefer the pure stuff.  Second, chefs generally measure with their fingers and hands (a pinch of this, a handful of that), and kosher salt is much easier to grab with one’s fingertips and disperse evenly.

Of course, despite its many advantages, kosher salt doesn’t do every job equally well.  Generally speaking, you should not use kosher salt when baking.  Unless it is a recipe that gives ample time for mixing wet and dry ingredients together (which is rarely the case, as this usually results in tough cookies or pancakes or pastries), the salt won’t fully dissolve, and you’ll end up with distinct granules in your finished product.  I have definitely made pancakes like this.  First bite: Mmmm….sweet.  Second bite: ewwww….salty.

It’s also nice sometimes to finish a dish with a fancy sea salt, rather than kosher salt.  Sea salts have different flavors, depending on where they’re harvested, and this can add a special touch if you use it just before serving.

Finally, one note of caution: you absolutely should NOT stop eating iodized salt altogether unless you take an iodine supplement.  Iodine is a necessary nutrient, and, unless you eat lots of sea vegetables, table salt is likely your only source of it at present.  Even the iodine in your salt is likely not enough, but I’ll save that for another post.  😉  

 I hope you found this information helpful and, perhaps, interesting.  Maybe not.  I could be the only one I know interested in the subtleties salt.  That wouldn’t surprise me, really.  In any case, thanks again for reading!

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Lamb. It’s What’s For Dinner.

A couple of months ago, while ordering some organic beef through Paidom Meats (www.paidom.com), I spontaneously added ground lamb and lamb shoulders to my shopping cart.  After all, I love a varied diet.  Once my order arrived, though, I realized I had no clue what to do with my lamb.  I grew up eating it once per year, always roasted, always on Easter Sunday.  With mint jelly.

Hmmm. 

That’s when I started the hunt for recipes.  After a few weeks of experimenting, I’ve found a couple that I really like.  So, if you’re interested in mixing up your diet with a little lamb, or if you’re already an aficionado, here are two recipes for your consideration:

 Spicy Lamb Patties http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Spicy-Lamb-Patties/Detail.aspx

These are super easy and quite delicious.  I like to add a little extra red pepper for spiciness.

Lebanese Lamb and Bean Stew http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/233264

The Lebanese stew is truly exceptional.  I’ve never eaten anything quite like it.  If you have difficulty locating the spice mix, Baharat, at your grocery store, you can do what I did and make your own.  I used the first recipe listed at this address: http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/baharat.html

 Happy cooking!

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Green Cleaning

If you’re in the business of preserving your health and the environment, evaluating your cleaning supplies is essential.  Most “normal” household products–from disinfectants to laundry detergent to air fresheners–contain a number of toxins and irritants.  The artificial fragrances can cause headaches, irritate mucosal linings, and exacerbate existing allergies.  Petroleum-based ingredients obviously further our dependence upon oil, a non-renewable resource, while slowly loading our bodies with chemicals they can’t easily eliminate.  Fortunately, you have options for replacing toxic or petroleum-based products.  Several companies make excellent home care solutions that are easy the body and the earth.  The downside?  Cost, of course.  As you might expect, safer, higher-quality products sport higher price tags than their toxic counterparts.  

For a little more work and a lot less money, you can make your own cleaners.  Of course, you might be happier buying some things pre-made.  I, for example, buy Ecover’s toilet bowl cleaner and stain stick, primarily because I like the dispensers.  Afterall, who enjoys scrubbing a home-made past inside a toilet by hand?  Not me!  I also purchase dishwashing soap and, after an unfortunate series of events, laundry detergent.  But as for household cleaners for glass, wood, and other surfaces, I make my own.  It’s so easy. 

For your dishwasher, combine equal parts borax and washing soda (both available in your grocery store) to use as detergent.  Just fill your machine’s dispenser as usual.  Because this mix can leave white spots on your dishes, be sure to use straight vinegar as a rinsing agent (use the appropriate dispenser).  This combination has produced highly satisfactory results for me.

