Good Housekeeping Drop 5 Lbs – New Cooking Channel Show

I was curious about the new show on Cooking Channel TV: Good Housekeeping Drop 5 Lbs (with Melissa d’Arabian), so I made sure to DVR it.

The first episode opens with the recipe, Chicken Breasts with Apple Curry Sauce and it looked scrumptious; I love the idea of sweet & savory for dinner.

But I was a little puzzled when she suggested topping the steamed broccoli with a tsp of margarine. MARGARINE? Do people still use margarine?

It was even funnier to look at the recipe online, and see they suggested, “trans fat margarine” – LOL. I assume they meant “trans fat-free margarine” but even still, to suggest margarine over a whole food like butter is silly.

trans fat margarine

For example, after googling “margarine brands”, I found Smart Balance Buttery Spread contains 80 calories per tablespoon, that’s 26 calories for 1 tsp. Organic Valley unsalted butter contains 100 calories per tablespoon, which equals out to 34 calories per tsp. That’s hardly enough of a difference to recommend margarine over butter!

Plus if you choose the butter, you’ll save yourself the consumption of icky ingredients like artificial flavors, monoglycerides, sorbitan ester of fatty acids, disodium EDTA, along with a dose of GMO (genetically modified) vegetable oils, plus all the pesticides and toxic fertilizers.

But getting back to the episode.

I whole-heartedly agree with the advice that you need to measure your portions; I think a kitchen scale is a more accurate way than a measuring cup though (I love to weigh in grams) but it’s better than eye-balling it. Two & half years later, I still weigh most of my food. It really does help keep your portions honest!

On the whole, I’m not a fan of Good Housekeeping, it’s a bloated ad-driven magazine, but at least the show seems like a fairly good idea. No, the tips and hints aren’t anything new, but if it helps inspire someone to begin a healthier lifestyle, then that’s all that matters.

I’ll continue to DVR the episodes, so we’ll see how it develops.

True Blue Bay Tuna from West Coast Seafood

Important Disclaimer: Although there are organizations like the MSC (marine stewardship council) that suggest certain seafood choices are sustainable with an abundant supply, I don’t believe ANY seafood or meat can be completely sustainable, because there are just too many people eating it! Restraint is always needed; United States caught tuna should not be taken for granted and shouldn’t be over-consumed even though it’s a much healthier choice than imported tuna.

I was contacted by West Coast Seafood to try their albacore tuna in pouches. Since I love USA-caught tuna, I happily agreed. I received two 6 oz pouches of tuna: “no salt” and “garlic & pesto” flavors.

true blue bay tuna - sample packs

True Blue Bay albacore tuna is packed in pouches, not cans, which is more environmentally-friendly, since it’s lighter to ship. Their tuna is cooked once, which they say retains 6x the omega 3 fatty acids, unlike canned which has to be heated/cooked twice.

It’s also much lower in mercury than the big commercial brands (Starkist, Chicken of the Sea, etc) because the fish are smaller when caught. And of course the tuna is caught in the US, not Asia, with hook & line, which is a more environmentally friendly method.

The tuna is packed in the US, unlike Wild Planet which unfortunately packs its US-caught tuna in Vietnam, stating there is no US sardine or tuna cannery capable of processing their larger volume. :(

Yes, Wild Planet is my usual brand of tuna, and yes, I do worry sometimes about the quality-control regarding packing outside the US. I’m concerned about the possibility of their product being altered or tainted somehow. But it’s still heads & tails above any grocery brand of tuna.

For more information about the problems with big commercial grocery tuna brands, check my prior post. In the post, I also include reviews for American Tuna & Wild Planet.

True Blue Bay Albacore Weight

As I said above, I received two different flavors of tuna from them. We consumed the “no salt” flavor first.

I weighed the liquid (natural juices) in the pouch, and it weighed 1.25 oz, while the full package contents weighed in at 5.85, just slightly under the 6 oz claimed on the package.

In my prior tuna reviews, both American Tuna and Wild Planet cans contained 1 oz natural juices and American contained 5 of solid tuna (6 oz can), and Wild Planet contained 4 oz (smaller 5 oz can.) I’ve since weighed the Wild Planet 5 oz can, and the liquid weighed under 1 oz this time, at approximately .65oz. The total weight of both liquid and fish was over the 5 oz as well at about 5.5oz.

Note: Don’t discard the natural juices from these premier brands, they contribute to the tuna’s full flavor.

how much liquid in pouch

how much total tuna in pouch

True Blue Bay Tuna Taste Review

I tasted the tuna, and I’m sorry to say that it was a bit bland. Yes, it is unsalted, but that doesn’t automatically mean it is flavorless. The true flavor of the tuna should shine whether on it’s own or mixed with other ingredients. Unfortunately, the True Blue Bay tuna tasted a little boring and “washed out.”

I then mixed the tuna with avocado, lemon juice & a little Earth Balance “mindful mayo” and made yummy sandwiches for our lunch. There was enough for sandwiches the following day as well.

tuna with avocado, lemon and vegan mayo

In general, we both enjoyed the tuna. Even though it was a little bland, it is so much tastier than commercial supermarket brands, it’s fresher and more flavorful, just like “real” tuna should taste.

A few days ago, I opened the 2nd pouch, garlic pesto, and only added Earth Balance mayo. I made tuna & spinach sandwiches for lunch, with a side of fruit. Yummy. I’ve never tried flavored canned seafood, so it was a first for me. It tasted good, but I prefer a pure no-salt version. That way I can add my own flavorings.

tuna spinach sandwich with a side of fruit
tuna spinach sandwich with a side of fruit

There was enough tuna for one more sandwich for lunch the following day.

