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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Cheap, Healthy Asparagus - 81 Recipes for the Springiest of Spring Vegetables

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one comes from April 2010.

Despite the snow that fell in Syracuse yesterday, spring is pretty much upon us. And along with the warming sun and astronomical pollen count comes that earliest of vegetable bloomers, asparagus.

I don’t know about you guys, but during April and May, I buy as much asparagus as humanly possible. (Perhaps an exaggeration, but you catch my drift.) What's more, I’m always looking for different ways to prepare it. Because I loves me some roasted shoots, but after awhile, you know – variety, spice of life – all that jazz.

This may be coming a week or two early in some areas, but this compilation of 81 asparagus recipes should keep you in the culinary clear until next year. FYI, the criteria for each chosen dish were as follows:
  • It had to include inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients.
  • It had to be healthy according to how we usually do it on this blog. Meaning: mostly made up of whole food ingredients, lower in fat and calories, high in vitamins in minerals, etc.
  • If it came from an aggregate recipe site (Cooking Light, All Recipes, etc.), it had to have had a high approval rating from reviewers. If it came from a food blog, I just trust it. We’re trustworthy people, see.
  • No Cream of Anything soup or mayonnaise. Because I hate them.
So, without further ado, here you go. If you have any other suggestions, or great recipes from your own blog, feel free to add ‘em in the comment section.


BREAKFAST

CHG: Asparagus, Mushroom and Parmesan Frittata: Basements and Breakfast

CHG: Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg & Parmesan

Food Network: Asparagus, Canadian Bacon, and Cheese Frittata
Use egg whites for a lighter dish.

Kalyn’s Kitchen: Asparagus and Tomato Frittata with Havarti and Dill
Sub in a few egg whites and reduce the cheese for a lighter dish.

Kalyn’s Kitchen: Breakfast Casserole with Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Cheese
Sub in a few egg whites for a lighter dish.

Real Simple: Asparagus and Soft Eggs on Toast
Use four eggs and 1/3rd of the olive oil for a lighter meal

Real Simple: Asparagus Spinach Pancakes
Halve the oil (at least) and use a nonstick skillet.


MAINS – CARNIVORE

Eating Well: Chili-Rubbed Tilapia with Asparagus and Lemon

Eating Well: Wok-Seared Chicken Tenders with Asparagus and Pistachios

Everyday Food: Chicken and Asparagus Rolls

Everyday Food: Sauteed Chicken with Asparagus and Mushrooms

RecipeZaar: Thai Rice Noodles with Chicken and Asparagus

Simply Recipes: Flank Steak Stir Fry with Asparagus and Red Peppers


MAINS – VEGETARIAN

101 Cookbooks: Asparagus Stir-Fry

101 Cookbooks: In a Hurry Green Curry

All Recipes: Asparagus and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

All Recipes: Fresh Asparagus Risotto

Cooking Light: Chili-Glazed Tofu over Asparagus and Rice

Cooking Light: Lemon Risotto with Asparagus

Everyday Food: Grilled Pizzas with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Use low-fat ricotta.

Everyday Food: Polenta Wedges with Asparagus and Mushrooms

FatFree Vegan Kitchen: Polenta with Lemony Asparagus and Chickpeas

RecipeZaar: Baked Asparagus Spinach Risotto


PASTA

CHG: Whole Wheat Pasta with Asparagus and Turkey Sausage

Cooking Light: Linguine with Asparagus, Parmesan, and Bacon

Cooking Light: Straw and Hay Alfredo with Roasted Asparagus

Eating Well: Creamy Asparagus Pasta

Everyday Food: Asparagus, Snap Pea, and Avocado Pasta

Everyday Food: Spaghetti with Shaved Asparagus

Real Simple: Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Lemon


SALADS - GRAINS

101 Cookbooks: Spring Tabbouleh
Reduce walnuts for a lighter dish.

101 Cookbooks: Ten-Minute Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice
Add the dressing only as needed for a lighter dish.

All Recipes: Asparagus Cashew Rice Pilaf

All Recipes: Asparagus, Feta, and Couscous Salad

RecipeZaar: Asparagus Pilaf Rice


SALADS - VEGGIE

101 Cookbooks: Asparagus Salad

CHG: Chlorophyll and Awesomeness Salad

Epicurious: Asparagus and Mushroom Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Epicurious: Asparagus Salad with Sweet Balsamic Vinegar

Epicurious: Roasted Asparagus Salad with Tangerine Dressing

Kalyn’s Kitchen: Salad with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, and Feta
Ooo … this looks good.

RecipeZaar: Strawberry Asparagus Salad


SIDES

CHG: Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter

CHG: Roasted Asparagus and Chickpeas

CHG: Steamed Asparagus

All Recipes: Asian Asparagus Salad with Pecans

All Recipes: Asparagus with Parmesan Crust

All Recipes: Baked Asparagus with Balsamic Butter Sauce

All Recipes: Cold Asparagus with Prosciutto and Lemon

All Recipes: Grilled Soy Sesame Asparagus

All Recipes: Orange Glazed Asparagus

All Recipes: Sauteed Garlic Asparagus

Cooking Light: Steamed Asparagus with Lemon-Garlic Gremolata

Cooking Light: Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Cooking Light: Mustard-Sauced Asparagus with Chopped Egg

Cooking Light: Spicy Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus

Eating Well: Asparagus with Curry Butter

Epicurious: Asparagus, Peas, and Basil

Epicurious: Proscuitto-Wrapped Asparagus with Mint Dressing

Everyday Food: Broccoli, Asparagus, and Snap Peas in Parchment

Everyday Food: Sauteed Scallions, Mushrooms, and Asparagus

FatFree Vegan Kitchen: Wasabi Roasted Asparagus

Food Network/Emeril: Garlic Roasted Asparagus

Kalyn’s Kitchen: Slow-Roasted Asparagus

Real Simple: Honey Lime Asparagus with Goat Cheese

Real Simple: Pan Roasted New Potatoes with Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Feta Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Foil Baked Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Guilt-Free Guacamole (Asparagus)

RecipeZaar: Ginger Sesame Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Roasted Asparagus with Sage and Lemon Butter

RecipeZaar: Sauteed Asparagus with Red Peppers and Olives

RecipeZaar: Sugared Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Apricot-Glazed Roasted Asparagus

RecipeZaar: Asparagus with Thyme

RecipeZaar: Asparagus Provencal

Stephen Cooks: Grilled Asparagus a la Sutherland


SOUPS

All Recipes: Fresh Asparagus Soup

RecipeZaar: Asparagus Orzo Soup

Simply Recipes: Creamy Asparagus Soup
Reduce some of the cream for a lighter soup.

