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Archive for April 10, 2012

BOOKS: Good Junk Food & Comfort Food

A great read and a permanent reference book for everyone who wants to make better food choices and teach kids how to do the same. Get your copy now.

 

Junk food is a pejorative term attributed to Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He first used it in 1972 to refer to food that is of minimal nutritional value (little protein, vitamins or minerals) and worse, typically high in fat, sugar and other empty calories. Some of the culprits include candy bars, potato chips and other salty snacks, soda, and many desserts.

Could he have known that a substantial number of Americans—junk food lovers—would come to see the term as a positive? No doubt, if someone were to establish a chain called The Junk Food Food Court, the lines would be out the door. (Note that if you take this concept and run with it, you owe THE NIBBLE a royalty, which we will put to the service of healthier-eating awareness.)

In his series of Eat This, Not That books, David Zinczenko has done a great boon to America by pointing out the horrors in our diet: the salty, sugary and fat-laden foods we consume. While we know they are not good for us, we never realized how bad they were until he garnered so much media attention.

 

Two new books take on the topic of junk food, and both are worth putting on your bookshelf.

UNJUNK YOUR JUNK FOOD

The first book is Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks, by Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer with Lisa Tsakos.

The premise is that you don’t have to give up junk food to eat healthy; just make smarter choices.

As such, the book features some 175 favorite brands of junk food, from candy and chocolate, to cookies and ice cream novelties, to chips and dips, to sodas and other beverages. It showcases the “bad food” on the left hand page, with the better alternative on the facing page.

Equally as important, the book explains why, giving a detailed comparison that is both enlightening and interesting. In addition to the specific food comparisons, there are helpful overviews and glossaries: basic nutrition, bad ingredients to watch out for and things even a ten-year-old can understand and appreciate.

In fact, we really like this book for both kids and adults. Instead of demanding change, it confers upon the reader a great understanding of the differences between good and bad ingredients, while providing a more-than-satisfactory alternative for each bad food.
 
Even though we don’t eat much junk food, we were enlightened by:

  • The great tips for reading food labels and recognizing false claims.
  • The explanation of many ingredients—especially the polysyllabic ones that look like the chemicals they are.
  • The nutritious ingredients to look for and dangerous additives to avoid.
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    VEGAN JUNK FOOD

    While Unjunk Your Junk Food truly is about junk food, Vegan Junk Food, by Lane Gold, is misnamed. We’d call it Vegan Comfort Food. Perhaps because there were already a few titles that focus on vegan comfort food, the publisher wanted a point of differentiation. Instead, it’s a point of confusion. This is a vegan cookbook focusing on popular comfort foods.

    While we’re at it, we also don’t like the subtitle, “225 Sinful Snacks That Are Good For The Soul.” Again, there are some snacks (caramel popcorn, cookies) but the majority of the recipes are meal items, not snacks.

    We also don’t find it inviting to call food “sinful” or that other misused word, “decadent.” And we wager that no cleric would agree that sinful undertakings are “good for the soul.”

     

    A terrific book and a great gift for anyone who eats junk food. Get your copy now.

    While we use our editor’s pulpit to point out what others have missed, the good news is that the content of the book is quite appealing: chock-full of vegan recipes for every meal and snack of the day:

  • Muffins, scrambled tofu with biscuits and sausage gravy
  • Cheesesteak, corndog, meatball sub and mac and cheese
  • Asian and Mexican favorites—empanadas, fajitas, tacos, tofu eggplant tikka masala, wontons, etc.
  • Appetizers and dips, from jalapeño poppers to teriyaki kabobs
  • Cakes, candies, cookies and more
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    It’s an inexpensive book ($11.17 on Amazon.com), so we can forgive the limited number of photos. Everyone knows what cheesecake, dip, fried rice and muffins look like.

    We recommend this book for every person/family who enjoys these foods, because eating vegan as often as you can is your contribution to saving the planet.* Not to mention all the cholesterol saved.
     
    *Animal manure is the number-one component of greenhouse gas (which produces climate change, a.k.a. global warming); raising animals depletes and pollutes water tables and a whole bunch more reasons we’ll cover on Earth Day.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Curry Powder & Chile Oil

    Homemade curry powder. Photo by Magda S.
    | Wikimedia.