So, would I purchase the True Blue Bay tuna again? As it is now, I have to admit probably not. If they sold at Whole Foods grocery (or another local outlet) then yes, I would probably consider it again.

My usual brand of Wild Planet can be found at Whole Foods, as well as through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save at less than $3 per can.

I have bought American Tuna a couple of times at Whole Foods, and it is a good tuna as well, but at $5 per can, it’s a budget buster.

True Blue Bay tuna is offered as low as $5 a can (inc/shipping) when purchased in as an “unlabeled” 24 pack from their web site, but it’s a big commitment to plunk down over $100 to purchase such a large quantity all at once. Again, I would consider them if they were available in a store in my local area.

So, bottom line, the True Blue Bay tuna is a little bland, but still delicious for sandwiches, similar to other US-caught canned brands, but the expense would probably deter me from purchasing again unless I could find it locally. It’s too bad, because they are a great company, and I’d love to support them, but after shipping costs, it would make more sense to purchase locally caught fresh tuna instead.

Important Disclaimer: Although there are organizations like the MSC (marine stewardship council) that suggest certain seafood choices are sustainable with an abundant supply, I don’t believe ANY seafood or meat can be completely sustainable, because there are just too many people eating it! Restraint is always needed; United States caught tuna should not be taken for granted and shouldn’t be over-consumed even though it’s a much healthier choice than imported tuna.

Pacific Natural Foods Soups – Why All the Sugar?

When I visited Whole Foods Grocery last week, I was planning to purchase a carton or two of soups from Pacific Natural Foods. They were on sale for $2.79 and Whole Foods was offering a $1 coupon.

pacific natural foods creamy tomato has lots of added sugar

Personally, I like Pacific Natural Foods as a company. They are independently owned, unlike Imagine Foods, which is owned by Hain. I try to choose chicken broth from Pacific, but I have purchased Imagine brand when it’s a better bargain.

So, I thought this will be a great opportunity to try another soup flavor, and I thought the creamy tomato would be a good choice. When I saw the stack at the Whole Foods store, I casually glanced at the list of ingredients and was shocked to see evaporated cane juice was added, making the total sugar 12 grams.

List of Ingredients:
Organic Reduced fat milk
Filtered water
Organic tomato paste
Organic evaporated cane juice
Sodium citrate
Sea salt
Organic rice flour
Organic cheese flavor
Organic garlic powder
Organic onion powder
Organic white pepper

I initially thought it was only that particular soup, but nope, I checked every single blend, and they ALL had evaporated cane juice.

Why?

Aren’t tomatoes and/or butternut squash sweet enough without adding more sugar to their recipe? Even the French Onion had added sugar!

Are we THAT addicted to sugar, that we can’t even get away from it in our natural soups? Do we really need extra sugar and salt to make our food taste better? sigh. :(

The worst part is that a lot of healthy eaters probably trust Pacific to produce a quality healthy product, and probably don’t even bother to check the list of ingredients. I know I don’t always check, but I’m glad I did this time!

Needless to say, I was very disappointed and did not buy any Pacific Natural soups. Bummer.

Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes Cookbook Review

jamie's meals in minutes by jamie oliver

I borrowed the book Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast from the local library.

I was looking forward to reading this book. I love Jamie Oliver. His books are so helpful for beginners and I love watching his tv shows and internet videos. I’ve learned so much from him.

But unfortunately this book bored me, which pains me to admit, because I’m such a fan. I did read it all the way through, but it was a quick read. I just flipped pages for a couple of hours, and when I was finished, I promptly put it on the shelf by my front door, waiting to be returned to the library.

So, what’s wrong, exactly? Let’s start with the recipes.

Recipes Too Complicated

The book includes 50 complete meals: each meal includes 3 or more recipes on one page. The concept sounds great in theory, until you actually start to read them.

Like prior Jamie Oliver books, his recipes are written in paragraph style, but with 3+ dishes on one page, it’s very difficult to read & cook and then try to find your place again on the page. You’re switching from one dish to another and back and there’s just too much going on at once.

I realize Jamie wants to get people back in the kitchen, cooking homemade meals. He strives to give the reader as much information as possible to succeed, but cookbook recipes aren’t meant to read like a novel with paragraph after paragraph of detailed text. I wish he wrote the book using simple steps with bullet points.

Not So Easy Ingredients

Besides the complicated format, a lot of the ingredients are not items that the average home cook has in their pantry or even has access to at their local grocery. If you’re gonna include something like halloumi, you need to also include some sort of food product definition so people know what the heck they’re cooking!

Unnecessary Mandatory Kitchen Gear

And it’s not just ingredients that bugged me, he actually has a section in the beginning introduction titled “You Need this Equipment” – naming 2 columns of absolute “must-have” kitchen gear that he priced out at $550 – a hefty chunk of change for someone that is just starting out in the kitchen.

Yes, I have most of the recommended tools, but it’s gear I accumulated over time, not in a few days. It’s disappointing because Jamie Oliver has always been a minimalist (naked) chef, informing us that we don’t need no stinkin’ ice cream scoop or electric kettle. But now he is pushing a page of mandatory tools, but only because they’ll help you stick to the book’s promise that you can cook these meals in 30 minutes or less. That’s a silly reason to buy a garlic press, 4 cutting boards, a 3-level steamer, or an expensive food processor with extra blades and discs.

And to boot, it looks like the speed of the recipes has been greatly exaggerated anyway. It’s been reported that some recipes take upwards of 90 minutes instead of 30, as promised in the book, while others complain that it’s too stressful to try to keep up the 30 minute time crunch. If cooking is hurried and frantic, then it’s not fun; I don’t think that is the message that Jamie is trying to get across to people, is it?

