Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bad peanut butter update

No jars of peanut butter on the grocery shelves have been affected, but the recall of the salmonella-tainted product made by Peanut Corp. of America continues to plague consumers. Earlier this week, Kellogg pulled some Keebler crackers from store shelves as a precaution. But the Food and Drug Administration warns that their investigation is still in its early stages and new cases of poisoning are being reported. According to Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's food safety center, "This is a very active investigation, but we don't yet have the data to provide consumers with specifics about what brands or products they should avoid."

For people with weakened immune systems, the elderly and children, this is not good news. To be extra safe, it would be wise to pass on any processed food that has peanut butter as an ingredient. Anything you make that uses peanut butter from the jar is probably OK, but if you have any doubts, you can bring an empty jar (weigh it before filling) and grind the peanuts yourself at many health food stores, including Whole Foods.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Don't mess with seniors

My Uncle Vernon usually sends me a joke or two every day by e-mail... his way, at 84, to let me know he's still here. Most have nothing to do with food, but this one does.

We went to breakfast at a restaurant where the 'seniors' special' was two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast for $1.99.

'Sounds good,' my wife said. 'But I don't want the eggs.'

'Then, I'll have to charge you $2.49 because you're ordering a la carte,' the waitress warned her.

'You mean I'd have to pay for not taking the eggs?' my wife asked incredulously.

'YES!!' stated the waitress..

'I'll take the special then.' my wife said.

'How do you want your eggs?' the waitress asked.

'Raw and in the shell,' my wife replied.

She took the two eggs home and baked a cake.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Corny idea, but a good one

A food product? A cleaning product? It's both!

When you have a grease stain on something that won't come out in the wash, or even with repeated dabs of spot remover, try Lori K's handy hint: Reach for that box of cornstarch in your pantry. Sprinkle some on the spot and rub it in. Wait 5 minutes. For washable items, run them through the wash again. For rugs or upholstery, brush or vacuum away the starch. The spot likely will be gone, the grease absorbed by the starch.

You are what you eat

Women's Health magazine had a good article last month about why we crave certain foods during winter, but it was broken down by body part and took a while to get through. I found this excellent little summary of it on, of all places, the Sierra Trading Post blog.

1. Eat cottage cheese to strengthen and add vibrance to dull winter hair.

2. Eat dark leafy greens and fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids to give your tired brain a boost.

3. Eat sunflower seeds (or other foods high in Vitamin E) to fight hay fever and nasal drip.

4. Eat eggs (yolk and all) to help your eyes see clearly when darkness falls.

5. Eat tomatoes and shelled hemp seeds to ward off the wrinkles and UV damage that come with sun exposure on snowy ski slopes.

6. Eat walnuts for their Omega-3 fatty acids to keep your lips chap-free and naturally moisturized.

To read the full article (part by part) by Matthew G. Kadey, M.S., R.D., in Women's Health magazine, click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hail to the chef!

It's official now: Cristeta Comerford is keeping her post as White House chef, just as I predicted (click here).

From a Los Angeles Times story this morning:

Despite some foodie salivating over the idea of a star wearing the chef's whites in Barack Obama's kitchen, the current White House chef is keeping her job. Michelle Obama says she and the White House chef have something in common, and she's looking forward to a collaboration.

"Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family," Obama said in a statement released last week by the president-elect's transition team. "Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families."

Photograph: Ron Edmonds

Badder peanut butter update

The peanut butter salmonella outbreak has sickened more than 400 people across the country and is believed to have contributed to the deaths of three people. The company that distributed the tainted peanut butter recalled it earlier this week, saying that the outbreak was conclusively linked to its product.

Salmonella typhimurium, the type implicated in the national outbreak, is only one of the many strains of the deadly bacteria. Epidemiologists estimate there are about 2,500 types of salmonella.

