Archive for the 'Sustainable Food' Category

Some Stuff I’ve Done Lately

Monday, October 17th, 2016

So, I recently paid the annual bill that keeps this page on the ‘net, and I noticed that it’s been a while since I actually did anything in this space except check my own recipes.  I do, after all, have my favorites that I go back to on an occasional basis to get some advice from myself.

But, just because I haven’t been putting stuff up here, doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on some cool stuff.  I’m linking below to some of the cool materials that I’ve been putting together for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank over the past couple of years.  These are resources that we publish mainly for our clients, but they are available online for anyone to use at

Rolling Oats

This was a really fun project to work on, and really useful, too.  Most people know that it is important to eat more whole grains, but the advice we see can sometimes be confusing.  Case in point, Reese’s Puffs cereal, which proclaims across the front of its box that whole grain is the first ingredient (yes, but how many of the next several are some form of sugar?)

Oats are about the most economical source of whole grain nutrition around, and are always on Food Bank inventory.  This 16-page magazine gives several ways to make oats a more frequent part of your diet, whether by turning them into a savory pilaf, a fruit crisp, a granola bar, bread dough, or a no-roll pie crust.  Click on the picture above to download the whole magazine.

Special thanks to Kevin Watson of Savoy Restaurant for providing a great interview to make this volume complete!

Spuds Illustrated

Potatoes are one of my favorite flavor vehicles.  They’re such a versatile canvas to paint upon!  This 12-page magazine gives tips to make them more interesting at the table by combining them with other vegetables, and using each type of potato according to its own strengths.  Get tips including how to store, how to cut, best ever home fries, and the best vegan mashed potatoes you’ll ever taste.  Click on the photo above to download the whole issue.

CAN Newsletter

Every month, the CAN Newsletter goes out to everyone who gets food from one of the food pantries in the Food Bank’s network.  Each issue focuses on ideas and recipes related to an ingredient or theme.  Click the photo above to get this month’s issue, with 2 great winter squash recipes and some jack o’ lantern carving tips, or visit to see back issues and the Food Bank’s full lineup of photo-illustrated recipe resources.

If you need help with food, visit to get connected with a food pantry, soup kitchen, SNAP benefits, and more.

If you’re in a position to help the food bank, visit to volunteer, donate, or advocate for public policy that helps everyone have enough to eat.

Beef Cuts

Monday, April 8th, 2013

A beef steer can be processed in many ways—the least processed option would be as 2 sides of beef; the most processed would probably be to grind the whole darned thing.  When I organize my beef draft, I provide instructions to the slaughterhouse that are intended to make the cuts as consumer-friendly as possible and to provide as wide a range of cuts as I can get.

So what’s on a beef steer?  Here’s a quick look at the percent by weight of each cut that I get based on the cutting instructions I provide:

So what to do with these cuts?

Grilling/ Dry Roasting:

These are some of the easier cuts to handle!  Season with salt and pepper or your favorite spice rub and have at it!

  • Tenderloin
  • Strip Steak
  • Ribeye
  • Sirloin Steak (center cut/ boneless)
  • Top Round/ Round Tip (cook no more than medium rare and slice thinly)
  • Top Round Roast (cook no more than medium rare and slice thinly)
Intense heat will sear the outside while leaving the interior nice and rare.  This is best used for thin cuts.  It’s also a good idea to marinate these cuts before broiling
  • Skirt Steak
  • Flank Steak
Chicken Frying
There’s nothing like a good chicken fried steak.  Don’t feel like going to the truck stop?  You can make it at home.
  • Bottom Round Steak (place meat between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound the bejeezus out of it with a tenderizing hammer before breading and frying)
Long, slow, moist heat will help the collagen in the tougher, more exercised muscles to liquefy, making these cuts tender and flavorful when done right!
  • Chuck Roast
  • Rump Roast
  • Bottom Round Steak
  • Boiling Beef (braise, cool, separate meat from bones and fat, reheat in sauce for best service!)
  • Short Ribs (braise, cool, separate meat from bones and fat, reheat in sauce for best service!)
  • Shank (think osso bucco!)
  • Brisket (if you’re feeling ambitious, this is the cut typically turned into corned beef!)

