Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chayote radish salad

Recipe courtesy of Vegetarian Times Magazine

Chayote radish salad

  • 2 Tbs. lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1–2 drops hot sauce, optional
  • 2 chayote squash, diced (2 cups)
  • 1 bunch radishes, sliced (1 cup)
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced (½ cup)
  • 4 cups watercress or arugula
  1. Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl. Keep at room temperature.
  2. Cook chayotes in large pot of boiling,salted water 10 minutes, or until tender.Drain, and cool.
  3. Combine all ingredients. Toss well. Serve immediately

Starfruit Pudding

A recipe from

Starfruit Pudding
The exotic fragrance of star fruit and its succulent flavor will tantalize your taste buds. Star fruit is abundantly rich in vitamin C and fiber, as is the pear and apple in this recipe.

  • 1 star fruit, seeded, save 2 slices for garnish
  • 1 pear, cored, cut into pieces
  • 1 apple, cored, cut into pieces

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender [you can even use a food processor]. Blend until smooth and creamy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eat well, stay well while saving time and money

Excerpts from an article in the Minneapolis MN Star Tribune by Sarah Moran, 11/15/09

"I encourage people to merge their food and health care budgets because [eating well] is preventive health care," said Taiha Wagner, a practical nurse, lifestyle educator and president of Just One Bite Inc. in Eden Prairie.

And you don't have to give up anything in order to eat healthier, said Brenda Langton, owner of Cafe Brenda in Minneapolis and a natural-food expert. "Really, it's about all these new wonderful foods that will enter your world -- embrace it and have fun with it, enjoy it and reap its rewards."

Follow this simple checklist to get on the path to healthier eating for a healthier self. You can
improve your health while saving time and money.
  1. Read labels.
  2. Avoid mystery ingredients.
  3. Avoid trans fats.
  4. Say no to high-fructose corn syrup.
  5. Don't buy genetically modified.
  6. Cut out MSG, or monosodium glutamate.
  7. Reconsider your supermarket.
  8. Choose produce strategically.
    Eat as many vegetables and fruits as possible.
    Buy organic for the "Dirty Dozen" -- the 12 most chemical-laden produce -- but stick with conventional for the "Clean Fifteen," 15 items with low chemical residue.

    Dirty Dozen: Peach, apple, bell pepper, celery, nectarine, strawberry, cherry, kale, lettuce, grape, carrot, pear.

    Clean Fifteen: Onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato, sweet potato.
  9. Check your meat.
  10. Increase healthful fats.
  11. Use whole grains.
  12. Buy better milk.
  13. Plan ahead.
  14. Prep ahead.
  15. Invest in cooking.
  16. Get creative. Buy limes in bulk to save cash. Squeeze the juice into ice cube trays for fresh lime juice in no time.

How to choose a starfruit

Starfruit start green and turn yellow then orange starting the center. Starfruit is considered ripe starting around 50% yellow. Starfruit when green are tart with the taste turning sweeter as the color changes. If you like your starfruit tart, look for Asian starfruit. Florida starfruit are generally much sweeter.

The starfruit's points will turn brown as the fruit ripens. You can always take a carrot peeler and trim off the brown tips. if desired.

You can eat a starfruit like an apple or like an ear of corn - chewing your way down each prong of the "star" until you're left with a core. Slicing the starfruit into small stars is the most popular way to enjoy the fruit.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Health benefits of fruits and vegetables

Excerpts from the UK's Department of Health's web site.

I've ranted about the US government's food pyramid before, so I won't go into it again. Needless to say I find that the UK's Department of Health is a much more viable resource. Fortunately for Americans, the UK health agency's advice lacks being hideously tainted with lobbist money.

This article is to the point. Eat fruits and vegetables, you can't get the same benefits from a 'fruit roll-up' or 'vegetable drink'. If this is socialist healthcare bring it on.

Direct health benefits

By eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables, you:

  1. Reduce significantly the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke by up to 20%. Just by increasing your diet to an additional 1 fruit or vegetable lowers the risk of coronary heart disease by 4% and the risk of stroke by 6%
  2. Help prevent 1/3 of all cancers. Only quiting smoking is more effective.
  3. Help lower blood pressure.
  4. Delay the development of cataracts
  5. Reduce the symptoms of asthma
  6. Improve bowel function
  7. Manage diabetes better

Why not a vitamin or vitamin fortified cereal?

The reason why fruit and vegetables are so beneficial is because of their array of compounds. As well as vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables also contain many complex plant components (called phytochemicals), including flavonoids, glucosinilates and phyto-oestrogens.

Some of the vitamins and phytochemicals are also antioxidants, destroying free radicals in the body. These free radicals are known to have a role in causing cancer as well as other harmful effects.

It appears that the benefits of fruit and vegetables stem not only from the individual components, but also from the interactions between these components. Dietary supplements containing isolated vitamins or minerals do not appear to have the same beneficial effects as fruit and vegetables themselves. Indeed, in some studies, supplements caused more harm than good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Food can impact your mood

The mood influencer we know and love the best - caffeine and its cousins (theophylline found in tea) and theobromine (found in chocolate). Eagerly taken to stimulate mental alertness, the amount of caffefine varies from the 10-50mg found in soft drinks to 100-175mg for a cup of drip-made coffee. Red Bull has 80 mg.