Yum Sugar: Easy Cream-less Asparagus Soup

And that’s it. Any good recipes you know about, sweet readers? Add ‘em in the comments

~~~

If you like this article, you might also find the following pretty useful:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Top Ten Links of the Week: 4/22/11 - 4/28/11

Food marketing was the hot topic this week, with excellent articles from Leo Babuta, Marion Nestle, and Jane Black, among others. Plus, we celebrate the fabulous debut of Tom Haverfoods, which will only make sense for the next month or so.

1) Zen Habits: Breaking Free From Consumerist Chains
Super-solid piece on willingly dropping out of consumer culture. The first line establishes the tone: "We are not consumers. We are people." It just gets better from there, punctuated by real, honest-to-god useful tips.

2) Food Politics: At Last, FTC Releases Principles of Food Marketing to Kids
Marion Nestle analyzes the new FTC advertising guidelines for kids, and what they mean for the general populace. Essentially, she: A) wishes this would have happened already, but B) is pretty satisfied with the progress, and C) brings up a great point – Who's holding the food industry accountable? Also worth reading, Nestle's other excellent column about the insidiousness of viral marketing to kids.

3) The Atlantic:The Latest Food Marketing Trend - Fake Authenticity
Fascinating analysis of the biggest trend in food advertising right now: Health. No, really. Industry leaders are trying any way they can to promote the health benefits (virtue) of their products, whether it's watermelon or Tostitos. Reading labels could get real tricky, real soon. (Moreso, even.)

4) Serious Eats: What Exactly Does Fair Trade Mean?
Educational! Picture yourself as Johnny Carson when reading this, raising your eyebrows and saying, "I did not know that" in a thick Nebraskan accent.

5) Tom Haverfoods
Parks and Rec fans! Some genius created this randomizer of Tom’s alternate food names, from Funky Soda (light beer) to Cereal Sauce (milk). All it’s missing is Ron Swanson.

6) Bargaineering: How to Save on Groceries, With and Without Coupons
Good rundown of frugal food shopping strategies, emphasizing some of the not-as-well-known basics. ("Then how are they basics?" you might ask. They just are. Go with it.)

7) The Kitchn: 15 Simple Healthy Fruit Desserts
Guess what this post is about? Yep. Zombies.

8) stonesoup: vegetarianism for carnivores - a simple idea for healthier eating
The tips are pretty standard, but nicely presented, and MAN, I want to make that eggplant-bean thing right now.

9) USDA Today: Restaurants say consumers are finally ordering healthier meals
You guys! What we’re ordering at chain restaurants? As a nation? It’s getting healthier! The president of Applebee’s even says, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.” We win!

10) Wise Bread: The Best and Worst Nuts, By Nutrition and Price
In which mixed nuts prevail over all, and the word “nut” is used approximately 46,000 times.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cupcake Project: Easter Cupcakes Baked in Real Eggs
This blew my mind. My clone will be typing the rest of this post.

Kalyn's Kitchen: Six Years Old and Six Lessons I'm Learning from Food Blogging
Happy birthday, Kalyn’s blog!

Neatorama: Every Secret Ingredient from Iron Chef America
Allez cuisine!

NPR: Shrinking Height of Poor Women Reflects Lack of Food, Health Care
Umm ... nothing funny about this one.

AND ALSO

The Daily What: Little Chefs
Kids + blenders = hee.



Thank you so much for visiting Cheap Healthy Good! (We appreciate it muchly). If you’d like to further support CHG, subscribe to our RSS feed! Or become a Facebook friend! Or check out our Twitter! Bookmarking sites and links are nice, too. Viva la France!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Veggie Might: Steamed Asparagus - Don't Gild The Lily Shoots

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism. She says: Please delight in these darling lambs from Avillion Farm and my favorite asparagus "recipe" from an April 2009 visit to NC. Veggie Might will return with refreshing new content next Thursday.

Sometimes vegetables should just be left alone.

This past weekend, I spent three glorious days in the North Carolina sunshine with my best friend, A., and her husband and two-year-old. It was little C’s birthday, and I just couldn’t resist a circus-themed party.

Friday night before the big event, A. and I were fixing dinner: something light and fast before the hotdogs, cupcakes, and apple juice to come. A is the manager of the local farmer’s market in her area. One of the perks is first dibs on fresh produce while the farmers set up their stalls.

From her fridge, she pulled out a bundle of perfect, young asparagus stalks: the first of the season and the sweetest I’d ever tasted. We ate the thinnest stalks raw as we washed and snapped off the ends of the rest.

C toddled up and A. gave him a stalk. He took the asparagus and munched gleefully. I’ve never seen a kid eat vegetables like that. (I’ve also never typed the word “gleefully” before, but hey.)

“Sautee or steam?” A. asked.

“Steam,” I replied. It seemed like gilding the lily to put those perfect stems of green spring goodness in oil or butter. Turns out asparagus is a member of the lily family. Who knew? (Well, the people at that link and Mark Bittman.)

As you know, I’m a big fan of sautéing vegetables in garlic. How many recipes have I shared with that step? But even I know when to leave well enough alone.

A. seemed to know just how long to cook the asparagus, but I would have had to get help. I don’t trust myself for two reasons; I get impatient, and I get distracted.

I have no patience for standing over a pot of boiling water, even for a few minutes. After a minute has past, you can guarantee I will have wondered off like a two-year-old to see what else is going on, and then the veggies will have overcooked.

According to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, asparagus should be boiled in a skillet or steamed in a pan with just a bit of water at the bottom “just until the thick part of the stalk can be pierced with a knife.” Well, just how long is that? It depends on how much you’re cooking, of course. In our case, a bunch of about 20 stalks took 3 minutes to steam. A set a timer which let us wander guilt-free.

They were perfect: tender, slightly crunchy, vibrantly green. I know that, classically, asparagus is served with hollandaise or mayonnaise, but I’ve never understood why. Who thought to drench something so light and delicious with such heavy sauces?

We didn’t even think to salt our Carolina-grown spring bounty. If A. salted the water, I didn’t notice.

Our supper of fresh-from-the-farm veggies was one of the easiest and best meals I’ve eaten in a while. It reminded me that, sometimes, it’s best to let food be itself.

Steamed Asparagus
Serves 3 – 4

20 asparagus stalks
1/2 cup of water

1) Wash asparagus and break off woody ends.

2) Put water in sauce pan. Put asparagus in steamer basket or bamboo steamer and place over sauce pan. (You can also use the Mark Bittman methods above.)

3) Bring water to boil.

4) Steam for approximately 3 minutes or until thick ends of stalks are tender.

5) Dress as desired or eat plain. Plain is good. Really good.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price* per Serving
Four servings: 15 calories, .1g fat, $.37
Three servings: 20 calories, .13g fat, $.50

Calculations
Asparagus: 60 calories, .4g fat, $1.50
TOTAL: 60 calories, .4g fat, $1.50
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 15 calories, .1g fat, $.37
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 20 calories, .13g fat, $.50

*Price is from my local market.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frugal Food Shopping: Hitting Up Multiple Stores

NOTE UP TOP: In almost four years of blogging, I can’t believe I haven’t dedicated a column to the following food shopping strategy, because it’s one of the most effective around. Experienced frugalists, you're probably familiar with this already, but it shouldn’t stop you from seeing the, er … surprise note from … uh … Bob, um, Barker? … at the end of this article. So let’s get to it.

My old apartment was within a mile of three major supermarket chains.

“Whee?” you might say. “Let’s throw a fiesta?”

And while the prospect of ending this column here and grabbing a margarita is highly tempting, I endeavor to persevere, meaning this: It may sound like it ain’t no thang, but having access to multiple supermarkets allowed me to save huge, big, hulking bucks on my grocery bill every month. In fact, hitting up two or more food stores is one of the most effective food shopping strategies around. (Where have I heard that before?)

WHY IT WORKS

Two simple reasons:

1) To attract shoppers, grocers within the same region price certain foods competitively.
In order for Pathmark to compete with a Waldbaums two miles away, it offers lower prices on select goods, called loss leaders, to lure potential customers in the door. These are the deals you see on the front of the circular, and can include everything from in-season produce to debuting products pushed by major corporations. For example, my local supermarket is currently offering pasta for $0.89 and asparagus for $1.99/lb, prices that aren't too shabby these days.

2) Simply, some grocers price their products differently.
A can of olives may be $1.29 in one supermarket, and $1.79 in the bigger one up the block. Reasons for this are unbeknownst to society at large, but learning what’s cheaper where will make a difference when you visit more than one destination.

HOW TO GET THINGS ROLLING

The very first thing you should do is take stock of the markets in your area. Look beyond where you normally shop, at similar stores in the same general vicinity. (Google Maps and Yelp are very helpful for this.)

Then, log on and see if they have circulars online, which most chain grocers do nowadays. Browse through, and record A) what seem like really good deals and B) what you need soon. Here’s an example, using the current circulars of two Brooklyn supermarkets within a half-mile of one another:

STORE #1
Grapes - $0.99/lb
Oranges – $2/4lb
Pasta – 5/$5
Honey Nut Cheerios – BOGO (Buy one get one free)
Canned Tomatoes – 5/$5 (28oz)

STORE #2
Green beans - $0.99/lb
Chicken breast - $1.79/lb
Canned tuna – 3/$2
Mozzarella - $2.99/16oz
Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar block - $2.99/10oz

Finally, choose a time and map out a route. But know - this shouldn’t be a strenuous task. If your new itinerary is taking much longer than usual (which, if you have a list, hopefully it shouldn’t), try doing it another way.

WHERE ELSE YOU CAN GO

Don’t limit yourself to supermarkets, since there are many deals to be found outside those curiously sanitary walls. If they’re on the way, or if you don’t mind an additional trip at some point over the month, never forget:
And more.

THE CAVEATS

Of course, there are a few qualifiers, should you try shopping at multiple destinations.
  • I, like thousands of vaguely dazed Americans, use public transportation. As a result, I know next to nothing about gas prices, though I understand filling a Volkswagen Beetle can cost thousands of ducats nowadays. So, use your head - if your two closest markets are 50 miles apart, it’s silly to blow $20 to save $0.50 on a box of macaroni.
  • Remember, cheaper isn’t always better. If your butcher gives you good cuts of meat for a slightly higher price, stick with him (or her), because you can’t buy that kind of personal attention at a chain. Same goes for farmer’s market food.
  • If you have many shops on your list, don’t visit every one, every week. You’ll drive yourself crazy, and it kind of misses the point of the previous streamlining tips.
And finally, take all the previous advice with a grain of salt. In the famous words of Yao Ming, “I didn’t realize Americans were so short.” “Do what works best for you.” Shopping at multiple stores can be wonderful, but only if you’re comfortable with the process.

Readers, what’d I miss? The comment section is open.

P.S. Bob Barker says hi.

P.P.S. I made that up.