Free Range and Cage Free Are NOT What They Seem

I’m also dismayed that he’s still recommending animal products labeled with out-dated “cage free” and “free range” misnomers. People are so easily confused by all the misleading terminology. I wish for once someone of his fame and influence would get it right!

Videos Are Better

Now, on a more positive note, check out the corresponding “30 Minute Meals” videos online instead. You can find a bunch on YouTube.

cook with jamie - by jamie oliver

I think newbie home cooks would learn so much more with visual instruction, but if a book is needed, I highly recommend one his previous books:

I know a lot of time and effort went into the book and Jamie has made it his lifework to get people cooking at home; maybe this book will work for some people. It just doesn’t work for me.

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Grocery IQ Review – Smart Phone App For Grocery Shopping

I have been using the Grocery IQ app on my iPhone for years. I started using it way back when I had my iPod Touch; I believe I even paid $1.99 for it back then (and worth every penny), but it’s FREE now! They do add a bit of “advertising” but after awhile, it’s not even noticeable.

This app is indispensable for grocery shopping, keeping me organized and within my food budget!

When I first began using Grocery IQ, I only wanted to keep track of my shopping lists, and it works great if that’s all you want to do. But it offers more features for the serious shopper!

Adding Items to Shopping List

It’s easy to add an item to the shopping list either manually or with the handy built-in bar code scanner; the items are organized by aisles. You can customize your “aisles” – arranging the order & renaming or adding new aisles.

It keeps track of multiple stores, and a separate “favorites” and “history” for each store.

Serious Food Budget

I have always loved and used this app, but recently, I became more serious about sticking to a food budget, so I started adding item prices and quantities/weights.

At a glance, I can see I can see the total cost of food in my virtual shopping cart, as well as the total of how much is left on the list. I know exactly how much I’m spending and it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to use than a calculator!

Below, there is a screenshot of my last shopping trip – There is $77.16 of food in my shopping cart, and there’s $7.07 still left on my list. I decided to leave the rest of the items on the list until the next shopping trip.

Grocery IQ app shopping cart

Once I hit the “check out” button, it empties my cart, and adds the items to that store’s “history.”

Grocery IQ is available for iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Android users, as well as syncing to their web interface too. It’s free, so how can you lose!?

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (America’s Cheapest Family) Book Review

cut your grocery bill in half with americas cheapest family

I borrowed the book “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family” from the library, and wow, what a learning experience!

The book has been a tremendous help with getting me back on track with a budget & saving money! A few months ago, I set up a preliminary spreadsheet budget, but now I have a more detailed budget. It’s become an obsession now!

Although not all of the suggestions and tips apply to every family’s situation, this book could be helpful for anyone wanting to learn how to spend less on groceries, as well as help to organize your kitchen and pantry. Even if you implement one or two of their suggestions, you will win!

The chapters are as follows: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (or More); The Power of the Plan; Shopping to Win; Couponing-One of the Many Ways to Save; Cooking That Will Save You Time, Money, & Sanity; Stocking Up & Organizing-Store It, Find It, Use It; Economizing Equipment-Powerful Money Saving Tools; Family Dinnertime-Building a Stronger Family at the Table; Feeding Your Kids for Less; Where and How to Eat Out for Less; Gardening-Grow It Yourself & Be Healthy; Bag Up the Savings; Bonus: More Ways Singles & Empty Nesters Can Save a Boodle; Recipes.

I decided to read it in order, from cover to cover, and try to implement their advice as I read along.

Meal Planning

The book stresses the importance of a solid menu plan, which is probably the area in which I need the most help.

I would love to get into a routine of planning specific meals and building a shopping list that works together with the meal plan. That will be my biggest challenge.

Just last week, I tried to create a dinner menu for the week, but something always changes and I end up off track again. But the book is encouraging, explaining that changes to not happen overnight. It takes time and practice to get things right!

I’m also trying cook extra meal portions to “feed the freezer.” I already do that to some extent, but it needs to be kicked into high gear with better organization and planning. I started keeping an inventory list of what’s in our freezer, because unless you know what’s in the freezer, you won’t use it!

It’s really an awesome feeling knowing that on busy nights, I can rely on a freezer full of ready-to-reheat homemade meals, that just need to be defrosted that morning or the night before. It’s the art of planning ahead!

Shop Less, Spend Less

The authors propose that to save money on groceries, it’s essential to shop less often; they shop only one night a month at 2-3 stores offering the best sales. Once a month would be impossible for me, as I rely too much on fresh produce, but I am aiming for once every 7-10 days. It’s difficult because I do enjoy grocery shopping, but I’m going to give this a try and see if it helps to keep spending within my budget.

The book also teaches some of the tricks & mind games that grocery stores play to get you to purchase more. I learned that stores WANT you to impulse buy, and they make tons from shoppers just stopping to buy “just one thing”!

And I passed my first “test” last week. I wanted to make muffins, but I had no milk (dairy or non-dairy) in the house. I wasn’t planning on grocery shopping until this week, so I really didn’t want to go to the store for one item, and I kept thinking about the advice in the book. Just make due and substitute what you need with something you already have. So, I used my brain-power (whoo hoo), and realized that in place of milk, I could use yogurt, which I had plenty of. Problems solved! I was so proud of myself!

I’m definitely going to try to stick to my shopping list, and not give in to impulse buys! One tip from the book is to keep any impulse items in the grocery cart top rack, and when you are all done shopping, look again at each item and decide if it’s worth adding to your grocery total.

