New kitchen gadgets

March 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm (Product Reviews)

I tried a four new well-rated kitchen gadgets last year, and I thought I’d do a quick post about which ones I ended up liking and which ones I didn’t care for.  My most exciting new purchase is a pressure cooker, but I haven’t actually taken it out of the box yet.  Once I try it out, I’ll report back! Read the rest of this entry »

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Better than S’mores

August 8, 2008 at 4:38 am (A (4 stars, love), Dessert, My brain, Other, Product Reviews, Quick weeknight recipe)

When Derek went to Cambridge last month, I asked him to bring back some Hobnob’s, the delicious oaty, not too sweet British “biscuits.”  He couldn’t find Hobnob’s but brought back a similar oaty biscuit made by Mark and Spencer.  These oat cookies have a certain similarity to graham crackers: a crumbly, almost flaky texture, with just a touch of sweetness. I love the graham cracker and chocolate part of Smore’s, but I was never too fond of the marshmallow component.  Besides, most marshmallows aren’t really vegetarian.  Despite its failings, the marshmallow does fill an essential S’mores role: you need something ooey gooey to hold the biscuit and chocolate together.  Instead of marshmallows, I suggest peanut butter: it’s less artificial, contains less sugar, more protein, and is much, much tastier. Smear one Hobnob biscuit with a thin layer of all-natural, salted peanut butter, and top with a square of dark chocolate.  Please, use a good quality dark chocolate, not a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar; that stuff is just sugar and paraffin wax.  I recommend Scharffenberger’s nibby dark chocolate. If you want the chocolate a bit soft and melted, give it a second in the microwave or a hot oven, or (my preferred, all-natural method) just leave your better than S’mores sitting in a sunny window for 10 minutes.  These peanut better than s’mores are probably the simplest, tastiest, most satisfying desserts / snacks I’ve had in a long time.  Plus, each one is only slightly over 150 calories (hobnob = 60, 1/2 Tbs. peanut butter = 50, one large square of dark chocolate = 50).

Rating: A-

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The Perilous Pleaures of Nut Butters

January 11, 2008 at 1:22 am (My brain, Product Reviews, unrated)

If I haven’t already made this clear, Derek is a peanut butter fiend. He can go through a whole jar in just a few days. He starts off every day with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and he’ll often follow that with several spoonfuls of peanut butter in the afternoon, only to finish the day off with a bowl of ice cream drizzled with peanut butter. (He sometimes gives me a taste and I must admit it is an amazingly tasty combination.)

His is a picky passion, however: he’s tried just about every natural brand of peanut butter there is, and dismisses them all, proclaiming that none lives up to plain old, old-fashioned Smuckers. Even the organic Smuckers he claims tastes inferior. (He’s also extremely picky about the jam for his pb&j, insisting on Smuckers grape jam. To his dismay, Smuckers grape jam apparently does not exist in Montreal, nor anything similar for that matter. If you know of a source, please post a comment. You’ll make Derek very happy. And no, he does not find Welch’s grape jelly acceptable.)

Whoops! Back to the nut butter saga….

A few years ago we discovered almond butter at the East End food co-op, then branched out to cashew butter. Everytime I brought Derek to the co-op he would buy extravagant (or so it seemed to me) amounts of nut butters from the bulk bins. Given his love of nut butters, I decided to surprise Derek with a selection of Quebec nut butters when he arrived in Montreal last week. We tried:

  • almond hazelnut
  • macadamia cashew
  • sunflower seed
  • pumpkin seed
  • hazelnut

The almond hazelnut was a big hit. Given the lack of Smuckers peanut butter, Derek took to drizzling almond hazelnut butter on top of butterscotch ripple ice cream. Although I don’t share Derek’s dangerous infatuation for nut butters, I have to admit that this combination proved to be the best ice cream experience I’ve had in a long time, even better than the gourmet gelatos at Jean Talon or Atwater. We also tried topping the ice cream with plain hazelnut butter but it wasn’t nearly as good as the almond/hazelnut combo. The hazelnut tasted too bitter. However, I know from previous experience that the hazelnut butter goes wonderfully with anything chocolate or cocoa-y.