~~~

Hey! Read more about this kind of stuff here:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Green Kitchen: Use-Up-Your-Herbs Cilantro Pesto

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Give me your tired, your poor, your wilted herbage straining for the trash can, the rotting refuse of your crisper drawer. Send these, the yellowing, long-forgotten to me, I will make them into awesome pesto!

That’s what your food processor is saying right now, if it were also the statue of liberty.

Talk about eating and cooking in environmentally friendly ways often comes back to the same ideas – eat local, eat unprocessed, eat happy meat. These are awesome ideas – they connect your kitchen to lovely, independent farms, shortening the distance from the soil to your fridge – but they are also sometimes difficult ideas.

Not everyone has access to greenmarkets. Not everyone has the education or skills to choose or prepare unprocessed foods. Not everyone can afford local, free-range, grass-fed, ethically raised meat. It’s sadly easy to sigh in resignation when we can’t manage those good choices and lose sight of a good choice every single one of us can make.

Do not waste food.

You know what makes a box of Dunkaroos an even less worthwhile investment of raw materials, industrial production, and your dollars? Not eating them! Want to completely negate any power for good contained in that conventionally grown midwinter Peruvian tomato? Throw it out! Wasting food is the surest way to guarantee that its environmental impact is all for naught. It’s also a surefire way to waste your money, too.

Living in a largely Dominican neighborhood means a lot of nice things for me, culinarily, not the least of which is the prevalence of cheap cilantro in the supermarket. It is not local, it is not seasonal, but it is 99 cents a bunch, and tempting to pick up to throw on sautés and in omelets and such.

But let’s be honest – more times than not, that 99-cent bunch of delicious, delicious cilantro sits in my crisper drawer until it is yellow and wilted, and it ends up not in my mouth but in my compost.

This time, I resolved to do it differently. Not to remember to use any of the cilantro for its intended purpose, of course, but to salvage it once it had gone forsaken.

A while back I’d seen a recipe online for cilantro pesto that specifically addressed this forsaken cilantro issue. No surprise, my interest was piqued. What’s that, you say? Pesto can be made with nasty, wilted cilantro? And does not require billion-dollars-a-pound pine nuts? Please, go on!

And go on this recipe did! Cilantro + oil + nuts = pesto! My cilantro wasn’t so much wilted as yellowing (with, okay, a couple of rotten leaves), but I overcame my squeamishness, pulled out the gross stuff, and was left with about two cups worth of usable greenery. “Usable” not really as it was, but hopefully the alchemy of pestoization (yes, that’s a proper use of the Italian root word) would be enough.

And so, dear reader, it was.

~~~

If this looks good, you'll surely adore:
~~~

Cilantro Pesto
inspired by The Lazy Localvore.
makes about 6 one-tablespoon servings
(quantities are flexible for two reasons – one, so you can suit the recipe to your taste; two, because who knows how much of your languishing cilantro will be salvageable.)


2-3 cups cilantro leaves (& little stems)
1-2 T olive oil
1/8-1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds (or other nut)
1/8-1/4 t salt
dash of garlic powder

Put cilantro, almonds, salt, and garlic powder into bowl of food processor. Process, streaming in olive oil as you go. Pulse until it is a thick paste, with nuts chopped finely but not pulverized. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
60 calories, 5.7g fat, 0.7g fiber, 1.1g protein, $0.22

Calculations
3 cups cilantro leaves: 18 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 1g protein, $0.99
1.5 T olive oil: 189 calories, 21g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.12
1/4 c slivered blanched almonds: 155 calories, 13.3g fat, 3.3g fiber, 5.7g protein, $0.15
1/4 t salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
dash garlic powder: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
TOTAL: 362 calories, 34.3g fat, 4.3g fiber, 6.7g protein, $1.29
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 60 calories, 5.7g fat, 0.7g fiber, 1.1g protein, $0.22

Ask the Internet: Favorite Asparagus Recipes?

Today's question comes from the weather.

Q: Oh, spring. How you delight us with your sunshine and your warmer temperatures and your happy, happy flowers.

(We will not mention pollen.)

(I SAID DON'T MENTION IT!)

Perhaps your greatest gift, however, is that of asparagus. The crispy verdant stalks are in-season all too briefly, and we must take advantage of their fleeting goodness.

So, sweet readers - what's your favorite asparagus recipe?

A: This is mine, hands down: Pasta with Asparagus and Mushrooms.

Though, come to think of it, this slight variation is pretty good, too: Spaghetti with Asparagus, Egg, and Parmesan.

Readers?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sesame Snap Peas and R.I.P. Old Lady Cart (2007-2011)

Yesterday, HOTUS and I hosted (HOTUSted?) our first official family holiday, if you don’t count that one time everyone came over and sang karaoke for Arbor Day. We were celebrating Easter, as well as the debut of our wedding dishes ™, a monumental event in any aspiring adult’s life. My sister and her lovely man friend brought us roses, which were promptly made into a cat appetizer (catpetizer?).

