Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time -- Recipes to Use Them Up

It's Girl Scout cookie time again. I swear, those clever girl scouts time it just right -- right about when you're New Year's resolutions are starting to wane, they deliver box loads of tasty temptations right to your door. And after all, it's for a good cause.

If you have a Brownie or Girl Scout in your family, you probably have waaaay too many boxes of these delicious cookies. I have found that Girl Scout Cookies do freeze remarkably well, so if you have the room consider socking them away for later in the year when you can't get them.

Otherwise, check out the three recipe links below if you've done a good deed and purchased umpteen boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Executive Chef Jason Koppinger of the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort in Hawaii (pictured top of this post) has come up with some some fabulous dessert recipes that use the cookies as an ingredient. Koppinger's hotel regularly supports Girl Scout Troop #425 in Kona, Hawaii, on various educational, environmental and community activities. So check out Chef Jason's recipes and put those Girl Scout Cookies to good use.
Find Girl Scout Cookies!
Don't know any girl scouts? This website will help you find a cookie connection -

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Introducing Thrifty Thursdays!

Thrifty Thursdays is a new blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday.

In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Thrifty Thursday #1 -- Make Your Own Pizza!

My first suggestion for this topic is make your own pizza at home instead of going out (can you tell I've been working on a lot of pizza features lately?). I've been making pizza at home for years and didn't think much about the cost -- I just know I make better pizza than most restaurants do. It wasn't until Amanda tried my business partner Mitch Mandell's pizza dough recipe and proudly declared "I'll never spend fifty bucks again to feed the family pizza," that I began to think about the frugal aspect of making your own pizza at home. So not only will you save money, you'll get a better quality pizza than most restaurants, topped with your own personal array of favorite toppings.

You probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry to make your own pizza, but even if you had to go out and buy it all from scratch, the total cost would be less than going out a single time for a family and you'll have enough ingredients for several pizza nights.

Pizza Doughs
Good pizza all starts with the dough. You can buy refrigerated pizza dough, but using your food processor, it's so quick and easy to make dough that once you try it, you'll never go back to the refrigerator variety again. If you haven't already, I urge you to try one or both of these dough recipes:
Those who prefer an ultra-thin crisp crust (and who have a stand mixer) should check out
Food Allergies or Celiac?
Now you can have your pizza and eat it too. Click here for Carole Fenster's fabulous Gluten Free Pizza Dough recipe.

How to Roll Pizza
If you're new to making pizza, the Pizza Maker Primer will show you how to roll out the dough. Trust me, it's not that difficult. Pizza dough is far more forgiving than pie or pastry dough.

Favorite Pizza Recipes
One of the greatest things about pizza is that you can top it your way, with your favorite ingredients. But should you have have cook's block, the recipes below will provide some terrific pizza choices.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's National Pancake Week!

What we would we do without Twitter? (Follow me there @FabulousCheri.) I just learned from another foodie's tweet that this week is National Pancake Week. Well I'm always up for a celebration, especially when it involves pancakes! So I did a perusal of the Pancake recipe archives. There were so many fabulous recipes, I just had to share them with you. There's a wide variety, so you can celebrate this special week at breakfast, lunch and dinner. So check out the recipe links below and Have a Happy Pancake Week everyone!