I’ve already described my love of sunflower seed butter on my blog, but strangely Derek doesn’t care for it. I wasn’t very fond of the Montreal brand either. I still have some of my American sunbutter left though, and love to eat it spread on a banana for a snack.

The pumpkin seed butter was new to both of us. I liked it, but the flavor doesn’t lend itself to eating plain or on bread like other butters. I think it will be good to cook with though.

A word of caution: if you’re not Derek and take more than a week to go through a jar of nut butter, I highly recommend keeping it in the refrigerator, as the natural nut butters (unlike Skippy and Jif) have no emulsifiers or transfats or other preservatives, and go rancid very quickly at room temperature. As I understand, rancid oils are very bad for you, and it’s best to throw them out at the first hint of rancidity. My friends sometimes say they don’t know what rancid nuts or nut butter taste like, and it’s a bit hard to explain. Have you ever been eating peanut M&M’s and gotten a bad one, or one that just tasted weird? It was probably rancid.

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The wonders of sun butter

May 14, 2007 at 7:09 pm (Product Reviews, Quick weeknight recipe)

Sun butter, or sunbutter, is just what it sounds like… something rich and delicious that brightens your day immeasurably with just a single spoonful. Ok, well, yes, actually it’s just ground up sunflower seeds, but that doesn’t even begin to convey how good this stuff is. I’m not a big sunflower seed fan myself, shelled or unshelled, but that doesn’t stop me from lovin’ on this sunbutter. The brand I bought at Whole Foods in Chicago (on recommendation from Derek’s choir director James) is Sungold natural sunbutter, creamy. It has a touch of sugar added, but only 1.5g sugar per Tbs, which isn’t much at all. It’s high in vitamin E, magnesium, and copper, and a good source of zinc and niacin. It has only slightly less protein than peanut butter–3.5g per Tbs (13%) versus 4g (16%) . I highly recommend trying it! Of course, I can’t find the Sungold brand in Montreal, so once my jar is up I’m going to try the local Canadian brand and report back.

For all you peanut and nut allergy types, the Sungold sunbutter is processed in a peanut free and nut free facility. Plus, it’s yummier than peanut butter (I would argue, my mom and Derek disagree).

Addendum: I know all my loyal readers (all three of you) are wondering where all the new recipes are, and I confess that finishing my thesis, moving to a new country, and finding a place to live have sadly taken precedence over cooking. I’ve been living on Optimum cereal, hemp seeds, and Commensal frozen dinners for the last 2 weeks. Yesterday for dinner I went all out cooking and had a delicious Canadian kamut tortilla spread with sun butter and “grilled” on my cast iron pan. Yummy, but not quite worth entering as a recipe, alas. Tonight I’m making my old standby–caraway rutabaga soup, plus I put on a pot of brown rice and cut up raw veggies, so there should be some real cooking happening later in the week! I’m going to make my ginger garlic dressing from the coop days. Did I ever post that recipe here? If not, look forward to it later in the week.

Update 08/2007: My friend bought me a jar of organic Once Again sunflower seed butter as a present. Thanks Katrina! It’s not quite as tasty as the Sungold sunbutter, a bit too salty I think, but it’s still better than the one I’ve gotten in Montreal. For lunch today I spread sun butter on a lightly toasted whole what tortilla, then covered it in cucumber slices, folded it in half and ate it like a sandwich. It was a bit odd, but surprisingly tasty.

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Exploring Montreal Brands

May 5, 2007 at 7:54 am (Product Reviews)

I’ve just moved to Montreal and I’m unfamiliar with all the brands, so I’m going to have to rediscover which brands of soymilk, tofu, whole wheat pasta, etc. I prefer. I’ll record my impressions here. Check back for more entries, or leave a comment with your favorite brands (or least favorite)!

