Here we go again: another bagged lettuce recall

Recalls of lettuce, both loose and in bagged varieties and salad kits, were widespread in 2019. Now, a new one is occurring right in several states. My Garden Bar salad

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued safety alerts June 19 for the following:

  • ALDI Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salad, sold in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri.
  • All Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salad, sold in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska.
  • Jewel-Osco Signature Farms Brand Garden Salad sold in Illinois.

The reason for the recall this time? Something called Cyclospora cayetanensis, which  “is a parasite that can cause an intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis that’s spread when infected feces contaminate food or water,” reports the Evanston Patch.

“So far there are 76 confirmed cases of illness, including 16 hospitalizations, in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Minnesota,” the Patch reports.

Pandemic snacking: Try sugar-free chocolate pudding

A lot has been written about people gaining weight while they sit home in quarantine because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The so-called “Quarantine 15” likely resulted from people loading up on high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar snacks. It’s been difficult for me not to do the same, and I have had my mini-binges as stress levels rose to hideous heights.

All you need to make pudding at home.

But I have found one snack that has no sugar and minimal fat — sugar-free chocolate pudding. You can buy it in pre-made cups, but those became harder and harder to find in my area as the pandemic persisted, so I bought the box variety instead and made it myself.

Chocolate pudding comes in two varieties, instant which requires no cooking, and the old-fashioned regular kind which requires you to do some very simple cooking. You can use either low-fat or no-fat skim milk, thus controlling the bad-fat levels you eat in the pudding you make.

The instant kind just requires you combines the powdered pudding mix with milk and mix it for a few minutes. I use an electric mixer but you can do it by hand with a whisk or fork too. The traditional kind requires heating the milk in a small pot on your stovetop and adding the mix, combining them in the pot.

This is my production from two boxes of pudding mix.

One regular-sized box requires two cups of milk, a pint, so two boxes work with a quart. I found a larger size box as well that requires three cups of milk.

Once mixed, you pour it into whatever small serving bowls or glasses you want and then put it in the refrigerator to cool and thicken.

If you need some chocolate every day, this I a great way to get it. Enjoy!

Pandemic ground beef recall: check that chopped meat in your freezer

As if food shopping during the pandemic hasn’t been difficult enough, now there’s a nearly 43,000-pound ground beef recall to cope with.

A processor named Lakeside Refrigerated Services, Swedesboro, New Jersey, produced the beef June 1. The possible presence of E coil is the culprit prompting the recall.

The meat is sold under the Marketside Butcher and Thomas Farms brands and was sent to roughly 700 Walmart and other retailers nationwide.

States where Marketside Butcher Organic Grass-Fed Ground Beef is likely to turn up include Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Vermont, and Puerto Rico.

The recall is a reminder than even organic items can get contaminated, depending on where they are processed and packaged for sale.

Covid-19 cooking trends: Everyone is making banana bread, apparently

I just finished blogging about one study on how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted American cooking and eating habits. And now a second study has crossed my desk, this one looking at the most searched for recipes since the pandemic began.

Banana bread (which I don’t like or eat, by the way) was the number one recipe searched for in all 50 states in April, found Bid on Equipment.

Tiny Rhode Island had the most searches for banana bread recipes, followed by New Jersey and Washington state.

So obviously the country likes banana bread more than I do and is finding some comfort in making it. More interesting, because of the range of choices, is which recipes came in second in every state. Regional differences can clearly be seen there. Continue reading “Covid-19 cooking trends: Everyone is making banana bread, apparently”

A great pandemic grilling tip: clean up with an onion

Here’s a great grilling hack for everyone cooking more outside now that the weather has turned hot. The worst part about grilling is cleaning the grill, I think. I typically buy disposable grilling sheets at a local dollar store to put over my grill so food doesn’t bake on it. That cuts down on how much wire brushing I need to do in the cleanup stage.

But now I’m going to try this hack from Southern Living magazine that says an onion can be a handy cleaning tool for a grill. Just cut a large onion in half and put the cut side down on your grill, moving it up and down with a long grilling fork to remove cooking residue on the grill, it suggests.

I use these disposable grilling sheets to keep my main grill clean, but this onion trick sounds like a great alternative.

“For extra gunk-fighting power, spray the grates with lemon juice or our old friend white vinegar first. The extra acidity helps with the cleaning process,” the magazine article states.

