Friday, May 29, 2009

What does "real food" mean to you?

Pop quiz:

The words "real food" conjure images of which of the following?

A) a tomato grown in your own backyard
B) a rotisserie roasted chicken from the supermarket
C) raw milk straight from the cow
D) a jar of Hellman's mayonnaise

The correct answer, of course, is 'D'. Or at least that's what Unilever, the parent company of Hellman's, and its advertising flaks at Ogilvy would have you believe.

They are currently running a campaign that, to me, is a little shocking...

At its heart it's not all that bad -- encouraging people to eat food that's "fresh, simple and delicious." Nothing wrong with that, right?

But my question is, when did Hellman's mayonnaise become the exemplar of healthy, "real" food. Here's a look at what you get in a single serving:

Calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. OK, save for the "natural flavors" and "calcium disodium EDTA" the ingredients may be "real," but they're also not really that great for you.

That's not to say that we should all stop eating mayonnaise (Though I do recommend trying to make your own. It won't last forever in your fridge, but it's tasty and gratifying.)

My real concern is when a corporation becomes the flag-bearer for a "movement" and essentially co-opts an otherwise optimistic or generally innocuous phrase. "Real Food" can mean many things to many people, but it should not mean going to the store and buying highly processed foods to feed to your family just because Bobby Flay and some advertising execs say you should.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Canada's Love for Tim's Knows No Bounds

Whether they live in tony Toronto townhouses or farms on the prairies, it seems all Canadians share one thing: a love of Tim Horton's.

A new survey shows Tim's outweighing Starbucks in popularity by 4 to 1.

"Folklore portrays the average Tim's customer as a pickup-driving Everyman in a flannel shirt and baseball cap who scorns frappucinos, isn't sure what a latte is and embraces hockey and hunting. It's supposedly the place where the average Joe gets his joe," reports a story today in the Canadian Press.

But the survey suggests that support for the Canadian brand runs much deeper than that stereotype would suggest. Among those earning under $100,000 a year, 51 per cent of respondents chose Tim's as their preference. Among those making over $100,000, 46 per cent were for Tim's.

The gender split was fairly even as well, with 51 percent of men and 47 percent of women across the country favoring Tim's over Starbucks. Among people under 30, Tim's got 55 per cent support, while 46 per cent of those over 50 also chose Tim's.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey questioned about 1,000 people in an omnibus telephone survey April 23-May 3 and is considered accurate to within 2.2 per cent 19 times in 20.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breakfast Made to Order

Breakfast. It’s a much-maligned meal – for some a necessary evil, for others, a meal worth skipping. A walk down the supermarket cereal aisle provides an almost infinite choice of breakfast bleakness or morning magic depending on your perspective.

But love it or hate it, you can’t beat designer cereal, especially when you’re the one doing the designing. [me] & goji allows customers to pick from more than 50 natural ingredients, which are then mixed by hand and sent directly to your door, with a custom label bearing your name.

Can’t afford bespoke cereals, which can come with a hefty price tag? No problem. With a little ambition, you can make your own. Here’s an easy recipe for granola bars from Mark Bittman, the king of uncomplicated cooking. Or, try your hand at making your own version of an energy bar.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Custom Made Consumer Food

Are food producers just getting lazy or are bespoke edibles the next big thing? In the past day, I have come across several sites that allow you to create your own packaged food product. This is not, grow-your-own homemade stuff. This is I-want-my-boxed-cereal-my-way.

[me] & goji
: offers "custom artisanal cereal" allowing the customer to select from more than 50 natural ingredients to mix up their very own breakfast treat.

kettle chips: Kettle chips is challenging potato chip fans to create their own custom flavored chip.

What would your dream chip or cereal look like? Are there more examples of this kind of marketing out there?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ask the Cheesehead: Raw or Pasteurized? What's the difference?

Louis PasteurWhat is the difference between raw and pasteurized milk and how do these differences translate into cheese?

Raw milk comes straight from the animal and, rather than being subjected to heat treatment, is simply filtered and cooled before use. Raw milk has a higher vitamin content than heat-treated milk and allows for a fullness and depth of flavor that is lost when the milk is pasteurized.

The pasteurization process (invented by Louis Pasteur, above), in which milk is heated to a specific temperature for a specific length of time, is intended to kill off potentially dangerous bacteria that can contaminate milk. However, it also kills some benign bacteria that can be useful in the cheese-making process. Most cheese makers prefer to work with raw milk, as it brings out the subtleties of the pasturing process and the end result more accurately represents the diet of the animals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that any cheese made from raw milk must be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the 1950s, it has also banned the import of raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days. After this date, the potentially harmful bacteria are thought to have died off.

Traditionally, all cheeses were made with raw milk straight from small herds whose health was relatively easy to monitor. Many regulations on European cheese production actually prohibit the use of pasteurized milk. To meet controlled designation of origin standards, cheeses like Comté, Gruyère and Parmesan must be made with raw milk.

Pasteurization actually inactivates many of the milk's own enzymes and kills off useful bacteria, therefore requiring the addition of bacterial agents. Ultimately, pasteurization is not a guarantee of safety. In recent years, outbreaks of salmonella and other food-borne diseases have occurred in pasteurized milk, thanks to unclean conditions at dairy processing plants.

What pasteurization often does is lead to a train of thought that sanitary conditions are less important if the milk is heat-treated.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Summer is Coming! Get Ready for Brain Freeze!

It may look cloudy and cool outside your window today, at least if you live in New York, but that doesn't mean summer isn't on the way. The sure sign is that the Lemon Ice King of Corona is open for business.

For over 60 years, the Benfaremo family has been serving up their own brand of Italian ices at this humble corner in the shadow of Shea stadium (ok, Citi Field). On summer nights, old neighborhood holdouts play bocce in "Spaghetti Park" but last night, with clouds filling the sky, we were among just a handful of customers.

Anyone who has not had the pleasure of trying Benfaremo might be dazzled by the dozens of flavors on offer. "Almond," you might say, adventurously. Or, "I like licorice."

But I'm here to tell you there is really only one right choice here:


It's in the name of the place after all. He's not the Cotton Candy Ice King of Corona. Don't be fooled by the enticement of little chunks of mango or watermelon ... you want lemon. If you really, really want to try something else, I wouldn't suggest going any farther afield than orange or rainbow. Trust me on this one. I speak from several years of experience.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Many Faces of Bergamot

I have a small amount of bergamot growing in my window right now. As you can see, they're still just babies but I'm already giving some thought to how I can put them to use later on in the season.

Here are some ideas I came across:

Bergamot jelly might be fun to try in the late summer or fall when it's apple season.

Using the bergamot leaves in citrus sorbet or as a flavoring for pork or even fish.

A handful of leaves could be brewed as a mild tea, or added to lemonade or iced tea (like the Luzianne I picked up in New Orleans last year).

It's important to note that this herb is differentiated from bergamot oranges, the rinds of which give that distinct flavor to Earl Grey tea. What I have is of the mint family and is also known as 'bee balm.'

Anyone have suggestions for cool ways I can use my new acquisition?