Want to feel calm? Feeling anxious? It's a good-enough excuse to indulge in dark chocolate, but beware the calming benefits are maxed out after only 1/4 an ounce. No need to eat the entire candy bar.

Chocolate also triggers the release of endorphins, natural opiates which make the body feel “balanced” and de-sensitized to pain. Chocolate has tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps produce the mood-calming and anxiety-reducing neurotransmitter, serotonin.

Serotonin is also produce by eating complex carbohydrates. Although other factors are at play, consumption of complex carbohydrates may provide a means for controlling stress.

Also promoting a relaxed but alert mental state is theanine – an amino acid found in green and black teas. Theanine actually slows the frequency of brain waves, measurable on the surface of the head which improves learning performance, mental acuity, and concentration.

You can achieve the same effect by listening to classical music, hence the recommendation of playing classical musical to babies. This brain wave state facilitates learning of, e.g., foreign languages.

If you're tired and moody, you might think eating simple sugars and refined carbohydrates can help. It can creating a wide mood swing that often ends in exhaustion with hints of depression.

Unfortunately American consumes about 150 lbs of refined sugars and about 400 lbs of refined carbohydrates. This elevates blood sugar levels causing insulin to be released which may cause a precipitous drop in blood sugar. When that happens, some tend to express more primitive and aggressive behaviors.

Based on an article in Prepared Foods Exclusive: The Food – Mood Enigma by John J. Smith, Ph.D.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Healthy benefits - papaya, starfruit, Uniq Fruit and guava

Excerpts from an article called Unique Choices for Fruitful Diet on Natural Home

Papaya – Regular
consumption of papaya endows with liberal discharge of papain enzyme in body. Papain enzymes are acknowledged as one of the most efficient enzymes that are capable to break proteins and natural source to enhance immune system which further helps in reduced chances of inflammatory diseases.

An increased intake of papaya assists in coping with deficiencies of potassium, folate and vitamin C. it is also a very popular food among diet conscious people owing to the petite quantity of calorie present i.e. half papaya comprises only fifty nine calories.

Star Fruit – Daily consumption of this Asian fruit helps in prevention from development of cardiac ailments. Since ages, star fruit had been used to reduce inflammations of cardiovascular system owing to ample quantities of polypheonols antioxidant obtained through consumption. A person experiencing
deficiency of vitamin A, dietary fiber or potassium should increasingly consume star fruit several times during a day. Like papaya, star fruit also contains petite quantity of calories.

Uniq Fruit – The usage of ugli fruit is very popular in Jamaican
home remedies for common cold and flu. Consuming this fruit at least three times a day helps to boost immune system and discharges liberal quantities of vitamin C and carotenoids in body. The calorie content of this fruit is only forty five. It is recommended for persons experiencing frequent attacks of cold or nasal congestion to eat ugli fruit regularly for at least one month for permanent relief.

Guava – Guava is a seasonal fruit. Inclusion of guava in an all-fruit diet extraordinarily
strengthens the immune system and fulfills almost seventy percent of body’s daily vitamin C and requirement. An increased intake of guava fruit also helps in confining the production of LDL cholesterol and free radicals in body. Individuals with impaired or blurred vision should also consume guava fruit to defuse free radicals present in retinal portion of eye

Something's wrong with how Americans eat

America land of opportunity? Or is it America land of early death? You have to ask the question, for sake of your own health.

A recent study led by Dr. Paulo Pinheiro, a public health researcher at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, showed that first-generation Hispanics in Florida are much more likely to develop cancer than people in their home countries which could result from unhealthy habits adopted in America such as overeating.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables the key to fighting obesity

With ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables, you're more apt to meet the USDA's daily fruit and vegetable recommendation of consuming 7-9 services a day.

But as Americans we do have incredible access to fresh produce. Our grocery stores are a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables from around the world. But if you go to the grocery store only once a week, your fruits and vegetables may not be as fresh as you'd like by the end of the week.

Produce is highly perishable mostly because they are 80% water; it's what gives fresh vegetables and fruits their characteristic crunchy or juicy texture.

Canned fruits and vegetables should be a last ditch choice since they are often high in salt or lower in nutrients.

Per calorie, fruits and vegetables are more filling and deliver the most in nutrients than anything found across the food pyramid.

Eating fruits and vegetables deliver nature's best bang for your food consumption satisfaction. It's the natural diet food. The next time someone tells you the number of calories in a banana, start listing all the nutrients this slender fruit delivers. The calories are worth it; better to forgo the cafe latte.

The solution
Where do Americans go more frequently than the grocery store? The gas station. Let's pack the gas station's convenience stores with produce. Don't laugh.

The once notoriously non-obese Europeans bought their produce within walking distance of their homes. They would buy produce on a daily basis, as a part of their daily regimen. This shopping habit is undergoing a change.

In the last decade, supermarkets have built their big box structures in the suburbs requiring driving and driving the small businesses selling produce in the neighborhood toward extinction. Recent studies show that this trend has kick-started a European obesity problem. This problem is nowhere near the American problem, but nonetheless the study shows an increase in European weight.

The French government, seeing the problem, has come to the conclusion that access to fresh fruit is vital to their countrymen's health. The government has given gas stations incentives to carry fresh produce. It's something Americans should think about.

