Archive for the ‘Kitchen Tips’ Category

Are Frozen Dinners Worth the Convenience?

We live in a busy, fast-paced society where taking the time to prepare a delicious and healthy meal is not always possible.  Pre-prepared foods and frozen dinners offer a quick and easy alternative, but at what price?

Typical frozen dinner

Most frozen meals are loaded with sugar, sodium, and preservatives with low vegetable and fiber content.  Though we need sodium in our diet, about one teaspoon a day or 2300 milligrams, for fluid balance, muscle strength and nerve function, most of us get far more than that with our consumption of frozen and processed foods.  We are all well aware of the dangers of too much salt and sugar!  The right kind of salt is important too.  Click here for more information about salts.

Certain frozen dinner brands, and specific meals produced by those brands, are worse than others.  Hot pockets, chicken potpies, and turkey and gravy dinners are among the worst.  Usually organic frozen meals are better, but it’s important to take the time to read the labels carefully, as with all processed foods.  Just because a product says “natural” doesn’t mean it is, even with frozen veggie burgers. Be on the lookout for salt’s various disguises like sodium alginate, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium benzoate, as well as added sugars under the name of high fructose corn syrup or natural cane sugar and unhealthy fats.

As Oscar Wilde said, “everything in moderation including moderation”, so the occasional frozen dinner won’t hurt you.  There is no substitute however, for a fresh, home cooked meal seasoned properly with healthy herbs, enhanced with a small amount sea salt, and prepared with love.

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Information compiled from: http://channels.isp.netscape.com/,

http://www.webmd.com/

Turn Your Kitchen Waste Into Gold!

One more Vitamix advantage that I neglected to mention in last week’s blog – When making a smoothie or juice drink in your Vitamix, the whole fruit is juiced, which includes the juice and the fiber.  The fiber contains valuable nutrition that is missing in extracted juice, making your Vitamix drinks even more nutritious!

Several of my readers have asked me about composting.

Composting means recycling food waste or organic material to the soil, which is then broken down by natural bacteria and turned into compost or a dark, soil-like humus and an incredibly rich (and free) organic fertilizer!  Compost adds nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure, eliminating the need for high nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers, and produces thriving, pest resistant plants.  Compost is unbelievable fertilizer for your gardens and lawn.

Composting is just as important as recycling cans, bottles, papers, plastics or anything else.  According to the EPA, “ In 2011 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only four percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.” When food is thrown away and goes into the landfill, it rots and emits methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

You can compost all organic matter – kitchen waste including fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, eggshells, and tea bags, (but avoid meat and dairy which turn rancid and attract scavengers and citrus which is toxic to the worms); grass clippings; and yard waste including leaves.  Do not add weeds or chemically treated grass clippings.

I keep a compost bucket with a charcoal filter (to prevent odors from escaping) in my kitchen sink, which I then empty into the compost pile in the backyard. You can buy compost bins online or from garden centers that cost approximately $30 – $100, but you can easily build your own. It takes about a year before the organic materials are broken down into compost and ready to add to your garden soil. Regularly turning the pile and occasionally adding a compost inoculant to help break down organic material speeds up the process, but isn’t necessary.

For Apartment Dwellers

Some cities like San Francisco and London offer kitchen waste pick up service, but most don’t.  You can still compost however, even without access to a yard.  There are two fun options.

One is vermicomposting, or composting with worms.  Vermicomposting involves buying a shallow worm container and lid (punch holes in the top and sides for drainage and ventilation), making a bed for the worms using torn newspaper mixed with leaves and potting soil, then adding kitchen waste (it works better if it is small pieces) and about 2000 red wriggler worms, sold at garden centers or ordered online through commercial growers.   Leave the lid off so the worms will burrow underground; they are sensitive to light.  In two to three months, your worms will produce dark, rich, nutritious worm castings or organic fertilizer, which your plants will love.  Click here for more information.

A second option is bokashi bin composting. Bokashi means fermented organic matter in Japanese.  This method uses a mixture of “effective microorganisms” in a medium like wheat bran.  You simply add your food waste to the bin and then sprinkle the microorganism mixture on top.  The microorganisms help to break down the scraps and if managed properly, there won’t be any smell.  This system works fast – it makes compost in two weeks!

With both indoor systems, be careful not to compost too much food waste at once.

