March Against Monsanto

The March Against Monsanto is this Saturday, May 23.  To find out where the march is near you, click here.

May Is International Mediterranean Diet Month

May is International Mediterranean Diet Month.  The Mediterranean Diet was “discovered” in the 1950s by Ancel Keys who noticed the low incidence of heart disease amongst Italians, but it was eaten by Italians and other cultures in the Mediterranean since ancient times.  It is a healthy diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts and fish.  Oldways, a nonprofit that promotes health and tradition, created International Mediterranean Diet Month to showcase this healthy diet.

Let Them Be Bloated

In medieval times, radical monks would take fasting to the extreme, wanting to avoid food because food brought pleasure. Because one needs to eat in order to live, the monks wanted food that was tasteless, providing no pleasure. So they ate things like gruel. It’s unfortunate for these monks that they didn’t live in 2015 where soy fillers are used in the modern food supply, rendering it tasteless.

I recently had a craving for ice cream. I settled on strawberry cheesecake from Turkey Hill. This used to be one of my favorite flavors–until now. Granted, this product is called frozen dairy dessert. The texture of this was like frozen Cool Whip. The red swirl was red but it was like red food coloring, not like a strawberry syrup with bits of strawberry. The cheesecake pieces were hard, flavorless squares that felt more like frozen breadcrumbs. Let’s look at the ingredients: MILK, STRAWBERRY SWIRL (CORN SYRUP, STRAWBERRY PUREE, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, WATER, TAPIOCA STARCH, CITRIC ACID, SALT, XANTHAN GUM, GUAR GUM, LOCUST BEAN GUM, RED 40, NATURAL FLAVOR), CHEESECAKE PIECES [SUGAR, WHEAT FLOUR, CREAM CHEESE (MILK, CREAM, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, SODIUM PHOSPHATE), SHORTENING (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN & COTTONSEED OILS), PASTEURIZED EGGS, CELLULOSE, SOYBEAN OIL, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, PECTIN, NATURAL FLAVORS, SALT, XANTHAN GUM], SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, NONFAT MILK, WHEY, CREAM, MALTODEXTRIN, CELLULOSE GEL, POLYDEXTROSE, CALCIUM CARBONATE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOESTERS, GUAR GUM, MONO & DIGLYCERIDES, CELLULOSE GUM, POLYSORBATE 80, CARRAGEENAN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, VITAMIN A, VITAMIN D3.

Granted, this product is called frozen dairy dessert. I also got a Turkey Hill ice cream, key lime pie. It had the exact same Cool Whip texture and hard breadcrumb pieces. Ingredients: MILK, CREAM, KEY LIME SWIRL(CORN SYRUP, WATER, SUGAR, LIME JUICE, NONFAT DRY MILK, BUTTER, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, GUAR GUM, XANTHAN GUM, YELLOW 5), CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, GRAHAM PIECES(WHEAT FLOUR, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL, CORN SYRUP, MOLASSES, HONEY, SALT, SODIUM BICARBONATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), WHEY, NONFAT MILK, CELLULOSE GEL, CELLULOSE GUM, MONO & DIGLYCERIDES, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL FLAVORS.

Cellulose gum–this is what they used to sell to dieters to expand in the stomach and make one full, thus stifling hunger.

In his book Let the Meatballs Rest, Massimo Montanari, professor of medieval and food history at the University of Bologna, Italy, cites a 2008 La Repubblica article that reported that Kim Jong-il experimented with a remedy to combat hunger in North Korea by adding soy flour to noodles so that people would feel full, or bloated, and be less hungry. Interesting how in a free country like the United States, our food is now full of these same fillers like cellulose, soy, and carrageenan. Is this how the U.S. is combating obesity, by taking away our freedom for foods in their traditional state? Not only do these ingredients affect the flavor of food, they affect the texture, the mouthfeel, creating an unfulfilling experience that the medieval monks would have loved.

