A vegetarian hot dog that actually sounds tasty

Red meat is still part of my diet, albeit a much smaller part since my heart surgery in 2012. I have red meat once a week now, and only the leanest I can find, which means either fillet mignon or a cheek-meat sandwich at Naf Naf Grill.

Zucchini dogs, a meatless alternative to hot dogs.
Zucchini dogs, a meatless alternative to hot dogs.

I’ve stopped eating hot dogs and other processed meats altogether, except for the occasional splurge at my boyhood favorite, Nathan’s, when I’m in New York City. That said, I can’t bring myself to eat any of the fake vegetarian meat substitutes, several of which are high in sodium themselves.

So when I first saw the article, This Hot-Dog Alternative Is So Simple, You’re Going to Wonder Why You Didn’t Think of It Yourself, I assumed it would be something I wouldn’t want to eat. Continue reading “A vegetarian hot dog that actually sounds tasty”

Local citrus in mid-America? Build your own greenhouse

People are increasingly interested in buying local foods, but there’s no universally accepted definition for what local means for various shoppers. Some have suggested the idea of bio-regions to get a handle on what is truly local.

Still, if you’re sitting in Chicago on a winter’s day as I am, you have to wonder if you’ll ever be able to buy something like a local banana which needs a lot more heat and sun than we have here.

Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert looks at one alternative in his video, a man in Nebraska who built his own greenhouse to grow local.

“Geothermal greenhouses high on the Nebraska plains house a citrus grove with trees holding up a canopy of lemons, grapefruit-sized oranges, green figs and bunches of grapes. The designer, a former mail carrier and farmer, Russ Finch designed the structure and calls it the Greenhouse in the Snow,” Lempert reports. Finch thinks he can even grow bananas!!!

Others are backing the idea of greenhouse agriculture in urban areas. Gotham Greens, a company I wrote about in a past life when I was editor of a food magazine, boasts that it “has built and operates over 170,000 square feet of technologically advanced, urban rooftop greenhouses across 4 facilities in New York City and Chicago. Gotham Greens is actively developing urban agriculture projects in cities across the United States.”

Putting these greenhouses on otherwise unused flat roofs on supermarkets and food warehouses is a great use of space and can provide local jobs for future urban farmers as well.

For more news from the urban agriculture front, check out my son’s blog, From the Ground Up North, which is getting a lot of positive notice in the Twin Cities area.


General Mills joins Campbells, will label GMO ingredients

The battle over labeling food products that contain GMO ingredients has been brewing in Washington, as I wrote earlier this year. But today, food giant General Mills announced it will join Campbell’s and start labeling which of its products contain genetically modified ingredients.

Here's what food labels could look like in Vermont-- noting GMOs-- unless Congress moves to stop it.
Here’s what food labels could look like in Vermont– noting GMOs.

This has to be seen as a victory, hopefully, for the people who have been campaigning mightily to get companies to disclose what’s in their processed foods.  Continue reading “General Mills joins Campbells, will label GMO ingredients”

Pasta portions — the companies that sell it and Strega Nona disagree

When my children were young, I would read them the adventures of a character called Strega Nona. I loved the book because Strega Nona is Italian, the book was written by an Italian, and I hoped it would give my children a sense of their Italian side. It also had a goofy character named Big Anthony who remind me of my cousin Anthony, so it worked in so many ways.

Four ounces of pasta, before cooking.
Four ounces of pasta, before cooking.

Strega Nona had a magic pasta pot that could make as much pasta as she directed it, what Italian boy wouldn’t want one of those?

Pasta, which we actually called macaroni in my Italian-American home in Brooklyn, was a ubiquitous part of our weekly menu. It was always part of Sunday dinner and probably served at least one weekday every week as well.

Since my heart surgery in 2012, I’ve been told by nutritionists to stop eating regular pasta altogether and switch to whole grain and multigrain varieties. that’s meant almost no pasta at Italian restaurants anymore since so few offer whole grain varieties. So when I make the multigrain type at home, I tend to eat a lot of it, just like I did as a kid.

A box of Barilla whole grain penne says a portion size is two ounces, or 56 grams, of dry pasta. I can usually eat half a box which is 6.5 ounces,so I decided to measure out two ounces recently on my food scale to see how much it was.

Adjusting the scale to zero with a measuring cup on it, I started adding pasta. Two ounces didn’t even fill a one-cup container, so I ended up with four ounces on the scale, filling the cup and putting the rest on the scale itself.

Four ounces of pasta cooked. Barely filling my plate.
Four ounces of pasta cooked. Barely filling my plate.

I cooked that up and put it on my plate. What had been 4 ounces dry filled the plate, barely, but it did not really fill me. It left me wishing Strega Nona’s pasta pot was somewhere nearby.


