Wednesday, May 13, 2009

About Choosing Chicken, Beef and Poultry

When it comes to delivering the safest, cleanest, most chemical free meat from the market to your family’s dinner plates, the best choice is hormone free, grass-fed, humanely raised meat and poultry products. Because they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, grass fed meats are more nutritious than the conventionally raised meats that you find in the grocery store, including those labeled, “organic” as these are not exclusively pasture fed. Remember that the more grain in a livestock’s diet, the less nutritious the meat; grass is best, and, at least in this case, greener on BOTH sides of the fence!

Grass fed cows produce the freshest most satisfying milk you’ve ever tasted and cuts of beef that are lower in fat and calories than conventional meats, higher in vitamins, and, as if this weren’t enough of a reason to buy pasture fed, clean living cows have more cancer-fighting fat (conjugated linoleic acid) than conventional meat products.

But better meat choices don’t stop there! Pigs and chickens cannot live on grass alone; so when you’re buying pork and poultry, look for the manufacturer’s promise that the animals, during their free-range life, fed on grains 100% free of pesticide and weed killers, and were never, I repeat NEVER, (mis!)treated with antibiotics and hormones. If you want your family eating clean, healthy sources of protein, you want grass-fed AND organic on your meat label! It’s the best of both worlds!

Industrially raised animals are often treated with hormones (also known as steroids) to fatten them faster. Synthetic hormones affect the animal’s natural hormone balance. Studies suggest that eating meat and poultry filled with superfluous estrogen, affects your body’s hormones. Could this be the reason why our sons and daughters are maturing much earlier than we did?

I feel very strongly that we must be aware of the links in our food chain in order to make the best choices. We are what we eat. Some scientists suggest that it may be more than coincidence that the rise of reproductive cancers (those influenced by estrogen) in Americans, like breast, prostate and testicular have increased in direct proportion with the use of hormones in industrially produced beef and poultry.

I urge you to shop for beef and poultry at your local butcher or at grocery stores that offer an organic alternative. The good news is, hormone free products are being welcomed into our supermarkets and showcased on the menus of more and more restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that need asking like, “Where did this chicken come from and how was it raised?” Terms like “free range”, “all natural”, “choice”, “grade A” and “prime” are confusing and do not give you enough information. Here, is some information that may help you in determining which product you choose for your family.

Free range indicates that the animal was put outside or in a barnyard at some point in his life. This label does not mean that the animal was raised in a pasture and fed on grass, exclusively, only that they were given access; still, free-range makes a lot of healthy assurances you can feel good about. Food producers of free range livestock must adhere to strict standards and that’s something to applaud.

The Natural label, according to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, can be applied to any product that does not contain “artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives. This label can also be applied if the product “is not more than minimally processed”. In other words, the natural label can be applied to chicken and meats that are minimally processed, regardless of what they were fed and whether they were treated with steroids and hormones.

The organic label assures you that the animals were raised without the use of synthetic products and the livestock feeds were not sprayed with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. It also means that the animals were not treated with unnecessary hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms of any kind. Organic does not necessarily mean that the animals were pasture fed. You have to do further research to make this conclusion. Labels such as grass-fed, grass-raised, and range-fed will lead you in the right direction.

Luncheon meats sold in packages and even those sliced at the deli counter of your supermarket often contain hidden salt and are, most commonly, processed. (i.e. Does that rectangular slice of deli ham come from a square pig?) In place of a deli meat sandwich or a processed lunch pack, you might prefer to utilize last night’s left-overs for your child’s lunch box. Sliced chicken breast, sliced flank steak and even yesterday’s pulled pork make one heck of a sammich. Beware also of cooked-for-you food like a whole delicatessen chicken. In many cases these are injected with a solution of salt and fat before cooking. Read the label to see what other hidden ingredients are added to your deli meal before you purchase it.

One of my earliest experiences with locally raised, hormone free poultry was initiated by my brother, “Uncle Rich”. His pal owned a turkey farm, so, my brother volunteered to purchase the turkey for the family dinner. He selected our bird in the early fall and visited him when he was in the neighborhood. He took pictures and even named him. He delivered the freshly slaughtered bird to me the day before Thanksgiving. Henry weighed-in at twenty-six pounds and darn near exceeded the size of my largest roasting pan. We squished him in the pan, patted him down with real butter under and on top of the skin, filled the cavity with oranges and apples to keep him moist and put him in the oven. The results were amazing. He cooked in far less time than we expected. The meat was juicy and flavorful. We proclaimed our pasture-fed turkey the best turkey we ever had! Thus began my search for more farm-raised products… and farmers that are leveling the playing field.

I recently bumped into n acquaintance who reminds me of all of the hard work and dedication that is needed to bring healthy foods to our tables. Lee Rankin is the owner of Apple Hill Farm in Banner Elk, NC. Her passion is “Agricultural Tourism” which she says bridges the relationship between the consumer and the farm community by bringing tourism to the farm. Any activity that draws people to farms to learn, pick produce, and connect with the farming of crops or raising of animals is considered Agricultural Tourism or Agri-tourism. We live in a time where we can walk into a grocery store and buy meat, produce and already prepared food items without needing to know anything about where the food came from. But we also live in a time where more and more people desire to learn about the process of how the food is grown and how the animals are raised. Farming has become a fascinating topic.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Day for Mum, Mommee, Ma, Mom, Mawm, MOM!!!!!!