Friday, July 17, 2009

SlimCado salsa deliciously topping a baked potato

My mantra is 'eat fruits and veggies and eat healthy.'

So anticipating a nice baked potato for dinner, I was determined to forgo the butter or sour cream and add some produce to the spud's top.

What made this salsa - and maybe any salsa - my now number one topping for a baked potato is adding it to the potato in the last minute of its baking. Yes stop the microwave, take the potato out, cut and squish, then top with the salsa. It's tops.

SlimCado salsa to dance for
tops 4 baked potatoes

-1/3 SlimCado avocado (they're big so there's a lot to go around)
-1/2 tomato
-1/4 cup red onion
- 1 lime
- 1 Tbsp cilantro
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, chopped fine
- salt and pepper as desired
- 4 baking potatoes

Chopped to small cubes the SlimCado, tomato, red onion. Put 12 chunks of SlimCado to the side. Combine in a bowl and squirt the juice of one lime over the mixture. Add cilantro, garlic, and Scotch bonnet pepper. Marinate 2 hours or more.

Put the potatoes in the microwave and cook. Stop during the last minute and add the salsa as toppings. Resume cooking. Serve with a couple of chunks of nice and cold SlimCado avocados on top.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

SlimCado Avocado Succotash

Succotash defined here loosely as a dish with corn and other ingredients. Avocado makes a terrific 'other' ingredient to combine with corn.

When selecting an avocado, look for one that's almost ready for the guacamole, still able to keep its overall shape yet a little mushy. It's that little avocado and the juice from the cut-up tomatoes that gets distributed everywhere in the salad, making salad dressing unnecessary.

SlimCado Avocado Succotash
Serves 4

1 SlimCado Avocado, cut into cubes
1 lime
1/2 cup kernels of corn
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
4 leaves of lettuce, your choice
1/8 cup coconut flakes

Sprinkle the SlimCado Avocado cubes with the juice of one lime. Then gently combine the avocado and lime juice with the corn, onions and grape tomatoes. Can be eaten immediately or left to marinate in the refrigerator. Serve on a lettuce leaf sprinkled with coconut flakes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bad girl at Weight Watchers

I lost, didn't gain. Unfortunately, I didn't keep my mouth shut.

Weight Watchers gives out nutritional advice. Usually the organization gives great advice. My problem is their total endorsement of the new federal guidelines for eating, the new food pyramid. I can't fault the organization, you should be able to trust the USDA.

The new calcium requirements list 1,000 mgs* a day. Weight Watchers stresses that you should have 24oz of milk or approximately 1/8th of what you eat or drink. That's a lot of one thing to have to drink/eat every single day.

Every meeting for the last couple of months, the leader has delved into this. At first I thought they were trying to get us hooked on their $9 a box smoothie mix that you make with milk. This last week, I realized it was more.

The meeting's leader was going thru the 9 guidelines to healthy eating and doing so by writing on the board a sample day's menu. After writing on the board a couple of fruit names and a couple of vegetable names, she announced the 'milk' category, not dairy not calcium but the 'milk' category. She proceeded to list skim milk, yogurt and pudding made with milk. Ounce per ounce, drinking more milk than you would eat fruit or equal amounts milk and vegetables?

It sounded not like a sales pitch for expensive smoothies but a regurgitation of the new food pyramid. I voiced my opinion that you can and should get calcium plus a heck of a lot of other nutrients from fruits and vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach.

There was no discussion, the WW leader went on to tell us that you can't just eat one container of yogurt and think it's one portion because the container is only 6 oz.

Another gal chimed in saying she was also having trouble with the new food pyramid. For a class assignment, she had to fill-out the Mypyramid menu planner with a low calorie day's worth of meals. She had trouble pulling together a menu that met all the requirements and still be under 2,000 calories a day. Her best efforts usually netted 2400 calories. At size 16, I could maintain 2400 calories a day. Size 16 is not where any woman wants to be. I don't plan on returning there either.

The WW leader was nonplussed, she went on to describe how she prefers vanilla pudding over chocolate. I seriously doubt any person in the room was going to try the pudding in any flavor.

It's not that I don't like milk. It's okay. But I prefer getting my nutrients as much as possible from fruits and vegetables. Calcium's important to me so I take a 600 mg supplement with vitamin D every day. Every day I eat oatmeal (100 mg of calcium), at least two portions of dark green vegetables (70 mg of calcium), and with the other fruits and vegetables I eat there's easily another 70 mg. I felt pretty good about my calcium intake.

But am I wrong? I went home that night and did some research.

The new food pyramid

At first sight, the pyramid doesn't tell you anything except some cartoon character is running up the side of your food. Unlike the old food pyramid which showed a large base of whole grains (eat generously), then a layer split in two showing fruits and vegetables (eat liberally), then a layer split in two that showed dairy products and meats (eat moderately), then at the top sugary sweets and oils (eat sparingly), the new food pyramid has flipped the 'milk' category with the 'fruits' category.**

The guidelines for the 'milk' category are a head scratcher. 3 cups a day, regardless of age (unless you're a children then it's 2 cups). 3 cups will give you the required 1,000+* mg of calcium a day.