Alas, we were also commemorating the loss of our Old Lady Cart (2007-2011), a beloved and highly useful member of the family. If you’ve ever been to New York, you’ve seen an old lady cart, probably pushed around by a baby boy. (Just kidding.) The four-wheeled device is kind of like a shopping cart, but smaller, more colorful, and incredibly prone to catching a wheel on sidewalk cracks, which then causes it to pitch forward, which then causes you to fall into it (shins first), which then leaves you with a bruise that lasts longer than the Roosevelt presidency. (Franklin Delano, not Theodore No Middle Name).

Our particular Old Lady Cart bit the dust on Saturday, the victim of overloading after a trip to CostCo. What began as, “I’m just getting a hunk of brie for my parents,” turned into, “Why WOULDN’T we want 90 ounces of Palmolive?” The right front wheel snapped 60 blocks north of my apartment, in the rain, after a nasty bump. It wasn’t pretty. And neither was I, at the end of the journey. Badness.

(Also, if the nice man who helped me lug the disabled cart up three flights of subway stairs happens to read this blog – thank you. And I’m sorry I almost dropped it all those times.)

Anyway, back to Easter. We feasted on many delectable hors d’oeuvres, drank much Gruner Veltliner, and dug into a homemade pie from my Ma and Pa, the finest purveyors of homemade pie in three states (Alaska, South Carolina, and Wyoming). But the centerpiece was Dave Lieberman’s Braised Hoisin Beer Short Ribs with Creamy Mashed Yukons and Sesame Snow Peas. It’s neither cheap nor healthy, but sweet Bea Arthur, was it ever good.

Well, I take some of that back. That last part – the Sesame Snow Peas – fall quite nicely into the parameters of this here blog. Due to a mix-up at the grocery story (meaning: I got mixed up), we used snap peas instead of snow peas. No big whoop. Thing still came out dang fine. Crisp, tender, and just the right counter for extra-heavy potatoes and beef.

If you should make it yourself, feel free to reduce the oil, possibly by quite a lot. We used a nonstick skillet, and didn’t need anywhere near the prescribed amount (3 tablespoons). I think about half would do it.

And that’s it. Hope y’all had a happy (also hoppy) Easter, and that your old lady carts live forever. *sniffle*

~~~

If this looks quite tasty, you will most definitely enjoy:
~~~

Sesame Snap Peas
Serves 6
From Dave Lieberman.


1 lb. snap peas, washed and thoroughly dried
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted if preferred

In a large skillet, heat oils over medium-high heat. Add peas and sauté about 2 or 3 minutes, until they are bright green. Remove to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
99 calories, 7.7 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2.2 g protein, $0.46

NOTE: Honestly, you could probably cut the oil in half and still have a really nice dish here. Give it a shot.

Calculations
1 lb. snap peas, washed and thoroughly dried: 191 calories, 0.9 g fat, 11.8 g fiber, 12.7 g protein, $1.99
2 tablespoons vegetable oil: 265 calories, 30 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.18
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.40
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted if preferred: 17 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0.4 g fiber, 0.5 g protein, $0.17
TOTALS: 592 calories, 45.9 g fat, 12.2 g fiber, 13.2 g protein, $2.74
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 99 calories, 7.7 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2.2 g protein, $0.46

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Spend Less, Eat Healthier - The Five Most Important Things You Can Do

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. Today's comes from May 2009.

Should you cut coupons? How do you make a grocery budget? What is high fructose corn syrup? Is an organic cantaloupe better for you than a regular cantaloupe? Where do you find a farmer’s market?

Between the time, ethics, and effort involved, food shopping is inherently pretty complicated. Add nutrition and budget factors, and it becomes one of the most difficult regular chores anyone can undertake. Seriously, we’re not talking about vacuuming here. (No offense to all the professional vacuumers out there.)

But what if it was simpler? What if there were a few rules anyone could follow that would ease the load? What if buying inexpensive, good food was as intuitive as flipping your Hoover’s ON switch?

Look no further, my sweets.

Right here, right now (Van Hagar aside), are the five best actions you can take to accomplish those noble goals. Essentially, it’s this entire blog distilled into a handful of its most vital tenets; rules that should significantly impact the way you consider the supermarket.

RULE #1: Buy produce in-season.
Related article: Dr. Veg-love, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Seasonal Produce
Forget labels. Ignore manufacturer promises. Pay no attention to organics (for now, anyway). When you’re purchasing fruits and vegetables, the single most important step you can take is sticking to the appropriate season. Buy asparagus in early spring, peaches in late summer, and squash in fall and winter. The food will taste better, which will make you want it more. It will be substantially cheaper than buying out-of-season. And generally, it will have traveled less of a distance, easing the production’s impact on the environment.

RULE #2: Use the circular.
Related article: The Circular Game: Decoding Your Supermarket Weekly
For some, coupons are invaluable. When correctly applied, they can save billions on the food bill and fill a fridge with myriad good-for-you groceries. But I’m convinced, for the casual shopper, that adhering to the weekly circular is a more useful strategy. For one thing, it’s a less complicated process; you read the circular, you buy the food on sale. For another thing, loss leaders (the stuff on Page 1) usually offer significant savings over any coupon (or, when paired with them). Finally, you can plan your whole menu on what’s available that week. Speaking of that…

RULE #3: Make a plan.
Related article: Weekly Menu Planning for Singles, Couples, and Working People
Between a grocery list, a weekly menu, and a modest price book (though, you could even skip this part), you will have all the tools you need to both limit and optimize your food purchases. Seriously, there’s nothing like having a strategy: you waste less, buy exactly what you need, and (well, almost) never have to worry about what to eat at night. Calories are controlled, money is saved, everybody wins.

RULE #4: Cook.
Related article: Free Cooking Lessons (No, Seriously)
Granted, this is easier said than done, especially if you don’t know a sauté pan from Peter Pan. Still, it can’t be overstated: cooking at home is infinitely cheaper than eating out. We’re talking THOUSANDS of dollars a year, here. Plus, on the dietary side, you’re able to control portion size, as well as what goes into your food. Once you’re into the habit of using your kitchen, the whole endeavor becomes much easier, too. So really, it’s just a question of getting started.

RULE #5: Stock up on sales.
Related article: Pantry of the Gods
You love beans. You use them in everything, up to and including chili, curry dishes, and breakfast cereal. But you have a tendency to buy them last-minute at the bodega across the street, costing you a small fortune. STOP THE MADNESS. If you know you use an item regularly (beans, pasta, etc.), wait for sales and buy as much as you can reasonably store. Personally, I go through canned tomatoes like I go through socks, and they run about 40% less when I stock up ahead of time. Go forth and conquer.

BONUS RULE #6: Relax.
Related article: Relax, Frugal Eater: A Measured Approach to Lifestyle Changes
It’s hard enough making lasting changes in your expenditures and eat…eritures. (What? That’s a word.) Don’t sabotage yourself by going whole-hog. Allow for some leeway. Reward yourself. Relax. Have a glass of wine. It’ll make the transition much easier, and you won’t go completely tweak in the process.

And that’s it. Readers, what do you think? Did I miss something? What are your Top 5? Do tell.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Good Friday!

Sweet readers,

We're taking the day to observe and not eat meat. Have a lovely weekend, and go read this right now:



Happy Easter!

Kris

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Veggie Might: Creamy, Cheezy, Smoky, Spicy Grits with Kale

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

This week’s recipe is brought to you by my recent jaunt to my second home state and adjectives.