No matter what they call you (or how many times they shout your name), when they call for mom, they are calling out of need. “Mom, where’s this… Mom, can you believe she did that? Mom, tell him to stop touching me!!! Mom, I can’t find……………..” Well, on this one Sunday in May, we moms don’t need to have all of the answers. In fact, it may be the only day of the year when you can reply, “Ask your father,” without ending your marriage in the process.

As your loved ones frenetically scour your kitchen for breakfast and brunch ideas, let me help you get them started with a few of my favorite recipes. If they need some extra help, get the TiVo programmed and watch my Mother’s Day Brunch demonstration on South Florida Live! on Monday, May 4th during the 8:00am hour.

The following dishes comprise my Mother’s Day Menu:
Morning Margarita
Spinach, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Tart
Breakfast Tomatoes with Grilled Salmon and Creamy Barbecue Sauce
Queen Mum’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits
Blueberry Bars with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

And also just for you!!: Visit and enter to win one of their exceptional Mother’s Day give aways that include my very own Mom’s Gourmet kitchen basket, featured on May 5th. For you flower lovers, sign up to receive my blog in your mail box, and you will be eligible to win a Mother’s Day arrangement from Teleflora’s Flower Blog! See for their tribute for mums on Mother’s Day.

Wishing all of my fellow moms a special day with your family and friends…… J.

Blueberry Bars with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

These bars are crumbly and bursting with juicy blueberries. You can make up a batch, and store them in the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature before you pass them around.

3 cups whole-grain pastry flour
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 large egg, separated
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 medium lemon juiced, about 1/3 cup
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 2 teaspoons
1 pint fresh blueberries, about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of 1 to 2-inches on two sides (in order to easily lift the bars out of the pan).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder and salt. Place the softened butter into the bowl and use your fingers to combine the mixture into course crumbs. Reserve 2 cups of this crumb mixture.

Separate the egg. Add the white part of the egg to the crumb mixture in the bowl and combine. Place this mixture into the bottom of the pan and press down firmly. Bake the bottom crust until just beginning to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Whisk together the condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolk in a small bowl. Set aside.

Remove the crust from the oven. Spread the blueberries over top. Spread the lemon cream over the blueberries. Place the pan back into the oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until the cream becomes shiny.

Remove the pan from the oven and top with the reserved crumb mixture. Place the pan back into the oven and bake until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let the bars cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Lift the bars from the pan (using the parchment paper) and cool completely on a rack. Cut the bars into 2-inch squares. Store the bars in an airtight container the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature.

Yield: 24 bars
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Fruit and Yogurt Breakfast Parfaits with Granola Crunch

Recipe from GORGEOUS: The Sum of All Your Glorious Parts

Granola is chock full of oats and nuts. Making your own is easy and far less expensive than purchasing it in the grocery store. The parfaits are not only pretty, but rich in the nutrients you need to get your day started off on the right foot!

For the granola:
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup apple juice
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the parfaits:
½ pint fresh blueberries, about 1 cup
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
Zest of 1 medium orange, about 2 teaspoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about 1/3 cup
2 cups vanilla flavored organic low-fat yogurt
Mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, toss together the oats, flaxseed, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Combine the apple juice, honey and brown sugar in a pot over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the oil and vanilla. Pour the apple juice/honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss.

Spread the coated mixture onto a baking pan with lip that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Bake for 10 minutes, using a spatula to stir. Bake until the granola is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool and break into small pieces.

To assemble the parfait, mix together the fruit with the orange zest and juice in a small bowl. Layer the fruit, yogurt and granola into 4 parfait glasses (or bowls). Continue layering all the way to the top. Garnish with a mint leaf.

Makes 4 parfaits, plus an extra 3 cups granola
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

You can store the granola in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Breakfast Tomatoes with Grilled Salmon and Creamy Barbecue Sauce

This is a breakfast dish created from the left over salmon that you grilled and served for supper the night before.

** ½ pound grilled salmon with barbecue glaze

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
1 tablespoon organic sour cream
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Zest of 1 small lime, about 1 teaspoon
Juice of 1 small lime, about 1 tablespoon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large beefsteak tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (about 8 slices)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
4 large radishes, julienned, about ½ cup
4 extra large organic eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced in rounds
Chopped fresh dill

** For the salmon, sprinkle a fillet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon, flesh side down to form grill marks, about 2 to 3 minutes depending on thickness. Carefully turn the salmon . Brush the seared side with barbecue sauce (homemade is best, but a good quality barbecue sauce in a jar will work just fine.) Grill the salmon for about 3 minutes more. Carefully turn the salmon one more time to sear the side with the barbecue sauce. Cook until the salmon is still rare in the center. Remove to a platter, glazed side up. Serve for supper, reserving about ½ pound for tomorrow’s breakfast treat!

Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, barbecue sauce, mustard, cumin, lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, lay the tomato slices onto a serving platter. Lay rounds of hard boiled egg onto each tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Top with radishes. Mound each with chunks of salmon. Top with capers. Spoon a dollop of sauce over the top and garnish with fresh dill.

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 10
Cook Time: 20 minutes to prepare and grill salmon
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