Yogurt

  • I tried the local brand that comes in a jar (can’t remember the name) but I found it lumpy and sour, just like the local Pennsylvania brand I used to try occasionally. I know that’s how “real yogurt” is supposed to taste, but it’s just not for me.
  • Lately I’ve been buying Spring Valley’s / Belle Vallee 1.5% milkfat cow’s yogurt at Segal. (I haven’t seen it at any other stores.) It’s a bit expensive, but quite thick and tasty with a good texture. It does have additives like corn starch to help with the texture though. Just checked and apparently it’s made by yoplait.ca / Ultima foods, and is not organic. I’m not sure where the milk comes from–somewhere in Canada I would imagine, which means it’s at least rBGH free.

Soymilk

  • Natura soy: tastes pretty good, organic, has calcium added, low calorie. It’s a bit beany tasting, but I like my soymilk to taste like soybeans. What’s not to like? (Cheapest at Segal’s on St. Laurent.)
  • So nice: organic but chalky and too thick, no calcium added.
  • Vitsaoy: I used to drink this one way back when. It’s not bad. I bought the light original with 4g of sugar and 60 calories. It has calcium added, but the flavor wasn’t as good as the Natura.

Tofu

  • Unisoya: the firm tofu was hard as a rock, and it tasted sour. I tried the Unisoya soft next and it was still hard as a rock and tasted terrible. Definitely not recommended. Apparently Unisoya is a large milk producer in Canada, and branched out into soy products to get a foot in the non-dairy market.
  • I’ve been buying another brand at Eden in the La Cite shopping mall, which comes in a water-packed box and is quite nice: silky but medium firm. The label says Sunrise Soya, but also has Chinese characters on it. The address for Sunrise Soya is in Vancouver, and apparently this company has been making tofu for over 50 years.
  • At Segal’s I buy a kind that comes in a big round tupperware, labeled Les Aliments Wah Hoa Inc. It’s a soft silky tofu that’s quite tasty as well. There are multiple small 4 ounce blocks in the container. I couldn’t find anything about this company on Google, except that their address is in Montreal.
  • I’ve been meaning to try out h & s tofu, which is apparently a small local producer of soymilk, tofu, tempeh etc., with a shop on Parc, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
  • Silken, dry-packed tofu, the kind packed in the same boxes as shelf-stable soymilk. This is available in Montreal, but more expensive than in the states (where I could find it for $1 at the Chinese grocery). I’ve gotten it at Segal’s, and at Eden’s, and probably elsewhere. It’s nice because it lasts in the fridge for a long time. However, if I have the fresh silken kind around (either Wah Hoa or the kind from Eden) I’ve been using that instead–it seems to work almost as well.
  • Lagatta in a comment recommended Horium tofu, and I’m not sure if I’ve tried it yet. She says she gets it at Merci Vrac at Jean Talon.

Cheese

  • Skotidakis goat milk feta: I bought this at a fancy cheese shop, but it was hard and tasteless. I threw it out.
  • There’s a goat milk gouda at Fruiterie du Plateau on Roy that’s marvelous, although not cheap.

Sauces:

  • Annie’s salad dressing: I saw their Goddess dressing in someone’s recycling bin, which makes me suspect you can get it in Montreal. But where?
  • La Costena home style medium mexican salsa. I was desperate for salsa, and this is all I could find. It was terrible. It tasted more like tomato sauce than salsa. Not recommended.

Bread

  • Stonemill bread, sprouted grains, 100% whole grains. It has a short ingredient list that includes flax seeds, sprouted wheat, oat flakes, and sourdough. The flavor was pretty good, but it’s a bit high at 120 calories per slice.

Pasta

  • Italpasta whole wheat lasagne. Good flavor and pretty good flavor. I cooked the noodles first, but not quite all the way. They held together well and were cooked fine in the final lasagne.

Miscellaneous:

  • Europe’s best frozen wild fruit. I liked the wild blueberries as much as the Wyman’s blueberries I used to get in the states. The bag is more expensive but larger. Recommended. Their frozen raspberries are fine too. Their frozen mango was a weird powdery taste (could they have added cornstarch to it?), and the frozen pineapple tasted rotten (although perhaps it was just left out of the freezer at the store?)
  • Nut butters. I tried the local brand (can’t remember the name) of sun butter that they sell at all the health food stores around here. I didn’t care for it at all, even after adding a bit of honey. I *loved* their macadamia/cashew butter though, and if you buy it at Segal’s it’s not even that expensive.