My Personal Tip for Smart Phone Users

I have a tip of my own for smart phone users: The Grocery IQ app is not so “smart” anymore has been indispensable when I’m shopping. IMPORTANT UPDATE: On May 8, 2012, Grocery IQ updated their app removing the ability for product pricing, thus making the app utterly useless for anyone on a budget! I don’t know what their motivation was, but the app was totally redesigned, also removing my customized aisles and history.

I’ll be writing a detailed review of Grocery IQ app soon, but to summarize, the app keeps used to keep a running $ total of items in my grocery cart as well as what’s left on my shopping list. That way I know There is now no way to know exactly how much I’m spending and it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to use than I might as well just use a calculator!

Rainchecks

I loved the tip in the book about rainchecks. I ask for rainchecks all the time at Whole Foods when an item is out of stock. I never thought about asking for a raincheck for an item that might actually be in stock, but perhaps you would like to purchase at a later date for the sale price.

Prebagged Produce Weighs More

I think my favorite tip in the book was to buy prebagged produce.

Months ago, my sister told me how much she loved buying the 2lb bags of organic carrots at Whole Foods. I always thought it was silly because the price for loose carrots was $1.29/lb while the bagged carrots were $1.25/lb. Why not pick and choose your own carrots for a few more pennies?

Well, I’ll tell you why. The book states that prebagged produce by law must contain at least the weight claimed on the bag, and most manufacturers will err on the side of caution and add more ounces to the bag.

They’re right! I weighed the 2 lb bag of prebagged carrots I bought at Whole Foods and it was 2.33 lbs. That brings the cost per pound down to $1.07, saving over 20 cents per pound vs the loose carrots. No, it’s not a budget shattering savings, but it made me feel good, and at the same time, it made me think of my sister, whom I love very much! <3

Know Your Prices

Following the advice in the book, I set up a “best price” spreadsheet for regularly purchased items, along with an additional spreadsheet to compare bulk pricing. Yes, it is time consuming, and the book warns you about that, but once I researched prices from Whole Foods, Amazon.com (subscribe & save) and iHerb.com, it was amazing to see the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in price.

I keep a pdf copy of the list on my iPhone, and also a printed copy if needed.

I still have a long way to go with price organization, but I’m off to a great start!

Buying Used Appliances

The authors suggest buying used vs new when it comes to some appliances, but you must be informed before purchasing. Know the value of the item, check sales to compare to how much it costs as new. Research the brand name for reliability. Is the seller the original owner, do they have the sales receipt and instruction manual? Visiting the seller’s home can tell you a lot about the integrity of a person.

It’s okay to haggle to get the best price, and again, that’s where researching fair market value is helpful.

It’s very important to know the item’s serial number and either call the manufacturer or research on www.appliance411.com/service/date-code.php to find out the age of the product. Sellers notoriously under-age their products, and it’s always a good idea to know beforehand if a product truly is 5 years old or if it’s 25 years old. They suggest a cap of 4-5 years old when purchasing used items. If a serial number plate is missing, it could be stolen.

Get a receipt when purchasing used with date, amount paid, serial number, and buyer & seller names.

Miscellaneous Tidbits

There are great suggestions in the book concerning organizing your freezer, including placing the contents in paper bags – something I’m going to try!

They also warn against keeping your freezer in an area that has temperatures less than 55° – I did not know that! We have our chest freezer in the workroom downstairs, and I’m not sure if it gets colder than that in the winter. I’ll have to check into it.

Another great tip is to use table linens/cloth napkins actually made of linen not polyester. Linen lasts a very long time and is stain resistant, but it needs to be ironed. It’s also lint-free, which also makes older, warn linens great for cleaning windows and glass. Estate sales are a great place to find linen table cloths and napkins for very cheap prices.

Cheap Food is Not the Answer

One strategy that I strongly disagree with is their advice to purchase cheap food, especially meat, dairy and eggs. Purchasing beef at $.99/lb is NOT a healthy choice.

Cheap meat is directly related to factory farming which abuse animals and destroy our environment; I would rather pay more for better-raised meats and just eat less of it.

The more we encourage “cheap” food, the worse our nation and our economy will become.

It’s not just animal products, cheap produce encourages pesticide usage, which affects the health of farm workers, as well as the health of those consuming the produce.

Farmers can’t afford to keep growing responsibly, because the public demands low cost food! Organic is not always the answer, but at least it protects the environment and farm workers from being exposed to toxins.

It’s unfortunate, but we’ve become a nation that is dictated by the thrill of a “bargain.” I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to save money when grocery shopping, but we shouldn’t expect rock bottom prices either. There’s a reason that it’s so cheap, and we’re paying the price with our health and our environment, while big food companies are gaining huge profits!

But I don’t have a large family to feed (there’s just two of us) so I really can’t blame the authors for purchasing “cheap food.” I consider myself lucky that I am able to have that choice, and realize that other families cannot afford to.

Admittedly, there are occasions that even I can’t stop myself from buying something that I know is not humanely raised, like a block of good cheese. And there are moments (especially after reading this book) that I think about how much I’d really be saving if I just gave in and purchased cheap food on sale in the weekly fliers. But until the day that I’m desperately in monetary straights, I will continue to eat as I do, knowing that yes, I am probably spending a lot more, but it’s worth it!

And THAT is the beauty of the book, you aren’t forced to do as they do, unless of course you want to. There were plenty of other ideas that I found extremely beneficial.

I encourage everyone to grab a copy of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family

And to boot, the book is at a bargain price of under $7 brand new shipped from Amazon! – but if you want to save even more cash, then borrow it from your local library like I did! I promise either way, you will learn something that helps your food budget!

