Monday, July 27, 2009

Consumer Reports On Chicken Cleanliness

Hail to the land of the tree-hugging food snobs!

From consumer reports:

In the largest national analysis of contamination and anti­biotic resistance in store-bought chicken ever published, we tested 525 fresh, whole broilers bought at supermarkets, mass merchandisers, gourmet shops, and ­natural-food stores in 23 states last spring. Represented in our tests were four leading brands (Foster Farms, Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson) and 10 organic and 12 nonorganic no-antibiotics brands, including three that are “air chilled” in a newer slaughterhouse process designed to re­duce contamination. Among our findings:

  • Campylobacter was present in 81 percent of the chickens, salmonella in 15 percent; both bacteria in 13 percent. Only 17 percent had neither pathogen. That’s the lowest percentage of clean birds in all four of our tests since 1998, and far less than the 51 percent of clean birds we found for our 2003 report.

  • No major brand fared better than others overall. Foster Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson chickens were lower in salmonella incidence than Perdue, but they were higher in campylobacter.

  • There was an exception to the poor showing of most premium chickens. As in our previous tests, Ranger--a no-antibiotics brand sold in the Northwest--was extremely clean. Of the 10 samples we analyzed, none had salmonella, and only two had campylobacter.

  • Among all brands, 84 percent of the salmonella and 67 percent of the campylobacter organisms we analyzed showed resistance to one or more antibiotics.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Who Cares?

There is no doubt about it- the world is a sad and tainted place. There are evil people everywhere who will step on whoever it takes to get what he or she wants- whether that be money, power, or anything else you can think of. Lately, I have been getting philosophical about this. I have been reeeeally thinking about who these people may be in the food and agriculture industries.

And I am totally lost. My question is this: are there really businesses out there that would willingly harm others for the sake of profit? If so, who are these people? (Well, I suppose if we knew that we wouldn't have much of a problem). Perhaps everyone would agree tobacco companies? Fast food? Soda? How do they justify selling these products that are proven to be harmful in the long term just from moderate, but regular, consumption? If even these companies can't be proven wrong enough to get people to stop buying, then how is there hope for the more subtle ways that other companies harm people?

Or perhaps there are actually more companies than not that are full of evil, money-driven liars who don't care who they give cancer and heart disease to as long as they get their bonus check to pay for their yachts. (Remember, this is all just thinking out loud). Well, then I want to know- who cares?

Who cares less- Is it a company that is spraying produce with pesticides when (technically speaking) there has been no proof (in their subjective, company sponsored lab tests) that these pesticides are harmful? Or is it a company that pays farmers a ridiculously low price for organic produce while then turning around and marking the produce up so high in the store that it practically costs your soul to buy it? Or perhaps it's the big corporations that saw what people are willing to pay for organic food so they barely squeak by the USDA's already laughable organic standards in order to label their product as such.

One good example of a major conundrum is both sides of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically modified produce is definitely not a good thing in general. It's not good for your body, and it's not good for the future of farming (too big of a subject to expand on now). Monsanto, for example, is a company that has purchased the rights to seeds, then modified them to only respond to pesticides created by -you guessed it- Monsanto themselves. Then they sue small farmers out of business when these seeds blow over and grow on the farmer's land. But what about Gebisa Ejet, an Ethiopian scientist "whose sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed have dramatically increased the production and availability of one of the world’s five principal grains and enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa." I would say that he cares more. Wouldn't you?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Your Hawaiian vacation in a dessert

Yes, yes, this economy stinks. Raj and I evaded it for a long time, but eventually it even got to us and our budget. On top of that, we are trying to save for a trip to Europe next spring. Needless to say, we won't be doing any spectacular traveling this summer. Unfortunately, I am really in the mood for a Hawaiian getaway. Badly. If any of you feels the same way, this is the best I can do for you: put on your mu'u-mu'u and try this cake.

I've got to tell you- this is my own recipe, so some of the quantities have been vague "to taste" kinds of amounts since I am the only one who has made it. I will try my very best to give you a good estimate of what I use.

You will notice that the pastry cream uses yolks, while the cake uses whites. I did this on purpose. Separate your eggs before you begin. Also, I think you will need about a quart of whipping cream. You will use whipped cream for a couple of things. If you are unfamiliar with making home made whipped cream, use this link.