Commensal frozen dinners: (Cheapest at Segal’s on St. Laurent.)

  • Commensal Provencal Tortiglioni Pasta (freezer): Commensal is a local vegetarian buffet, which apparently also sells frozen dinners. This one was okay. Pretty good stats (290cal, 5g sat fat, 500g sodium, good vitamin/mineral levels) but only 4g fiber. The texture was good, but again it tasted a bit strongly of some dried herb. I’ll try some of the other flavors but this one won’t be my first pick (although ok in a pinch).
  • Commensal vegetable couscous: I don’t know what they do to this couscous but it’s got an unusual mouthfeel, and is extremely tasty. The vegetables and tomato sauce and chickpeas are nice too. 310 calories, .5g sat fat, 5g fiber, 10g protein, 25% vit A, 6% vit C, 6% calcium, 15% iron. Recommended.
  • Commensal chinese stirfry: the seitan was totally tasteless, and the rest was white pasta with just a bit of red bell pepper. Pretty bland, and low in nutrients. Not recommended.
  • Commensal shepherd’s pie: I’ve never been a fan of mashed potatoes, shepherd’s pie, or TVP, but somehow this combo just really does the trick. It’s very tasty, filling, comfort food for only 300 calories.
  • Commensal macaroni and cheese: this was surprisingly bland tasting. I had to add salt and pepper to get it to taste like anything. It turns out it’s only about 22% fat, which is incredibly low for macaroni and cheese. The ingredient list includes butternut squash, which maybe explains the low fat value, but in my opinion it’s so bland it’s not worth buying, and certainly not worth 400 calories.

Other frozen dinners:

  • President’s choice penne with roasted vegetable: this was reasonably tasty, with whole wheat pasta, and a bit of vegetables, and a slightly cheesy tomato sauce: 320 calories, 2.5g sat fat, 9g fiber, 14g protein, vit A 10%, vit C 20%, calcium 20%, iron 20%. Recommended.
  • Michelina penne primavera: Creamy but bland sauce, not enough veggies, and white tasteless pasta. 340 calories and not very filling. Not recommended.
  • President’s choice reduced fat roasted vegetable lasagna was surpisingly tasty! The red peppers were quite crisp and fresh tasting, and the tomato sauce was excellent–not too sweet and not too dried herb-y. One of the better frozen lasagnas I’ve had. It has 320 calories, 4g saturated fat, 4g fiber, and is 22% and 21% fat and protein respectively. It also has 15% vit A, 35% vit C, 30% calcium, and 15% iron. Not the most amazing stats in the world, but respectable for a TV dinner that actually tastes good. The ingredients are pretty reasonable too: pasta, then tomatoes, then vegetables, followed by cheese, tomato paste, and herbs, trailed by a few less homestyle ingredients, but nothing too awful. Plus the cardboard is 60% post consumer recyled! Highly recommended.

Other prepared foods:

  • Veggie Gourmet roast wheat (fridge): supposedly a form of sliced “roast beef” for sandwiches. This wasn’t terrible but not great either. It’s a high-protein food with a very strong flavor. I thought it was okay on a sandwich, except for an overwhelming flavor of dried thyme. Yikes, what were they thinking? I did like the texture though.
  • Nile dehydrated lentil soup (pantry): I really liked this one. It’s rich tasting and satisfying. It’s salty but otherwise very healthy: 190 calories, no sat fat, 11g fiber, 11g protein, 70% vit A, 8% vit C, 8% calcium, 20% iron. I bought this somewhere in Montreal and now I can’t remember where? Anyone know?
  • Primo Lentil soup (can): vaguely reminiscent of progresso lentil soup, but not nearly as flavorful. Not recommended.
  • President’s choice macaroni and cheese (frozen). Not organic. 530 calories with a day’s worth of saturated fat and 1/2 a day’s sodium. Tasty, in that cafeteria macaroni and cheese way, but full of artificial ingredients. Not recommended.
  • Plaisirs Gastronomiques spinach quiche (frozen). 480 calories, but only 6g saturated fat. Surprisingly flavorless. didn’t taste like spinach or fat or much of anything. Not recommended.
  • I tried a mushrom terrine (fridge) from Vrac at Jean Talon and the first time I really liked it as a spread for bread but this last time it reminded me too much of liver or something (not that I’ve ever had liver) and threw it out.