My boyfriend and I were in North Carolina’s Triangle region this past weekend to visit my best friend A and her hubby J, and to experience the 16th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour, sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

The farm tour was delightful, informative, and organically delicious. Over two days, we toured four farms despite thunderstorms and tornadoes, which were mercifully to the east and south of us.

You’ll hear more about the farm tour in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I present to you these tasty, comforting grits that are helping me recover from travel and resume the swing of city life.

Grits is a versatile side dish that is traditionally served with breakfast, but makes a marvelous alternative to potatoes or rice with supper. I picked up a big bag of hominy grits at the Piggly Wiggly in Pittsboro, but it also comes in white and yellow corn varieties.

I ask only three things of grits: be creamy, be cheesy, and be spicy. Hot sauce takes care of spicy, and any good Southerner serves grits with a bottle of Tabasco or Texas Pete on the table. Creamy can be satisfied with butter and milk or their nondairy counterparts. I use a little nonhydrogenated vegan margarine and a splash of soy milk.

Cheesy is a trickier proposition if you're steering clear of dairy products, which I try to do for the most part. Once in a while I'll splurge on a little cheese, but for everyday eating, I avoid it. A few sprinkles of nutritional yeast does the job of adding the tang of cheese, as well as B12 vitamins.

For an extra punch of nutrition, I chose kale for its heartiness and texture. Kale stands up to the porridge and won't disappear like more delicate greens. And since no Southern dish is complete without a hamhock or or slab of bacon, I subbed my new favorite vegetarian alternative: smoked paprika. It adds a subtle hint of smoky flavor and leaves the pigglies still wiggling.

From now on, I'll ask four things of my grits. But no worries; they're up to the task.

~~~

If you dig this xx, you may also dig:
~~~

Creamy, Cheezey, Smoky, Spicy Grits with Kale
Serves 6


1 pound kale, washed, destemmed, and chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3–6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2–3 tablespoons water

1 1/3 cups hominy grits
5 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon soy milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon salt
black pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste

1) Wash, remove stems from kale, and chop. Heat olive oil in large heavy bottomed skillet. Cook garlic over medium heat for a minute or two, then add kale by the handful, stirring as it wilts. Drizzle in a couple tablespoons of water, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. (I like my kale on the crunchy side. Cook a little longer if you like yours softer.) Set kale aside.

2) In a large sauce pan, bring 5 1/3 cups water to a rolling boil. Slowly pour in grits while stirring. Mix in soy milk, vegan margarine, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, salt, and black pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and continually stir grits for 5 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.

3) Fold in sauteed kale and serve hot with a dash of with hot sauce alongside baked tofu or scrambled eggs.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
188.5 calories, 3.8g fat, 1.8g fiber, 2.7g protein, $.48

Calculations
1 pound kale: 198 calories, 0.4g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $1.74
1 teaspoon olive oil: 39.6 calories, 4.6g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.03
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
1 1/3 cups hominy grits: 682 calories, 5g fat, 11g fiber, 16g protein, $.20
1 tablespoon soy milk: 5.4 calories, 0.3g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast: 94 calories, 1.4g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.66
1 tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine: 100 calories, 11g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.12
1 tablespoon smoked paprika: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 tablespoon salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
black pepper to taste: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
hot sauce to taste: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
TOTALS: 1131 calories, 22.7g fat, 11g fiber, 16g protein, $2.89
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 188.5 calories, 3.8g fat, 1.8g fiber, 2.7g protein, $.48

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Best Deals at Trader Joe's: A Cheat Sheet

Ladies and gentlemen, we have completed our survey of the Best Deals at Trader Joe's! Thanks to everyone who wrote in. There were 58 total commenters participating – 54 from the blog, 2 from Facebook, and 2 via email. And? Looking at the top ten vote-getters, this is going to be one hell of a party.

To review the process from last week: Every product mention got one vote. (So, if three different commenters wrote "butter," it got three votes.) Some things, like honey, elicited one clear vote and were easy to tally. Others, like cheese, were much more varied, producing several similar-but-not-exactly-alike answers. In those cases, I tallied the category as a whole, and then elaborated on individual responses within parentheses. (Um … if that makes sense, which it only kind of does. But you'll see.)

Some overall observations:
  • On the whole, frozen, organic, and restricted-diet (gluten-free, etc.) goods did very, very well, as did TJ's house brand products, especially: Roasted red pepper boxed soup, Joe-Joes, Three-Buck Chuck, and Greek yogurt. 
  • Overall, it appeared as if you don't necessarily shop at TJ's for the basic necessities, but rather, for beloved extras - chocolate, wine, edamame, etc. 
  • Almost half of you voted for some kind of cheese. Yowza.
  • Votes for bread were split. A few liked TJ breads a LOT, while others mentioned it wasn't quite up to snuff.
  • I loved how many people wrote WINE in all caps. Vino lovers, unite!
Without further ado, here are your answers. Print this thing out and take it with you on your next trip to TJ's.

Wiki Commons Sprew
25 VOTES
Cheese (2 votes brie and goat, 1 vote each for cheddar/stilton, smoked gouda, shredded mexican, fontina)

21 VOTES
Nuts (3 votes almonds, 1 vote pistachios)

16 VOTES
Yogurt (12 votes Greek yogurt)

13 VOTES
Wine (1 vote organic, 2 votes Three-Buck Chuck)

12 VOTES
Dried fruit (3 votes mango, 2 vote bananas, 1 vote strawberries and cherries)
Olive oil

10 VOTES
Frozen veggies (2 votes green beans and corn, 1 vote each bell peppers and asparagus)

9 VOTES
Frozen edamame

8 VOTES
Cereal (1 vote Barbara's Bakery, 1 vote Honey-Os)
Chocolate (4 votes 1-lb. bars, 1 vote white chocolate)
Hummus
Marinara/Pasta sauces (1 vote organic)

7 VOTES
Bananas (1 vote organic)
Cookies (1 vote Maple Leaf, 1 vote Oatmeal Cranberry Dunkers, 4 votes Joe-Joes)
Eggs (1 vote organic)
Pasta (3 votes whole-wheat)
Peanut butter

6 VOTES
Boxed soups (3 votes roasted red pepper, 2 votes tomato, 1 vote black bean)
Bread ( 1 vote Cinnamon Swirl Bread, 1 vote pain au chocolat)
Canned beans (3 votes black)
Coffee
Jams (1 vote blueberry, 1 vote raspberry)

5 VOTES
Frozen Fruit (2 votes berries)
Ice cream (2 votes coffee-flavored, 1 vote Coconut milk)
Pizza Dough (generally frozen)

4 VOTES
Almond, rice, and soy milks
Apples (2 votes organic)
Bars (1 vote cereal, 1 vote Luna/Clif, 1 vote Fiberful, 1 vote Walks Into Bars)
Frozen pizza
Frozen prepared meals (1 vote veggie lasagna)
Milk
Salsa (1 vote Serrano)
Stock/Broth
Tortillas (1 vote organic, 1 vote whole wheat)

3 VOTES
Butter
Canned artichokes
Dairy (1 vote RBST-free)
Flat breads (1 vote Feta & Jalapeno, 1 vote Mediterranean)
Flour
Olives (1 vote canned)
Potstickers
Spinach
Tortilla chips
Trail Mix
Vitamins

2 VOTES
Almond butter
Beer
Frozen pre-cooked brown rice
Frozen veggie burgers (1 vote Morningstar Farms)
Gluten-free rice pasta
Ground beef
Organic whole chicken
Quinoa
Seltzer
Tofu