Annika's Organic (if you use organic ingredients) coconut cake

1 recipe white cake
1/2 recipe pastry cream
12 oz flaked coconut
8 oz shredded coconut
1 recipe Coconut simple syrup

White Cake

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large egg whites (3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Set rack at the middle level in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottom of two 9-inch round or one 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan. Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Combine egg whites, milk and vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture then add half the milk mixture. Continue to alternate beginning and ending with flour mixture. Scape the bowl and beater often.

Pour the batter into prepared pan(s) and smooth top with metal spatula. Bake cake(s) about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean.

Cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack, remove paper and let cool completely.

Pastry Cream

  • 3 cups milk
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 8 yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened

In a 3 quart saucepot combine the milk and vanilla bean seeds. Combine the yolks and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sift the cornstarch onto a piece of wax or parchment paper.

Scald the milk. Meanwhile, beat the yolks and sugar until they lighten in color. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the cornstarch. Pour about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously to incorporate. Whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the remaining hot milk, and place the pot back on the heat. Cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly but gently with the whisk, until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce heat and let it boil for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and gently whisk in the butter. Strain the pastry cream into a bowl, place plastic wrap right down on the surface, and chill completely. This can be made up to 3 days ahead.


1. Toast the flaked coconut until it is golden in about a 350 degree oven. This goes FAST!

2. To prepare the simple syrup, boil 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar for 2 minutes. Cool, and mix in 1/4 cup coconut milk.

3. Whip 2 cups of cream per the directions I gave you. Use a whisk to break up and soften pastry cream. Fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into pastry cream to lighten it (you have, by the way, just made a Bavarian cream). Add shredded coconut until, in your opinion, it tastes nice and coconut-y. For me, that's about as much coconut as the cream can possibly hold.

4. Place the first layer of cake down, and using a pastry brush soak with coconut simple syrup.

5. Spread cream mixture on the cake, about 1/4-1/2 inch deep. Leave a good 1/2 inch around the edges so that it doesn't drip over. Put the second layer of cake on and repeat soaking with syrup.

6. Use the remaining whipped cream to ice the cake on all sides about 1/4 inch thick. Make the top nice and flat, but don't worry too much about the sides, as they will be covered. If you run out of whipped cream, just make more.

7. Take a large handful of the toasted coconut, and gently press on the side of the cake, repeating until it is sufficiently covered on the sides.

8. At this point, you can decorate the top. I like to use a large star tip and edible flowers to give it an islandy feel.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Grilling Chicken

I am going to tell you a secret- I can't cook chicken without the help of my trusty friend the meat thermometer. I have an unhealthy attachment to it- to the point where I get very nervous and anxious when I have to cook chicken without it. I love Mr. Meat Thermometer and he helps me weekly to make moist, but appropriately cooked poultry. We usually do this together by my preparing the meat, sticking the thermometer in the biggest piece, and then he alerts me when my chicken is a recommended 170 degrees. Easy as that.

It's not as easy on the grill, because if you stick a big hole in your chicken while it's caramelizing it's going to lose all its juices. So, like a child without a security blanket, I stress that from the grill either my chicken is going to give us all a foodborne illness or else be chalk dry or rubbery. Well, no one does grilling like Texans, so it's fitting that I found this article about how to grill perfect chicken on your BBQ- bone in even! It even involves the use of my best friend meat thermometer at the very end just to make sure the chicken is at the right temp. A good compromise, I think. Here is the article!

How to grill bone in chicken breasts

I can grill up a burger, hot dog or even a swordfish steak with the best. But truth be told, perfecting the chicken breast — juicy in the middle, caramelized exterior — is a nerve-racking experience.

But it can be done with a little grill sense.

First, forget the image of Tony Soprano standing at the gas grill, lid open, a stogie in one hand and the other constantly poking at the meat with an oversized fork. Other than the cigar, he's breaking all the rules.

Unlike tossing a burger on the grill for a few minutes, cooking bone-in chicken breasts to a tender finish requires slow cooking (an hour or more) with indirect heat — cooking near the flame, not over it.

Why bone-in breasts? I think they are more tender than boneless, especially when grilled slowly over low heat. If you prefer to go boneless, note that the cooking time is significantly less (about 20 minutes) and uses direct heat.

To skin or not? I leave the skin on because it keeps the chicken moist and, frankly, it tastes great, especially when it's crispy and infused with a smoky sweetness from grilling. Plus, once cooked it's easily removed, if desired.

