Good food tastes good

Monday, December 31, 2007


This is going to sound weird coming from someone who is constantly talking about food, but I don’t think about what eat that much.  I mean, yes, I’m fixated on food, but I don’t think about the nutritional benefits other than very general things like “an apple is good for you” or “a Twinkie is bad for you”.  I’m more focused on making sure food tastes good.  I’m more than willing to eat full fat milk, butter, eggs, etc….as long as it’s good quality food that tastes good.

Carol Hart, Ph.D. - a local writer from Chester County - recently wrote a book advocating that premise.  Good Food Tastes Good takes the attitude that being too focused on the nutritional content of food can rob you of the joy of eating…and it can also lead you to make some bad food choices.  Is better living through science - food enhanced with nutraceuticals and genetically modified foods - really better living?  Or is it really just making us second guess ourselves when it comes to making the right food decisions?  Since I’m focused on eating locally grown food for various reasons, I read this book as an argument to eat locally grown foods, even though Dr. Hart does mention that she doesn’t find eating locally necessarily a better option if the available produce is substandard (an issue I’ve never really run into).

When I first started reading Dr. Hart’s book, I felt it was an amalgam of information otherwise available in What To Eat by Marion Nestle and various other food books I’ve been reading over the last year.  And the idea of listening to your own common sense and allowing yourself to enjoy good quality, good tasting food seems to be a popular topic lately - even Michael Pollan’s upcoming book, In Defense of Food seems to take on the topic.

Of course, after I got past the first chapter I ended up really liking the book.  Dr. Hart gives a really good breakdown of various animals’ lives on corporate farms (which, to me, is the best argument for buying local - knowing who you’re buying your meat from and how the animals are raised is incredibly important to me), and talks about the different ways in which industry lobby groups have an impact on what the government and what the studies say is healthy for you.  The arbitrary egg and milk recommendations, for instance.  But what I liked best about Good Food Tastes Good are the little bits of trivia that I didn’t know.  A random sampling:

  1. The typical food product (from a factory farm) is handled 33 times before you buy it at the grocery store.
  2. The pound of ground beef you find in a grocery store typically contains beef parts from about 1,000 cows.
  3. The most common commercially grown broccoli variety is 28% less nutritious than it was in the 1950s.  This is as a result of tinkering to make the broccoli grow faster and higher yielding.
  4. Chick peas contain tiny quantities of nerve toxins called lathyrogens that can cause partial paralysis if you eat a ton of chick peas over a long period of time.

Even thought Dr. Hart doesn’t particularly advocate for locally grown food (she talks about it being a social cause that doesn’t “stir many appetities”...and she talks about how disappointed she’s been by locally made cheese), she sort of does.  To combat the loss of quality in vegetables that have to be trucked in and then dispersed to grocery stores at a central location and then sit on the shelf, Dr. Hart does admit that “buying local produce brings a realization of just how much quality and taste have been sacrificed to breed varieties hardy enough to withstand machine harvesting and packing and long-distance shipping.”  But she does warn that buying produce at a ‘farmer’s market’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the person you’re buying from grew it.  Obviously, if you’ve been down to the Italian Market, much of the produce available is not even remotely locally grown.  The real issue at hand, though, for Dr. Hart seems to be this: it doesn’t matter if lettuce is organic, locally grown, or commercially grown - eat the lettuce that looks the best.  Of course, chances are that the locally grown lettuce is going to look the best since it hasn’t been traveling.

This is where being a smart consumer comes in.  Shopping at places where you know the farmers or know exactly where the produce is coming from, asking questions, and just generally being more educated about food and how it’s grown makes a big difference in getting the best quality for your dollars.  Like Dr. Hart, I would rather eat something that tastes good then something the food companies say is good for me.

However, I would urge Dr. Hart to give locally made cheese another try.  The Shellbark Hollow sharp goat and Green Meadows Farm raw milk cheddar, in particular, are delicious!

