Saturday, March 21, 2009

Waxman working for peanuts - and us

Thank God for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., for keeping the heat on the Peanut Corporation of America. In doing so, he is compelling all of us to think about what blind faith we engage in every time we open a bag or box of processed food.

According to a story in The Washington Post today, Kellogg and other companies that bought products from PCA told lawmakers Friday that unlike Nestlé, they did not perform their own inspections. Instead, they relied on third-party audits common in the U.S. food industry:
David Mackay, Kellogg's chief executive, said his company trusted audits performed by the American Institute of Baking International, the biggest food-inspection firm in the country. The institute conducted scheduled inspections of PCA's facilities and never flagged serious problems. It issued a "certificate of achievement" and a "superior" rating last August, when PCA was getting results from internal laboratory tests that revealed a salmonella problem in its plant in Blakely, Ga., congressional investigators said.

"They gave PCA glowing reviews," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The company was selected by PCA, paid by PCA, and realized that if they didn't give PCA a glowing review, they were not going to get hired again.

"They gave PCA a certificate of achievement," added Waxman, who held up the certificate in one hand and with the other waved a photograph, taken by federal investigators, of dead rodents inside a PCA facility. "How do you have a company that looks like this getting a certificate of achievement? . . . It really makes you think there must be something wrong."
It's too bad that other large conglomerates, who obviously only had the bottom line in their sights, didn't do what Nestlé did and send their own inspectors out for a check of the facilities.
It sounds like there was plenty of chances to stop the bad peanut butter from spreading, but at every juncture, profit won out over prevention. And a lot of innocent people paid the price.

I hope that more videos of these hearings make it out into the public domain, so us non-CSPAN junkies can see our public officials in action. The video below was taken earlier in the hearings.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tangerine dreams

Reading the poetry on my husband's blog this morning, I recalled my tangerine tree in my backyard in Sacramento. It's grown huge (so much for the dwarf designation on its lable). The tangerines this year were a bit tart, but still very tasty, I thought. They had seeds, so they weren't that easy to eat out of hand (unless you had just picked them and you could just spit out the seeds in the yard). Jim squeezed a whole quart of juice from them once; he said it was much harder than any orange juice he had ever made. I guess that's why you don't see much tangerine juice offered commercially.

Lori K's tangerine asparagus

1 pound asparagus, trimmed (see note)
Olive oil (preferably extra-virgin, in a spray bottle)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
2 tangerines or a large can of Mandarin oranges
1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice or orange juice
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoons grated tangerine peel or orange peel
1 garlic clove, pressed or a 1/2 teaspoon garlic juice
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
4 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread asparagus in 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan or on a broiler pan; spray with oil and season with pepper. Roast asparagus until crisp-tender, 8 minutes. Transfer asparagus to a platter and season with sea salt to taste; cool.
Using sharp knife, cut peel and white pith from tangerines. Cut between membranes to release segments and remove seeds, if any. Arrange tangerine segments atop asparagus. Whisk juice, vinegar, sesame oil, peel, garlic and ginger in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle over asparagus. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.
Note: The best way to trim asparagus ends, although it may result in uneven spears, is to bend the stalk as near to the end as possible until it snaps. The stalk above the snap will be tender. The remaining stalk is woody and tough. They should go in the compost pile.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bento there, done that

Bento boxes almost define the Japanese lunch. Long before sushi took hold of the American scene, a couple of pieces found their way onto the bento box, along with a variety of three to six other foods. This was in keeping with the philosophy of all things in moderation while providing something for each of the tastes and senses. It's a wonderful way to discover new foods, a little bit at a time.

But I still was surprised by my friend and former co-worker Gina Kim's video on box lunches.

For one thing, she interviewed a Caucasian mom (Deborah Hamilton, creator of the excellent Web site, who got into the bento box for lunch when her husband was diagnosed with celiac disease. Hamilton stressed how the food doesn't have to be Japanese, it just has to be as pretty to look at as it is good to eat.

Another revelation was Hamilton's use of molds to turn hardboiled eggs into fun shapes for her little kid. I had no idea you could do that. What fun!

And there was this great tip: Use silicone baking cups as dividers in the storage containers. Not only do they keep the food flavors from blending together, they add a lot of color as well.

Great work, Gina!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Name that tuna

Quick - what do you think of when you hear the words "tuna salad"? A scoop of canned tuna and fresh diced celery held together with mayonnaise? Yes, that's the traditional recipe, whether it is atop a bed of greens or slathered on a sandwich.

But if you'd rather not go the mayo route, here's a tuna salad alternative that has more protein and fiber.

Lori K's tuna salad
Serves 2

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon diced red onion
1 5-ounce can white albacore tuna, drained
1 tablespoon capers
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley, sage or tarragon (optional)

Mix all ingredients and chill. Serve on mixed greens that have been tossed with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Good bread: Hard to find but spreading

One of my former co-workers at The Sacramento Bee, Dave Jensen, had an unusual post on his stem-cell research blog: a tout for his brother's bakery, Serious Bread, which opened for business after Hurricane Katrina. Bay St. Louis is a little far to go on a regular basis, but I salute him and his philosophy of bread:


I was raised years ago in the West, where sourdough was king. The bread had good taste and texture. In the years following college I spent a lot of time in Europe enjoying wonderful bread. Upon returning home I was faced with the dilemma of finding good bread, that earthly kind I had learned to love overseas. Whenever I returned to Mississippi from a California vacation, one of my suitcases would be loaded with sourdough bread or I would get a care package at Christmas containing sourdough. In the end I always ran out and faced with by bread problem. About 10 years ago I visited my sister-in-law, Sharon, in San Diego and she was making this great bread……..and I started to bake.

In my other life I was an oceanographer and towards the end of my career I took a bread class at King Arthur Flour to see if I really wanted to bake better bread. I followed this with a week at the John Campbell Folk School learning about sourdoughs. My wife and I are going to Colorado in early October to learn about starters, more sourdough, and New York bagels. Old time bread making is generally considered a lost art. We make our Serious Breads from scratch and do a lot of hand kneading. Most of our bread is made with a poolish or a biga. We have found doing it this way provides the bread with a better taste and texture. In other words good healthy eating and that’s what we are about.
Keep safe.

The Breadman at the Mockingbird Café
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

And, in case your travels bring you that way, here's a little about the Mockingbird Cafe that houses Jensen's bakery:
Business is perking up for a new coffee shop in Old Town Bay St. Louis. "Mockingbird Cafe" opened exactly a year after Katrina hit.

"We came home and there weren't any of our coffee shops open. Everything was destroyed," said Alicein Chambers.

Alicein and Martin Chambers bought the pre-Civil War house on Second Street, and restored it.

"We wanted to make sure that this building in particular was protected, and not torn down and turned into condos or whatever else people might have planned," Chambers said. "There are so few buildings left." "Some of the buildings in Old Town are probably 100 years or so," said Councilman-at-large Bill Taylor.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Look for the local label

That food sitting in nice little wrapped packages had to come from somewhere, and thanks to a new law passed by Congress last year, you'll soon be able to tell the origins of many foods, from fresh meats to raw nuts and fresh and frozen produce. That won't ensure its safety, but if you'd rather eat local, at least now you can tell what is grown nearby or far, far away.

Stu's stew

I liked this status report from Stuart, an editorial writer at The Sacramento Bee and all-around great party guy:

Stuart Leavenworth is simmering chicken thighs in red thai curry, ginger, lemon grass, coconut milk, fish sauce, carrots, onions and any minute now...snow peas from the garden.