Monday, November 30, 2009

Check Yo Chicken

A recent study by Consumer Reports shows that, of 382 whole raw chickens bought at over 100 stores in 22 states, 62% contain a harmful bacteria called campylobacter, 14% had salmonella, and 9% had both. This includes organic and all-natural chicken, too, though I think they fared a bit better in the testing.
But no worries, I think, because apparently normal cooking kills off the bacteria? Still, kind of disconcerting to know that if you undercook a bit or don't clean off your cutting board well enough, you risk getting really sick. (Each year, about 500 Americans die from these bacteria and 25,000 are hospitalized).

Also, I think this says something about the state of our food industry: namely, this is a reflection of the unsanitary conditions that arise when you breed thousands of chickens in cramped quarters with unnatural food and no access to the outdoors.

Some quick facts about factory farmed chicken:
  • Broilers are warehoused in long sheds, called “grower houses,” which typically confine up to 20,000 chickens at a density of approximately 130 square inches of space per bird...A chicken requires 138 square inches just to stretch a wing.
  • Overcrowded confinement also results in the rapid deterioration of air quality within the grower sheds. As the weeks pass, chicken excrement accumulates on the floors. As bacteria break down the litter and droppings, the air becomes polluted with ammonia, dust, bacteria, and fungal spores. High ammonia levels cause painful skin and respiratory problems in the broilers, as well as pulmonary congestion, swelling, hemorrhage, and even blindness. Ammonia destroys the cilia that would otherwise prevent harmful bacteria from being inhaled. As a result, chickens “are inhaling harmful bacteria constantly..."
  • In the 1950s, it took 84 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Due to selective breeding and growth-promoting drugs, it now takes an average of only 45 days...Broilers’ bone growth is outpaced by the growth of their muscles and fat. "We consider that birds might have been bred to grow so fast that they are on the verge of structural collapse.” ...90% of broilers have detectable leg problems...In one study of lame chickens, 20 percent had bacterial infection of the bone, 13 percent had visible leg deformities...At six weeks, broiler chickens have such difficulty supporting their abnormally heavy bodies that they spend 76 to 86 percent of their time lying down.

"Living in their own waste, the birds cannot escape the high levels of ammonia. As a result, their bodies are often scalded by the noxious chemical."

    Well, how's all that for a picker-upper (no pun intended)?

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    "A medium popcorn and soda at the Regal movie theater chain has the calories of three McDonald's Quarter Pounders and 12 pats of butter, a U.S. food group says. ...The movie theater chain's medium popcorn and soda has 1,610 calories and three days' worth -- 60 grams -- of saturated fat."

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Egging It On

    As far as quick meals go, eggs are the shit. I eat them all the time for breakfast and midnight snacks. Yummy breakfasts are a quick way to put me in a good mood and start my day off on a good leg. Plus eggs are fast & easy and make me feel good about eating something other than carbs and getting some protein in my nearly-meatless diet. So here are my 3 favorite ways to make eggs. All of them take less than 15 minutes:

    I know this seems like it should be really self-explanatory, but there's actually a right way to make scrambled eggs, and when done like that, they hit a whole new level of delicious. If done right, they should be one super fluffy mass, not little eggy clumps like regular scrambled eggs, and all a consistent pastel yellow color.

    1. Crack a couple eggs in a bowl, add a teaspoon or so of mayonnaise (this makes them creamy), and whip them up into a frenzy.
    2. Melt a little bit of butter in a skillet over LOW heat.
    3. Pour in the eggs. Stir them pretty much constantly with a wooden spoon until they start to hold their shape but before they get dry and lose all their shininess.
    4. Season as you wish. With these, I usually keep it pretty simple with cracked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

    Total time: Under 10 minutes

    To make it extra fancy, do this first (I made this concoction while stoned one night and fell in love):

    1. Slice up some red pepper and onions and garlic and whatever else you want to put in. I love adding tomatoes.
    2. Turn the heat on med-high and add some butter (I swear by cooking with butter instead of olive oil. It makes everything taste soooo much better).
    3. Toss in the sliced up veggies and sauté them until they get darker, the onions are brown, and all the veggies are tender.
    4. Turn down the heat, let the pan cool down, and then add the eggs and some grated cheese (I usually do sharp cheddar), then continue as above.
    5. When it's all done and in your plate, add a bit of crumbled feta. If you have feta, don't skip this step. It really makes it all like 5 times better.

    Total time: About 15 minutes

    Note: these scrambled eggs weren't made totally right. But cut me some slack, please--I was in another state of mind.