Web Resources:
America’s Cheapest Family website – lots more tips, and videos of their appearances on various TV and radio shows. This family is marketing genius!
America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money – their first book, which I have on order at the library. Looking forward to reading it!

Farmer Dave’s CSA 2011 Review – Season 2

Last year, I wrote a detailed review of my first CSA season with Farmer Dave’s in Dracut MA. We just finished this season’s CSA and the veggies were just as plentiful and delicious!

If you are new to CSA’s, please read last season’s review as it includes a lot more detail about CSA’s and their benefits. There is also information on the Farmer Dave web site.

I won’t repeat too much information here, but to summarize, Farmer Dave offers small & regular sized vegetable CSA shares with pick-ups in Beverly, Burlington, Lanesville, Dracut, Lawrence, Tewksbury, Somerville, Putnam Investments (for Putnam employees only), Downtown Gloucester, Boston Medical Center, Jamaica Plain, and newly added Reading.

They also offer summer fruit shares, as well as late fall and early spring shares.

Here are the details for the 2011 weekly “small” vegetable share pickup:

Week One

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

Peas, Spinach, Turnips with greens, Beets with greens, Red leaf lettuce, Garlic scapes, Tatsoi, and Pea tendrils; I also bought 3 pickling cukes for $1.17

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 1

I originally swapped the tendrils for more lettuce, but as I left I decided to go back and grab them back. Why shy away from something different and cool! They are tiny little flowers and lots of green stems leaves and tiny squiggly bits.
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 1- pea tendrils

Week Two

Bag of lettuce, Pea tendrils, Peas (bought extra 2 bags), Romaine lettuce, Arugula, 2 lettuce (Boston?), Tatsoi (choice of bok Choy), 2 zucchini squash, Beets with greens (or choice of turnips with greens), Garlic scapes

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 2

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 2

Week Three

Fennel (with extremely long fronds over 2 ft I think), Beets (or choice of radishes or turnips), Tatsoi (swapped for more beets), Gorgeous kale, Gorgeous chard, Red leaf lettuce, Spinach, Shelling Peas, Garlic scapes.

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 3

Fennel:
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 3

Week Four

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

red leaf lettuce, snap peas (choice of snow peas), fennel, scallions, beets w/ greens (choice of radishes, turnips), swiss chard (choice of arugula or spinach), (2) zucchini (choice of squash), pickling cuke

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 4

Week Five

sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, zucchini (choice of summer squash), pickling cuke, corn on cob, lettuce, basil, radish with greens, scallions, swiss chard

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 5

Week Six

cilantro (choice of parsley, basil), arugula (choice of mustard greens, option to take extra mustards, I didn’t take any), kohlrabi (swapped for extra onion), spring onions, kousa squash (choice of summer squashes), carrots (choice of beets), pickling cukes, (choice of) lettuce, 4 corn on cob

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 6

Week Seven

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

(4) corn on cob, scallions, cilantro (or choice of basil, chives), swiss chard, beets with greens (or choice of carrots), wax beans, green pepper, (3 total) slicing cukes and pickling cukes, (3 total) choice of summer squash: yellow, zucchini, or kousa, take up to 4 jalapeno peppers, green leaf lettuce

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 7

I love me some Jalepeno Peppers!
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 7

Week Eight

On vacation, no pickup, but the newsletter stated Pickling or slicing cucumbers, Zucchini, kousa, patty pan or summer squash, Lettuce, Carrots, Beets or Kohlrabi, Bok Choy, Kale or Swiss Chard, Scallions, Green Beans or Wax Beans, Asian Eggplant, Cubanelle Peppers, or Green Bell Peppers, possibly Cherry Tomatoes or Slicing Tomatoes

Week Nine

cilantro, green leaf lettuce, green beans, (2) jalapeno peppers, (2) zucchini squash, eggplant, scallions, garlic, 1/2 pint cherry/grape mixed tomatoes, (2) slicing tomatoes, (3) cukes, batch of carrots

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 9

I love larger sized scallions, and I love purple scallions even more!
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 9

Week Ten

This week we received a huge delivery! 3 heavy bags full!

(4) cukes, scallion, eggplant (choice of smaller round Thai, regular black/purple, & long thin purple), (2) summer squash (choice of yellow, zucchini, kousa), green bell sweet pepper (of choice of cubanelle pepper), romaine lettuce (or choice of kale), beets with greens (or choice of radish with greens), cilantro (or choice of basil), pint of mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, (2) slicing tomatoes, (1) heirloom tomato, (4) corn, small bag of cranberry shell beans (or choice of green beans), purple or green kohlrabi – swapped for more scallions, Take extra (4) seconds tomatoes or chile peppers

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 10

Week Eleven

On vacation, I didn’t pick up, but the newsletter stated Corn, Slicing Tomatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes (if we’re lucky!), Cucumbers (pickling or slicing), Zucchini, kousa, or summer squash, Bell Peppers or Cubanelle Peppers, Swiss Chard, Kale or Lettuce, Hakurei Turnips, Scallions or Kohlrabi, Chives or Cilantro

Week Twelve

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

(2) cukes, waxed beans, (2) corn, (1) onion, (1) red pepper (cubanelle?). (2) poblano peppers (or choice of green bell), 1/2 pint cherry/grape mixed tomatoes, (1) heirloom tomato, (2) plum tomatoes, (1) slicing tomato, (2) summer squash (choice of zucchini, yellow, kousa), arugula (or choice of chard), scallions (or choice of kohlrabi), cilantro (or choice of chive), eggplant (swapped for chive), radishes (swapped for 2nd cilantro)