Favorite Breakfast and Dessert Pancake Recipes from

  • Chocolate Chip Pecan Pancakes (pictured top of this post) -- An impressive decadent breakfast or brunch entree. The chocolate chips get crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
  • Carrie Levin's Four Grain Blueberry Pancakes -- This 4 grain batter works well with lots of different berries.
  • Lulu Jane's Buckwheat Pancakes -- You'll start your morning right with these pancakes for breakfast.
  • Buckwheat Blini -- These small whole wheat Russian pancakes are great with sweet or savory toppings, from caviar and smoked salmon to maple syrup.
  • Dutch Baby Pancake -- An impressive, yet easy to make, way to start your morning. It puffs up big and fluffy.
  • Big Dutch Pancakes with Little Berries -- This recipe, by Joni Schaper of Lancaster, California, was a finalist in the 1997 Oxnard California Strawberry Festival's Berry Off cooking contest.
  • Lemon and Sultana Buttermilk Pancakes (pictured right)-- These pancakes are also good served cold with butter.
  • Pumpkin Pancakes -- Canned pumpkin works fine in this recipe, making it easy to make anytime.
  • Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes -- These diabetic friendly pancakes have great texture and flavor with the added bonus of healthy fiber and the cholesterol lowering properties of oats.
  • Alice Medrich's Chocolate Blini with Berry Caviar -- These are Velvety indulgent chocolate pancakes for New Year's Eve or brunch on New Year's Day, or any other day when chocolate for breakfast is required.
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes -- These easy to make pancakes are a big hit with the kids.
  • Northwest Berry Puff Pancake -- A delicious breakfast treat your whole family will enjoy, this fun pancake puffs way over the top of the pan and is garnished with berries and powdered sugar.
  • Apple Pancakes -- It's amazing how some simple can fruit can turn an ordinary pancake into something special. This recipe makes a thinner, more crepe-like pancake.
  • Lemon Ricotta Pancakes -- These pancakes are sophisticated, yet accessible. It's hard to find a more perfect start to a special breakfast or brunch. Serve with jam or maple syrup.
  • Apple Dutch Baby Pancake -- Apples and raisins take the theme of the already spectacular Dutch Baby pancake to new heights. Your guests will never guess it was so easy to prepare.
  • Classic Buttermilk Pancakes -- One of our Fabulous Foodies out in cyberland emailed, asking for a good basic pancake recipe. Here's the one I like to use.
  • Buttermilk Pancake Mix -- You can save money by preparing a big batch of this dry pancake mix to use whenever the mood for a special breakfast strikes.
  • Passover Pancakes -- Since this recipe uses matzoh meal and potato starch instead of wheat flour, it's perfect for Passover breakfast. You can use the batter for pancakes or waffles.
Pancakes for Lunch, Dinner or Snacks

Friday, February 20, 2009

Battle of the Pizza Crusts

My friend and business partner Mitch Mandell has always been exceptionally proud of his pizza dough, and judging from the volume of email and comments we regularly receive about his recipe, a whole lot of people on the world wide web agree that his is the best pizza dough. I've been eating Mitch's pizza for years and while I will agree it is darn good, it isn't my personal idea of perfect pizza. While Mitch's dough makes a sweet, yeasty, thick crust, my idea of a perfect pizza is somewhere a cross between New York and Italian. In other words a crust with a chewy texture and just enough crispness to keep in from being floppy.

And so, a friendly challenge began with Mitch telling me to let him know when I had come up with the perfect pizza crust.

I worked on it for over a year, making small tweaks and changes, until I came up with this recipe. Even Mitch admitted that I had beat his pizza dough, and that mine is now his favorite pizza crust.

Now we know that different people like different types of pizza.Some will like Mitch's style while others will prefer mine (some might not either, but I seriously doubt their sincerity).

So give these pizza doughs a try and see which one you like better. Please let us know in the comments section either here or on the recipes what you think.

Best of all, using your food processor, you can make these fabulous pizza doughs in under 5 minutes! Making pizza at home is way cheaper than going out or ordering delivery, and with these crusts and your favorite toppings, we're betting you'll like the pizza better too.

Cheri's Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe (pictured top of this post) -- Makes a chewy textured, crisper, thinner crust -- a cross between New York and Italian style.

Mitch's Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (pictured left) -- Makes a thick, slightly sweet, yeasty pizza crust.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

World Class Chefs Cook for Childhood Cancer Cures

World-Class Chefs Converge on Philadelphia to Cook for Childhood Cancer Cures during the Fourth Annual Great Chefs Event Benefiting Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

  • Chefs from across the nation to bring their culinary expertise to the fight against childhood cancer
In an effort to cook for childhood cancer cures, over twenty world-class chefs will come together in the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 for the Fourth Annual Great Chefs Event to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. The event will once again be hosted at Osteria restaurant, 640 North Broad Street, under the tutelage of Marc Vetri, Jeff Benjamin, Jeff Michaud and their newly created Vetri Foundation for Children (VFFC). The Great Chefs Event will be the first event held under their newly formed VFFC, which will be used to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and other child oriented charities.

