Review: Quaker Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal

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I prefer long cooked oatmeal when I’m at home, but we’ve always packed instant oatmeal with us when camping. I think the habit goes back to when Erik and I took epic backpacking trips, and food weight was a prime consideration. Now, camping is a more gentle endeavor–but the instant oatmeal has become a tradition, an easy no-brainer for sleepy grey mornings in the woods, even though its nutritional qualities are highly suspect.

While doing a quick shop for a recent camping trip, I was reaching for the usual box of oatmeal when I saw one next to it marked “lower sugar.”  In my extreme naivete, I said to myself, “That’s fantastic! They finally cut down the sugar! They could easily reduce the sugar by half and lose none of the flavor.”

Well, Quaker did reduce the sugar significantly (from 12 g. per serving to 4 g.), but they did so by adding sucralose, the artificial sweetener known as Splenda (and kicking up the sodium significantly).

The front of the box says nothing about artificial sweeteners. Diet foods will have a jaunty “With Splenda!” label, but this cereal apparently isn’t being marketed that way. The only indication that you’re dealing with a fake sugar product is in the list of ingredients, which I hadn’t checked. And that was a mistake, I know. When treading the dangerous waters of industrial foodstuffs, you really do have to bring your magnifying glass–and a chemical reference–and read the ingredients.

So I proceeded merrily to the woods, and to  breakfast the first morning, where my camping buddy and I discovered that our oatmeal tasted dreadfully synthetic and sweet, like Diet Coke, or toothpaste. There are few flavors in the world I dislike more than the taste of artificial sweeteners. The worst of it was that the sweetness persisted in the back of my mouth for hours. Fortunately, it was only a two day trip, and we were able to scrounge together random snack foods to eat for breakfast the second morning.

Soon after, I attended a nature class where we camped and the food was provided for us. The instructors had picked up a box of this stuff unwittingly, not even noticing the “lower sugar” label. They were horrified when I told them it had sucralose in it, and took it off the table.

This is why I’m blogging about this. I have a sneaking suspicion (call me crazy!) that most Root Simple readers don’t buy many processed foods, but if I can save any of you from being stuck in the woods with nothing to eat for breakfast but a box full of yuck, my job is done.

Incidentally, I checked the Amazon reviews of this product, and they are quite good. There was only one outraged fellow, who said basically what I’ve said here. Everyone else thought the product was just fantastic. I suspect that folks who consume fake sugars on a regular basis would find nothing objectionable in the flavor.

Don’t Wash Raw Poultry

According to research it’s a bad idea to wash chicken before cooking. Why? As the clever video above shows, washing can spread pathogens. The research, conducted by Drexel University, led to the following advice:

Although raw chicken and turkey can carry bacteria on their surfaces, research has shown that washing raw poultry under running water in your kitchen sink is a bad idea.

If germs were visible to the naked eye, you would see that washing poultry just splashes bacteria all over you, your kitchen towels, your countertops, and any other food you have nearby, such as raw foods or salads. This can make people sick, especially young children, pregnant women, older adults and the immunocompromised.

Instead, just take raw poultry straight from the package into the cooking pan. The heat from the cooking process will kill any bacteria that are present. Then clean up any splashes and wash your hands with soap and hot water.

Via Barfblog.

The Organic Minefield: How organic are your organic eggs, soy and dairy?

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I wish the label “organic” meant all that I mean when I use the term, but unfortunately organic is not a a guarantee of sustainable agricultural practice, much less humane treatment of livestock.

The Cornucopia Institute promotes sustainable organic agriculture and family farms, and helps consumers parse the difference between greenwashed and genuine organic farms and suppliers.

They release quick reference charts on various subjects, as well as reports which get into food issues in detail. But the main reason I’m posting this is because they produce useful quick reference charts for brand names and stores. I’ve just found their dairy chart, and wanted to share it with you, and thought I’d share some others as well while I was at it. We’ve posted about the eggs score card before, but it is important enough for a repeat. Check it out:

Organic Dairy Scorecard

Organic Egg Scorecard

Organic  Soy Product Scorecard

Organic Cereal Scorecard

Note: Links to scoring criteria are at the top of all the scorecards, with the exception of the dairy scorecard. In that case it is located at the very bottom.

Delicious Cauliflower

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For me, cauliflower is a vegetable which eludes inspiration. I eat it raw. I roast it. I’ve made soup with it once or twice. That’s about the sum of my historic use of cauliflower. Now, everything has changed. I’ve found a recipe for cauliflower which I love.

It comes from a book called Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a good, reliable book. Lately I’ve been on a deep Middle Eastern jag, cooking out of this book every day. Erik is in hog heaven, because he hasn’t had to cook in weeks. I’m in heaven because I’m eating exactly what I’m craving.