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 12

Week Thirteen

(2) cukes, (3) choice of peppers (poblano, red bell, or green bell), (1) carmen red sweet pepper, 1 pint box of 7 aji dulce mild chile peppers, (3) plum tomatoes, (1) slicing tomato, 1/2 pint mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, bag of green beans, beets (or choice of radishes), parsley, kale (or choice of chard) – swapped for 2nd parsley, (2) corn, as many as you can use – chile cherry chile pepper (medium hot), as many as you can use – 2nds tomatoes

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 13

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 13

Week Fourteen

Celery with greens, bag green beans (or choice of wax beans), (4) corn, small onion, (1) bell pepper, eggplant, pea tendrils (or choice of chard or kale), parsley (choice of chives or basil), beets with greens (or choice of radishes w/greens or purple topped turnips), (1) slicing tomato, (4) plum tomatoes, pint of mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, as much as you can use: chile peppers – aji dulce, jalapenos, and very hot (did not take very hot), as much as you can use: 2nds tomatoes

The pea tendrils didn’t have very many blossoms this time, but they seemed hardier and fresher than the spring batches, with lots of leaves and stalks.

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 14

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 14

Week Fifteen

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

beets (or choice of turnips or radishes), bok choy, chard or arugula or pea tendrils(?), kale, chives (or choice of parsley), (2) plum tomatoes, 1 onion, green beans, eggplant, 1/2 pint mixed cherry grape tomatoes, aji dulce or jalapeno peppers as much as you can use.

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 15

Week Sixteen

a lot of goodies this week!

large cabbage, carrots with greens or choice of beets, radishes or choice of turnips, large bag of green beans, carmen red pepper (horn shaped), (2) plum tomatoes, 1/2 pint mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, garlic, parsley or choice of basil or chives, celery or choice of scallions, arugula or choice of chard – swapped for 2nd celery, eggplant, butternut squash, aji dulce peppers (7) as many as you can use

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 16

Huge heavy cabbage!
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 16

Week Seventeen

small head of green lettuce or choice of arugula, tatsoi or choice of chard, cilantro or choice of basil chives or parsley, (2) onions, beets or choice of radishes, poblano pepper or choice of cubanelle, 1/2 pint mixed grape/cherry tomatoes, acorn squash, cranberry shell beans, large bag of green or choice of waxed – swapped for 2nd bag of shell beans, as many as you could use of habanero very hot peppers (didn’t take any)
and as much as you can use of plum tomatoes (took 8)

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 17

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 17

Week Eighteen

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

1/2 pint mixed Cherry grape tomatoes – choice of green beans, Red leaf lettuce or choice of arugula
Carrots with greens or choice of beets or scallions, 2 poblano peppers or choice of green bell, Eggplant or choice of other eggplant, Radish with greens, Butternut squash, Tatsoi or choice of chard or collards, Parsley or choice of cilantro or chives

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 18

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 18

Week Nineteen

Green bell pepper, Small bag of potatoes, 2 onions, Carrots with tops or choice of beets, Kohlrabi or choice of radishes – swapped for 2nd cilantro, Cilantro, Small bag of broccoli crowns, 2 Boston lettuces or choice of chard kale or arugula, 1/2 pint cherry/grape tomatoes, Butternut squash, Sugar snap peas or choice of green beans, Jalepeno peppers- As much as you can use (took 3)

I was psyched at the cool choices this week. Potatoes and broccoli are exciting!

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 19

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 19

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 19

Week Twenty

Keep in mind, I had a “small” share. The larger shares received at least double the amounts, and depending on the pick up location, the variety could be slightly different.

Last week! :(

Huge sweet potato, Garlic, Leek, Carrots or choice of beets, Romanesco or choice of broccoli or lettuce, Green leaf lettuce or arugula, Green bell peppers or choice of jalapeño or carmen red peppers, Bag of cranberry shell beans, Radish or purple top turnips swapped for extra bag of shell beans (I’ll have enough shell beans to last in freezer for many months I think!), Cilantro, Chard- as much as you can use

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 20

Farmer Dave's CSA Week 20

Romanesco is a little bit broccoli and a little bit cauliflower…but 100% delicious and such a treat to look at!
Farmer Dave's CSA Week 20

Next Season?

Unfortunately, I do not plan on joining the CSA for 2012, and it has nothing to do with Farmer Dave’s, or the quality and price of the CSA.

I simply decided that it was just too much pressure, especially in the summer months. It was just too overwhelming to process, cook and eat all the vegetables we were receiving. I just couldn’t keep up with cooking ideas, and I felt like I was missing out on other vegetables that I was craving (like broccoli) but couldn’t buy because we already had so much food from the CSA.

So next season, I’ll continue to support and shop at Farmer Dave’s farm stand but also venture out to other farms and farmer’s markets. I’m excited that I’ll be able to choose exactly the vegetables I want, and it’ll be easier to plan my menus, especially when we’re on vacation.

It will be so helpful to shop earlier in the day if needed, which will give me more time to organize and process my produce before I needed to start dinner. I also hope this will help with maintaining a grocery budget and meal plans, since I can purchase exactly what I need in smaller or larger quantities.

I’ll play it by ear, and see how it goes, who knows I might miss it so much, I’ll go back the following season, or I might decide to sign up for their late fall CSA share. We’ll see.

I want to make it clear that I do not regret participating in the past two CSA seasons; I learned about many amazing new foods, and learned how to prepare them. For this reason and many others, I do not want to dissuade anyone from joining a CSA.

To those that want to try a CSA in the Eastern Massachusetts area, I highly recommend Farmer Dave’s! They have many pick-up locations and it’s a great bargain for all the food you receive. PLUS, you are supporting a local farm!