Much like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation which emerged from the front yard lemonade stand of cancer patient Alexandra “Alex” Scott, The Great Chefs Event came from humble beginnings. What started out as a small tasting at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, has grown into a nationally recognized event, with world-class chefs traveling from all corners of the country to cook for the over 500 attendees. The event allows those in attendance to walk around and mingle, while tasting all the fantastic fare the chefs have to offer. In 2009, the Great Chefs Event will include more chefs, and the addition of VIP tickets for those who wish to be treated to sit-down service. VIP tickets will be available for $400 each, while regular tickets are $250.

According to Liz Scott, Alex’s mom, “Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation is constantly amazed by the chefs participating in the annual event, especially the enthusiasm and dedication to the fight against childhood cancer that they embody.”

Jeff Benjamin says, "The Great Chef's Event is the ideal venue for us to increase awareness of childhood cancer nationwide. The event allows to us to continue Alex's dream, taking important steps toward the cures we so desperately seek, one plate at a time."

Known as an event featuring small plates for big appetites, The Fourth Annual Great Chefs Event will once again feature Tom Colicchio, renowned chef and head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef; as well as several new famous faces including Michael Symon, former host of Dinner Impossible and Bobby Flay of The Food Network. Several of the other participating chefs are James Beard Award winners and nominees, including host chef Jeff Michaud of Osteria, Daniel Stern of Gayle/Rae Restaurant; Brad Spence of Vetri; Clark Fraiser & Mark Gaier of Arrows/MC Perkins Cove/SummerWinter in Maine; and Paul Kahan of Blackbird/Avec in Chicago, among others.

Guests will have the opportunity to meet and greet all of the world-class chefs while enjoying their food and wine, all prepared in front of their eyes.

For information on how to become a sponsor, contact Cynthia Ellis at Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation at (866) 333-1213.

For tickets and more information, visit or call 610.649.3034.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Organic Foods Wrap-up Facts and Trivia

Today wraps up our series on organic foods. I thought I'd leave you with just a bit more facts and trivia on organic foods and their impact (as well as the impact of conventional farming). For lots more info on organics, be sure to check out the Organic Consumer's Association website at

Organic Facts and Trivia
  • It takes five years for soil contamination to dissipate when a conventional farm wants to convert to organic. During that period, the land cannot be cultivated.
  • Over 500 chemicals are commonly used in conventional farming in the US.
  • Toxic chemical exposure begins even before birth as fetuses become exposed to their mother’s toxins in utero through the placenta.
  • Organics has its own Congressional Caucus! Formed in 2003, the Congressional Organic Agriculture Caucus is a bi-partisan committee created to “enhance availability and understanding of information relating to the production and processing of organic agricultural products.”
  • California is the global hub of organic food, representing the largest market for organic food, as well as the largest concentration of forward thinking farmers and food cooperatives.
  • The conventional agricultural industry is estimated to use over 800 million pounds of pesticides each year in the United States alone.
  • In Germany, several water utilities have paid farmers to switch to organic operations because the conversion costs proved less than the economic burden of removing farm chemicals from water supplies.
  • According to a study done by a team of scientists from the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences aided by a Newcastle University scientist, rats fed organic produce were slimmer, slept better, and had stronger immune systems than those fed conventionally grown foods.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saving Money on Organic Foods -- Tips and Strategies

Why Are Organic Products So Expensive?
While organics may seem expensive, and in fact their price tag at the market is roughly 15% more than conventionally produced goods (as of this writing in 2009), the hard truth is that conventionally produced foods are not as much of a bargain as they appear.

Consumers actually pay for industrially produced food three ways – at the cash register, in the form of government farming subsidies, and in health and environmental damages. The price you pay at the store for conventionally grown meat and produce in the United States is less than it would actually cost if the government didn’t subsidize its production, making the price seem lower at the store. If you are a taxpayer you are still paying for it in the end.

Organic farmers, on the contrary, enjoy little to no taxpayer subsidies. While exhaustive lobbying efforts are underway to correct these inadequacies, as of this writing organic crops will carry a higher price tag at the market.

