Kids Cook Monday: Homemade Dressing

pouring dressing

A good dressing can be the difference between timid vegetable nibbling and eager vegetable consumption.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of bottled dressings are best left on supermarket shelves due to the added sugars, preservatives and genetically modified vegetable, soybean or canola oils they contain.  The good news is it is very easy to make your own with fresh, high quality, healthy ingredients. With plenty of room for flavor experimentation and personalizing, this is a great recipe for the kids around your dinner table.

An unofficial (and not particularly scientific) study I recently conducted, confirmed that ranch is America’s favorite dressing. It was comforting to then come across this article on the NPR food blog, The Salt, supporting my findings. With that settled, here’s our version of the American favorite, buttermilk ranch dressing, made from real ingredients, at home, in just a few easy steps:

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (if you are a child like Julia Child, you can make your own using this recipe).
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk (staying in the do-it-yourself mood, you can make this yourself too, using this recipe).
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (possibly more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or a fresh clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • some fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, chives, tarragon, etc. finely chopped.
  • several grinds of black pepper

Parsley close-upMethod:

Add all ingredients to a mason jar (or other container with a well-fitting lid), tighten lid and shake. You can add more mayonnaise to create a dip, or more buttermilk to adjust the consistency in the other direction. Serve with any vegetable or salad and enjoy!

parsley with dressing

 

 

Meatless Monday: Fresh Corn Chowder

corn chowder - diagonal bowl

This is the kind of soup, which, ideally you start making a day (or two) before you plan to eat it (true, actually, for most soups, but if you’re curious enough to confirm the theory, this would be a good one to do that with).  For the richest corn flavor, shuck and de-kernel the cobs to make a stock on day one, then make and eat the soup on day two. On day three, you will be happy if you made a large pot full.

Day one, you will need:

  • 6-8 ears (or more) of just picked sweet corn (organic if possible, GM sweet corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant (“roundup ready”) and to produce its own insecticide. Like all GMOs, genetically modified sweet corn has not been thoroughly tested to ensure that it is safe to eat, and is also not labeled, so the best way to avoid it is to purchase organic corn or buy directly from a local grower who can confirm the use of natural seeds.
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh thyme
  • several large pinches of salt
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the same number of cups of water as number of cobs.
  2. Shuck corn, then remove all the kernels from the cobs. Stand cobs upright on a cutting board, and cut down the length of the cobs, or lay them down and cut off enough to make a flat surface. Then roll the cob so that it lies on the flat side and cut off kernels (this method tends to result in fewer kernels skipping over the cutting board and landing elsewhere). Save kernels in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for tomorrow.
  3. Submerge de-kerneled cobs in heating water, add bay leaves, thyme and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. Remove from heat, and let sit until tomorrow.

Day two, you’ll want to have:

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 onions, minced
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 potatoes, cut into small cubes (again, ideally organically grown, which allows you to skip peeling them and include the peel which is full of fiber and nutrients otherwise lost)
  • small handful of fresh herbs: oregano, basil, thyme (or substitute with smaller amounts of dried, if fresh is not available)
  • 1 cup half & half
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley
  1. Heat butter in large skillet and sauté onions. Add garlic when onions are soft, translucent and thoroughly limp, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove cobs and bay leaves from the corn stock.  Add contents of skillet, potatoes and herbs to stock.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, add half & half, and fresh corn kernels. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve with a garnish of snipped parsley.

corn chowder - top view

Corn is ubiquitous in our modern world with all the corn oil, cornmeal, corn starch, and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods, and the vast quantities we grow for animal feed and ethanol, and yet the very satisfying, sweet-savory, juice-spraying, floss-requiring, face-and-hands eating experience of gnawing the kernels off the cob is, for most, only a special short season treat.  This is when we get to savor zea mays at its best, and as a vegetable.  Corn is a food which wears many hats (grass, grain, flour, oil, sweetener, gasoline, even compostable forms of plastic) but it is the plant’s vegetable hat (making up less than one percent of all the corn grown in the US) that is saluted in this chowder.

Nutritionally, corn is a good source of antioxidants, fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, magnesium, iron and plant protein. Organically grown corn will generally offer more nutrients than non-organic.