1 VOTE
Avocados, Bacon, Baby arugula, Balsamic vinegar, Balsamic vinegar dressing, Basmati and jasmine rice, Boxed Indian meals, Broth concentrate, Buttermilk, Canned crab, Capers, Cat food, Cilantro and yogurt dip, Clementine oranges, Coffee filters, Cottage cheese, Cranberry juice, Cream, Dog treats, Doggy glucosamine condroitin, English muffins, Facial cleansing pads w/tea tree oil, Flowers, Fresh produce, Frozen basil cubes, Frozen chile relleno, Frozen croissants, Frozen fish, Frozen hash browns, Frozen pie crust, Frozen shrimp, Gorgonzola gnocchi, Gorgozola crackers, Granola, Ground flaxseed meal, Gyoza, Hatch Green Chiles, Honey, Hot dogs, Individual Mac and cheese, International foods, Jarred hearts of palm, Kashi's TLC crackers, Kefir, Kosher chicken/turkey, Laundry detergent, Lemons, Limes, Marinated mushrooms, Mayo (sorry Kris), Meat, Multi-grain pancake mix, Nitrate free meats, Olive tapenade, Organic carrots, Organic sugar, Pesto, Pineapples, Roasted red peppers, Romaine hearts, Pre-cooked lentils, Sausages, Shiitake mushrooms, Smoked salmon, Soy (fake) chorizo, Soy creamer (TJs brand), Special-diet foods, Steel-cut oats (McCann's) , Sun-dried tomatoes, Sushi platters, Sweet potato chips, Tabouli, Tamales, Taquitos, Tempeh, TJ's chicken nuggets, TJ's spaghetti-os, TJ's peanut butter cups, Tomatoes, Tuna, Tuna meals, Veggie sticks

Sweet readers, is there anything you'd like to add to this? Maybe something we missed, or another suggestion for a specific store survey? Thanks again for all your replies - this was really fun. (*runs off to buy cheese*)

~~~

If you enjoyed this, you'll surely like:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ask the Internet: Best Deals at Trader Joe's?

We had so much success with our Best Deals at CostCo question last week (nice work, everybody!), I thought we'd try a similar one with TJ's, with the intention of turning it into a larger article tomorrow. Here goes...

Wiki Commons Sprew
Q: What are the best deals at Trader Joe's?

A: The Trader Joe's in Brooklyn tend to be a tad crowded. (Think the Beatles at Shea Stadium.) Still, there are bargains to be had. My favorites are:
  • Organic bananas
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Canned artichokes
  • This insane olive tapenade my friend S. always brings with her
  • WINE
In regard to that last one, I've never found a better place to stock up on vino. The price-to-quality ratio is ludicrously good at TJ's, and their house brand (Three Buck Chuck, holla!) is solid.

And with that, sweet readers, I throw it over to you. What are your favorite TJ's buys?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Hummus: For Certain Tastes

In some ways, recipes are a lot like bands. There are many, like mac-n-cheese and the Beatles, that everybody loves. There are others, like liver-n-onions and Michael Bolton, that a bold few will admit to even liking. And finally, there are the rare recipes/bands that you dig with your whole heart, but know that only a few like-minded others will appreciate. Like Curried Pumpkin Hummus and Concrete Blonde.

Concrete Blonde was a late-80s/early-90s alt-rock group that boasted a frontwoman by the name of Johnette Napolitano, undoubtedly one of the greatest rock singers on Earth. Unfortunately, they had a tendency towards melodrama, and weren’t very adept at writing hooks. So CB had a huge hit, “Joey,” along with one or two smaller ones, and then pretty much disappeared. (Though, I do think they play occasional reunion shows.)

For me, Johnette’s voice - a husky, powerful, once-in-a-blue-moon instrument – usually trumped the band’s shortcomings. For others, "Joey" was the limit of their interest. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I loathed Led Zeppelin for many years before "Over the Hills and Far Away" overcame that last lingering antipathy. (Also, we saw Robert Plant at a Knicks game once, and it was awesome.)

And so it is with Curried Pumpkin Hummus, from Diane Morgan's Skinny Dips. I liked it, HOTUS was ambivalent, and I couldn't see my mom digging it at all.

First off, it's not a strict hummus. In fact, calling it Curried Pumpkin Chickpea Dip might be more accurate, since "hummus" usually connotes lemon and tahini. Second, the pumpkin is the dominant flavor, overwhelming both the honey (okay) and curry (say wha?). This appeals to me, but pumpkin pie haters, beware. Third and finally, it's atomic orange in hue, which could turn off less adventurous palettes. (On the other hands, kids might go nuts for it, and the dip is perfect for Halloween.)

So, there you have it. You might like CPH. You might not. Try it while listening to "Tomorrow, Wendy" and get back to me.