Sustainable Farm Production

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

I highly encourage you to take 6 minutes out of your day to watch this video about the myths surrounding the need for more agri-business to meet our future food needs.  It is well-produced, well-researched, and offers citations for its figures (though you have to follow a separate link to get to them).

Food Myth Busters: Agriculture to Feed the World

Who Needs Water More?

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Here’s a great example of why we need to have clear priorities and conserve resources in order to meet the demands placed by a growing population.  In Colorado, where drought has made water even scarcer than usual, there’s not enough to go around.  Farmers need it to irrigate their crops; drillers need it to frack for gas. In an interesting analysis, one farmer says,

“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on eastern Colorado’s parched plains. “I don’t think, in reality, that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”

Maybe in a straight financial analysis of return on investment, but that’s still a strange view when comparing natural gas to food.

It will be interesting to see how battles like this play out, especially as gas companies use their resources to buy land with their eye not on mineral rights but on water rights. 

Farmers @ Firehouse Saturday, Phipps Sunday

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Come down to the Farmers@ Firehouse farmers’ market this Saturday, 8/25, from 9 am-noon to taste some of my cooking.  I’ll be manning the Slow Foods demo tent in support of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s produce initiatives, which include the Farm Stand Project, volunteer-based Gleaning and Urban Agriculture initiatives, and distribution of produce through the Produce to People program.

Can’t make it to the market on Saturday?  Visit Phipps Conservatory’s Tomato & Garlic Festival on Sunday from 11 am-5pm.  Admission is free with the donation of a bag of fresh produce for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.  I will not be there, but there will be some other fantastic chefs providing demos throughout the day.

I ordinarily try to be oblique on this page about where I work, because this is an outlet for my personal cooking efforts and opinions on food.  But, I am Nutritionist for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and see every day the tremendous need for healthy foods in our communities and the tremendous impact that Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has in closing the gap in access to nutritionally sound meals.

Our efforts consist of more than just sending food to where it is needed.  We also provide recipes and information about how the ingredients we have available can be used to build healthy meals; and demonstrations of the cooking skills that go into preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

People who need food assistance are our friends and neighbors.  People who struggle to get by, especially in our current recession/ depression.  Poor nutrition is tied into poor overall health: when your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to fight disease or build new cells, your health suffers.  Beyond high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity (which, counter-intuitively, is a form of malnutrition)—poor skin, hair, eyes, teeth; general fatigue; and illness all flow from lack of access to nutritionally adequate food.

Helping people to get more fresh food is a key component of the solution.  Even just incorporating fresh produce into a processed meal can make a big difference in nutritional quality, as this informational sheet demonstrates.  By providing practical advice and suggestions such as these, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank helps provide solutions.

Please consider showing your support for fresh food for all by visiting one or both of these weekend events.

PASA Cheesemaking Class at EEFC

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture will be hosting a cheesemaking class at East End Food Co-Op on Thursday, August 23 from 6:30-8:30 PM.   I’m sort of bummed that I have conflicting plans for that evening and can’t be there.  But, that’s no reason why you shouldn’t go.

“This is a beginner’s class: focus is on dairy products easily replicated at home with no expensive or specialized equipment. Take home cheese-ready milk, recipes and ideas for making your home-made cheese part of every day meals, plus tips and resources for finding equipment and ingredients.”

Suggested donation is $10.  Visit for more info or call the co-op at (412) 242-3598 to register.

Naturally Colored Icing

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

One of the things that consistently annoys me about foods marketed toward children are the ridiculous amounts of artificial coloring in them.  This is especially offensive in light of research pointing to ways in which artificial colors exacerbate hyperactivity in children and can even be a contributing factor in the severity of symptoms in autistic children.  Artificial colors are coal tar byproducts (as is saccharine, by the way), and really have no resemblance to actual foods.  So what then to do about providing children with fun and interesting colors to eat?  Why not take advantage of the wide range of fruits and vegetables that have natural colorants to produce colorful foods that are also more flavorful as a result of drawing their colors from real foods?