Once you locate a good source for fresh, sweet and juicy corn, and get in the rhythm of shucking and cutting off the kernels, you may want to earmark a full day to do only this, make large pots of corn stock and freeze corn kernels. Corn can be frozen either on or off the cob. Amount of available time in late summer/early fall, and/or amount of available freezer space may make the decision easier.  The Pick Your Own website gives clear directions (with pictures) for both methods. With your own frozen corn in the freezer, you can recreate this soup throughout the year and bring back one of the quintessential flavors of summer whenever you need to be warmed by it.

Have You Tried Acai? (Sambazon Review & Giveaway)

Sambazon

Have you tried the much touted acai berry? It has been raved about for its impressive nutritional profile and for its ability to encourage weight loss.  Despite the abundant positive press, I had yet to give it a try.  The Sambazon company offers a full line of acai juice drinks, smoothies and frozen fruit products all with non-GMO, USDA organic, vegan and gluten-free labels. From their website, I learned their drinks come in ten different flavors and blends.  I was only able to find the original flavor in my local health food store, but I imagine larger markets will carry a wider selection.

Although I enjoyed the drink, I found it too thick and too sweet for regular drinking, but when I used it as the base of a slushie, I loved it!  Beyond the product, what really impressed me, is the vision, mission and practices of the company. Sambazon, whose name comes from the Sustainable Management of the Brazilian AmAZON, is thoroughly dedicated to socially and ecologically sustainable development in the Brazilian rainforest while bringing acai nutrition to the rest of the world.  According to their literature, they support two million acres of Amazon Rainforest and over 10,000 family farmers with their berry harvesting and juice making operation.  Their products are certified Organic as well as Fair-Trade.

Sambazon juice (which is not exactly pure acai juice, but a juice drink consisting of acai puree, water, agave, lime juice, natural flavors, soy lecithin, citric acid, and fruit and vegetables juice for color) straight from the bottle was thicker than I would have liked.  I would love to see the juices packaged in glass, as I picked up on the plastic aroma when drinking out of the bottle, and would prefer to move away from plastic packaging whenever possible.  The Acai Original was much sweeter than I think is necessary (or enjoyable). I poured my next bottle over ice, to test it chilled and to see how it reacted to a little watering down. I liked it better. Still finding it thicker than I would like, I realized it was ideal smoothie/slushie/sorbet material. A chilled nutrient-dense tropical berry refresher can be the perfect companion on a hot and humid afternoon, of which, I imagine, there are many in Brazil.

Acai Slushie

Pineapple-Acai Slushie:

In a blender, such as a Vitamix, blend 1 banana, 1 bottle of Sambazon Acai Original, 1/2 teaspoon bee pollen, 5 tablespoons pineapple juice concentrate, 1 single package (or 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds and about 15 ice cubes. Add vitamin supplements, if you wish (I added 2,000 IU of vitamin D and 2 probiotic capsules).  Run the blender until all the ingredients are mixed and the ice cubes have turned to slush.  An incredibly nutrient-filled, tasty and refreshing beverage awaits you.

Acai is celebrated for its high concentration of antioxidants (particularly anthocyanin, which the deep purple color would suggest), fiber and essential fatty acids. The Tropical Plant Database finds acai to be nutritious, but not quite the standout we have been led to believe.  Acai contains up to 4% protein, 25% sugar and trace amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iron, sulphur, vitamins B1, A and E.
A bottle of Sambazon juice contains 10.5 fluid ounces. The serving size and corresponding nutrition facts, however, are for a serving size of 8 ounces.  Something to be aware of if you are checking the label for calorie or sugar counts.  Make sure to add roughly a third more to the numbers if you consume a bottle.

To visit Sambazon online, there’s the company website and their facebook page (including a $1.50 off coupon) and in California, there are now two Sambazon Cafes along the Pacific Coast Highway.  Built according to strict ecological design guidelines, the company’s commitment to doing business sustainably continues. Pull up a chair to a long table (made from reclaimed wood and metal), slide your spoon into a typical Amazonian “acai bowl” of fruit and granola, and allow the rush of nutrients and tropical flavors to sink in.

Or, bring the taste of Brazil to you!  Post a comment below, and one lucky winner (US residents only) will receive three free product vouchers (coupons) plus one of these beautiful wooden bowl and spoon sets (a $45 value). A random drawing will be held on June 30, 2013.

Have you tried acai?  Did you like it?  Any particular products or recipes you would recommend?

Sambazon bowl

Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer.  As a Moms Meet Blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.  For more information about Moms Meet, go to http://www.greenmomsmeet.com or join the social media conversation using #momsmeet.