Anyway, back to the cauliflower. It’s an easy recipe that comes from north-west Syria, where, according to the author, it is considered a regional specialty. It has a lovely, rich flavor. I never knew tomatoes and cauliflower could be such good friends. The ingredients are pretty basic. And we all have a lonely can of tomato paste on the shelf that needs to be used, don’t we?

We’ve been eating it hippie style, over brown rice, but it would be more elegant over an herbed pilaf, or it could be used as a side dish. I suspect it would be good cold, too, but we’ve never had leftovers.

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce (Kharnabit Emforakeh)

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 6-8 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 green/spring onions, sliced thin (I’m sure you could sub. regular onion for this)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • juice of one lemon  (maybe 2 tablespoons–to taste)
  • parsley for garnish

Wash, core and break up the cauliflower into bite sized florets.

Steam, boil or elsewise cook the cauliflower until it is just tender. Don’t overcook, because it will receive some more cooking down the line. Drain if necessary.

Add the 6-8 T of oil to a big frying pan. My favorite cast iron pan is 10 inches and it’s crowded for this, but it works. Heat the oil and add the cooked cauliflower. Fry over med-high heat, turning carefully with a spatula, until the cauliflower is kissed with little brown marks.

Remove the cauliflower from the pan at this point and set aside. Add the green onions and pressed or smashed garlic to that same frying pan. Add a splash more oil if it seems dry, and cook these for just 2 minutes or so. Don’t let the garlic burn.  Then add the tomato paste and the water, which thins it, as well as the salt and pepper, and let that all cook for another couple of minutes.

Next, return the cauliflower to the pan and toss it with the sauce. Let it cook a few minutes more until it’s nice and hot and the sauce has a chance to sink in.

Just before you take it off the heat, sprinkle the lemon juice over the cauliflower. The author calls for the juice of 1 lemon, which is a very imprecise quantity–basically, this is very much a “to taste” thing. I find 2 tablespoons works for me.

Garnish with parsley and serve.

Serves 4

Variant: I really like tomato paste. I sneak it straight off the spoon. If you’re like me, you can up the amount of tomato paste in the recipe–double it, say. This results in a thicker, redder sauce and much more pronounced tomato sauce flavor. The original version is subtler, more classy.

The tale of the worm bin celery

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This is related to my recent post about our flowering radish. It’s a tale of botanic dumpster diving and another reason why you should let your food plants go to flower when you can.

Last year I threw the crown (which is to say, the bottom) of a celery plant in my worm bin. I probably should have chopped it up for the worms’ sake, but I didn’t. Later, sometime in the fall,  I rediscovered the celery crown. Instead of rotting in the bin, it had sprouted leaves and looked surprisingly vigorous. So I pulled it out and popped it into an empty space in one of our raised beds.

I didn’t have much hope. Celery doesn’t like our climate much, and I consider it one of those plants which is easier to buy than to grow.

To my surprise, the plant did quite well, though it did have a feral quality to it, despite its mild domestic origins. It didn’t grow fat, moist stalks which can be used to scoop up peanut butter. It grew stringy, dark green stalks which tasted powerfully of celery. It made excellent stock, and chopped into fine pieces, it was good in soup, too. Since I don’t eat much raw celery, this suited me fine.

All winter long I used this plant as the basis of my cold-weather cooking–chopped onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of every pot. It was a real treat not to have to buy celery for such a long time, and to have that flavor available whenever I wanted it. I should add that the leaves were just as flavorful as the stalks

As a side note, I’ve heard of a breed of celery made to work precisely this way, called cutting celery, but I’ve never grown it intentionally. The celery in this post looks very much like my homegrown “cutting celery.” Perhaps commercial celery wants to revert to this?

Months later, the hot weather arrived, the celery started to bolt (that is, send up flower stalks). When a plant bolts, it puts all its energy into flowering. At that point, its not much use to us as food. I was sad to lose my bottomless celery supply, but I was excited about the flowers.

Pollinating insects love celery blossoms. Actually, they adore the whole family of plants to which celery belongs, called Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (which I tend to call Umbrella Fae, which is wrong, but right in my head). This family includes carrots, celery, dill, coriander, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc. If you can let any of this family bloom in your garden, do.

The parsley flowers grew almost as tall as me, and they were surrounded by clouds of tiny insects every day –shy, tiny little pollinators that I can’t name.

I love to let things go to flower and seed in the garden, because it is a way of giving back to the rest of nature. Flowers for the insects, seeds for birds. And by giving back, you help balance your garden. We’ve had significantly less issues with destructive insects since we learned to let our garden go a little wild.