Other factors influence the higher price including lack of overall market share, lower yields for organic produce, higher costs of organic fertilizers, and increased labor costs (for instance without the use of chemical herbicides, many crops need to be weeded by hand). Depending on where you live, supply and demand may also come into play – especially in big cities where there may be more organic consumers than producers can accommodate.

But there’s good news! As sales of organic products increase and more consumers jump on the organic bandwagon, prices are dropping.

Want to see less expensive organic produce? Keep purchasing organic products and supporting the people who produce them.

Money Saving Tips for Buying Organics
OK, if you read the posts over the past few days you understand the importance of organics, but what if you’re food budget is already stretched to the max? These tips can help you save money when buying organic foods and products:
  • Farmer’s markets will almost always be cheaper than a specialty market, so plan to regularly frequent yours to buy fruits, vegetables, and even natural products like honey, cheeses and baked goods.
  • Ask for deals on borderline produce and cook with what’s on sale. Farmers and even grocery store produce managers are more willing to cut deals on foods that won’t keep. If you see ripe produce that’s about to become too ripe, it never hurts to ask for a discount.
  • Find a good deal? Buy extra and freeze, either the food itself or dishes you prepare with it.
  • Look for coupons for organic products. Good places to find them include health, fitness, and vegetarian magazines, and from the organic food manufacturer’s own websites.
  • Make due with less, especially when it comes to meat. Meat does not make the best use of natural farm resources, and likewise organic meats can be especially cost prohibitive. But most Americans consume far too much meat in relation to their nutritional requirements anyway. Buy organic and make do with smaller cuts, your waistline and the planet will thank you.
  • Use every bit of what you buy. Plan meals and grocery shopping so that you end up using every bit of the groceries you buy. Food in the trash doesn't do anyone any good.
  • Buy local and in season. Food in season from local producers will always be cheaper than organic foods that need to shipped in from a long distances.
  • Buy in bulk. Many warehouse stores are now starting to stock organic and environmentally friendly products, from groceries to cleaning supplies. Buy in bulk. If you can’t use it all, join forces with a friend and split the food.
  • Join a food co-op and support community agriculture. Some organizations even deliver organic foods right to your door.
  • Grow your own. If you have even a small yard in a climate that can support a vegetable garden, you’ll be sure to get the freshest most natural produce. Gardens can also be rewarding family projects and lots of fun.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's store in your area, use it. You’ll find tons of organic foods and products here at prices normally way below specialty markets or even supermarket chains.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Parents Need to Know About Organic Foods

Got Kids? Read This!
If you’re a parent, you need to be especially concerned with pesticide use in food and in the environment. According to the USDA, because infants and children have a lower body weight ratio to the amount of foods they consume, and because their still developing internal organs cannot detoxify chemicals as efficiently as adults, their susceptibility to toxins is more sensitive.

Unfortunately, all that agency’s studies and recommendations about the so-called “acceptable and safe” levels of toxic chemicals in foods were determined on adult tolerance levels, not on children’s.

When considering the importance of whether or not to feed your children organic foods, think about these sobering statistics
(and lest you think these stats come from some left wing tree hugger organization, think again, these are the US government's own statistics):
  • Depending on body weight, standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults.
  • Blood samples show concentrations of pesticide residues are six times higher in children aged 2 to 4 who eat conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables compared with those eating organic foods.
  • According to the EPA’s “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment,” children receive 50% of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that one of the main sources of pesticide exposure for children comes directly from the food they eat.
  • Organophosphate pesticides (OPs) are currently found in the bodies of 95 percent of Americans tested. OP exposure has been linked to hyperactivity, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, developmental delays and motor dysfunction.
  • Half of produce currently tested in grocery stores contain measurable residues of pesticides according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • The FDA also reports that eight industry-leader baby foods reveal the presence of 16 pesticides, including three carcinogens.
Think organic foods are too expensive? Read tomorrow's post for money saving tips and strategies.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Benefits of Eating Organic Foods in a Nutshell

Continuing our series on organics foods, today's post shows what organic foods can do for you and your family.

Some of the benefits of organic foods effect the planet, others positively impact your health. More often than not, the two are intertwined like most green cooking practices.