The cake pictured above has no artificial colors in its icing.  It is iced with blueberry-flavored purple icing; black-currant flavored pink icing; and cocoa-flavored brown icing.

The easiest way to make naturally colored icing is to build the color into your butter.  Follow my instructions for the black currant beurre blanc and let the resulting butter cool to room temperature, then use it to start the icing.  The general formula for icing will be 4 cups of confectioners sugar per 1/2 lb of butter.  1/2 lb of butter is enough to ice a 10 x 15 layer cake.  Make smaller quantities of icing for accent colors.

Here is a partial list of fruit-based colors that could be made this way:

Purple—blueberries and red wine

Pink—black currants and white wine; or strawberries and white wine, mixed with some plain butter

Red—strawberries and white wine

Green—kiwis and white wine

Yellow—saffron-infused white wine or turmeric whipped into the butter

Orange—combine red and yellow butters; or for a paler shade, use peaches.

Blue— This is not a natural color in food.  It can, however, be achieved through chemistry: cook beets down with a base (such as baking soda).  They (and the water they are cooked in) will turn blue.  Reduce this water to almost nothing, refresh it with a half cup of white wine, then reduce again.  Whip the butter into it per the beurre blanc instructions.  It will not be a royal blue, but the hue can be adjusted by combining the resulting colored butter with other butter when making the icing.

The best part about using naturally-colored icing is the flavor that goes along with it.  The purple icing was not just a visual component of this cake, but added a vibrant blueberry flavor that really was a fantastic addition to the final result.

The Freshest of Fruits

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Just yesterday I was cursing my backyard bunny for chewing up my strawberries as they even approached a pinkish hue.  This morning as I walked to the car I decided to take another peek.  Hooray!  One whole, fresh, ripe berry, plus a few others untasted on their way to ripeness.

I considered leaving it there for Angstrom to discover this evening.  But then a little (somewhat selfish) voice inside me asked, “what if the rabbit ate it in the meantime?  Then it would go to waste!”  So I picked it and ate it right there.  So sweet, still warm from the sun: it was fantastic!  And, the others that were almost ripe this morning should be ready for the A man to discover tonight.

2011 Beef Draft

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

We had our annual beef draft today, in which members of our beef share cooperative chose their ideal portions of local, pasture-raised, grass-fed beef in a sports-style draft.  This format allows everyone a chance to get cuts of beef that match their cooking style.  I was too busy to take any pictures, but my father was there and took plenty of shots–so if you’re interested in photos, I’ve included a link at the end of this post.

2011 beef draft by the numbers:

  • 2: steers’ worth of beef distributed
  • 1526: combined hanging weight of the steers
  • 895: weight of beef distributed
  • 59: percent yield from hanging weight
  • 30: families participating
  • 53: total shares distributed
  • 12: lowest weight per share
  • 20: highest weight per share
  • 17: average weight per share
  • 487: cost in cents per pound of beef


Link to photographs from the event

Varnish Top Mushroom

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

As explained to me by Cavan Patterson of Wild Purveyors, the varnish top (aka Lingzhi, aka Reishi) mushroom grows in shingles on hemlocks and other softwood trees.  The source of its American name is pretty easy to determine: the top of the fungus is shiny, like varnished mahogany.

Cavan recommends drying it, grating it, and adding a tablespoon or two to tea or soup as a remedy for gastrointestinal concerns.

I asked Cavan how he learned enough about mushrooms to be confident foraging for them.  “The mushrooms taught me!” he joked.

In actuality, he’s done ten years of research and has hands on experience and assistance from his brother and partner in Wild Purveyors, Tom Cavan, who holds degrees in plant pathology and mycology from Penn State University.