Let's take this step by step.

Step 1 — Clean your cooking grate! It's not a badge of grilling honor to have a caked up grate; it's unhealthy.

Elizabeth Karmel, a competitive barbecuer and author of "Taming the Flame" offers this tip: Heat the grate before cleaning it. This helps loosen the grit, which then is easily removed with a wire brush. A clean grill also reduces sticking.

Step 2 — Prep the chicken while your grill is heating. And if you're using charcoal, don't use lighter fluid. It will affect the flavor. I prefer using a chimney starter, but all you really need are two pages from a newspaper and a match.

While chicken can be marinated hours ahead, remember that it won't be any more succulent if you dry it out on the grill. I prefer giving the chicken a simple run of oil, salt, pepper and sugar just before grilling.

For fans of barbecue sauce: Wait until the final 20 minutes of cooking to apply it, otherwise it will burn.

Step 3 —Once the coals on a charcoal grill are a gray-white ash, you're ready to cook. Using a poker, divide the coals into two piles, pushing each to one side of the grill.

On a gas grill, turn off the middle burner and lower the heat on the side burners to medium. Place a pan between the coals or flames beneath the grate to catch fat drippings and help prevent flareups.

Don't use a spray bottle to battle the flames because the spray could get on the chicken. It also causes unwanted steam. Removing the chicken from the grill before spraying could affect cooking time and tear the skin.

Step 4 —Arrange your chicken with the skin side up over the center of the grill so the pieces are not over the flames or hot coals. Cover the grill, leaving any vents open, and walk away.

If you have that Tony Soprano urge to poke, consider this: Piercing the skin of the chicken allows the juices to run out. Turning the meat too soon causes it to stick. Lifting the lid reduces the temperature and increases cooking time.

So I repeat — walk away from the grill.

Step 5 —Depending on the size of the pieces and outdoor temperature, you'll learn to predict how long it'll take the chicken to cook. For now, turn after about 30 minutes. Then 30 minutes later, use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. Insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the chicken without touching bone.

Step 6 —Remove the chicken from the grill when the white meat has reached a temperature of 165 F. Let the breasts sit for 10 minutes before serving to let the juices settle and allow the meat to continue cooking (thanks to residual heat) to the federally recommended 170 F.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ionized and Alkaline Water?

Water is definitely not what it used to be. I am reminded of this every time I step into my shower- already fixed with a shower head filter, mind you- and get a slight whiff of a swimming pool. Apparently my city water is treated with chlorine and who knows what else. Because of this, I try to filter my water as many times as I can before drinking it. I want pure water. But do I want to actually change my water?

Many companies are springing up around the globe stating that even pure water- water perhaps the way it has been for however many years this planet has been in existence- is not good enough. They are spreading the word that we need "water of the future." People are spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to change their water in the hopes that it will raise their health. Let me tell you the sales pitch of these companies:

They begin with what is fact: pH is the balance between alkaline and acid. I'm not sure why, but a low pH (or acid) is on a scale anything from 0-6, and a high PH (alkaline) is anything from an 8 -14. 7 is neutral- representing a balance between acid and alkaline. Here is a more lengthy definition. Water should have a pH of 7, or neutral. Nutrition and health is based on that balance. We want our bodies to be receiving a balance of acid and alkaline from the foods that we eat. Unfortunately, the lifestyle and eating habits of most people around you (and probably you yourself) are making our bodies too acidic from eating more meats and grains rather than fruits and vegetables, thus creating an imbalance. This can result in lethargy, obesity, illness and diseases, or general lack of health.

That's where the facts end. I don't pretend to understand all the science around this, but apparently these machines which companies are selling somehow separate ions, change minerals, and make water more alkaline (wikipedia). To give credit where credit is due, I need to say that the water has been confirmed scientifically to be altered by this process. However, what is untested and unproven, except for consumer testimonials, is that this ionized or alkaline water helps restore balance and health back to the body just by drinking it. Skeptical? Me too. Which is why I did some research, consulted some nutritionists, and basically came full circle back to the fact that all my initial instincts about this water were correct:

First of all, I am skeptical of anything sold by companies that can make you healthier simply by consuming their product, but not changing one's lifestyle. Keeping the placebo effect in mind, I wonder if all the testimonials of people who lost weight, felt more energetic, were relieved from arthritis, etc. became so because they were accidentally being more healthy in general when they began to use this water. Perhaps just drinking more water in general rather than so much juice and soda helped??