So what can you expect to get from buying organic foods, besides a higher grocery bill?
  • Generally Safer Food – With so many food recalls – from beef, to frozen pizza, to pet foods, consumers are naturally concerned about food safety issues more than ever. Certified organic growers follow strict guidelines for safe and hygienic food production. While it’s true that both organic and conventionally grown foods fall under the same local, state and federal regulations, in order to meet organic certification requirements, organic farms are inspected more frequently, thereby decreasing the likelihood of food handling misconduct. While organic food recalls are extremely rare, there is much greater traceability if it ever does occur because farmers and handlers must keep extensive records as part of their farm and handling plans in order to be certified organic.

  • More Nutritious Food -- Research shows that organically produced fruits and vegetables have higher levels of minerals and healthy cancer-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts. For instance, a 2003 study which originally appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown strawberries had about 19 percent more antioxidants than conventional. Organically grown corn outpaced regular by 58.5 percent and organic Marion berries (a variety of blackberry) logged in at 50 percent higher antioxidants. A decade long UC Davis study found that while the amounts varied between crops, organic tomatoes consistently served up higher levels of antioxidants. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition showed that on average, organically grown food was 63 percent higher in calcium, 73 percent higher in iron, 118 percent higher in magnesium, 125 percent higher in potassium, and 60 percent higher in zinc. The organic food also contained 19 percent less mercury than convenionally grown produce.

  • More Flavorful Food – The increased levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals make for more flavorful food. Add to that the fact that organic produce has a lower water content than conventionally grown, making the flavors more true and concentrated. Many varieties of organic produce are grown specifically with flavor in mind. Taste is more often an afterthought in industrially farmed produce, with considerations like shelf life, ease of shipment, and uniform appearance taking precedence.

  • Lower Levels of Toxins In Air, Water and Soil -- Organic foods promote a less toxic environment for all living things as organic growing practices reduce unwanted chemicals not only in our bodies, but in the air, water and soil. Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers from conventionally grown produce leach into the soil and our water supply through the ground and via drainage run off. Chemical laden sediments are finding their way into wetlands and fish habitats, and synthetic fertilizer drifting downstream is the main culprit blamed for ocean dead zones. Pesticides also drift via the air we breathe. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) these dangerous chemicals in our air can affect human and environmental health by the resultant pesticide exposures to farm workers, children playing outside, and wildlife and its habitat. Drift can also contaminate home gardens or another farmer's crops by causing illegal pesticide residues and/or plant damage. The problems of chemical farming are eliminated with organic farming practices where farmers use natural, safe methods such as insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers to control pests, and techniques like crop rotation and diversity to maintain soil integrity and keep weeds in check.

  • Lower Levels of Toxins in Your Body – Eating organic foods also lowers the risk of toxic chemicals in the human body. Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are constantly exposed to levels of pesticide residues through their diets. By the EPA’s own admission, scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the health effects of these pesticide residues. Results from the government’s Agricultural Health Study, an ongoing study of pesticide exposures in farm families, show that farmers who used agricultural insecticides experienced an increase in headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hand tremors, and other neurological symptoms. However, because no toxic or synthetic chemicals are used in organic farming, no harmful chemicals can be left on or in the produce.

  • No Veterinary Chemicals and Food Additives – Many people seem unaware that when eating industrially produced meat and/or dairy products, they are also ingesting unwanted antibiotics, hormones, and other food additives. Why should you care? According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), farmers’ use of antibiotics to fatten livestock and poultry enables microbes to build up defenses against the drugs, jump up the food chain, and attack human immune systems. Eating industrially prepared meat and dairy products can compromise your ability to fight off sickness and disease and public health authorities have linked low-level antibiotic use in conventionally raised livestock directly to greater numbers of people contracting infections that resist treatment with the same drugs. The philosophy of organic production, however, is to provide conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of the animal. Organic livestock are fed 100 percent organic feed. They cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.

  • Healthier Soil – According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) nearly 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, undermining the land’s capacity for both present and future production. Conventional farming practices like mono-cropping deplete the soil of nutrients and erode topsoil. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides cause agricultural pollution. On the other hand, organic farming practices that work in harmony with nature by rotating crops and using natural, chemical-free ways to control pests naturally prevent topsoil erosion, improve soil fertility, and protect groundwater.