Sadly, this celery never got to seed, because it collapsed under its own weight one day. Its thick, hollow stalks folded and the head of the plant fell to the patio.  I had hoped to save a little seed and try to grow a plant the next year from scratch. But now I’m thinking I’m going to throw a whole crown of celery in the worm bin this fall, and hope this happens all over again.

collapsed parsley plant

Secrets of Kimchi Revealed in Pictures

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Hae Jung shows off her special Kimchi gloves.

I spent this morning with Hae Jung Cho and Joseph Shuldiner going over some of the recipes we will be teaching at a hands-on workshop at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Hae Jung showed Joseph and I how she makes kimchi. Here’s a few of her secrets starting with:

mini shrimp in kimci

Fishiness! Hae Jung said you can make kimchi without mini-shrimp and fish sauce, but it just won’t have as much umami.

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Then there’s the special hot pepper flakes that can be found in any Korean supermarket. They come in a course grind for kimchi and a fine grind for use as a general seasoning. Before the Portuguese arrived in Korea with peppers from the New World, kimchi was more like sauerkraut.

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Before stuffing the kimchi into a crock, Hae Jung showed us a way of folding the “sohk” (the mixture of the pepper flakes, fish sauce, mini-shrimp, onions, daikon radish, some greens, garlic and ginger) between the leaves of Napa cabbage that had first soaked in brine the night before. You don’t have to do the special folding, but it’s considered classy.

From this point the kimchi sits at room temperature for a day or two and then goes into the refrigerator. We packed it into a giant crock.

I’m really looking forward to tasting this!

There Will Be Kraut–Lecture on Fermentation at the Historic Greystone Mansion

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I’ll be delivering a lecture on fermentation as part of a two day fermentation fest put on by the Institute for Domestic Technology. From the description on the IDT website:

Let the kraut begin!

Healthy, tasty, fermented foods are the new “health foods”. Though ages old, fermented foods are nature’s natural way of food preservation, with an added twist: they’re good for you! See why über chefs of the moment are pickling, curing and fermenting their menu items from scratch.

Our guide for for the weekend Fest will be Erik Knutzen, Urban Homesteader, author and one of our popular Institute instructors.

Friday, April 26th ~ Saturday, April 27th

Kickoff Evening Lecture and Kraut Tasting: $20 ($25 at the door)
Friday, April 26th, 6pm ~ 8pm  |   Greystone Mansion Historic Library (Beverly Hills)
For tickets see the website of the IDT.

If you have never witnessed one of Erik Knutzen’s trademark PowerPoint presentations, you are in for a thrill. Not only are they educational, they are entertaining, subversive and also hysterical. Who knew fermentation can be so many things?

Erik’s evening lecture, especially prepared for KrautFest is entitled:
“Fermenting Revolution: how fermented foods can change your diet, your life and the world”

In recent years, there’s been huge interest in fermented foods, everything from traditional sauerkraut to kombucha. Health food stores even dedicate entire refrigerator cabinets to pricy “pro-biotic” supplements. Erik Knutzen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, will give an overview of the world’s fermented foods and discuss how you can make your own. He’ll cover everything from sauerkraut to pickles to sourdough bread to the great kombucha controversy to the health benefits of fermented foods. He may even discuss arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen’s untimely death from eating fermented auk meat. The evening will also feature a special sauerkraut tasting.

The evening includes a kraut tasting and book signing.

Roasted Asparagus

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetopolita, where she'll tell you how to make it.

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetapolita, where she’ll tell you how to make it.

Erik’s aunt just called to ask me how I cook my asparagus, because she wants to make it for company tonight. It’s so easy to make perfect cooked asparagus that I forget that some people find it intimidating. Maybe that’s because of those dedicated asparagus cookers they sell, and associations with silver tongs and Hollandaise sauce and hotel brunches. Yet the truth is all you have to do is roast it.

Here’s a universal rule: everything tastes better roasted. Even vegetables. I can’t think of one vegetable that doesn’t roast nicely, and asparagus is one of my favorites. All vegetables are roasted the same way, basically, but here’s an asparagus specific recipe.

Roasted Asparagus

Pre-heat your oven to 400F (is that 200C?)

Trim the pale, woody ends off of the asparagus. Lay the asparagi down on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish–or hey, even a roasting pan!  Somewhere they can spread out in a single layer. Drizzle them with lots of olive oil, then get in there with your hands and toss and massage that oil in, so all the stalks are completely coated. Lay them back down in a single layer. Give them a generous salting and a grind of pepper and chuck the pan in the oven.

Roast for about 30 minutes at 400F until tender but still retaining a bit of spine. Fat stalks might take longer, skinny, less long.

  • You may like to push the time in the oven until the asparagus browns, if you like that roasty, almost-burnt flavor, like I do.
  • You can roast them with lemon slices on top, too, if you swing that way.
  • While they’re good hot, they’re also fine at room temperature, or even cold out of the fridge in salad-like applications.