Sage Spoonfuls By Liza Huber – Book Review

I became interested in the book, Sage Spoonfuls – Simple Recipes, Healthy Meals, Happy Babies when I saw the author, Liza Huber, and her mother Susan Lucci (All My Children’s Erica Kane) on a morning talk show. Liza was promoting her book, and she spoke about how important she thought it was to make your own homemade baby food.

I am not sure why I gravitated to her and this subject matter, seeing that I do not have any any children, nor will I in the future, but I am passionate about healthy food, and I agree that good nutrition has to start as early as possible, especially when we are seeing soaring rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in young children. Maybe the subject struck me because my niece recently had a little baby girl, and I am hopeful that maybe she could be raised with wholesome healthy homemade food.

So, long story short, I was fortunate to receive a review copy of Liza’s book, and I’m so glad I did!

Sage Spoonfuls by Liza Huber book review

Now, again, I can’t speak from personal experience, but Liza states that for only 1 hour every two weeks, you can have a freezer full of homemade healthy baby food!

She created Sage Spoonfuls as a complete homemade baby-food system, of which the book is part of. The “system” includes storage jars, blenders, freezer packs, coolers, totes, etc. and the book does promote her products, but her ideas are 100% doable without any additional purchases, unless of course you want to. Well, I should clarify that you will need to buy some sort of small storage containers or baggies if you want to freeze your baby food, which is the whole point of the book, but most of the other necessary tools are items you probably already have in your kitchen: veggie peeler, strainer, cutting board, knife, spoon, cooking pot with steamer/lid, skillet/fry pan, baking sheet, immersion blender or food processor, fork, glass bowl, spatula, & sauce pan.

So let’s start with what I liked about the physical aspects of the book. It’s spiral bound, so it lies flat on your counter; that’s so helpful when you’re trying to read while cooking. The pages are thick & glossy, which I assume could resist staining (again, so helpful in the kitchen!) There’s bold bright colors on every page, with easy to read fonts and graphics. Lot of big detailed photographs throughout.

There is a lot of information to read and if you are new mom, it might be a good idea to read it once then go back and read it at least one more time to really understand the process. I dog-eared many pages and highlighted text that I thought was important!

So, there are 5 chapters in the book: Food for Thought; the Essentials; Let’s Get Started; a Homemade Lifestyle; and Recipes. Each chapter is loaded with tips, hints and details that will give you all the information you need to feed your baby homemade food. There is a 2 page “index” at the back of the book, and it’s easy to find each vegetable or fruit, along with the general subjects she mentions in the book, like Foods to Avoid, Reheating, Infant CPR.

Liza covers every aspect of how to prepare homemade food for your baby, including nutritional facts (vitamins, minerals, fats, etc) and allergies. I love that she encourages adding herbs and spices to your baby’s food. Again, I might be totally experienced in this area, but I always thought baby food should be bland. Not so! In fact, she states that the more flavors your baby is exposed to, the more “adventurous” an eater he will be, and the less “picky” he will be later in life.

Sage Spoonfuls really is a A-Z book on EVERYTHING you need to know. What is the best way to reheat the baby food? How to quickly defrost the food from freezer? What do you look for when shopping for produce or meat? What to expect when going on an overnight trip to a location with a fridge? Liza covers that, along with other scenarios like day trips, and overnights without a fridge.

My favorite chapter is Recipes – it covers each stage in a baby’s life, starting with 4-6 months, then 7-9 months, and 10-12 months. I suppose you could say that these are technically not really “recipes”, but a directory of ingredients appropriate for that specific age group.

There is also a section on Family Favorites, simple recipes that the entire family, including adults, babies, toddlers, and older children, will enjoy.

The first three age-centered recipe sections each start with a FAQ, which answers just about every question you could have concerning feeding your baby at that particular age. Liza encourages you to keep trying if at first your baby doesn’t respond. She makes every “problem” sound completely normal and that you are not alone; there are other moms that went through the same, and it’s okay!

Each single ingredient is highlighted on two pages. The first page includes helpful tips for cooking/preparing along with nutritional data plus the appropriate age at which you should start feeding the particular ingredient. She also lists if the ingredient is suitable for freezer and/or fridge and how to store “on the go”.

sage spoonfuls sample pages

The ingredient’s 2nd page focuses on yummy food combinations, again, appropriate for that particular age group. This is my absolute favorite aspect of the book. I don’t know why, but these food combinations just thrilled me. I just love the knowledge that banana can be easily combined with apples or pears & parsnips – I mean, what commercial baby food manufacturer offers a jar combining potato, pea and pear? I guess that’s what makes homemade food so exciting. The endless possibility of yummy tasty combinations!

Another favorite part of the Sage Spoonfuls book was the realization that you can indeed make homemade baby cereal! Okay, it could be my lack of child rearing experience, but I think it’s so cool that you can easily make your own rice, oatmeal, barley and millet baby cereal and it will be tons better than anything you buy at the store!

My complaints about the book? I wish she shared more about the why’s of some of her tips. For example, why you need to peel vegetables and fruit? Is it because it is more difficult to puree or could it cause choking? And why she didn’t mention using a microwave to warm the food? I’m assuming her belief is that perhaps a microwave kills nutrients, but I would have loved to have read her official opinions on both.

I’m sure most of the book content can be found in various books or other “mommy” web sites, but it’s really handy to have ONE book that explains all aspects of preparing homemade baby food!

I recommend Sage Spoonfuls – Simple Recipes, Healthy Meals, Happy Babies to new moms, or moms without a lot of cooking or nutritional knowledge. I’d even recommend this for grandmas that want to give their grandbabies healthy homemade food when they visit.