“Not only do onions have natural antibacterial properties, but if you’re cooking with charcoal, you can throw into right in the coals when you’re finished to add flavor to whatever you’re grilling,” it goes on to state.

 

Pandemic eating means quick meals and more take-out, study finds

I’ve been blogging for several days about fascinating new research from Influence Central about how the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted how people eat and cook. Today I’m focusing on what it’s meant for cooking time and take-out behavior.

While people are being forced to eat more at home, they don’t seem to be turning into health-conscious cooks who spend hours each day in their kitchens, the study finds. For example:

  • 46% are willing to spend 15 to 30 minutes cooking
  • 44% will spend 30-60 minutes.
  • Only 23% are willing to devote more time to dinner prep
  • 73% are devoting about the same as prior to stay-at-home orders

Sadly, what this means is many are eating unhealthy meals.

My mix and match fish dinner cooking away, walleye in the white pan, tilapia in the black with peppers and onions in the third.
My mix and match fish dinner cooking away, walleye in the white pan, tilapia in the black with peppers and onions in the third.

“Frozen meals from pizzas to more substantial heat and serve entrees, prepared meals ready to cook from the supermarket, and canned goods such as soups and chili become go-to items,” says Stacy DeBroff, CEO and founder, Influence Central.

“It’s clear that even with more time at home, some people still don’t necessarily want to spend all day in the kitchen,” she says.

All of those choices are normally very high in salt and can be high in fat and sugar as well.

When it comes to take-out:

• 69% of consumers have ordered take-out or delivery food from restaurants during the pandemic.
• 71% order from restaurants they ate in prior to the crisis.
• 87% order take-out from a specific local restaurant out of a desire to support the restaurant financially.
• When it comes to getting food delivered, consumers’ top choice is direct from the restaurant itself (60%). Favorite delivery services: Door Dash, followed by GrubHub and Uber Eats.

“More than half said they have not been concerned to leave the house to pick up food or collect it from a delivery driver,” DeBroff reports.

Influence Central found that the top ordering choices are:

1. Pizza (79%)
2. Fast Food (52%)
3. American and Pub Food (ex. Burgers and wings) (45%)
4. Mexican (39%)
5. Asian (35%)
6. Italian other than Pizza (23%)

Sadly, again, not very healthy choices. Continue reading “Pandemic eating means quick meals and more take-out, study finds”

Covid-19 — a boon for home cooking; organics have been hurt, study finds

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to rely more on home cooking and home-made meals. That one is pretty obvious, but new research from Influence Central dug a little more deeply into that trend to find that:

  • 88% of people are cooking more meals at home since stay-at-home orders went into effect.
  • 49% are now cooking meals from scratch.
  • 46% add into the mix pre-cooked and packaged foods.
  • 5% stick mostly to pre-cooked and packaged options.
  • These choices reflect consumer preference (57%) versus availability (43%).
  • 84% of consumers eat the meals they prepare right away.
  • 14% prefer preparing meals ahead of time.

    Getting ready for holiday cooking? Check back here often for no-salt, no-sugar, no-fat recipes.
    Almost everyone is cooking more at home since Covid-19 struck.

Influence Central’s May survey of 630 consumers found 17% of respondents are now delegating more cooking responsibilities to spouses and partners. For 3%, responsibilities have reversed, which means for 80%, who cooks has not changed. Continue reading “Covid-19 — a boon for home cooking; organics have been hurt, study finds”

Covid-19 Pandemic changing how we food shop, and eat, new research confirms

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major changes in the way Americans shop for their food, and in how they feel about grocery shopping, reports marketing firm Influence Central in new research it recently published.

Among the findings:

• 72% of consumers are going to the grocery store less frequently than they did before the pandemic.
• Consumers now overwhelmingly prefer shopping online with home delivery, followed by drive-by or curbside pickup, as opposed to actually going into a store to shop.
• 56% of consumers say they feel anxious about forgetting to pick up or not being able to find specific foods when shopping in-store.

My local Food 4 Less supermarket ona recent trip. I couldn’t wait to get out because of pandemic fears.

I’ll be doing several posts on this research. It quantifies and reinforces a lot of the anecdotal shopping experiences I’ve already been writing about, plus provides more details about what people are buying.