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Product Review: recommended grocery items

January 2, 2007 at 6:58 am (Product Reviews)

I thought I’d share some of my favorite grocery store branded items. For now it’s just a list but eventually I will get around to writing some enticing tidbits about each.

  • Amore Tomato Paste in a Tube
  • Annie’s Goddess Salad Dressing
  • Tropical Source chocolate chips
  • Muir glen canned tomatoes
  • Whole foods whole wheat pasta, esp. the linguine
  • Whole foods peanut butter made from honey roasted peanuts
  • Muir glen pizza sauce
  • Ezekiel Sesame bread and Bran for Life bread
  • Whole Foods red chile tortillas
  • SunGold Sunbutter

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Product review: energy bars

November 11, 2006 at 7:51 am (Product Reviews)

Odwalla chocolate chip peanut: one of my favorites. I love the flavor and the texture is good as well. A bit high in sugar (14g) and calories (250), but has 8g of protein and is pretty filling. Doesn’t contain soy isolate, just soy nuts! Rating: A-

Luna key lime pie: the lime has that metallic taste that I always get if I leave a squeezed half of lime sitting in a glass of water overnight. The bar in general seems insubstantial, and sugary, especially the white coating. Lots of protein, but not so much fiber. Lots of vitamin and minerals added. Only 180 calories, which is lower than most bars. Rating: C

Optimum Cranberry, Ginger, and Soy: This bar tastes a lot like the optimum cereal with ginger.  The ginger flavor (plus cloves and cinnamon) is quite nice, and just a bit spicy even.  It’s quite high in sugar though (21g), and contains soy protein concentrate.  Although it doesn’t have nutrients added, it is quite high in calcium (25%) and iron (15%).  With 5g of fiber, 6g of protein, and 3g of (unsaturated) fat the nutrient balance isn’t too bad either.  Rating: B

Lara cinnamon bar: This is one of my favorite lara bars.  It’s very tasty, but unfortunately I don’t really find any of the lara bars too filling.  I consider them more like dessert.   This one has 210 calories, 20g of sugar, and 4g each of protein and fibe, plus 12g of fat from nuts.  Rating: B

Kashi TLC Trail Mix granola bars:  Kashi TLC bars are much closer to traditional granola bars I ate when I was a kid.  The taste isn’t bad and I quite like the texture–lots of hard crunchy things stuck together with a sticky, gooey sweet substance.  These bars are much smaller than most others I’ve tried: only 140 calories,  with 5g of fat, 6g of protein, and 4g of fiber.  The vitamin and mineral content is quite low, but so are the sugars (6g).  They contain soy protein isolate.  They come in a box with maybe 8 or so bars, and so end up being quite a bit cheaper than the ones you buy individually.  Rating: B-

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Product review: prepared foods

October 28, 2006 at 5:51 pm (Product Reviews)

First of all, I bet many of you are wondering, what is a cook like her doing eating frozen dinners? I know, I know, I feel guilty when I do it. All that energy to keep them frozen, all that plastic packaging (which is probably terrible for me), all that salt and weird artificial ingredients… But despite the guilt sometimes I’m just too busy or lazy to cook, or I’m sick of my own cooking. Going out is more expensive, takes more time, and you have less information about what you’re eating, so I sometimes resort to frozen dinners. If you supplement them with a vegetable side or salad they make an okay dinner. Here are my thoughts on the ones I’ve tried.