Not everyone is a critic

Perhaps the title of this post should be "Not everyone is a GOOD food critic." I was reading a piece about French food critic François Simon in the New York Times, and was stopped by  Jean-Claude Ribaut's quote:

Mr. Simon also showers criticism on other French food critics, faulting them for identifying themselves in restaurants, cozying up to chefs and taking free meals and gifts. “It is much easier to turn into a courtesan, to be inside rather than outside the house of the chefs,” he said.

But other critics call his aloof approach sterile. “I want to get to know the chef, to understand what he feels, his frame of reference, his roots,” said Jean-Claude Ribaut, the longtime food critic at Le Monde. (Mr. Ribaut pays for his restaurant meals.) “I want to know if he grew up on a farm, if his father grew vegetables. If you go anonymously, you can’t ever have this kind of dialogue.”

Ribaut is simply wrong (although he does right by paying for his meals). The proper way to review a restaurant is to go incognito, so that you are treated like any other diner who walks through the door. Then, afterwards, you call the chef to discuss his or her background, anything that was amiss in the food or your dining experience, questions on techniques and ingredients, etc.

To read the full story on Simon, click here.

Photograph: Disney/Pixar

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In praise of soup

Soup, real soup, not someone's idea of soup that comes out of a can, is both comforting and economical. With a little care, mostly in attention to spices and making sure the elements are not overcooked so that they arrive on the palate in a goopy mess, you can transform yesterday's gourmet news from history into a new beginning. To begin, think about the spices that were used in preparation of your leftover vegetables and meats. Many vegetables can be neutralized by rinsing, but the spices usually cook into the meats, so if you're using meat, take your cue from whatever spices were used on it. For a winter soup, make it more hardy than brothy. Leftover couscous or pasta can effectively thicken your soup, but take care that it doesn't settle in at the bottom of the pot and stick. To make it special, put something fresh in: A handful of kale ribbons, a grilled chicken breast, or a sprinkling of arugula on top when it's served. If you do a puréed vegetable soup, add a drizzle of whipped yogurt or a dollop of aioli, a grating of ginger or lemon peel. Sometimes a little touch can raise a homey soup to a dinner worth coming home to. And don't forget some hot, crusty bread to go along with it!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Two agencies aren't better than one

Have you noticed that food safety in the United States seems only to become a concern when people get sick? This week it was peanut butter, but there's been botulism in canned foods and melamine in infant formula.

The New York Times had an interesting article on this topic on Saturday, and here are some excerpts from it (to read the full story, click here):
In 1999, the Government Accountability Office (then called the General Accounting Office) issued a report called “U.S. Needs a Single Agency to Administer a Unified, Risk-Based Inspection System.”

“The fragmented system was not developed under any rational plan but was patched together over many years to address specific health threats from particular food products,” the report said. Efforts to address food safety, it says, are “hampered by inconsistent and inflexible oversight and enforcement authorities, inefficient resource use and ineffective coordination.”

It went nowhere. In the decade since, the problems have only worsened. As food imports have soared, the number of inspectors has declined as budgets have been cut. 
The problem, it seems, is that the Department of Agriculture gets a huge hunk of the federal budget, but is only responsible for about 20 percent of our food. The rest falls under the Food and Drug Administration, which concentrates most of its much smaller budget on drugs and devices.
“Food safety is beneath three levels of bureaucracy at H.H.S.,” Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro said recently. “It needs to have its own function.” She added: “There is no high-ranking food safety official in the U.S. government. There is no one accountable.”

A badder peanut butter

An Ohio peanut butter distributor issued a voluntary recall Saturday for two brands of peanut butter as health officials continue the search for the source of a salmonella outbreak that has been reported in 42 states.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a product warning Friday after preliminary laboratory testing indicated the presence of salmonella in a container of creamy peanut butter from King Nut, according to published reports.

Late Saturday, King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio, announced it had issued a recall of all peanut butter distributed under its label and manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America, of Lynchburg, Va. The company also recalled its distribution of Parnell's Pride peanut butter, which is also made by Peanut Corporation, according to a prepared statement by King Nut.