So Long Salmon?

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  as reported by the Food Revolution Network:

“The FDA has been overwhelmed with more than a million comments and petition signers, many of them stressing massive health, environmental, and ethical concerns. Faced with such a deluge of response, the FDA decided this issue was hot enough that it warranted further examination, and has officially extended the comment period for another two months. “

This is an unusual opportunity to have your voice heard.  The public comment period has been extended until April 26, 2013. 

We spent Christmas Eve around a long dining room table at our friends’ house immersed in the abundance of a Seven Fishes Feast: seven courses of fish, followed by a dessert lasting until almost midnight is a marvelous way to welcome Christmas Day. I prepared the sides and helped serve the third course: smoked salmon (delicious, and highly nutritious, wild Alaskan salmon) with potato-celeriac-sunchoke mash, red and green cabbage slaw, and a caviar-creme fraiche dip.  While I was busy cooking, the FDA moved a step closer to approving genetically engineered salmon.

What we stand to gain from genetically modified (or GM) salmon is faster growing fish ready for market and consumption in about half the current time, as illustrated by the following image from Science Progress.

What we stand to lose includes unknown impacts to human health, wild ocean ecosystems and remaining wild salmon species.  Unlike existing GM foods (corn, soy and canola among the more common), against which there are plenty of objections, the genetic manipulation of a wild animal introduces new and additional concerns: the possible escape from farm enclosures and contamination of the wild population; untested health implications for the fish, oceanic ecosystems and human consumers; and the precedent for further manipulation of animals and other wild species.

Nevertheless, after a preliminary investigation, the FDA (the federal Food and Drug Administration) found GM salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts, to pose “no significant threat,” and moved it closer to full approval.

Senator Mark Begich (a Democrat from Alaska) called the FDA’s findings a joke, saying, “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects… People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon.” Republican Representative Don Young called the FDA’s decision “foolish and disturbing.”

The “finding of no significant impact” or FONSI focused only on environmental questions, since in 2010, the FDA had already declared Frankenfish “as safe as food from conventional salmon.” The full report on the human health impacts can be read here.  The environmental assessment, released on December 26, 2012, will be available for public comment for just 60 days.

Despite increasing public concern surrounding both the human health and ecological implications of genetically altering species, the Organic Consumers Association explains that “the FDA considers any genetically altered animal a “new animal drug” for approval purposes. That means the genetically modified animal – in this case a salmon intended as food for humans – is subjected to a less rigorous safety review than if it were classified as a food (for humans) additive.”

Unlike conventionally farmed salmon*, the GM fish would start as fertilized eggs in Canada. The all female population would then be transported to an inland tank facility in Panama where they would be grown to maturity, processed into filets and shipped to US markets.

As with other genetically modified foods, the US does not require any labeling, so when buying or ordering salmon, the consumer would not know if the fish is wild, conventionally farmed, or GM farmed. A poll conducted by Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio found that 93% of Americans would like all GM foods labeled and that only 35% would be willing to eat GM fish.

There are numerous ecological and healthy reasons to be concerned.  Monterey Bay Seafood WatchFood and Water Watch and Food Poisoning Bulletin are excellent resources for additional information about seafood safety.  To speak out against GM salmon, visit The Center for Food Safety’s GE Fish Campaign to sign petitions urging the FDA and Congress to stop genetically engineered fish.  You can also add your name to the Organic Consumers Association‘s petition against GM fish.

Interested in filling your freezer with freshly caught, wild Alaskan salmon? There are several online companies which sell directly to the consumer. I often order from Great Alaska Seafood (and recommend joining their mailing list to enjoy special pricing).

If approved, would you eat it?  Or would you avoid salmon all together, since it wouldn’t be labeled and wild sources may become contaminated?  Will the bagel with lox be lost?

* It is worth making the distinction between conventionally farmed and wild salmon.  While wild salmon feed mostly on highly nutritious krill, providing Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other difficult to find antioxidants, and contributing to the fishes’ naturally vibrant pink color as well as heart, brain and anti-inflammatory benefits for the consumer, farmed salmon is feed everything from wild fish (sometimes more fish than it produces) to corn and soy (safe to assume of the GM variety), turning the fish an unappealing shade of grey, which is then corrected with red food coloring. Instead of containing the desired Omega-3 fatty acids, farmed salmon often contains more Omega-6s, which generally trigger inflammation. You may want to read this, if you eat farmed salmon.