  • Greater Species Diversity – Organic farming methods not only help maintain natural habitats; they foster species diversity, an important component to the overall health of our planet. A 2000 UK study done by the Soil Association found that organic farms had five times as many wild plants and 57 percent more insect and animal species in and around the fields.
Children need organic foods even more than adults. Don't miss tomorrow's post: What Parents Need to Know About Organic Foods.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Understanding Organics

Today dear readers begins a 5 part series on organic foods, a subject I am pretty passionate about. If you read this series of posts you probably will be too.

If you're confused about organics, don't feel bad, you're not alone. When market research firm the Hartman Group asked a group of allegedly devout green consumers about the USDA organic seal’s meaning, 43 percent did not know!

The small circular green United States Department of Agriculture Organic label affixed to foods is one powerful piece of paper. It assures consumers of exactly how, and under what conditions, their food was grown and produced.

Many people are amazed when they find out that organic farming is now the fastest growing component of world agriculture, and organic foods the fastest growing segment of the grocery industry. Likewise, consumers can expect to encounter an ever increasing variety of organic foods – from staples like produce, dairy products, and meats, to prepared foods like snacks, drinks, and even frozen meals.

What Exactly Are Organic Foods?

The United States Department of Agriculture gives this definition:

”Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”

What Do Organic Food Labels Actually Mean?
In order to wear the “USDA Organic” seal, food must come from a certified operation, and farmers and food producers must jump through a lot of hoops to obtain that coveted status.

The same standards apply whether the food is produced in the US or another country -- a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

It turns out the variations on organic labeling are based on the overall percentage of organic ingredients in a given product. Here’s how it breaks down according to the USDA:
  • Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients.
  • Prepared or Processed Food Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of approved nonagricultural substances or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form. Any product labeled as organic must identify each organically produced ingredient as well as the name and address of the organic certifying agent of the product on the information panel.
  • Prepared or Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. These products cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel, however, they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.
Buzzwords: Biodynamics
Started in 1924 by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner and now a worldwide movement, non-chemical biodynamic farming actively works with the forces of nature to create sustainable agriculture Biodynamics combines common sense practices like rotating crops and natural pest control with an understanding of ecology and the specific environment of a given garden with a new spiritual scientific approach to the principles and practices of agriculture. A biodynamic farm is by default following organic practices (although they may or may not be certified organic), but an organic farm is not necessarily biodynamic. For more information visit the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association’s website at

Safeguarding Organic Integrity
As the popularity of organics continues to grow and more and more industrial food producers get into the game, the need for organic vigilance is ever increasing. The corporations and their lobbyists are continually trying to water down the government’s stringent organic standards. So far, public outcry has been loud enough to stop proposed changes like allowing some hormones, antibiotics and other non-organic materials to be introduced in livestock feed, and allowing the use of some pesticides in growing produce. However, there’s no reason to believe the efforts to degrade the quality of organic food won’t continue.

So what’s a smart consumer to do? Get informed, stay informed, and when the time comes, get active. One of the best places to do all three is through the Organic Consumer’s Association (OCA), an online grassroots non-profit public interest organization that deals with issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, fair trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics. Representing over 850,000 members, the OCA’s website is first place to look for news and /or changes relating to organic foods --

Ok, so now you understand what organic foods are, but what are the benefits of eating organic? Read tomorrow's post to find out the Benefits of Organics in a nutshell.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hot Drinks for Cold Winter Days and Nights

As I sit staring out my office window in my home in Big Bear, CA it is snowing...hard! It snowed most of the day yesterday, a good part of the day before that, and all last night. It's beautiful. I welcome the great skiing it brings, and it helps fill up our lake in summer, keeps the forests green, and helps prevent fires in other drier seasons. I actually enjoy the workout that shoveling provides (yes, I have a short driveway). But it's cold.