Calcium, important
You need calcium for strong bones. Before 30, calcium builds bones. After 30, you need calcium so your body doesn't take the calcium it needs from your bones leaving you with brittle bones that easily break. According to a recent article by the Harvard School of Public Health, osteoporosis or the weakening of bones can be avoided by:

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Getting adequate vitamin D, (through food, exposure to sunshine, or supplements)

  • Consuming enough calcium

  • Consuming adequate vitamin K, found in green, leafy vegetables.

  • Not getting too much preformed vitamin A.

So feed your body calcium with foods containing the mineral and/or take a supplement (with a vitamin D kicker). And yes, dairy products have the highest concentration per serving of highly absorbable calcium. Not too far behind are dark leafy greens and dried beans.

But how much calcium?

However, the healthiest or safest amount of dietary calcium hasn't yet been established. Different scientific approaches have yielded different estimates, so it's important to consider all the evidence. Article by the Harvard School of Public Health

My first thought was to find a way to take 1300 mg of calcium a day, just to be safe. Wrong, do it and you may be contributing to problems such as heart disease or cancer (ovarian or prostate). Some scientists don't even think calcium helps prevents breaks or fractures. Take time to read the above article.

Three groups of people have low rates of bone loss: the Japanese, the Indians (Asian), and Peruvians. On average they eat 300 mg. of calcium a day. What they do, on the whole, that we Americans don't do, on the whole, is exercise and apparently get more sunshine.

I exercise, I limit my caffeine intake, my diet is well balanced. From a calcium requirements perspective, I'm more Japanese than American. I'm going to stay the course I've already set for myself with calcium. If I stop exercising, or start drinking more Diet Coke (my only source of caffeine), I'll have to increase my calcium intake.

Further supporting my thoughts, the British committee that suggest dietary guidelines for the UK, looked at the same data and recommended just 700 mg of calcium for people over 19.

Makes you wonder the role of the American Dairy Association in putting together the US guidelines.

I'll leave you with this last quote from the Harvard School of Public Health article.

Currently, there's no good evidence that consuming more than one serving of milk per day in addition to a reasonable diet (which typically provides about 300 milligrams of calcium per day from nondairy sources) will reduce fracture risk. Because of unresolved concerns about the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer, it may be prudent to avoid higher intakes of dairy products.

*The website says 3 cups (1000 mg), dig deeper and it varies by gender and age. For example a woman over 50 needs 1300 mg according to this web site.

**How presents the 'meat' category, again 'meat' not 'protein', is also problematic but not covered here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Key Lime Fudge

Every Sunday, the ladies of our church bake deserts for the after-service coffee hour. They always bring their Sunday best to the church table.

Usually there are ten different things that you want to try. But the desserts are made for regular size portions. I think we've all tried to cut a cake or pie wedge small and really gotten nowhere.

Two words - bite-sized squares, each square rich with flavor. This is the perfect recipe to do just that.

It's a recipe that combines key limes with chocolate, that's my kind of recipe (adapted from Technicolor Kitchen). The key lime taste piques the taste buds for the divine white chocolate, an explosion of tart to go with the subtlety of the ultimate comfort food.

Everything about this recipe is different yet satisfying. If you're expecting a graham cracker crust, you may not be able to recognize the bite's foundation. You may have to pop another one in your mouth to figure it out. Because it's ginger snaps and suddenly graham crackers are just too plain.

Key Lime Fudge

1/8 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cu finely crushed ginger snaps

Fudge filling
10 oz. white chocolate chopped
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/8 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line a 8x8 flexible baking dish with parchment paper, leave plenty of paper at both sides to lift the fudge after baking.
  3. Spray non stick spray on the inside of the pan.
  4. Melt butter in a medium bowl in the microwave.
  5. Stir in sugar and break up any lumps.
  6. Add crushed ginger snaps and mix to moisten.
  7. Spread in the bottom of the pan.
  8. Bake for 5 minutes.
  9. Let cool.
  10. In a medium saucepan, stir together the condensed milk and the melting white chocolate. Mix until melted and smooth.
  11. Stir in key lime juice, again stir until smooth.
  12. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Put film wrap on the top to avoid a hardened crust. Let chill over night.
  13. Using the parchment paper ends, lift the fudge slightly and move sideways bending the pan's sides to go on a plate.
  14. Cut into squares, cleaning the knife after every cut.
  15. Top with small wedges of key limes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Easy Make - Key Lime Cheesecake

My first job was waitressing at Howard Johnson's where the key lime pie was this color green. The pie made at HoJo's headquarters came frozen to the store. The pastry never came out of defrosting in anything other than a brick consistency. Meanwhile the meringue topping developed a semi-liquid viscosity between it and the pie. I ate a slice every day and if the boss wasn't looking I had two.

I made this with my neighbor, 8 year-old Alec. We overdid the green food coloring. But you have to admit, it makes a statement.

It's actually easy and fun to do with a child. They love the squeezing of limes (done outside of course and don't forget to wear eye protection), the hammering of graham crackers for the crust, and the supervision of the mixer while things get poured into it.

The crust almost looks as thick as the cheesecake part, but that's because Alec took a hammer to the entire box of graham crackers. He was so proud of doing it, I didn't want to not use the entire crushed contents of the package.

Key Lime Bite-Sized Cheesecakes
(makes about 24)

Graham Cracker Crust
1 cup finely pounded graham crackers
3 tablespoons melted butter

1.5 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
5 egg yolks
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 cup key lime juice (buy the key limes by the bag and use the leftovers for ice tea and fish)
1/8 cup sugar
3 drop green food coloring, if you dare. 1 to 2 drops gets you a green you wouldn't mind paintingur kitchen with, go bold 3 drops maybe more.