My favorite glass cleaner so far is plain club soda.  It’s remarkably effective.  Apparently, it’s also fantastic as a stain remover if you catch spills quickly, but I can’t personally vouch for it.  Next time I spill something on my clothes, which will likely be in the next 30 minutes, I’ll give it a shot.

Although there are many options for making nontoxic disinfectants, my best effort yet is a mix of 3 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon borax, and 1 teaspoon Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap.  I especially like to use the peppermint-scented soap because it makes my bathroom smell so fresh and clean.  Borax is an excellent disinfectant, but washing soda is also good.  Straight vinegar kills germs too, but I don’t have much tolerance for the smell. 

I’ll publish more ideas later, but for now, I’m off to my Saturday afternoon nap.  Also, my apologies for waiting so long to post.  I’ve been working on our house lately, so the blog got pushed to the back burner.  You can expect a post at least every 48 hours from now on.  Thanks!

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Effects of Genetically Modified Crops

I received my monthly newsletter today from the Institute for Responsible Technology, and I wanted to share it with you.  http://www.seedsofdeception.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=1418  While all of the studies cited used rodents, not people, as test subjects, the findings are incredibly disturbing.  The mice and rats experienced everything from stomach, intestinal, and liver abnormalities, to high death rates, reproductive problems, and infant mortality. 

The shocking part?  You are probably already eating the genetically modified (GM) foods fed to these animals.  The FDA approved these foods for human consumption.  Unless you buy organic canola, corn, soy, and papayas, your chances of repeatedly avoiding GM versions are negligible (GM foods cannot receive the organic label).  Check out this link for a full list of GM crops and foods: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/GMFree/AboutGMFoods/GMFoodsAtAGlance/index.cfm  

I encourage you to check out the rest of the website while you’re there.  The Institute for Responsible Technology does not seem to thrive on sensationalism and scare tactics.  They present their case against GM foods in a reasonable, logical, and non-psychotic manner.  I appreciate that, and I hope you will too. 

Thanks for reading!
Alison

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Food Miles

Here is a really fascinating article on how the distance food travels impacts our carbon footprint.  Not surprisingly, it’s significantly more complicated than the blanket statement, “the closer to your home it’s grown, the better.”  Sometimes you serve the environment well by buying lamb raised in Australia.  To find out why and how (my two favorite questions!), read the brief op-ed article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/opinion/06mcwilliams.html?_r=3&oref=slogin

I love the author’s conclusion that we should capitalize on our geographic and regional advantages when it comes to producing food.  In many ways, south-east Texans are very blessed because of the year-round growing season.

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(If you haven’t already, you may wish to read yesterday’s post, “Is Organic Really Better?,” before continuing with this one.)

After discussing the article over dinner with my husband and doing a little more research, I’d like to add to my comments from yesterday.

One of Avner’s major arguments against foregoing chemical and hormones in the food supply is that our efficiency will be lower.  For example, we need more organic cows to produce the same amount of milk as conventional cows.  I would contest that the real problem lies in our consumption levels.  How much milk do we really need?  Perhaps the inability to produce “enough” without resorting to chemicals and hormones is an indication that we have unrealistic expectations.  We all know that the average American eats too much.  We can offer excuses, but the truth remains: we are a heavy nation.  When it comes to the meat supply, what if the average American cut down his portion from eight ounces to a healthy three or four ounces at each meal?  I’m not pretending that this would single-handedly fix all of our food supply problems, but surely it is worthwhile for each of us to ask the question, “Am I being a good steward of the earth (and my body!) in my eating habits?”

This sense of personal responsibility is precisely what is missing in Avner’s article.  Sure, there’s no question that mindlessly buying organic foods from your grocery store may not be helpful.  She cites an excellent example:

“According to the Oct. 16, 2006, cover story in Business Week, when you eat Stonyfield Farms yogurt, you are often consuming dried organic milk flown all the way from New Zealand and reconstituted here in the U.S. The apple puree used to sweeten the yogurt sometimes comes from Turkey, and the strawberries from China. Importation of organic products raises troubling questions about food safety, labor standards, and the fossil fuels burned in the transportation of these foods.” 