More than half of families’ eating habits have changed as they’ve been staying at home with 70% snacking and eating more frequently than they did pre-pandemic. And it’s not clear if they’re eating healthier or simply throwing down more junk food.

  • 43% eat more fruit and
  • 42% eat more vegetables,
  • 30% are eating more protein in the form of meat, poultry or fish.
  • 47% are turning to more sweets,
  • 24% have decreased their vegetable intake,
  • 21% east less fruit and 19% are eating less protein.

Continue reading “Covid-19 Pandemic changing how we food shop, and eat, new research confirms”

Pandemic cooking: try these Hawaiian chicken skewers

A dream trip to Hawaii in January was the last vacation we took before the pandemic swept across the U.S. I love Hawaii and miss it daily, so I’m always looking for ways to connect, especially now when I can’t leave my house. So this Mini Hawaiian Chicken Skewers recipe called to me when I saw it.

Luckily, I had a can of pineapple slices in my pantry to it and I’d stocked up on chicken breasts. I substituted lemon for lime juice because that’s what I had available. The same for ground ginger in my spice cabinet instead of the fresh ginger mentioned here. And I used fulls-ze skewers.

My Hawaiian chicken skewers.

Even with those changes, it came out very tasty, the grilled pineapple adding a nice bit of juiciness to chicken that could have veered toward dryness otherwise. I always recommend clicking through to the original recipe, where you can see a preparation video as well. But if you’d rather just see the recipe here (as some readers have told me they would):

Ingredients:

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (the thick variety) [use sugar-free version]

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 1/2 lime

Kosher salt [I left this out, it’s not needed and I’m on a low-salt diet]

4 green onions, sliced

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into bite-size chunks

2 red bell peppers, cut into chunks the size of the chicken and pineapple

One 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil, for the grill pan

 

Directions

  1. Add the teriyaki sauce to a bowl and stir in the ginger, brown sugar, crushed red pepper, garlic, lime juice, a pinch of salt and half of the green onions; set aside.
  2. Using wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for at least an hour, assemble your skewers. Start with a piece of chicken, then add a piece of bell pepper and a piece pineapple, then repeat until you 2 pieces of each on the skewer. Continue with the remaining ingredients for a total of 30 skewers. Season the skewers with salt and pepper and brush them with the marinade on one side.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with olive oil. Arrange the skewers on the grill sauce-side down (in batches if necessary) and grill for 3 minutes. While the skewers are cooking, brush the tops with the remaining marinade. After 3 minutes, flip and cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining green onions.

All the chopping takes time, this isn’t a quick recipe to make, but it was worth the effort. I’d also recommend making more marinade than the recipe calls for. I had less chicken than specified and still ran out as I was coating the second side after turning the skewers on my grill.

Pandemic Shopping at Food4Less: hit and miss but hand sanitizer was available

Finding groceries during the Coronavirus pandemic has been a hit and miss affair, much like shopping during any natural disaster can be. I’ve written about my experiences with home delivery, and have been reviewing stores I venture out for. Food4Less is a Kroger-owned chain that operates in the Chicago area.

My local Food 4 Less was quiet Sunday morning.

In normal times, I find produce deals there as well as some low-salt and no-salt items not available elsewhere.

I journeyed there the past weekend specifically to find Mrs. Dash salt-free teriyaki marinade but was sadly disappointed. It was out-of-stock and I didn’t even see an empty space on a shelf with its tag, so I’m concerned the chain may not be carrying it any longer.

That would force me to buy it online, which would effectively double the cost to more than $7 a bottle because of shipping costs. Amazon does have it for Prime members without shipping charges, but the cost is close to $6 a bottle, about 50% more than in stores.

Another item I looked for, low-salt soft taco shells from a local Chicago company,. also was out-of-stock but that;s likely because that company had to shut down when employees there tested positive for Covid-19. I think the plant is running again, but it must be having difficulty meeting demand.

I stocked up on hand sanitizer and some disinfectant.

One pleasant surprise at Food4Less was that it had hand sanitizer in stock, two different brands in fact. I bought two bottles of each (the per-shopper limit), just in case I’ll need it this fall should I be able to reopen my theater (a possibility that’s seeming less and less likely).

The store itself was relatively empty on a Sunday morning and everyone I saw was masked, which was reassuring. The quiet and the lack of person-to-person interaction was very sad, however, another impact of this pandemic.

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