So, I thought it was a good time to browse the collection of hot drink recipes. As I have always been a fan of creative hot drinks, we have many good ones, both non-alcoholic and leaded. So explore some of the recipe links below and mix up a batch of hot toddies to warm everyone up.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Hot Drinks

Favorite Hot Drinks with Alcohol
  • Traditional Irish Coffee (pictured right) -- Chef Joe Sheridan, of Foyne's Restaurant in County Clare, is credited with inventing Irish Coffee in the 1940s. Use these instructions to enjoy this classic cocktail at home.
  • Hot Spiced Brandy Wine -- With wine, brandy, fruit juices and spices, this is a perfect winter warm up.
  • Hot Buttered Rum -- This classic toddy has been popular for generations, it's so delicious and easy to make that it will doubtless remain in demand for years to com.
  • Brown Russian Hot Chocolate (pictured top of this post) -- A rich mouthful of chocolate that gets its complexity from chai-like spices best served in tall Russian coffee glasses.
  • Hot Brandy Milk Punch -- This old fashioned favorite is still delicious today. It's the perfect thing to warm cold snow bunnies at an after ski party. It's also much lower in fat than most other drinks of its kind.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Best French Fries Ever...Really!

A lot of people cite French Fries as one of the gustatory weaknesses. But until you taste these fabulous French Fries, you don't know how powerful a craving for fries can get. Like those served by Belgian street vendors (the "French" fry is actually Belgian in origin) are perfect -- crisp and flavorful with fluffy interiors.

The secret to these perfect fries? They're fried, once at a lower temperature, then again later at a higher temperature until crisp. Since the first frying can be done up to 4 hours ahead of time, these fries are even convenient to serve at parties -- the prep work is done ahead of time and all they need is a couple minutes in the fryer to crisp. Authentic old-style Belgian fries would be cooked in lard, but there's a limit to what I'll put my body through. I find vegetable oil does the job just fine.

These are so good, you may not need a dipping sauce. Of course kids and many purists love ketchup, but we prefer garlic mayonnaise (I'm not saying this is a health food dish). Mix mayo with minced garlic to taste -- 1-2 cloves usually suffices but garlic lovers and vampirephobics might want more.

4 medium to large russet potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide sticks
vegetable oil for frying
salt or seasoning salt

Pat potatoes dry with paper towels.

Heat vegetable oil in a deep fat fryer (or heat about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy, preferably cast iron, skillet). Use a deep fry thermometer and heat oil to 260°F. Working in batches so as not to crowd the potatoes, fry until tender, but not brown -- about 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. Remove potatoes to a wire rack or a paper towel lined plate to drain. Cool the potatoes completely before proceeding. You can prepare the fries to this point up to 4 hours before serving, keeping them at room temperature.

Just before serving, reheat the oil to 375°F. Add the precooked potatoes to the hot oil, again in batches to avoid crowding, and cook until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack or paper towel lined plate and immediately sprinkle with salt or seasoning salt. Serve hot!

More on Potatoes
Check out our Potato Tutorial for important tips and information about buying, storing and using potatoes, plus tons of fabulous potato recipes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fabulous New Slow Cooker Book and Recipes

I have managed, once again, to get really backlogged on cookbook reviews for but the other day a new slow cooker book came in. Since I know so many of you like using the slow cooker, I jumped Slow and Easy: Fast-Fix Recipes for Your Electric Slow Cooker to the front of the line.

Slow cooker fans will surely enjoy this new HUGE collection of “set-it-and-forget-it” slow cooker recipes. What could be easier than putting a few ingredients in the slow cooker, going about your day, and coming home to hot home cooked meals?

While there are tons of slow cooker books on the market today, this is definitely one of the better ones. All too often slow cooker books resort to the “dump in a can of cream-of-something-soup" syndrome. Not so here. While all of author Natalie Haughton’s recipes are easy enough for even absolute beginner cooks to prepare, they use real wholesome ingredients.

I also like that Haughton acknowledges the benefits AND limitations of the appliance. Just because you can cook something in slow cooker doesn’t mean you should -- a fact many other slow cooker cookbook authors have a tendency to ignore. She also pays attention to the details, including which recipes are OK to be left on the heat for extra time, and which might need closer monitoring.

You’ll get over 250 slow cooker recipes in this volume that celebrate the best of what slow cooker can do for foods, and what more could you ask for in slow cooker cookbook?