Second, I question anything that claims to make you healthier that was produced from a machine. During my research, I found that you can produce the same alkaline effect on your water that these $4000 machines do simply by diluting a small amount of bleach in your water. Sounds tasty, right? The one thing that may be valid from the aqua-mehcanical (I made that term up!) process is that the water contains more antioxidants. Essentially, you may be paying for some very expensive man-made antioxidants that only work a fraction as well as ones that come from food and are made in nature!

What the nutritionists brought to my attention I found rather comical. Water is neutral for a reason. Almost everything we consume is acid. Even fruits and vegetables become alkaline in our system only after we have broken them down. The only things we eat that have any alkaline in them are milk, and baking soda (also milk of magnesia, which is comparable to Pepto Bismol). Our stomachs are full of acid for digestion. "...if we had a bunch of alkaline foods, our stomach pH would be neutralized and digestion impaired. I know that with the acid/alkaline diets, they talk about the effects after digestion, therefore bypassing the whole dilemma of the stomach. However, this cannot be true for alkaline water- it's going in alkaline, neutralizing stomach pH, and doing bad things to your digestion!! Well, that is, assuming the purifiers really work."

My conclusion: exercise, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and drink lots of natural water. Now how's THAT for futuristic thinking?

Monday, July 06, 2009

calabacines y maíz con crema

¡Un amigo mexicano hizo esta receta, y yo quise hacerlo, también! Inventé mi propia receta y lo hice en el cuarto de julio. Fue muy bueno. Es muy fácil, y usted lo debe hacer, también.

A Mexican friend made this recipe, and I wanted to make it, too! I invented my own recipe and made it on the fourth of July. It was very good. It is very easy, and you should make it, also.

Zucchini and Corn with Cream

1 clove garlic chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 pound zucchini cubed
1 1/2 cups corn (cut off the cob is best, but you can use frozen)
2/3 cups heavy cream
good sprinkling of cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and onion until tender, add zucchini and corn and cook for about 3-5 minutes, add heavy cream, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender but still hold their shape. Finish with seasonings to your taste. I served mine with sliced avocado on top.

Friday, July 03, 2009

If I Had My Way

Raj and I have had the opportunity to house sit for our cousins while they are in Europe for some of June and July. I know what you're thinking- we already have a house! But we just had to sacrifice for those 180 degree views of Lake Washington in the nicest neighborhood in Seattle. I know, I know- we're so kind, aren't we? In all seriousness, our cousins have a niiiiiice house. And when I mean nice, I mean think of the nicest house you've ever been to and know that this house is way nicer (unless you've been to Hearst Castle. I suppose that wins). It's even been featured in magazines and such.

Now, I am certainly not one to envy the material possessions of another. In fact, I like my little house and am incredibly happy and content with all I've been blessed with- it's already way beyond necessity. However, there is one room in that house that, if I let myself, I might want really bad. Guess which room....yes, the kitchen.

Our cousin just happens to be a former line chef for the French Laundry (Which she landed without going to culinary school. That doesn't happen anymore). Since her and her husband designed their house from the ground up, she was able to design her kitchen specifically to what she wanted. She did an amazing job. Not only does it make cooking incredibly easy, walking in there makes you want to cook. Of course, it was very personal and not exactly how I would design my kitchen, had I the opportunity to do so. I am, however, taking mental notes of many features that I would like in my fantasy kitchen. Here are some of them:

-Whole house water filter: meaning, you can fill up your cup from any tap and it's pure.

-Industrial gas stove with and indoor gas grill: I have grilled nearly every day that I have been at the house. It's just too darned easy.

-Amazing storage: including cupboards basically built into every wall, and a 8x10 walk in pantry (more like a hallway than a pantry).

-Second prep sink: you can just sweep all your scraps into the sink after you've cut them on your...

-6 foot long wooden chopping block

-Two full sized dishwashers: oooh the possibilities of entertaining are endless with two dishwashers! You can actually mingle with your guests instead of spending all your time washing.

Other things that would be nice are the built in fridge, amazing views, and all natural materials used to build the kitchen. Oh, and the whole house built in sound system. Yeah.