Archive for September, 2010

Quinoa Update/ Variation

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

I went to make my quinoa pilaf the other day and realized that my spearmint has all but faded for the year (perhaps helped to its dormancy by my enthusiastic pruning and use of its leaves throughout the summer).  My apple mint, though, still grew abundantly (perhaps helped along by my steadfastly ignoring its offerings throughout the summer, in favor of its mintier cousin).

Apple mint, for those who have never tried it, is a sweeter, less-minty varietal.  I made ice cream with it, once, was disappointed by its lack of sharpness, and have ignored it ever since–until now.  Spurred into action by the challenge of making it work, I contemplated: how can I take advantage of the apple mint’s sweetness and turn its erstwhile weakness into an advantage?

I found my inspiration in the varietal’s very name, apple mint.  I substituted walnuts for the pine nuts I had been using, added apples into the vegetable mix, and supplemented the golden raisins with dried cranberries; in addition to using apple mint for the final garnish.  The result was more pleasing to the eye (as a result of the spark of color provided by the dried cranberries), and was also quite possibly even tastier than the original.

Quinoa Pilaf featuring Apple Mint

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, cut to fine brunoise
  • 1 apple, cut to fine brunoise (I used a wealthy apple)
  • 1/4 cup mixed golden raisins and dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (the apples provide enough moisture that a full 2 cups of stock is a bit more than necessary)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 12-18 leaves fresh mint (apple mint does a great job, though other mints would work just fine, too)
  • cooking oil
  • salt and pepper

Rinse quinoa in three or four changes of water to guarantee that all of the bitter seed covering has been washed away (most commercially available quinoas have been pre-rinsed, but it’s worth it to make certain that the entire coating is gone).  Drain in a fine mesh sieve for 3-5 minutes before using.

Toast walnuts in hot, dry skillet, tossing constantly to make certain that they do not burn.  As nuts start to display a golden brown color and release a rich aroma, pour off to the side and reserve as a garnish.

Add thin layer of oil to bottom of pan and saute onion, garlic, and carrot with salt and pepper to taste.  As vegetables soften and begin to display a hint of golden brown, add the diced apples, and follow them up in short succession with rinsed and drained quinoa, dried fruit, stock, and cinnamon stick.  Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer 15 minutes.

Roll mint leaves the long way and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade).  Stir mint and walnuts into finished quinoa.  Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Get a Little Corduroy for Your Kitchen!

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Get a little Corduroy for your kitchen!

I’ll be selling some of my hand-built ceramic face magnets (as pictured above) at the East End Food Co-Op Art Harvest tomorrow afternoon (outside the East End Food Coop, on Meade St.).  Pick one up for your refrigerator….

…or perhaps get a hand-quilted, food-themed table runner or potholder (made by my mother, Clara Lee).

Corn Sugar Confusion

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Perhaps you’ve already seen in the news, on Tuesday, the Corn Refiners Association applied to the FDA for permission to refer to High Fructose Corn Syrup as “Corn Sugar” on product ingredient labels.  Thing is, the Oscar Mayer beef franks I bought on Monday have “cultured corn sugar” already listed on their ingredient label.  What gives?!

I placed a call to the Oscar Mayer information hotline to find out.  I spoke with Joe, who answers the phone for Oscar Mayer at a call center “somewhere in the northeastern United States.”  Where exactly, Joe couldn’t tell me “for security purposes.”

I asked Joe about the cultured corn sugar and whether it is the same thing as High Fructose Corn Syrup (henceforth to be referred to as HFCS).  He put me on hold briefly to check, then came back on the line to tell me, yes, it’s the same thing as HFCS, and is added to the meat in liquid form to help keep the product moist, yadda yadda yadda.

“Wait!” I stopped him.  “I want to know why Oscar Mayer is referring to it on their labeling as corn sugar if the Corn Refiners Association just applied for permission to use that terminology on labels on Tuesday, and the FDA is expected to perhaps take up to two years to decide on the matter.”  Joe couldn’t help me with that question.  He offered to escalate the matter, but said that he couldn’t guarantee a response from the company because the company usually only responds to escalated questions when it’s a matter of food allergy concerns.

So, I decided to do a little more digging on the topic myself.  Joe (and apparently Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods) are misinformed as to what the ingredients on the back of the label actually indicate.  As it turns out, per the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, the cultured corn sugar included in Oscar Mayer hot dogs is “corn… sugar cultured with Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei, Bacillus coagulans LA-1, or Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. Shermanii, or mixtures of these microorganisms,” and “For cultured corn sugar, FSIS [Food Safety Inspection Service] believes that an appropriate ingredient name that is consistent with 21 CFR 184.1857 is ‘cultured corn sugar’ or ‘cultured dextrose.’”  Furthermore, “Any further questions regarding use in meat and poultry products should be directed to Dr. John Hicks, Jr., Director, Risk Management Division, Office of Policy and Program Development,1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Room 3549, South Agriculture Building, Washington, DC 20250-3700. The telephone number for that office is (202) 205-0210 and the telefax is (202) 720-0582.”

Moreover, in a different posting, the FDA defines corn syrup as dextrose, and has done so since 1976–thereby indicating that the Corn Refiners Association application ought to be easily denied and refuted as misinformation and propaganda.

As far as I can tell, no public comment period has yet started regarding the Corn Refiners’ Association application for a name change to HFCS, but I find it somewhat confusing and perplexing that a different product is already being referred to as corn sugar on product labels.  As the nomenclature is confusing to the product manufacturer already, I believe that the Corn Refiners Association is setting the public up for perplexion.  I’m not quite sure what I can do about it… apart from contacting Dr. Hicks, Jr. and asking him as to whether the office of Policy and Program Development might weigh in on the potential consumer confusion that could result should the corn refiners get their way.

Quite Possibly the Sweetest Corn Available

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I spotted a sign while I was driving in Ohio:

“Sweet Corn: Sweeter than your Mother’s Love.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop and put their claims to a test.

Recently, though, Aurora and I hosted family from Nebraska and Iowa, each of whom brought a dozen ears of corn for us to enjoy, with claims that their state’s corn was the best.  We tasted and compared each with samples of Pennsylvania corn.

I am somewhat disappointed to announce that PA did not win.  I am somewhat surprised to announce that NE didn’t win, either.  Iowa’s corn was the sweetest of all the samples we tried.

sweeter than my mother’s love…that’s tough to quantify.  But it was darned good corn.