~~~

If this looks dang tasty, you might also enjoy:
~~~

Curried Pumpkin Hummus
Makes 11 servings of 1/4 cup each
From Skinny Dips by Diane Morgan.


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Heat oil in a small nonstick pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add curry powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until everything is combined and fragrant, about 60 additional seconds. Add honey and stir until combined. Set aside.

2. In a food processor, puree chickpeas. Add pumpkin, ginger, salt, and garlic mixture. Puree. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately or put in refrigerator so flavors can meld. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
72 calories, 2 g fat, 4 g fiber, 2 g protein, $0.27

NOTE: All nutritional calculations were provided by Diane Morgan. Only the price numbers are my own.

Calculations
1 tablespoon olive oil: $0.10
2 cloves garlic, minced: $0.08
1 tablespoon curry powder: $0.11
1 1/2 tablespoon honey: $0.22
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed: $0.75
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix): $1.59
1 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger: $0.10
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt: $0.02
TOTAL: $2.97
PER SERVING (TOTAL/11): $0.27

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Throwback: 26 Common Food Labels, Explained

Each Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one comes from May 2009.

These days, grocery shopping involves a lot of reading. Food is rarely content to just be, and instead, must include dozens of labels designating it as CAGE-FREE, HIGH IN ANTIOXIDANTS, or the dreaded ORGANIC. And even if you know your PASTURED from your HUMANELY-RAISED chickens, odds are you still need a PhD to decode most of the other language.

So, to make navigating your supermarket a tad easier, here are 26 food labels, defined and explained in terms understandable to humans. I have to be honest - 36 hours ago, I couldn't tell the difference between LOW-FAT, LITE and REDUCED-FAT. Now, I can. And I have this guide to consult when I forget.

Readers, if I made a mistake (or several hundred) lemme know and I will correct it.

ALL-NATURAL / NATURAL / 100% NATURAL
What it means:
In regards to beef and poultry, NATURAL means the meat appears relatively close to its natural state, and often won’t have additives or preservatives. (Note: there’s no USDA regulation for this, however.) In regards to other foods, NATURAL and ALL-NATURAL mean nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What it really means: With the exception of meat, slapping NATURAL on a label is a marketing ploy. Everything essentially derives from nature, so there’s a ton of fudging that can be done. Don’t trust it, and read the ingredient breakdown before you buy any product.

ANTIOXIDANTS
What it means:
I’m leaving this one up to Woman’s Day: “For a food to be labeled as containing antioxidants, the FDA requires that the nutrients have an established Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) as well as scientifically recognized antioxidant activity.” What? I’m not sure. But it doesn’t matter, because …
What it really means: Actually, Woman's Day has this one covered, too: “Most products already contain antioxidants and manufacturers are simply beginning to call it out due to current food and health trends.”

CAGE-FREE
What it means:
Egg-laying hens don’t live in cages.
What it really means: Very little. The poultry can walk around, but they can also be fed, raised, and slaughtered like any other chicken. There’s no official regulation for this term, as far as I can tell.

CERTIFIED
What it means:
Congratulations! The USDA has acknowledged that your meat is actually meat.
What it really means: The USDA gave your meat a grade and a class, and certified that it hasn’t been replaced with Folger’s crystals.

ENRICHED / FORTIFIED (Added, Extra, Plus)
What it means: A nutrient (niacin, Vitamin C, etc.) has been added to your food. Now, compared to a standard, non-fortified food, it has at least 10% more of the Daily Value of that nutrient.
What it really means: It varies. A manufacturer can add a ton of Vitamin C to orange juice, and set you up for life. Or the same guy can slip a measly 10% thiamin into a piece of bread, and it barely makes a dent. Read the label to see you’re getting the amount you want.

FREE (Without, No, Zero, Skim)
What it means:
FREE has hard and fast definitions set forth by the FDA. They are:
Calorie free: Less than 5 calories per serving.
Cholesterol free: Less than 2 mg cholesterol and 2 g or less saturated fat per serving.
Fat free: Less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.
Sodium/salt free: Less than 5 mg per serving.
Sugar free: Less than 0.5 g of sugars per serving. (See SUGAR-FREE entry as well.)

What it really means: You can be pretty confident that FREE foods lack what they say they do. But be careful. Often, fat-free and calorie-free products are some of the most chemical-laden items in the supermarket (not to mention awful for most cooking purposes).

FREE-RANGE
What it means:
A term usually applied to chickens, FREE-RANGE means birds have access to an outside area. That’s it.
What it really means: This is a huge part of Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Essentially, FREE-RANGE often means birds are raised on a massive factory farm, and given a tiny patch of lawn that they rarely, if ever, use. The FREE-RANGE label means virtually nothing, for eggs or roasters. Don’t buy it.

FRESH
What it means:
Pretty much, FRESH food is raw food that’s never been frozen or warmed, and doesn’t have any preservatives.
What it really means: Hey! This is an actual thing! Who knew? A food labeled FRESH is regulated by the FDA, so you’re getting what you’re paying for. Nice.

GRAIN FED / GRASS FED
What it means: Grain is the primary diet of most cattle. It’s meant to produce fatter animals who grow and can be slaughtered much faster than nature allows. GRASS FED cows (while I’m not sure there’s an official designation) are generally raised entirely on pasture grass, and can’t be fed grain.
What it really means: While I’m led to believe GRASS FED cows taste better on a bun, I’m actually a little hazy on this one. Can anyone clarify? Is there a federal regulation for this term?

GUILT-FREE (Wholesome, Traditional)
What it means: Absolutely nothing.
What it really means: It’s a made-up word to make you want to buy a product. Ignore it entirely, and don’t forget to read nutrition breakdowns on the packaging. Boo.

HEALTHY
What it means: Simply, “A HEALTHY food must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. In addition, if it's a single-item food, it must provide at least 10 percent of one or more of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber.” Exemptions (and there are many) can be found here.
What it really means: Wow. As in the case with FRESH, I didn’t know this was an actual thing. I assumed it was a spurious claim made by food companies. But it’s actually very real, and leaves little open to interpretation. Nice work, FDA!

HIGH IN / GOOD SOURCE (Excellent for)
What it means: Something labeled GOOD SOURCE “means a single serving contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for a nutrient.” In regards to fiber, the food must have between 2.5 and 4.9 grams of it in every portion, but also has to be low in fat. A food labeled HIGH IN has at least 20% of the Daily Value of a nutrient.
What it really means: It is what it is. There’s little ambiguity here.

HORMONE-FREE
What it means: Nothing. The USDA says it can’t be proved.
What it really means: Pigs and chickens aren’t supposed to have hormones anyway, so be on the lookout there. For beef, it’s not possible to show hormones weren’t used, so the designation comes entirely from the manufacturer. You’re taking their word for it.

HUMANELY-RAISED
What it means: In regard to the chicken for which it’s meant, almost nothing. It’s not a federally regulated definition.
What it really means: While there’s some effort by smaller groups to get standards together, it’s not completely there yet. In the meantime, look for the Certified Humane label, which means the birds “were allowed to engage in natural behaviors,” had room to move around, had fresh water and a no-hormone/antibiotic diet, and were handled with care during their lives.

LEAN
What it means: In terms of beef, poultry, and fish, LEAN means the product has less than 10 grams of fat, fewer than 4 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. EXTRA LEAN meats go even further than that.
What it really means: I did a lot of research on this a few months ago, and while serving sizes vary, a LEAN label is good news for dieters. Look for it, but be careful to check the sodium content while you’re at it.

LIGHT / LITE
What it means: There are two definitions: A) the food has 50% less fat than its regular equivalent, or B) the food has 33% less calories than its regular equivalent.
What it really means: The product may be a better choice than its full-fat or full-calorie version, but it’s not necessarily healthy. For example, Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise has 4.5 grams of fat, which is 5.5 grams less than their plain ol’ mayo. But that’s per tablespoon, which, in the grand scheme of things, is still quite a lot of fat.

LOW (Little, Few, Contains a Small Amount of, Low Source of)
What it means: There are exact specifications for this label put forth by the FDA. The most common are:
Low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
Low-cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving
Low-fat: 3 g or less per serving
Low-saturated fat: 1 g or less per serving
Low-sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

What it really means: Thanks to strict standards, the LOW is pretty cut-and-dry. Expect food products to adhere to these guidelines, but don’t expect something that’s LOW in fat to also be LOW in calories.

NO ADDED SUGAR