I don’t want Turkey Hill to think I’m picking on them. They have premium ice creams, but I sure won’t be eating them after the delicious key lime pie ice cream and strawberry cheesecake frozen dairy dessert. I had a Reese’s peanut butter cup on Valentine’s Day. Wow. Oily mouthfeel, claylike peanut butter filling. I tried a Girl Scout cookie, which I haven’t had in years. Same ew mouthfeel. I’ve written about the ubiquity of soy in our food in another post, so there are any number of products with this emulsifier, oil and flour. I wasn’t happy to find that even the 365 brand at Whole Foods uses soy in its products– like the jarred tomato sauce. I’d like to point out here that I shop the perimeter of the store and, for the most part, eat clean and fresh. If I have the occasional splurge, I want it to be good–I want the pleasure that the monks were trying to avoid. I don’t want the creamy in my cream cheese thinned out with carrageenan. Because that bad mouthfeel and taste will also be imparted to anything I make with my cream cheese, including cheesecake.

While the monks were trying to avoid pleasure in the Middle Ages, the peasants were trying to survive. After bringing potatoes back from the Americas, the European upper classes introduced them into the peasant diet. They thought it would be a great filler to keep them full. At that time, the prevailing thought was that peasants, or the lower classes, were coarse and vulgar and therefore, their stomachs could handle intestinal problems caused by foods that are hard to digest.

And so here we are in 2015. The monks of the day are probably the people who workout and eat clean, foregoing pleasure for the appearance of their bodies, now synonymous with health. But they are not the important ones in my discussion. The upper classes are on the cutting edge–on par with the scientists of North Korea experimenting with soy flour to satiate their people. They are the FDA, the USDA, the policy makers, BIG FOOD, etc. And who are the peasants? Why, you and me. We are the peasants who are not supposed to notice that food doesn’t taste or feel the same. We are not supposed to notice when this same food causes us intestinal issues or other medical problems because it makes us fuller, i.e., less obese, and saves insurance companies money on obesity-related illnesses (or so we’re told). And what to do about those intestinal issues? Well, thank goodness, we have BIG PHARMA waiting in the wings to provide a solution.

Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

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I bought some strawberries at the farmers’ market, and I thought of a buttermilk cake (you know me).  While looking for a recipe, I found this Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Cake from Joy the Baker.  I love the look of a skillet cake.  It looks so down home and comforting.

For this cake, I roasted the strawberries for 15 minutes.  My oven runs a little hot, and the first time I roasted them, they burned in 20 minutes.  So I would say just keep an eye on them while they are roasting.

This cake is definitely a vanilla ice cream cake!

Butterscotch Sauce

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I was inspired to make homemade butterscotch by a delicious-looking butterscotch sauce recipe in The Local Palate.  I used dark brown sugar and all organic ingredients so this would be extra creamy and delicious.  I also used this butterscotch sauce recipe from Simply Recipes as a guide.

Homemade Butterscotch Sauce

1/2 cup unsalted butter (I used organic.)

2 cups dark brown sugar (I used organic.)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I used one from a local dairy.)

Melt butter in a pot on medium.  When melted, add brown sugar and salt.  Stir for a while.  The mixture will look like wet sand.  You want to mix it until it becomes more liquidy and less gritty.  This takes about 5 or more minutes.  Then you want to add the heavy cream and use a whisk to incorporate it.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and whisk for about 10 minutes.  At this point, I filled a large bowl with ice and put the pot in the ice to cool it off.  This can be served cooled.

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I stored it in a glass container in the fridge, and it was best the second day.

It is fabulous on ice cream.

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Or on apple slices, if you want it a bit healthier.

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The Real Fettuccine Alfredo

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Fettuccine Alfredo is one of the most well-known Italian dishes.  However, most people don’t know the history behind it and what its real ingredients are.  Fettuccine Alfredo was invented by Alfredo di Lelio in 1914 at his Roman restaurant, Alfredo’s.  As the story goes, his wife couldn’t eat after she gave birth, so he created this dish.