    Over Easy
    This is my typical breakfast egg dish. Filling and delicious.

    1. Take a slice of good bread, or half a bagel (I usually use fresh dumpstered bagels. Soooo good.) and toast it.
    2. Melt some butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Don't let the skillet sit on the flame too long before you go to the next step--the egg shouldn't sizzle when you put it in the pan.
    3. Crack an egg in the pan. Fry it until the bottom sets--it should slide around freely when you wiggle the pan. You don't need a spatula or anything for this.
    4. Once the egg can slide around, gently flip it upside-down by sliding it up the side of the skillet with a flick of the wrist. You can see this guy do it here.
    If you're worried about making a mess when you flip it, it's actually pretty easy. The first time I tried, I had to mop egg yolk off the floor, but the second time, I got it :-P
    5. Fry it on the second side for like 30 sec or so, or until the egg can once again slide around freely.
    6. Slide it over your freshly toasted piece of bread/bagel. I usually season mine with salt, pepper & chili powder. This morning, I added some sautéed tomato slices and some baby swiss before I put on the egg. It was totally delicious.
    This is pretty messy to eat, but who cares. It tastes good.

    Total time: About 7 minutes

    Souffle-type thing

    1. Get the smallest pan you own (unless you're making a lot of eggs).
    2. Put some butter in it and melt it over low heat.
    3. Whisk some eggs and add them to the pan.
    4. Let it sit until it starts to set a little. Then grate some cheese in there. Then let it sit some more, until it's cooked through to the top. Don't stir. You can cook it covered if you want, but I haven't.
    5. Take a spatula and slide it around the edges to loosen the egg from the pan. Then slide your souffle thing onto a plate. I like to put mine on a slice of bread. Maybe with some pesto. Seasoned, as per usual, with salt & pepper. Yummy, and somehow makes me feel very sophisticated.

    Total time: About 10 minutes

    And there we go. Anyone have any of their own favorite ways to cook eggs?

    Chocolate is Good for Mental Health

    Now this is the kind of nutrition I can get behind.

    This article explains so much about why I am so chill all of the time :-P

    That said, I've decided I need to cut a huge amount of sugar out of my diet. I've been letting my sweet tooth totally go and it's starting to show. Maybe a small bar of dark chocolate should become my daily sweets limit...

    Recipes from the Corner: Fast & Easy

    So I know I've been MIA for a couple weeks. Do I have a good excuse? Uhmm....I've actually been making food again? Actually, that's not a very good excuse. And you're about to see why.
    Some of you guys have been saying you'd like to see more quick & simple recipes. Well, I'm about to post a small slew of them. These are pretty quick (which is why they're a bad excuse for me not doing work), very simple, and pretty tasty. Here's some of what I've been whipping up the past couple weeks:

    Steamed sweet potatoes

    1. Take a sweet potato.
    2. Put a couple inches of water and a steam basket in a pot, cover it and let it come to a boil. 
    3. In the meantime, peel the potato (unless it's organic, in which case you don't have to)
          --This is because all of the chemical pesticides and other junk that go into growing our produce get concentrated in the skin
    4. Cut the potato into cubes of about 1/2" each side
    5. Steam them (covered, of course) for about 7 minutes, or until done.
    6. Add salt, pepper, or whatever else you want. If you like them kind of sweet & savory, add things like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. I always eat mine with sour cream. Mmmmm. Try it!

    Total time: About 12 minutes.

    Roasted asparagus with lemon

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°
    2. Take some asparagus spears and wash them.
    3. Break each one near the bottom. Just bend it until it snaps. Throw away the bottom part -- this is pretty tough and not very fun to chew. It'll break naturally where it becomes tender. 
       --If you're making a bunch of asparagus and don't feel like breaking them all, just break one and use that as a guide to cut the rest
    4. Pour some olive oil on an oven pan and roll the asparagus around in it until it's coated
    5. Sprinkle them with salt & pepper and whatever else you want
    6. Roast them for about 10-15 minutes. I like to do 15 because they come out more tender & flavorful. They should be starting to turn a little brown. 
    7. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them.