Whipped topping
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract


  1. Preheat over to 325 degrees. Pull out all ingredients to get to room temperatures.

  2. Make it easy, use one of the new flexible 8x8 baking dishes. Spray with non-stick spray and then line with parchment paper, leaving plenty of paper at the ends to lift out the cake when done.

  3. Combine crushed graham crackers with butter. For kid cooks, use a potato masher to get the work started.

  4. Press mixture into the baking dish until the bottom is covered.

  5. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes.

  6. For the filling, get out a big bowl and cream the cream cheese to a non-lumpy consistency through-out.

  7. Add the egg yolks, condensed milk, and sugar.

  8. Add the lime juice.

  9. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes. If it jiggles like gelatin, it's done.

  10. Allow to cool.

  11. Gently pull away the flexible sides of the baking dish (if necessary use a knife). Have your kitchen helper hold down an end of the dish while you lift up an inch or two on both sides of the parchment paper. Move the cheesecake sideways over the flattened dish side onto a cutting board. Cut into squares.

  12. Whip whipping cream until tufts form.

  13. Add sugar and almond extract and whip.

  14. Add a dollop to every square with a thin slice of key lime to top.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Government's food pyramid is like a pyramid scheme

If you're like me, you find the government's newest version of the food pyramid downright pathetic. For an obese nation, we need a pyramid that knocks the side of the head with information on how to eat.

What's purple? Should you eat less of red than green? Is the green actually larger than red, or is it an optical illusion?

Being confusing is one thing but if you'll dig deeper, I think you can tell who was lobbying for the project.The new pyramid is actually grouping legumes and fish with beef! And get a load of the blue - it's dairy! If I'm reading this right - and it's hard to do so - you should eat about the same amount of dairy as you do fruits and vegetables combined! And counting orange juice as a fruit serving?

It's criminal to not be clear but to purposely dilute the truth in such an important image. In theory this image will be in classrooms across the U.S.

This is where my heart-felt thanks go out to Oldways the widely-respected non-profit that translates the complex details of nutrition science into the familiar language of food. It created the Mediterranean Food Pyramid.

Oldways also creates and organizes a wide variety of other educational activities, conferences and materials about healthy eating, drinking, lifestyle and the traditional pleasures of the table. Its educational programs are for consumers, scientists, the food industry, health professionals, chefs, journalists and policy makers.

Their food pyramid for children delivers the facts, plain and simple. There's a reason why people living near the Mediterrean live longer and healthier lives.

Sample food safety rules

Food safety is often a matter of institutionalized good sense. As I read up about what we, as a grower, packer, shipper of produce, do for food safety it all makes good common sense. 

I'ts just a huge amount of bureaucratic paperwork to make sure everyone is on and stays on the same 'good sense' page. It's common sense not to like bureaucracy, and it's downright justifiably so to not worry about the food you eat..

The food safety audit checklist is broken into 15 sections.  Here are some examples of the rules on the checklist:

  1. Potable water is available to all workers.  Document how workers access fresh water and how you know it's potable.
  2. Workers with diarrheal disease or symptoms of other infectious diseases are prohibited from handling fresh produce.  Document how you determine and who determines if someone is sent home.
  3. Workers are instructed to seek prompt treatment for clean first aid supplies for cuts, abrasions and other injuries.  Document how you do this.
  4. Document where do you locate the field sanitation units - toilets with hand-washing facilities, water and towels.
  5. Document the procedure for when a light bulb breaks and possibly contaminates food.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How another supermarket handles food safety

In March 2007, Spartan Stores became the largest food store chain ($2.6 billion in sales) in the U.S. to adopt NSF Shop Fresh certification in its stores and warehouse facilities.  Its a program that combines regular microbial sampling with on-site inspections and unannounced audits to reduce food-related risks.

A part of the NSF program is FastCheck which provides an immediate response to customers complaining of food-realted illness and includes testing of suspect products.

GAPs and GHPs - what it takes to be a safe food producer

Food safety is a big topic amongst the grocery chains, wholesalers and foodservice professionals. As well it should be.

Food safety is more than words. For the agricultural community it's a set of procedures that may have been ignored in the past, but it's getting harder and harder to ignore, and the future will only be more so. Produce buyers are driving the change. You have to farm right to sell what you grow.

Being in agriculture, food safety runs both sweet and sour; the priority is juxtaposed on how it can possibly be achieved. There are no easy cheap answers. And if you like inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables, you don't want the expensive answers either.

Procedures are backed by documented proof that you did the procedures. It's the Sarbanes-Oxley of farming.

In a recent article in 'Fresh Cut' magazine, Dick Lehnert summed it up by saying

On the mundane level, it means no more letting your dog run about during harvest operations. Walk to the porta-potty - no more ducking behind a handy tree. Control things like problem wildlife. Know what to do if an employee on the packing line cuts his finger or sneezes on the product.

And you need to write it all down: write a manual spelling out the standard operating procedures on your farm or in your packing house, train your employees, document that they are following the manual, then hire "certifiers" to come onto your farm once a year to verify all of the above.