I never stop marveling at the beautiful rich soil transformed from my kitchen waste.  It’s another one of nature’s miracles.  Get ready for spring and start composting now!

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Information compiled from www.bokashicomposting.com, http://www.howstuffworks.com, epa.gov, and www.ecolocalizer.com

 

 

 

Vitamix Bliss!

My nephew and his adorable new bride inspired me to write a blog post with some simple recipes for the new Vitamix they received as a wedding gift.

If you don’t have a Vitamix, I highly recommend getting one.  Though similar to a blender, it’s far more powerful with endless possibilities towards delicious healthy eating! You can make beverages, soups, dips and spreads, sauces, breads, desserts, baby food, dressings and marinades.  The Vitamix is built to stand up to demanding commercial use and decades of use at home. With its ability to chop, blend, cream, purée and more, it’s the only appliance you need!  Another advantage? It’s self-cleaning.

I use my Vitamix at least once a day for my morning smoothie and usually more.  Click on the link for my smoothie recipe or search online.  There are several.  I will say however, I find that smoothie supplements like chia seeds are easily ground up with a Vitamix.

Almond Milk

I love using fresh, homemade, completely additive-free almond milk as the liquid base for my smoothie, and with the Vitamix, it’s a breeze to make.  Nut and seed milks are high in protein, contain the “right” fats and provide calcium.

I cup almonds, soaked 12 hours or overnight

4 cups purified or filtered water

Rinse and drain soaked almonds.  Place almonds and water in Vitamix and process on high until completely broken down.  Place nut milk bag (or cheese cloth) into large pitcher or bowl, positioning so that the bag stays open.  Pour nut milk mixture into bag, allowing liquid to drain through to container.  Gently squeeze with hand to press all liquid through the mesh bag.

Compost the pulp or freeze for later use in inventive recipes.  Have fun trying milk made from other nuts and seeds, or try blending different kinds.  Each has its own unique flavor. 

Homemade Peanut Butter

My husband spreads peanut butter on everything – toast, crackers, apple slices, and celery. Freshly made, and without additives, it’s not only nutritious, but has a special taste.

Ingredients:

3 cups unsalted roasted peanuts

  1. Place ingredients into the Vitamix container and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and quickly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades.
  4. In 1 minute you will hear a high-pitched chugging sound.  Once the butter begins to flow freely through the blades, the motor sound will change and become low and laboring.  Stop the machine.
  5. Store in an airtight container.

Attention: Over processing will cause serious overheating to your machine.  Try making other nut butters too!

Avocado Tortilla Soup

This soup can be made from start to finish in your Vitamix  – you can’t get any easier or quicker than that!

Ingredients:

2 cups chicken broth

5 Roma tomatoes, quartered

1/3 bunch cilantro

1 garlic clove

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ avocado, peeled and pitted

½ lime, peeled

½ cup canned black beans, drained

½ cup canned corn, drained (You can use frozen too but thaw first.)

2 ounces tortilla chips, crushed

  1. Place all ingredients except corn, beans, and tortilla chips into Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and quickly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
  4. Blend for 6 – 7 minutes or until heavy steam escapes from vented lid.
  5. Reduce speed to Variable 2 and remove the lid plug.
  6. Drop in corn, beans, and tortilla chips through the lid plug opening.  Blend for additional 10 seconds.
  7. Garnish with a tortilla chips, sour cream, and a sprig of cilantro.

Vitamix’s powerful motor actually cooks the soup!

Strawberry Yogurt Freeze

Ingredients:

1-cup non-fat, plain, vanilla or strawberry yogurt

1 pound frozen organic, unsweetened strawberries

1/3-cup sugar (Coconut or pure cane sugar) (Omit sugar if using flavored yogurt.)

  1. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and quickly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
  4. Use tamper to press ingredients into the blades.
  5. In about 30 – 60 seconds, the sound of the motor will change and four mounds should form in the mixture.
  6. Stop machine.  Do not over mix or melting will occur.  Serve immediately.

Try experimenting with other frozen fruits and yogurt flavors!

The Vitamix is amazing and will change your eating habits.  Attending a Vitamix demonstration is extremely helpful in understanding exactly how it works and its possibilities.  Most retail outlets that sell them offer demos.  Visit Vitamix.com for more wonderful recipes.

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Eating Locally Through The Winter

It’s getting easier to eat fresh, local produce long after gardens have been put to bed.