What it means: Manufacturers haven’t put any additional sugar into their product.
What it really means: There still may be artificial sweeteners or naturally-occurring sugars within the food. Certain fruits and dairy products don’t need extra sweetness because they’re born with it already.

NO ARTIFICIAL COLORS, FLAVORS OR PRESERVATIVES
What it means: Your food is made entirely from natural ingredients
What it really means: Well, it depends on your definition of “natural.” Is high fructose corn syrup natural? What about ammonium sulfate? If a product is enriched with more niacin, does that count? While this label points towards good things, a quick scan of the ingredient list will tell you everything you need to know.

NO TRANS FAT / TRANS FAT FREE
What it means: The food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
What it really means: While this is a relatively new label addition (and a good one since trans fat is very, very, very bad), it’s not quite an indicator of health. A food with NO TRANS FAT may still be high in both saturated and regular fat.

ORGANIC (100% Organic, Made with organic ingredients)
What it means: There are entire books written on the topic, but it boils down to this: 100% ORGANIC products consist entirely of organic ingredients. An item labeled ORGANIC has 95% organic ingredients. Something that’s MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS means 70% must come from organic ingredients. Chickens and cows are different and much, much rarer.
What it really means: Hoo boy. Here we go. The word “organic” is thrown around with some regularity, but the USDA’s never certified that it’s any healthier than ol’ supermarket food. (For what it’s worth. The USDA isn’t exactly the Vatican.) The label doesn’t guarantee any humane treatment of animals, and regulation for fruits and vegetables vary. However, it seems like a general consensus that organic food tastes better, and may be better for you. Proceed with caution.

PASTURE-RAISED / PASTURED
What it means: This is a term used to describe chickens. As the USDA puts it, "Birds are raised outdoors using movable enclosures located on grass and fed an organic diet (without hormones or non-organic additives) and/or raised without antibiotics (drugs that are intended to prevent or treat animal illnesses).”
What it really means: Chickens and hens can eat what they’re supposed to naturally (as opposed to feed), and are given lots of space to move around. Their eggs tend to be healthier and more flavorful.

PERCENT FREE (ex: 97% Fat-Free)
What it means: Let’s let the FDA take this one, since they have the simplest explanation: “A product bearing this claim must be a low-fat or a fat-free product. In addition, the claim must accurately reflect the amount of fat present in 100 g of the food. Thus, if a food contains 2.5 g fat per 50 g, the claim must be ‘95 percent fat free.’”
What it really means: In general, this is a good thing, since the percentage label can only be placed on leaner foods.

REDUCED (Fewer, Less)
What it means:
A food item has at least 25% less calories, fat, or a nutrient as compared to the reference food. For instance, if regular potato chips have 12 grams of fat per serving, reduced-fat potato chips can’t have more than 9 grams for the same size portion.
What it really means: This is a pretty cut-and-dry definition, but can be easily confused with the LIGHT/LITE label. Reduced foods are generally healthier than their unreduced counterparts, but are not necessarily LOW in fat, calories, or anything else. Read the nutrition facts to make sure you want what you’re buying.

SUGAR-FREE (also: Without Sugar, Zero Sugar, No Sugar, etc.)
What it means: There is no, or an immeasurably small, amount of sugar in the food (less than 0.5 g per serving).
What it really means: There is no, or an immeasurably small, amount of sugar in the food. However, there could be a sugar alcohol like sorbitol, and sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean carbohydrate-free. Diabetics, take note.

WHOLE WHEAT
What it means: There is some amount of whole wheat in the food you are buying.
What it really means: A range of things, many of which can’t be derived from reading the words WHOLE WHEAT splashed across a logo. To ensure you’re buying a healthy product, look for something with 100% Whole Wheat, and make sure whole wheat flour is the first ingredient, and no other flours are present.

And that’s a wrap. Readers, there is a distinct possibility I’m off my rocker with some of these. Please discuss/point out errors in the comment section.

P.S. Here are my sources.

“‘All natural’ claim on food labels is often deceptive; foods harbor hidden MSG and other unnatural ingredients,” Natural News, 3/21/05
Breaking news: USDA limits “grass fed” label to meat that actually is,” Ethicurean, 10/16/07
Coping with Diabetes,” FDA, 9/95
Deciphering Food Labels,” Kids’ Health
Egg Labels: Reading Between the Lines,” Egg Industry
FDA: Scale Back 'Whole Grain' Labels,” Web MD, 2/15/06
Food Additives,” Healthy Eating Advisor
The Food Label,” FDA, 7/03
Food Label News
Food Label Terms Defined,” How Stuff Works
Food Labeling; Nutrient Content Claims; Definition for ‘High Potency’ and Definition for ‘Antioxidant’ for Use in Nutrient Content Claims for Dietary Supplements and Conventional Foods,” FDA, 7/18/08
Free-Range and Organic Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products: Conning Consumers?” Peta Media Center
Hormone-Free,” Consumer Reports Greener Choices
Label Able: Certified Humane,” YumSugar, 4/3/07
A Little 'Lite' Reading,” FDA
Organic and Free Range Chicken – Better For My Health?” Healthcastle
Reading Between the Food Label Lines,” Womans Day, 5/12/09
Reading Food Labels,” Diabetes Files
Reading food labels: Tips if you have diabetes,” Mayo Clinic, 5/18/07
Some 'light' reading on food labels,” LA Times, 10/2/07
Trans fats now listed on food labels,” American Heart Organization,
The Truth about Food Labels,” Quality Health
Understanding the Food Label,” Colorado State University
What is a Cage-Free Egg?” About.com, 3/27/09
What Is ‘Natural’ Food?” Slashfood, 2/23/09

Friday, April 15, 2011

Top Ten Links of the Week: 4/8/11 - 4/14/11

This Friday, it's lots of newsy-type stories, encased in Peeps. Enjoy!

1) Casual Kitchen: On Spice Fade, and the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months
LOVE this piece from Dan, not least because I never, ever throw out spices. He says, “The spice industry--as well as many misguided cooks, chefs and food bloggers--will tell you that if you have any spices in your cupboard that are more than six months old, you should throw them out. Pure hogwash. This is just another example of how the food industry tries to get you to spend unnecessarily. Worse, it makes cooking at home more expensive than it needs to be.” (Then he says more stuff.) Oh, snap!

Flickr's edenpictures
2) Chicago Tribune: Chicago school bans some lunches brought from home
This article, about an Illinois junior high that insists kids eat cafeteria food, has been all over the interweb this week, though very few news outlets have mentioned that A) the policy has been in place for six years, and B) most of the kids at this particular school qualify for free or reduced lunch. That doesn’t change the Big Brotherness of it all, but it does give it a little perspective, yes?

3) UK Guardian: Expensive wine and cheap plonk taste the same to most people
Woo hoo! Bring on the Three Buck Chuck!

4) LA Times: Organic label makes foods seem tastier, more healthful
In a blind taste test involving 144 shoppers, cookies labeled as organic were estimated to have, “more fiber, less fat and fewer calories” than their non-organic counterparts. Alas, it ain’t so. Beware as you shop. (NOTE: I originally phrased this as, “In a blind taste test OF 144 shoppers,” which would have made it a very different blurb. Some might say Lecter-esque?)

5) Washington Post: 2011 Peeps Show
Terrible food, wonderful art: The Post holds its annual Peeps diorama contest.

6) Surviving and Thriving: How Often do You Wash Your Jeans?
Oh, every time I wear them. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement

7) stonesoup: veggie love - 7 tips to make sure you're getting enough
Simple, realistic, way helpful tips on cramming more broccoli into your maw. Plus cute recipes!

Flickr's dmdonahoo
8) Couponing 101: Realistic Couponing
Though it sounds like an event in the Grocery Shopping X-Games, Extreme Couponing is actually a TLC show about expert savers. Some argue the participants go way overboard, venturing into hoarding territory, which might intimidate beginning couponers. (Understandably so.) Happily, Couponing 101 has a nice, non-scary intro into the wide world of Red Plum discounts. For more, check out CHG’s piece, “Couponing for People Who Hate Couponing: A Zero-Stress Guide to Clipping Big Bargains.”

9) Food Politics: How to Get Involved in School Food
Have kids? Want to change their cafeteria offerings from the top down? Marion Nestle has compiled a list of resources. Read it and weep eat learn.

10) Slashfood: Vegan Magazine’s Faux-Meat Recipe Photos Actually Real Meat
Yuh-oh. VegNews has been photoshopping pictures of burgers and ribs, and passing them off as images of tempeh and seitan. Cauliflower lovers, they are not pleased.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Neatorama: Sunless Farming of the Future...
... Looks a lot like a Deee-lite video, apparently.

Slashfood: The Truth Behind the Olive Garden’s Tuscan Cooking School
What? NOOOOOOO! B-b-b-but … the unlimited breadsticks? They’re real, right?

AND ALSO

Achilles Effect: Word Cloud – How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes
Crystal compared descriptive words used in toy commercials – 27 ads aimed at boys, 32 at girls – and created word clouds with the results. The boys’ biggest included “battle,” “power,” “heroes,” and “ultimate,” while the girls could claim, “love,” “fun,” “magic,” and “babies.” Not so surprising, but still fascinating.

From Achilles Effect

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