Unlike Sarbanes-Oxley, there's currently no legislation. It started in 2007 with the government putting together Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GHPs) and then demanding that food products it, the government buys for its nutrition programs be produced in conformity with these practices.

Leading produce buyers like Wal-Mart, Publix or say a Gerber Products started demanding the same from their suppliers. It's gathering momentum.

The company I work for is known for its premium tropical produce and was amongst the first wave of companies to be food safety certified. When we sell to customers that don't impose such requirements on their suppliers, it makes it hard to compete with other produce importers (most tropicals are grown outside the US). Produce is still very much a commodity market. The cost of achieving food safety certification is not cheap.

Yet the cost of not making food safety procedures standards is outbreaks of food borne illnesses that we've seen in organic spinach, tomatoes/peppers and peanut butter.

It's the old adage, nothing worth doing is easy to do.

Papaya Daiquiri

Papaya Daiquiri
½ oz Caribbean Red Papaya pureed
2 ½ oz light rum
½ oz lime juice
¼ oz syrup
3 Fresh basil leaves (torn)

Shake ingredients vigorously over ice and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a fresh basil leaf

Courtesy of Gerber Bars in Atlanta

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What one supermarket does for food safety

What can a super market do to make sure their produce is not tainted? What an awful subject, a topic that would never have occurred to me 5 years ago.

Concern for me started with the E. coli outbreak in spinach in 2006. A double whammy that involved tainted organic spinach. Organic anything is suppose to be good, right? Horribly, 6 people died a little wiser.

What are grocery stores doing about it?

Here’s the scoop on a regional chain called Wegmans (NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA). During my previous life in NJ, I shopped Wegmans. It’s shopping as an experience. It’s being able to buy meals instead of just ingredients, or the best ingredients for a great meal.

These are some excerpts from an interview with Bill Pool, manager of agricultural product and research for Wegmans in Fresh Cut 4/09 magazine.

Wegmans has in place a good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and has had it in place since 2005. Suppliers of raw product are expected to take the training program especially if they supply the 5 vulnerable commodities: leafy greens, tomatoes, netted melons, herbs and green onions.

Webmans uses USDA GAPs as a benchmark for its growers. The USDA covers water quality, personal health and hygiene, field sanitation, proper toilets, hand washing, manure control and more.

Other grocery stores have GAPs in place, such as Publix a southeastern chain of grocery stores.

I think it’s important to note that Wegmans does not make a distinction between conventional and organic produce. Often times organic enterprises are assumed as having resolved all food safety issues before they can be labeled ‘organic’.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama vows to improve the food

Excerpts from a New York Times article by Gardiner Harris on 3/15/09

The president says he'll toughen regulations and seek $1 billion for more inspectors and newer labs.

Describing government's failure to inspect 95 percent of food processing plants as "a hazard to the public health," President Obama promised Saturday to bolster and reorganize the nation's fractured food-safety system.

"In the end, food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your president, but as a parent," he said.

The call for fundamental changes in the nation's food-protection system follows a massive salmonella outbreak in peanut products that has sickened more than 700 people, killed nine -- including three Minnesotans -- and led to one of the largest recalls in U.S. history.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Juicing key limes

It's a new dance, the key lime squeeze. No but I've gone through contortions squeezing key limes that are reminescent of my dancing.

Avoid the key lime juice bottle - go fresh. It is worth the time and trouble.

Here are some tips to squeezing those little limes that don't seem to want to interact with regular juicers.

1. Let limes get to room temperature.

2. Zest first then cut to juice.

3. Use the right tool for the job.

4. Watch the seeds - they clog holes so the juice can't get through.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The tyranny of the recipe

If you're like me, you've delegated a lot of your food decision-making to supermarkets. So too have I bowed my head to the recipe.

I need a recipe just about for everything. Last Thanksgiving I wrote all my recipes out in my computer, developed a timeline and then printed out a little book, much to the humor of my guests.

We've come to treat recipes like crutches, limping through cooking a dish, rather relying on our own experience and judgement.

The purpose of a recipe is to instil confidence, to inspire and allow ideas to be shared.
Recipes are not culinary chemistry formulas. We live with the fear that if we tamper with the ingredients or the proportions we are tampering with the something precise and ordered. Chaos and disaster will surely arise out of the pot.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Methylthiomethyl butyrate

I'm not making it up.

Methylthiomethyl butyrate is the name of a flavor ingredient used in processed foods delivering a tropical, exotic fruit flavor.

Eat fresh tropical fruits and veggies rather than relying on chemicals.

Flavor trends for the New Year, yeah tropical is big

The history of flavor
Flavor exists to entice animals - including us humans - to eat fruits, plants and other foods that have the necessary nutrients to survive and reproduce. Humans throughout history add to this 'agenda' by combining great tasting flavors to make less tasty foods more palatable. Today creating new flavors is considered the height of culinary expertise.

Back at the scientific level, nutritionists have recently discovered that certain flavors have unique and beneficial phytochemicals. The art of flavoring is taking a big step forward (or backward considering flavor's original purpose) with flavoring's increased used as an enticement to better nutrition. Go flavor.

For 2009, functional flavors are in
Combine flavor's increased value with the consumer trend of wanting not just tasty food but wanting food that gives an 'experience' of something beyond the physical location of the table, and it's why the Food Network is more popular than ever, why one in every five Americans have taken a tropical cruise and why we are more aware of where a food has come from.