Many farmers’ markets and CSA’s have extended their season into winter and early spring instead of closing down at the end of October. Green houses and hoop houses allow them to offer even more produce options.   Restaurants also feature locally grown and produced food all year-long.

Ithaca Farmers Market

Ithaca Farmers Market (Photo credit: mhaithaca)

Local produce choices depend on where you live, but in the northeast, farmers’ markets continue to sell root vegetables, onions, peppers, potatoes, winter squash, kale and other hardy greens, apples, and cranberries. Additionally you can also find local organic meat and poultry, freshly caught seafood, homemade baked goods, local organic chocolates, fresh spice blends, maple syrup and more.

Most gardeners have already made and canned fresh tomato sauce, jellies and jams enabling them to eat the bounties from their harvest well into the winter, but with a basement or a root cellar and a freezer you can also stock up on vegetables, fruits, and herbs from the markets.  Easily frozen or dried, you’ve got “fresh” herbs when your recipe calls for it.

So what’s so important about eating locally?

The average food travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, consuming large quantities of fossil fuels and generating major CO2 emissions. Produce is picked unripe, then gassed to ripen, or processed using preservatives or irradiation, losing important nutritional value.  With locally grown food there is less chance for spoilage or contamination since it doesn’t travel great distances.

Local food is grown using organic or IPM (integrated pest management) farming practices, with little or no petroleum-based fertilizers or toxic pesticides. Picked at peak freshness, local produce is tastier and more nutritious.

Farmers’ markets support local farmers and the local economy.  Because the farmer sells directly to the customer, he can eliminate the middleman and keep more of his profits.  Farming is hard work and a precarious business.  Their yield is totally weather-dependent and it feels good to help them.

Farmers’ markets create a sense of community, a place where friends and neighbors can gather.  They are a way for farmers and consumers to connect with each other.  They also offer a venue for musicians and artists.  In cold climates when hibernating sets in, this extension of summer is a welcome respite.

Check out the winter farmers’ market schedule in your town!

 

Our Tainted Meat Supply

Environmental Working Group

I want to share with you this important article about our meat supply published by the Environmental Working Group.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, they are the leading environmental health research and watchdog organization.   Their mission is to “see that Americans get straight facts, unfiltered and unspun, so they can make healthier choices and enjoy a cleaner environment.”  They offer extensive consumer guides to safe cosmetics, healthy cleaning products, pesticides in produce and safe sunscreens, to name a few.

Below is a portion of their report.

Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets

For the PDF version of this report, click here.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of American supermarkets. These so-called superbugs can trigger foodborne illness and infections that are hard to treat.

An analysis by the Environmental Working Group has determined that government tests of raw supermarket meat published last February 5 detected antibiotic-resistant bacteria in:

These little-noticed tests, the most recent in a series conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a joint project of the federal Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that supermarket meat samples collected in 2011 harbored significant amounts of the superbug versions of salmonella and Campylobacter, which together cause 3.6 million cases of food poisoning a year.

Moreover, the researchers found that some 53 percent of raw chicken samples collected in 2011 were tainted with an antibiotic-resistant form of Escherichia coli, or E. coli, a microbe that normally inhabits feces. Certain strains of E. coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections and pneumonia. The extent of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on chicken is alarming because bacteria readily share antibiotic-resistance genes.

Not surprisingly, superbugs spawned by antibiotic misuse — and now pervasive in the meat Americans buy — have become a direct source of foodborne illness. Even more ominously, antibiotic misuse threatens to make important antibiotics ineffective in treating human disease. In the past, people who became ill because of contact with harmful microbes on raw meat usually recovered quickly when treated with antibiotics. But today, the chances are increasing that a person can suffer serious illness, complications or death because of a bacterial infection that doctors must struggle to control.

The proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses special dangers to young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

This is scary stuff!  I’m not suggesting you have to become vegetarian to avoid these foodborne illnesses – after all vegetables can be contaminated too, especially when coming from long distances. (It is a good idea to go meatless a couple of days a week at least!)  Instead, be a smart meat consumer and opt for organic or grass-fed, grass- finished meats.  They are usually raised without unnecessary antibiotics and in a more humane and sanitary environment.  Ask your butcher or supermarket how the meat was raised and buy local meat when you can.  And always make sure you meat is cooked thoroughly.

Information compiled from ewg.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate with a “Green” Thanksgiving!

As we give thanks this Thanksgiving, why not make it a “green” one?  Try the ideas below.