Here’s why I should only cook, never bake

“Cooking is an art, baking is a science.” That phrase has been a round in print since at least 1967, according to one source I found. The corollary to that for me is —  stick to cooking, avoid baking. I am not now, nor ever will be a scientist.

My deflated, soggy three-ingredient muffins.
My deflated, soggy three-ingredient muffins.

Baking is a science because baking recipes really are formulas. Change one amount or one ingredient and it all goes haywire, much like all the test tubes I blew up in science class while trying to distill wood my freshman year in high school.

I like to use recipes as a starting point, not as dictates, so I always mess something up while baking. Continue reading “Here’s why I should only cook, never bake”

Eating at Asian restaurants with their high-salt options — here’s some alternatives

Chinese food, more correctly old-fashioned Chinese-American restaurant offerings like fried rice, spare ribs, egg rolls and lobster-filled fried wontons, is perhaps the cuisine I miss the most since switching to a low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet after my 2012 angioplasty.

My Chinese birthday dinner, egg rolls, crab rangoon, Mongolian beef. Not shown was the fried rice.
My Chinese birthday dinner, egg rolls, crab rangoon, Mongolian beef. Not shown was the fried rice.

I went back to it on a birthday in 2014, with unpleasant results. And I’ve found some ways to make Asian dishes at home with a salt-free teriyaki marinade.

So I was interested to read a post on former Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels’ site headlined “Learn Healthy Options at Asian Restaurants.” I generally think there are none, but she started out with one that I can actually agree with — sashimi instead of sushi at a Japanese place.  Continue reading “Eating at Asian restaurants with their high-salt options — here’s some alternatives”

You want local food, how about bio-region food?

Consumers are more and more demanding local products from the food stores they frequent, there’s little doubt about that, as I’ve written before.

But one long-time food writer, Phil Lempert, argues that many regions of the world simply can’t support much local production and so consumers should be thinking about what he calls bio-regions.

Mondelez has to compete with fruit for the healthy snack trade, can it?
Local is increasingly where it’s at for today’s food retailers. But what is local?

“Much confusion still surrounds what ‘local’ is and is not. A new definition is needed – one that defines local in terms of ‘bio-regions’ in which nature has defined the best growing areas for crops and livestocks based on quality, sustainability and economics based on the soils and climate conditions. Gone are the arbitrary mile radius descriptions as they are replaced with identification of certain regions with detailed explanations of the bio-region,” he wrote earlier this year on his Supermarket Guru site. Continue reading “You want local food, how about bio-region food?”

Fast food breakfast choices — the salt flows like water

WebMD recently did a series of posts about fast food choices which I wrote about recently. The news was mostly bad, especially when it came to salt content of even what WebMD considered the best alternatives in several categories.

A McDonald's breakfast platter my mother once loved.
A McDonald’s breakfast platter my mother once loved.

The medical site is at it again, sending me this look at fast food breakfast choices. Again the news is bad even for the choices WebMD says are you best bet, or at least better bets than the calorie and salt monsters profiled first. Continue reading “Fast food breakfast choices — the salt flows like water”

A quinoa burger I would like? The jury’s still out on this one

Giant, juicy hamburgers are one of the foods I miss the most since switching to my low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet after my 2012 angioplasty. I have substituted turkey burgers and burgers I make from 96% lean ground beef. But there’s nothing like a half-pound beef burger, in my opinion.

The best quinoa burger ever? Try making it and let me know.
The best quinoa burger ever? Try making it and let me know.

So I was a bit skeptical about this recipe I saw in Bon Appetit that was headlined Make a Quinoa Burger You Actually Want when it landed in my e-mail inbox one day. Continue reading “A quinoa burger I would like? The jury’s still out on this one”

A flavorful take on cod, but is it low-sodium?

Cod is a fairly bland fish, probably most familiar to you as the fish in the typical fish and chips dish in which you taste the breading more than the fish itself. As you can tell, I’m not a big cod fan, but I came cross this recipe recently that gave a nice flavor boost to the white fish.

My panko-crusted cod.
My panko-crusted cod.

The recipe calls for coating the cod with a mixture of panko breadcrumbs, artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, basil and pepper. It also calls for adding salt but I did not. Fish does not need salt, period, in my opinion.

You mix all those ingredients and coat the cod fillets with it, then bake in a 400-degree oven for about half an hour.

The salt challenge in this is the artichoke hearts. Most canned ones have 4oo or more mgs per serving. with two-three servings in a can. I found one imported brand that had 240 mgs times three servings, or 720 mgs in the can. I used about a third of the can in the recipe, so 240 mgs of sodium spread over the four cod fillets, of which I ate two.  Continue reading “A flavorful take on cod, but is it low-sodium?”

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