Eating locally is great if you live in California
Does eating locally buck this trend? Not really. Yes when we pick a vacation destination we'll often desire a tropical setting but when we pick where we live, the agrarian background deep in our souls will desire a rural setting even though we could be circling ads in the NY Times' 'apartments for rent' section

It's true the die hard 'locavore' (combo of local and carnavore) in Boston will need to put to good use their canning skills in the summer and talk their landlady into letting them dig a deep enough root cellar in the basement to weather New England's bitter winters. But most folks prefer fresh fruit, even crave fresh fruit in the darkest days of winter. Ever notice how most locavores live in California where year round farming is possible? Even in Florida it's not doable, yesterday I help my church's teenage youth group to pick strawberries at the local 'U-Pik-It' to sell at today's service. Three months from now it'll be too hot for strawberries, lettuce, corn (and the list goes on). Few exceptions exist: avocados are one.

So for all the great publicity given buying locally (and indeed I do highly recommend buying straight from the farm produce - the strawberries are delicious), we will still have increased demand for high-quality fruits and vegetables with unique flavors and colors year-round. And it's because as North Americans our palates - with the help of the Food Network and our Caribbean cruise last year - will continue to become more sophisticated and adventurous.

Countries of Origin
The interest in flavor is driving the demand for a broader range of plants than ever before. We are seeing produce from geographically diverse areas, including Asia, Central and South America and Africa. All to feed the trend for flavorful combinations of exotic tastes that will deliver 'experiences' and feed our deep down inside urges to be healthy.

Traditional fare and instinct
So what about traditional flavors? The hidden driver behind traditional dishes is an instinct for health. It's no coincidence that grains and beans - tremendous sources of amino acids - are the center of countless ethnic dishes. The same is true for many traditional dishes and flavors.

Meeting this overall flavor trend, chefs and cooks alike will often take popular and familiar flavors and put them into nontraditional applications or select exotic fruits and vegetables and put them into more traditional dishes. Think of how many ways mangos, avocados and papayas have invaded traditional fare. Restaurants are touting snapper topped with a papaya salsa as a special of the day. Meanwhile avocados are topping sandwiches and salads on both coasts. And was that a bite of mango I just popped into my mouth as I ate from my grocery store's ready-to-eat fruit salad? Yes it was.

Taste drivers
The number one driver for what's being eaten is taste. Chefs often use the bold flavors of tropical fruits to fill the void left when fats or sugars are reduced. Combining new tastes with familiar favorites brings excitement to a functional dish without creating an eating concept that the eater may be hesitant to try.

As we continue to fight the obesity epidemic, the search continues for healthy alternatives. Better taste, lower calories and healthy side benefits attract consumers which in turn will reward the artisans of flavor, whether chef or home cook. Tropical fruits and vegetables can help this fight, ever so flavorably.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mango rash

I've heard this countless times, mangos can cause a rash like poison ivy. I'll let Dr Knowledge from the Boston Globe handle this one.

The mango is in the same plant family as poison ivy and its peel can indeed cause allergic skin rashes similar to poison ivy. That's especially true for people who are particularly sensitive to urushiol, the chemical involved. For this reason, it's best to peel a mango before eating it!

Friday, February 6, 2009

World history thru rum cocktails

I'm a sucker for books that look at history from a less than professorial viewpoint. Here's one for the books. 'And a bottle of Rum, a history of the new world in ten cocktails' by Wayne Curtis is topping my new read list.

I mention it here because of his compassion of using ingredients that are true to how and where rum is distilled.

"Because rums created in one place on one island are developed in a certain way, they are well-suited to be blended with a wide variety of fruits, particularly those from the same area in which it was distilled."

The most famous of rums, Bacardi is distilled in the Caribbean so it could easily be paired with tropical fruits from the area.

On this cold day in Florida, I share with you an example of a drink recipe from his book. Normally this drink is not known for its tropical overtones, the rum toddy.

Rum Toddy

  • 1-1/2 oz rum
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 3 thin kumquat slices
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • boiling water

Put rum, sugar, cloves and kumquat slices in a mug, top with boiling water. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Papaya, the meat tenderizer?

My last post about papaya being a meat tenderizer, got a lot of comments.

Papaya has an enzyme found in both its fruit and leaves called papain. You won't find it in the spice or herb section of the grocery store.

The enzyme is a protease, that is, it breaks down protein. It's why papayas are great for people watching their weight.

It is often used as a meat tenderizer. You can marinate tough meat with chunks of papaya, or wrap meat in papaya leaves. But using too much, or leaving it on the meat too long, can make meat soft and mushy. The heat from cooking the meat will stop the enzyme action, so don't cook soon after the marination has started.

For a great papaya marinated meat dish.

What's organic may not be organic

When something has the word 'organic' on it, you'd think it's better for you.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. Ask the families of the people who died from organic spinach a couple of years ago. Think twice when you see an organic avocado packing house that is open to the elements with packers not wearing hairnets and gloves but wearing labels around their necks and jewelry.

And now the supposedly stalwart foundation of all things organic-fertilizer- is being investigated.

This week federal agents raided a Californian fertilizer company testing for its use of aqua ammonia.