Image by Ilrena Flickr.com
  • For your holiday dinner, support local farmers who grow organic produce. The average food travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, consuming large quantities of fossil fuels and generating major CO2 emissions. Local food by contrast is usually transported 100 – 200 miles, has fewer pesticides and can be picked when ripe.  It is obviously fresher and better.  Farm stands and supermarkets have an abundance of local winter squash, carrots, potatoes, greens, herbs, apples, and pumpkin. Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bags.
  • Try a locally grown, free range organic turkey available at local farms and Whole Foods.  Fresh turkeys are unbelievably moist and delicious and not treated with antibiotics and growth hormones.  You won’t believe the difference.  For the vegetarians at your table, try a Tofurkey (available from Trader Joe’s).  It come with its own vegetarian gravy and is really good!  If possible, use organic cranberries for your cranberry sauce – cranberries are a heavily sprayed crop.
  • Add freshly baked local artisan bread and rolls.
  • Consider serving organic wine along with your meal. Organic wine is made from certified organically grown grapes, meaning grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Conventionally grown grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and the chemical residues can end up in the wine.  Organically grown grapes are better for the soil, the plant and the wine drinker.
  • China, silver and cloth napkins are obviously better for the environment than paper plates and plastic utensils.  They look better too!  If you are expecting a big crowd and need to opt for disposable, get the biodegradable and compostable plates and utensils.
  • After the big feast, don’t forget to recycle cans, cartons, plastics and bottles and compost leftover kitchen waste.

With your healthy and “green” holiday feast, you won’t feel so badly about overindulging!  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Don’t Throw Away Your Coffee Grounds!

Coffee grounds, fine, wet.

Coffee grounds, fine, wet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you pour your coffee grounds down the disposal, read this blog and find out what you can do instead with this versatile, nutrient-rich leftover.

  1. Neutralize odors in your refrigerator or freezer with dried grounds.
  2. Repel insects by mounding the grounds into a protective ring around plants that will ward off ants, snails and slugs.
  3. When you clean your fireplace, sprinkle damp grounds on the ashes to cut down on airborne dust.
  4. Scrub hands with grounds to act as an exfoliant and eliminate food smells like fish and garlic.  Grounds are also a good cellulite reducer (see recipe below).
  5. A few teaspoons placed on a thin rag can be used to clean grease and grime from dishware.
  6. Steep grounds in hot water to make a natural dye for Easter eggs or fabric.
  7. For a non-toxic cockroach trap, fill a can with an inch or so of wet grounds and line the neck with extra-sticky double-sided tape.  The scent draws the roaches into the trap.
  8. Add some grounds to your potting soil to give plants and seedlings a nitrogen boost.  They may repel root maggots too!
  9. Coffee grounds dabbed on scratches in dark wood furniture will minimize them.  Use a cotton swab to apply and add a bit of liquid; try a test area first.
  10.  Coffee grounds are a nutritious addition to your compost pile!

Companies are doing interesting things with recycled coffee grounds.  Moving Comfort, an athletic gear company, uses recycled coffee grounds in a fabric called S. Cafe to absorb odors. My husband’s company, Boston Tree Preservation, has an arrangement with Boston Bean Coffee Company to recycle their spent coffee pods. The pods are fed to the worms in the worm farm;  the worm castings are then used to make a rich, nutritious compost tea which is sprayed on customers’ trees as an organic fertilizer, natural fungicide and pest deterrent.

Recipe for Coffee Ground Exfoliant

 (from livestrong.com)

 Since coffee grounds are course, they are a natural exfoliant.  They also contain caffeic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects on the skin and stimulates collagen production.

Mix 1 cup warm coffee grounds with 1/2-cup sugar, then add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Rub the mixture all over your skin, especially rough areas such as elbows and feet. If you do this in the shower, put a mesh sink strainer in the drain. Otherwise, the coffee grounds could clog the drain.  You can also just use the coffee grounds to exfoliate.

Information compiled from thisoldhouse.com March 2012 and curbly.com.

GMO Foods

gmo “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”                                                   Michael Pollan


The health risks posed by GMO (genetically modified organisms) are real and dangerous.

I urge you to read more about GMO foods to understand why they are so dangerous.  Go to nongmoshopping guide for a comprehensive explanation of GMOs, as well as tips on how to avoid GMO foods when shopping or dining out.   In general, it’s safest to buy organic and certified organic foods which are less likely to contain GMOs.   Avoid at-risk ingredients like soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn and sugar from sugar beets found in processed foods.  Always read food labels.