     

    Today’s tip is a teaching moment from Chef Johnny Gnall. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    If you produce your own seasonings, you have the discretion to alter them to fit your preferences, whether they be increasing the heat, decreasing the garlic or making whatever changes suit you.

    Here are two Asian seasonings for you to make, store and use: curry powder and chile oil. They’re easy to make, and you can use them in everything from breakfast eggs and luncheon salads to dinner recipes.

    You can give them as gifts, too: delicious ingredients with a personal touch.

    Make them in small batches at first, until you reach a level of comfort with the process. Once you have it down, you can make quarts or more at a time and have them in your pantry for use in specific recipes, or to experiment with—or that last-minute gift.

     

    MAKE YOUR OWN CURRY POWDER

    This recipe is for a very basic curry powder. Curry powders you buy at the grocery store tend to be pretty generic (especially the domestic products made for the “American palate”), so you really are better off creating your own. It will save you money and enable you to bring out the flavors that you prefer. Throughout India and Asia, each household and restaurant has its proprietary recipe.

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup ground coriander
  • 1/3 cup ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  •  
    Preparation

    1. It’s a good idea to toast your spices in a pan over medium high heat, tossing as you do so; it will make your curry powder that much more aromatic and flavorful.

    2. You can use a food processor or blender to combine the spices, or just mix them thoroughly with a wire whisk. Mix thoroughly and store in a tightly-capped jar or bottle.

    VARIATIONS: Turmeric gives curry powder its orange/yellow color; cayenne, ginger and chili powder provide the heat. As you play around with the proportions, add the spices by the teaspoon. These spices are by no means the only acceptable ones for a curry powder. Try asafoetida, black cardamom, black pepper, caraway, cayenne (red pepper), cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, fenugreek, garlic, green cardamom, long pepper, mustard seed and/or nutmeg. If something smells or tastes right to you, give it a try.

    ADDITIONAL TIP: Save empty spice bottles and refill them with our homemade blends.

     

    MAKE YOUR OWN CHILE OIL

    This recipe is for a fermented chile oil—much more complex than a store-bought chile oil.

    I absolutely love oils like this. The fermentation develops the flavor in a unique way and brings out umami, which makes a recipe that much better.

    Drizzle it into soups for a garnish-with-a-kick; add some to salad dressings, sauces and marinades; use as a dipping oil; finish a sauté. It can substitute wherever oil is used as a condiment, alone or in combination with a mild oil.

    Ingredients

  • 1 pint red chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup of fermented black beans (available in Asian markets or online)
  • 1/4 cup sliced ginger
  • 10 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 quart canola oil or rice bran oil
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    Homemade chile oil. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe | New York City.

     

    Preparation

    1. Combine the flavor ingredients in the oil and heat over medium-low heat, to about 150°F (use a kitchen thermometer).

    2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to a jar or other sealable container and cap tightly.

    3. Let the mixture sit for at least a week, preferably two weeks; then it’s ready to go. It’s interesting to see how the favors develop and change as the fermentation process takes place.

    4. Once you’ve made a successful (to your preferences) batch, you can try versions with other herbs and aromatics. For gifts, tie a ribbon around the neck of a bottle and use your computer printer to create a gift label.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Povitica, A Cousin Of Babka

    Chocolate povitica: a winner. Photo courtesy
    Strawberry Hill.

     

    When we received a note telling us to expect a shipment of Strawberry Hill Povitica (poe-veet-suh), we rushed to the company website to answer the question: What is povitica?

    It is, as we discovered, an eastern European yeast cake similar to Russian babka—but better. Richer. More dense and buttery. And some flavors have cream cheese, which opens the door to cake and pastry heaven.

    After tasting the first three flavors, we knew that Strawberry Hill Povitica would be a Top Pick Of The Week. Then, eight more loaf cakes arrived.

    In handsome, reusable boxes, these scrumptious cakes, often in beautiful patterns, are at the top of our list for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts. We’ve become big fans of Strawberry Hill—as will anyone who takes a bite of their povitica.

    Read the full review, check out all 12 flavors and our top three favorites.

    See all the different types of cake in our Cake Glossary.

     

      

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