Fettuccine Alfredo is fettuccine in a creamy butter and parmesan “sauce.”  At this point in time, this dish was really a basic pasta dish, pasta with butter and cheese, already eaten by Italians on any kind of pasta, and it is still eaten by  Italians and Italian Americans today.  Pasta with butter and cheese is not something one would typically find at a restaurant.  It is something that is eaten at home.  In fact, one can omit the cheese and just have pasta with butter as well.  The typical Italian/Italian American doesn’t use this much butter or cheese when making this dish.  So the novelty of Alfredo’s dish is that it contained a lot of butter–which makes sense because he was trying to nourish his wife who had just given birth and was having digestive problems.

The difference between the Italian and American versions is that in the Italian version, only butter and parmesan are used, and together, they create a silky butter sauce.  Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford ate fettuccine Alfredo at Alfredo’s in 1920 while on their honeymoon and brought the dish back to America.  In the American version, heavy cream is also used to get a more creamy, saucy consistency.  This, however, is not how the dish was intended.

There are a number of ways to prepare fettuccine Alfredo.  I tried Todd Coleman’s version from Saveur magazine.

Fettuccine Alfredo

1 1b. fettuccine (Cook according to package directions.)

2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 lb. grated parmesan cheese (Parmesan from Italy is best here.)

The trick to making fettuccine Alfredo is to have a large platter, preferably warmed under hot water or in the oven a few minutes.  Cut pats of butter all over the platter.

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Drain pasta but reserve some pasta water.  Add the pasta to the platter along with the cheese and 1/4 cup pasta water.

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Toss with forks until the butter melts and all is well mixed–about 3 minutes.  Add more pasta water if you need to.  I used about 1 cup.

I think it is tricky to keep this warm, so if I make it again, I may try doing it in a skillet as recommended elsewhere or the quicker version Coleman suggests.

 

Fake or Counterfeit Olive Oil Nothing New

There are many reports circulating the Web these days about fake or counterfeit olive oil, as if this is a new phenomenon.  I want to clarify that it is not.  Back in the turn of the last century, this problem existed, and I guarantee it existed long before that.  My great-grandfather imported products from Italy in his store back then, and he encountered the same problem.  Keep in mind that “extra virgin” olive oil is a fairly new term–created in the 1960s, and that prior to that, olive oil had been created for thousands of years in the Mediterranean using ancient methods without that designation. What happened in the 1960s to inspire this change?  New technology, of course.  An expensive stainless steel milling technique.  Some people believe that in order to counteract costs of this new technology, some producers skimp and add inferior quality oil like soy, canola or nut oils to the olive oil.  This may be true, but as I mentioned before, cheap, inferior, fake, counterfeit olive oil was around before extra virgin came into being.

One consistency amongst these recent articles is the touting of California olive oil as a sure bet to the real thing.  This pronouncement makes me suspect of these articles–are they a California olive oil industry marketing ploy?  I don’t know.  (A Google trending search reveals that California is the only state where this topic is a regional interest.)

Modern chefs and food writers tout olive oil from the North of Italy as being superior in taste.  However, Southern Italy, especially the southeastern region called Puglia (Italy’s heel), has had a long history of olive oil production dating back to ancient times.  Before the unification of Italy in 1860, when Southern Italy was under the Bourbon empire, olive oil production in this area was at its peak with the most advanced technology to produce olive oil.  And even today, superior olive oils come from Southern Italy.  (And let’s also not forget the olive oils of Greece.)

There is “counterfeit” olive oil on the market, and I suspect there will be more counterfeiting to come with the report of poor olive harvests recently.

How do you tell if olive oil is real or not?  I’ve tried the test of seeing if it hardens in the refrigerator, and I have to report that the better quality and better tasting olive oils do.  I would say a good indicator is price–better oils will most likely be more expensive.  Many of these articles also claim that “authentic” olive oil has a peppery taste.  I was always taught that good quality olive oil has a taste like artichoke.  In the past, I, and my family, remember olive oil having a golden color as opposed to the greenish hue seen with most olive oils today.

In short, I’m still keeping my faith in Italian and Greek olive oil.