Download the free Non-GMO Shopping Guide app available at the app store for smartphones and Ipads to help you with your safer food choices.

To read a more detailed post on GMO foods, click here.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD LABELS

If you follow a whole foods diet and eat nothing from a box, bag or can, then you don’t need to worry about reading labels. Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules, simplifies the confusion about what is good for you and what isn’t with these seven words – “Eat Food. Not too much.  Mostly Plants.” (He calls processed foods “edible food like substances”.)  Realistically however, even the healthiest of eaters sometimes eats something with a label on it.  And understanding what it says is important.

Image by Betsy Wild

The fewer the ingredients listed on the label the better.  The most prominent ingredient is listed first and the least listed last. Most of the ingredients should sound like food, like organic whole wheat flour or organic short grain brown rice, instead of a name you can’t pronounce. The names of chemical additives and preservatives are long and difficult to say.   Sometimes a safe sounding name is used instead of the chemical name.  For example yeast extract is often used to hide MSG or monosodium glutamate, a flavoring for heavily processed foods to which many people have a reaction. What is worse is that there is no requirement to include the names of chemical contaminants, heavy metals, bisphenol-A, PCBs, or other toxic substances found in the food.  It’s also best to avoid foods with a lot of high fructose sugars (sugar has many names) and trans fats. Sugars and salt should be towards the end of the ingredient list.

Another concerning issue with food and food labeling is the use of genetically modified or engineered foods (GMO) – mostly soy and corn – that are in almost all processed foods.  GMO foods have insecticides built into their DNA, which supposedly are not digestible and will break down, but studies are showing otherwise. The dangers of GMO foods are numerous and there are many unknowns. Gary Hirschberg, former CEO of Stonyfield Farm yogurt has launched “Just Label It” in coalition with the Center for Food Safety, which has filed a petition with the FDA asking to require labeling of GMO foods.  Irridiated foods or those made from concentrate are labeled, so should GMO foods. More than 550,000 people have shown support of the petition.

When you next pick up a box of crackers or cookies, read the label and look for hidden unhealthy ingredients.  Notice whether it says “non-GMO”.  Is it really “All Natural”?  Be smart about the food you buy and demand proper labeling.  The health of our food system depends on it.

Information compiled from Food Rules, by Michael Pollan, http://www.naturalnews.com/, and Boston Uncommon article from the Boston Globe by Jenn Abelson, February 12, 2012.

 


A CUP OF CHICORY

Beignet and Frozen café au lait at Café du Mon...

Chicory is an interesting and highly nutritious vegetable.  A relative of endive, it has many culinary uses – as an addition to salads, served with dips, sautéed or blanched – but it is mainly known for its association with coffee. When the roots are dried, roasted and ground they make a delicious, coffee-like drink with a robust, roasted flavor.  Caffeine- free, it is often blended with coffee to cut down on the amount of caffeine. Because it is more water-soluble than coffee, you don’t need much, making it an inexpensive beverage.

Chicory was brought to North America from Europe in the 1700’s and often served as a coffee substitute when coffee was scarce or too expensive.  It was a favorite drink of the French in Louisiana during the Civil War and is still popular at New Orleans’ famed Café du Monde. Chicory was cultivated along the Nile for thousands of years; ancient Egyptians and Romans used it to help cleanse the blood.

English: Curly endive Français : Chicorée fris...

Image via Wikipedia

Among its many health benefits, chicory is one of the richest sources of vitamin A, important for eye health, and contains Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. It is a natural laxative, is useful in treating liver disorders, helps lower cholesterol and is a natural sedative and anti-inflammatory for the nervous system.  Juiced with other vegetables, its nourishing properties are increased.

One of the keys to good health is variety.  No one fruit or vegetable does it all.  In fact health experts recommend the rainbow method, where the goal is to eat something of all colors most days.  So, as I sip my delicious cup of chicory, I know I am getting different nutritional benefits than from my usual cup of green tea.

Vary your morning routine and try a cup of chicory.  Drink it with milk, mix it with coffee or cocoa or try it plain, you’ll be surprised!  ♥

Information compiled from http://www.cafedumonde.com, http://www.coffeetea.about.com, www.theepicentre.com


 

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