Alright.  I respond by passing over Stonyfield products and selecting organic products from better companies.  I won’t give up on organic as a whole.  In this case, Stonyfield seems to be exploiting the organic label, but many other companies don’t.  Ecover, for example, demonstrates real commitment to the entire organic cause–better for people, better for the environment, better sustainability.  Even their manufacturing facilities use rain water for toilets and 100% green energy.  That’s impressive.  (check them out at http://www.ecover.com/us/en/)  I gladly pay a little extra to support a company like that.  Again, the key is personal responsibility.  Are you buying organics to assuage your vague sense of guilt?  Or are you buying them mindfully, carefully choosing which companies and growers to support? 

I also object to Avner’s claim that no one has proved any detrimental effects of hormones and chemicals from the food supply.  This simply isn’t true, but I’ll have to post another time with evidence to back me up on this.   

Last, I need to apologize for failing to check up on the article’s author.  Jackie Avner, the girl who grew up on a dairy farm and wants to spread the truth as an industry insider, has a little secret up her sleeve.  She is the vice president of Felix Pets, LLC, a company devoted to genetically engineering hypoallergenic cats.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check it out for yourself at their website: www.felixpets.com.  This revelation doesn’t reflect very well on her animal-cruelty plea.  It also explains her if-you-can’t-prove-it-then-it’s-not-true attitude.

Again, it’s all about personal responsibility.  Buy from companies you have researched.  Buy locally from farms whose growing practices you support.  Just buy smart.

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Jackie Avner believes otherwise.  In her (or his?) article, “Reasons You Should Buy Regular Foods,” Avner argues that organic growing and raising practices are harder on the environment, animals, and humans than conventional methods. 

First, because their growing and harvesting methods are comparatively inefficient, organic farmers consume more land and fossil fuels than their conventional counterparts.  In one example, a Canadian organic farm consumed six times more diesel fuel per bushel of wheat than a nearby conventional farm.  That’s pretty alarming.  In her argument for using rbGH, Avner asserts that, without the hormone injection, cows produce less milk.  Therefore, more cows are required to produce the same amount of milk, meaning more food and land are required.  Bovine waste, which releases methane gas into the atmosphere, also increases.

Second, because organic meats and poultry can never be treated with antibiotics, many animals die needlessly–and painfully.  Organic dairy farms often sell sick cows to conventional farms where they can be treated for curable illness.  Otherwise, the animals are sold for slaughter.

Finally, the issue of freshness: organic foods often travel farther than conventional ones to compete on your grocery store’s shelves.  In addition, organic milk is ultrapasteurized to give it a 90-day shelf life, rather than the standard 20-day shelf life for conventional milk. 

I think Avner has some good points.  I’ll certainly continue pondering the article.  Maybe I’ll even stop buying organic products in my grocery store.  Maybe.  It’s something I’m going to consider, after a little more research, of course.

But here’s what I won’t stop doing: I won’t stop buying local organic produce, raw milk, and organic grass-fed beef.  When my produce is local, I know it’s fresh.  It was picked this morning!  When the milk is raw and organic, that means it’s not only free of antibiotics and hormones, but that its original molecular structure is untouched.  It won’t last long, but it’s nutritious.  And grass-fed beef?  It’s much leaner and higher in essential fatty acids than corn-fed beef. 

I also have to protest the article’s closing. Avner assumes that people who buy organic food are ultimately hypocrites, because they demonstrate concern over chemicals in their food while overlooking those in their personal care products and household cleaners.  This isn’t necessarily a fair accusation, however.  I, for one, do care very much what ingredients are in my deodorant, face wash, feminine care products, laundry detergent, and everything else I use on my person or in my home.  More on that another time, though. 

Read Avner’s full article here: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_6474474

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