    Total time: About 20 minutes

    Roasted asparagus, steamed sweet potatoes, some homemade borscht courtesy of my parents (!!) and the vastly superior sour cream, Daisy. Sooo good. And it only took about 25 minutes to make it all. Also, it's almost entirely made up of vegetables, which makes me proud, since I usually have a hard time getting those in my diet.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    It's a Cereal War

    Sugary kids' cereals are coming under attack. First Froot Loops, now Cocoa Crispies. Watch out, Cap'n Crunch, you're next!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    More on Fruit Loops

    I just noticed that they're not even called Fruit Loops. It's Froot Loops. That's very appropriate, since I highly doubt they actually contain any fruit.

    Anyway, some people at Yale just did a comprehensive nutritional study on breakfast cereal. They compared the nutritional value of our breakfast cereal to a UK rating system. Their findings are pretty sad but, of course, not at all surprising.

    Some highlighted points for those who don't feel like reading through all the results:
    • Child cereals contain 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium when compared to adult cereals. In fact, not one cereal that is marketed directly to children in the United States would be allowed to advertise to children on television in the United Kingdom (only cereals with an NPI of over 62 can market to kids in the UK; the vast majority of US child cereals rate under 50)...In addition, 42% contain potentially harmful artificial food dyes.
    • Although General Mills and Kellogg have pledged that they will not advertise to preschoolers directly, the average 2- to 5-year-old viewed more than 500 television ads for child cereals in 2008, and 89% of them were from General Mills and Kellogg.
    • Froot Loops scored lowest (under 40) on the rating system; kids would be better off eating Cocoa Crispies, Cookie Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, or Cap'n Crunch. 
    If Froot Loops, with the lowest rating, are a "Smart Choice," what isn't? Coffee and cigarettes? (Though I'd honestly probably have that for breakfast before Froot Loops...but I really like coffee. And at least I'd know that my breakfast was not a smart choice. I mean, fine, eat your junk food, but at least acknowledge that it's junk.)

    PS I know I keep ragging hardcore on the Froot Loops and other processed foods. But I really hate that stuff. I mean, to me it resembles flavored cardboard much more closely than anything I would actually want to consume. Plus the names ("Cocoa Crispies?") and the Smart Choices system and the hundreds of ads just make me think of Brave New World. It's total brainwashing and it weirds me out and makes me kind of depressed every time I see TV commercials. Anyways, please excuse my ranting. 

    Frustrations and Questions

    So this week, we are to reflect on our blogging frustrations, questions, revelations, etc. Here goes.

    Not too many, honestly.
    I mean, I love food. I don't get sick of writing about it, and I rarely get sick of reading about it. And I most certainly have never neared getting sick of eating it.
    Time and energy, on the other hand, are tossing some hurdles in my path. At the end of a long day, all I want to do is veg on the couch with some friends. Even the relatively simple task of perusing the 20 new updates in my Google Reader food section poses a daunting task. And that doesn't even compare to how tiring it sounds to actually read and respond to any of those articles.
    And for as long as I blankly stare at the Google Reader screen, trying to mentally drag my eyes along the black lines of type, I stare twice as long as the contents of my fridge. Even steaming some veggies sounds like too much work. "Cook? Now? I'm tired, I haven't been home in 12 hours..." (This is about when the chips and salsa come out.)
    So a lot of the time, I'm too tired to find material/write about it.
    But when that isn't an issue, all has been going well.

    Ever since I was about 7, I tried keeping a regular diary. And failed. Like 10 times over 10 years. I could keep it up for maybe 5 days, and that's it. Daily entries would turn to weekly to monthly to whoa-I-forgot-this-journal-even-existed. Finally, in high school, I realized I didn't owe some debt to the cosmic writing gods that required me to write every day, or even on a regular basis. So I chilled out and wrote in my journal only when I felt like it, and things have been going well (if sporadically) since then.
    All this to say, this blog made me realize I can actually keep up with a fairly regular writing schedule. Leave it to food to inspire me to action.
    Also, I'm considering starting a music blog. There are two things that can bring me out of a slump in a moment: (1) good food (2) good music. Musicmusicmusic. I realize I never feel my emotions as strongly until I put a soundtrack to them. So, quite literally, music is my life.

    Obviously, I find my own blog at least somewhat interesting. My only concern is whether or not you guys do.
    So here are the questions I pose to the blogosphere today:
    How are the topics of these posts? Do they interest you? What are your favorite ones (recipes, articles, nutrition)?
    How's my writing voice? Does it bore you? Annoy you? Make you laugh?
    Any other comments or criticisms? Please, don't hold back. I have a tough skin.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    The Veggie Bandit

    "Initially, local villagers reported the incident to the police but the cops refused to register a case against Nazim and laughed it off, as they could not recover any stolen vegetable from him."