Organic means very little to me. Look for produce that has gone through food safety audits.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The papaya fixer upper

Things aren't so good following the health tip to eliminate high blood pressure by eating papaya on an empty stomach and not eating anything else for two hours.

Day 1, I ate a Caribbean Sunrise papaya (the small one) and it tasted great. I was so full. About an hour and a half in, my stomach was telling me something. Not that I was nauseous. The best way to describe it: my stomach was in motion. Which when you think about it, having eaten a papaya on an empty stomach and thus eating a fruit that is also known as a meat tenderizer, it's not surprizing it was doing something.

The great news, unlike my normal breakfast of fruit and oatmeal, I wasn't hungry for four hours later. Keep in mind, my normal breakfast normally includes papaya as a part of it.

Day 2, same thing. Not so alarmingly the second time around. And yes I was full past my normal lunch time.

Day 3, I don't eat breakfast before church and after church I go to brunch with friends.

Today, the store was out of Caribbean Reds or Sunrises and only had another brand that I don't like the musky smell of. I was back to normal breakfast again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Home remedy for high blood pressure?

I have high blood pressure. I manage it by taking a $2 pill every day. I don't like the idea of artificially managing my blood pressure so it was with extreme interest to see's health tip for the day.

Home Remedy: Eat a papaya on an empty stomach daily for a month. avoid eating anything for two hours after eating the papaya.

I'm going to try it. I love papaya, need to keep my blood pressure at a low levels. Papaya will be my breakfast for the next month. I usually eat oatmeal so I hope my cholesterol doesn't go wax as the blood pressure wanes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Avocado turning brown?

Spritzing with lime juice, of course keeps the green in the avocado. But did you know you could keep the avocado half you didn't eat today in a air tight container with a little water in the bottom? No brown avocado in the morning?

Try it. With SlimCado avocados being so big you always have leftovers. Here's a great way for yesterday's fruit to be ready for its closeup tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Chinese New Year

January 26th begins the year of the ox. A great opportunity to talk about a citrus fruit favored during this festival: kumquats.

The tiny green leaves of the kumquat symbolize wealth. The shape of the kumquat is a Chinese symbol of unity and perfection. The fruit is eaten at New Years for good fortune, prosperity and happiness.

To welcome the new year, which is a 15 day celebration, the Chinese love to decorate and use an abundance of flowers and fruit.

Flowers from fruit trees are seen as a sign of bounty, which indeed it is. Avocados, mangos, kumquats and other trees baring fruit, flower before the fruit appears. Generally speaking the more flowers the fruit tree has, the more fruit it bears.

A favorite way to decorate for the Chinese New Year is to put out a bowl of kumquats with flowers.

If you look at kumquats and see a tiny orange, they'll seem like a lot of trouble to eat. But unlike oranges, kumquats' sweet skin can be eaten and provide a combination of pleasing textures to go with the somewhat tart taste inside.

Growing up, my bus stop in Miami had a kumquat tree shading our wait, I loved just picking and munching on them. Nowadays I slice ripe kumquats into salads or use as a garnish. Kumquats preserves and marmalades are fantastic and preferred over orange marmalade.

Enjoy this mid-winter citrus treat. Here's an easy recipe that takes salsa to the far east.


12 kumquats, thinly sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, equally thinly sliced
2 pieces of crushed garlic
2 pieces of shallots, thinly sliced
the juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon coriander
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
salt, pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve on top of seafood or with chips.

And if you can't get enough of kumquats, go to Dade City Florida for the Annual Kumquat festival. Along with the recipe contest and the beauty pageant there's a decorating contest. I can't wait to see the winner in that category.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Healthier cooking techniques for tropical cuisine

Cooking skills tend to be passed down from generation to generation. This is especially true of households in the tropics where it is common for children to learn how to cook by helping their mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen.

However, many of the cooking techniques used in tropical cuisine aren't the healthiest options for everyday use. Below are some alternatives to cooking traditional tropical foods:

Instead of frying, steam foods such as fish and veggies, or sautée them in a little broth. If family members resist, top the dish with a favorite tropical fruit salsa that will have your family begging for more. Or squeeze a lot of lemon or lime on the foods to get maximum zing of tropical flavor.

Steaming is easier, healthier, and less messy than frying. To the taste up a few notches, use meat or vegetable flavored both instead of water or add seasonings to the water (dried herbs and red chiles), it'll flavor the food as it cooks.

Buy extra-virgin olive oil whenever possible and use it for sauteeing or drizzling over vegetables. If you find the flavor of olive oil too strong, try heart-healthy canola oil instead. Remember, when frying or sauteeing use only 2-3 tablespoons of oil per pan.

Another healthy tip: don't reuse oil, as our grandmothers commonly did.

Limit your use of lard; use it only special occasions when making traditional dishes that absolutely need it for flavor. When using lard choose the fresh variety and stay away from hydrogenated shortenings such as Crisco.

You can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, vegetables and even fruit. Baking makes for an easier clean up if you line your baking dish with foil.

Roasting is like baking, but typically at higher temperatures; it's a good technique for sturdy veggies such as boniatos, calabaza, etc.

You can bake traditional tropical ingredients such as plantains for a healthier version of tostones. Also, bake corn tortillas to make them crunchier and use them with tostadas or corn chips.

When pressed for time, quick-steam vegetables in the microwave with a little water and covered with wax paper (never use plastic wrap).