Chapters include: Celebrating a New Way to Cook; Appetizers, Dips, and Drinks; Soups and Chowders; Pasta and Pasta Sauces; Chicken, Turkey and Seafood; Beef, Pork and Lamb; One-Pot Meals; Vegetables, grains, and Side Dishes; Breakfast and Brunch; Preserves, Chutneys and Salsas; Great Slow Cooker Desserts.

Sample Recipes from Slow and Easy: Fast-Fix Recipes for Your Slow Cooker

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Pilgrimage to Harry's Bar, Birthplace of the Bellini

For foodies, few places in the world hold the legendary status of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, for this bar and restaurant boasts many claims to fame.

Carpacchio, a dish of paper think slices of raw beef served drizzled with olive oil that’s now served at fine restaurants all over the USA got its start at Harry’s Bar, but the place is probably best known as the birthplace of the Bellini cocktail.

Italy already had a long tradition of marinating fresh peaches in wine before Giuseppe Cipriani invented the drink in 1948, but the inventive bartender took the concept to new heights when he mixed white peach puree with Prosecco (Italy's version of champagne). The drink was simple but delicious and instantly became a classic at the famous Venice bar and later at its New York counterpart.

Because of its unique color, which reminded him of the color of a sunset in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, Cipraiani named the drink the Bellini. The rest is history. The drink is still popular today and in true classic cocktail fashion has spawned numerous imitations and variations.

Aside from ts culinary creations, Harry’s Bar became famous because of the famous patrons who have frequented it throughout the years including Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Arturo Toscanini, Charlie Chaplin, Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, and countless other luminaries.

So on a recent trip to Italy, I, like any other self respecting foodie, made a pilgrimage to the famous Harry’s Bar. I was surprised at how unassuming it was – even though it is right on the waterfront, it’s easy to walk past without even noticing it. A small sign etched into in window (photo left) and the etched glass door are your only clues.

Inside the place looks much the same as it always did – rich wood paneling surrounds aisles of tables navigated by what appears to be way too many bustling waiters for the small size of the room. Upstairs and most of downstairs are occupied by dining tables, the bar itself taking up just a small quarter of the downstairs. Even our bartender had been a fixture at Harry's for the past 40 years.

So was this pilgrimage worth it and should you bother to go out of your way to go to Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy? Probably not, unless it’s important to you to say you’ve been there. To be fair, we didn’t dine, as the prices were far beyond our means – even on an indulgent vacation's budget. We did stop in for cocktails though – to be specific the famous Bellini.

From the minute we got into the door, the experience somewhat reminded me of Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans. Not that the two places are anything alike beyond both being bars, but in that they are both on the tourist radar and they know it. Likewise, they know they don’t have to try.

The prices at Harry’s are beyond exorbitant, and staff are curt at best, trying to herd you in and out as quickly as possible. The Harry's Bar bellini, which comes in a small juice-sized glass, ran 15 Euros a piece (as of September, 2007) – that’s close to thirty bucks a drink US.

Was it good? Yes. But not that good. While Harry’s was probably never a bargain, I can’t imagine things were this absurd in Hemmingway’s day. You can get just as good a Bellini at the Belaggio's Fontana Bar in Las Vegas, at a fraction of the price (and if you've ever been to the Belaggio, you know it's not cheap). If you go to Harry's Bar for dinner or lunch, expect the food prices to be in proportion with that of the Bellini, so save up.

More than any other part of the experience, I did enjoy the look of the place. Wood has a way of absorbing history. The rich paneling and touches like the simple art deco clock hanging above the bar, and even the bartender himself, reminded me that I was in a culinary museum of sorts. And as we’ve lost so many such places, I’m glad Harry’s still exists… I guess. The Harry’s Bar of today just doesn’t live up to the hype, so even if I was in Venice again, I wouldn’t go back. Once was more than enough and I left feeling like a typical tourist chump, which in fact, I was. But I guess occasionally being a chump is part of the tourist experience.

Bellini Recipe and Variations
Click the links below for the recipe for a classic Bellini along with some nouvelle variations.

More on Venice
While Harry's Bar could have been skipped, the rest of Venice and its surrounding area was incredible. We got an unusual view of this most unique area of the world by taking a live-aboard barge cruise that allowed us explore the entire region, including the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello, and the city of Padua, along with Venice itself. Click here to read that travel story and check out the photos.