Posted by Nicole on 12/31 at 08:34 AM

Go Green for Thanksgiving

Monday, November 12, 2007

turkeydayA chilly Sunday evening calls for some nice warm comfort food. So last night we tried the Ray’s seitan that I picked up at the Fair Food Farmstand. I made a seitan strogonoff from Nava Atlas’ Vegetarian Express. It was really tasty and, as promised, was on the table in thirty minutes. I was able to make it pretty quickly while the real star of the table was in the oven: Chard & Kale Gratin. The recipe is based on one in Deborah Madison’s cookbook called Local Flavors, which is a beautiful and thoughtful ode to the diversity of food sold at farmers markets. (This would make a lovely holiday gift for any aspiring locavore!)

chard/kale gratin

Madison’s recipe uses Bright Lights Swiss Chard and crumbled feta. I used a mixture of Bright Lights and kale because I had both in the garden. I also substituted Hendricks Telford Tomme cheese because I was picking up a few things at the suburban mega-grocery store Hennings when I saw a woman from Hendricks offering samples. I’m a sucker for free cheese! Turns out that Hendricks is now going to be carried at Hennings.  Good stuff.  Anyhoo…the Tomme was great in the gratin. I may make this dish for Thanksgiving because it always elicits rave reviews and it’s nice to have some greens on the table with all the starchy side dishes.

Here’s the recipe:

Deborah Madison’s Chard Gratin
From:  Local Flavors

2 lb. chard (coarsely chopped), including half of the stems (chopped) [I often mix chard and kale]
4 T. butter
1 onion, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. chopped parsley [lots of different herbs are good in this]
1 T. flour
1 c. milk or cream or a mixture of cream and stock
1 c. crumbled fresh goat cheese [or another cheese or your liking]

Melt 2 T. butter in skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to brown.  Add greens, sprinkle with 1 t. salt, and cook until wilted and tender (less than 10 minutes).

Preheat oven to 400 and lightly oil a 2 qt gratin dish. Melt 1 T. butter in small skillet and add bread crumbs, garlic and herbs. Cook, stirring, for one minute; scrape into bowl and return skillet to heat.

Melt 1 T. butter, stir in flour, then whisk in milk.  Simmer for 5 minutes, season w/ salt, and add to the greens. Add the cheese and season.

Pour into dish and cover with bread crumbs.  Bake until heated through and golden, about 25 minutes. Let settle for a few moments before serving.

Posted by Lauren on 11/12 at 10:19 PM

The Greengrocer

Thursday, August 09, 2007

(from Bay Area Radio Museum)

Some of you may remember Joe Carcione, the Greengrocer. When I was little, watching his spot in the local news was a treat, precocious foodie that I was back then. He talked about produce that was in season, and what to look for, emphasizing using all your senses in determining fresh fruits and vegetables. He often introduced things that weren’t commonly known—my parents were particularly tickled when there was an episode on daikon, back when it was only available in Asian food markets. A couple years ago, I picked up The Greengrocer Cookbook (ISBN 0-89087-176-0, Millbrae, CA: Celestial Arts, 1975) at a used book store. I immediately loved the format—the book lists fruits and vegetables in the season when they are at their peak, and gives recipes for them. For example, for the month of August, there are recipes for bell peppers, beets, carrots, celery, nectarines, and peaches. I haven’t yet tried any of the recipes, but most of them seem simple and highlight the natural flavor of the produce. Moreover, in his Foreword, Carcione writes,

In addition to using the general guide this book will provide, take a few moments to look over what is available in the produce department when you are doing your shopping. You will quickly learn from the abundance and from the prices what is in-season and available locally in fresh fruits and vegetables. Then take advantage of that knowledge by serving your family those foods at their finest, when they are ripe and full of nutrition and at their least expensive, in-season price.
I think those are good words to live by, in any decade. As the Greengrocer would say, there’s your “tip for the day.”

Posted by Yoko on 08/09 at 09:50 AM

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