This is the way I wish all children could be raised, eating wholesome homemade food! We could eliminate so many chronic illnesses and especially childhood obesity problems! If only parents would take the extra time to cook for their families! It is probably the best gift they could give!

(Disclaimer: Even though I received a free copy of this book, my opinions are truthful, and I tried my best to give an fair evaluation.)

Jamie At Home cookbook review

Jamie At Home cookbook review

I love the Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life cookbook! It’s not just a cookbook, it’s got great tips for growing your own a veggie garden and raising your own chickens! It’s also the companion cookbook to Jamie’s TV series of the same name (“Jamie At Home” on the Food Network and Cooking Channel)

It was so touching to read about his decision to take in flocks of abused chickens from egg factory farms and raise them with his free range chickens.

I also learned more about lamb and exactly what mutton is. Did you know that sheep over a year old are mutton and that the flavor is much more complex than younger lamb? Of course mutton must be cooked low and slow, but that’s how Jamie likes to cook!

He writes that mutton has gone out of style and that it would help farmers if more people requested it because mutton usually comes from breeding sheep. I don’t remember the last time I ate lamb and I don’t know that I like the flavor. But I keep wanting to try it especially when there’s chefs like Jamie Oliver inspiring me!

One complaint about the actual book is some pages are difficult to read due to pages with darker background colors.

And although his recipes are “dead simple” as he likes to say, with rustic homey ingredients, they aren’t always something I’d want to cook. But the recipes are always totally Jamie and you can hear his voice speaking through the words on the page. Very English! Very seasonal! BRILLIANT!

He works with a lot of ingredients that might be intimidating to some home cooks. Items like pork belly, rabbit, squash flowers scare me but it’s nice to know he’s on your side holding your hand inspiring you to try new techniques and ingredients.

No, I don’t know if I’ll ever seek out a partridge bird or cook up venison stew but Jamie was instrumental in bringing me to a deeper understanding and respect for animals and how it’s okay to hunt animals as long as it is done with total respect and without waste. No, I’m never going to kill my own food but I’m not so against others doing it anymore.

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

(review originally authored on Dec 17, 2010)

Almost Meatless – Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet – Book Review

I found the Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet by Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond book at the local library.

It is impossible to continue to feed ourselves and the world, unless we reduce our consumption of animal products. That includes local humanely raised animal products, as well as inferior cheaply-raised Big Food animal products.

Eating as a “flexitarian” is so much better for your health and especially good for the environment. AND it’s good for your food budget too!

almost meatless book review

We eat several meatless meals each week, but when I do cook meat, poultry or seafood, I really try hard to limit our portion to no more than 4 oz (raw) or 3 oz (cooked). It really helps to view animal products (including dairy, poultry, eggs, meat, and seafood) as an enhancement to the dish, not the main attraction. Adding more plant based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and nuts, to make those the centerpiece of home cooked recipes.

And this is where the “Almost Meatless” book comes in handy for inspiration. From inside the book’s dust cover: A little meat can go a long way…. So true!

Keep in mind, this is not a vegetarian cookbook, all the recipes include animal products, but they are not the main component of the dish. Meats are used sparingly, but wisely, to build layers of flavors in the recipes.

The book is sectioned by each animal product (chicken, turkey, seafood, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, and broths), not by recipe subject. While browsing through the book, like I love to do, reading it cover to cover, it’s wonderful to see all the chicken recipes or all the beef recipes together, but for the home cook, it might be confusing not to be able to find one chapter for all soups, or pastas, or sandwiches, salads, or side dishes, especially when meats can sometimes be used interchangeably with each other. It might be more difficult to find what you’re looking for unless you know how the recipe is categorized in the index in the back of the book.

But that is really a small price to pay for the benefits of the book. It’s packed with loads of inspiration and ideas! I especially loved the tips on making your own stocks and broths on page 130. They tell you WHY you need to use cold water and why you only want to simmer (not boil) and why you should skim the foam. Stuff I never really understood!

At the beginning of each “meat” section, there is a terrific explanation. What to look for when purchasing (ie labels like “free range” which mean nothing in today’s terms), why and how to avoid the factory farmed version and find a local farm that raises their animals with care and respect.

For instance, what do the terms organic or grass fed for beef mean? It’s on page 84!

The “Bring Home the Bacon” blurb on page 37 was an eye-opener for me! I don’t ever buy bacon (turkey or pork) from mainstream Big Food companies anymore, but if I did, I’d certainly not want to buy one that included “mechanically separated turkey” as an ingredient!

There are a lot of beautifully detailed photographs in the cook book, only a few recipes do not have an accompanying photo. On the negative side, some of the photos are useless; for example, page 127 displays a yummy bowl of seeded tomatoes instead of the actual finished Pizza Strata dish. Same problem on page 95, instead of showing the finished Chimichurri Fajitas, there is a lovely eggplant photograph. Lovely yes, but not helpful for those of us cooking the dish. For the most part though, the photos do compliment the recipes, and really show great detail on what to expect for the finished recipe.

One other small complaint, I wish they didn’t use so much white flour and/or white bread as ingredients. I’m NOT dead set against never using white flour or white sugar, but after all, we’re eating less meat for the health of our bodies and the planet, so give us more healthy whole grains.

But I loved that they really encouraged finding local food, especially local animal products! That’s so important!

I recommend the Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet cookbook. It’s a beautiful detailed book and even the more experienced home cook will find something inspiring in the recipes as well as the tips and information. I enjoyed reading through it!

Some favorite recipes that inspired me:

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.