Amy’s cheese enchiladas (Frozen): The first ingredient in these enchiladas is cheese, and there’s almost no vegetables. The ingredient list is mostly organic, and mostly whole foods. The taste isn’t bad–a bit powdery from the chili powder and the texture is a bit soft but otherwise they’re not bad. They’re high in calories: 220 calories for each very small enchilada. These enchiladas have 24g of fat and 12 of saturated fat, and not much fiber. They do provoide 50% of calcium, vit A, and vit C however, as well as 12% iron. Overall I’d say these would make a reasonable calorie-controlled treat, especially if you add some beans or veggies, but they aren’t healthy enough to be a regular meal.

Trader Joe’s Corn and Black Bean enchiladas (Frozen): These enchiladas are composed almost entirely of almost-whole foods: corn tortillas, tomatoes, tofu, beans, zucchini… Strangely, however, black beans are not close to the top, and I actually had to check the ingredient list to see if they were really there or not. The taste isn’t bad–less powdery than the Amy’s sauce, but both the tortillas and sauce are quite gooey (which I attribute to the rice and tapioca flours). The sauce wasn’t quite chili-y enough for me, but they weren’t bad. And it’s only 260 calories for two enchiladas, compared to 440 for Amy’s. That’s quite a difference for the same amount of food. These enchiladas have only 8g of fat and no saturated fat, but not a lot of fiber. They do provide 20% of calcium and iron, and some vit A. They’re surpisingly low in protein (only 12%), which I attribute to the dearth of black beans. Overall I’d say these would are an okay food to keep in the freezer at work for emergency food, but they’re not quite tasty enough or wholesome enough for a regular choice.

Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries (Frozen): Derek bought these fries but never got around to baking them. They’re tasty–breaded in some kind of potato starch and corn flour and pre-fried, then you just heat them up. They never really got crunchy, and they are not very salty, but still pretty good in my opinion. Of course, a very small serving has 150 calories, but I’m guessing that’s pretty average for sweet potato fries, and at least this way you actually know what a reasonable serving size is. I don’t think I would buy these again unless I had an unstoppable hankering for sweet potato fries, but they are tasty. The ingredient list is a bit processed (modified food starch, corn dextrin,…), but mostly it’s just sweet potatoes. Alexia makes other fries and appetizers, which are probably pretty high quality based on this product.
Dr. McDougall’s Curry Brown and Wild Rice Fruited Pilaf (Dehydrated cup): I liked the raisins, almonds, and wild rice in this dish a lot. The seasoning was a bit strong and salty, and although I thought I stirred it very well I got some pretty salty, nasty bites. The bulk of this dish is rice, so the nutritional content isn’t terribly high (1% calcium, 3% iron, 8% vit C, and 24% vit A, 4g protein, and 2g fiber), but it was very filling at least. Not a bad thing to keep in the desk for emergencies. If I make it again I might only use 1/2 or 2/3 of the seasoning packet.

Nile spice potato leek soup (Dehydrated cup): Non-vegan, mostly potatoes and milk and various other veggies. At 120 calories per cup (3g fat, 17g carbs, 5g prot), it’s a snack not a meal, but a pretty satisfying one. I enjoyed it more than I expected. It has a lot of salt though (600mg!).

Seeds of Change Creamy Spinach Lasagna (Frozen): This is a tomato-sauce-less lasagna, with only a small amount of spinach, but it’s quite rich-tasting and enjoyable. The portion is small (only 340 calories total), but I think it’s relatively filling. It’s got a reasonable amount of calcium and iron from the cheese and pasta, it’s high protein (24%), but it’s not terribly healthy (mostly white flour and dairy, little vegetables and no beans). At least the saturated fat isn’t too high (6g), and everything is organic. I’d get this again for when I’m in the mood for a treat (such as pizza). This way I can have my treat, stay organic, and keep the portion size small.

Boca Lasagna with Chunky Tomato and Herb Sauce and Meatless Ground Burger (Frozen): I liked the Seeds of Change Lasagna so I thought I’d try another. The taste of this one isn’t as good, however. The tomato sauce was fine, but although the “ground burger” pieces were tasty, their texture was kind of weird and rubbery. They’re made partly from wheat gluten but also from soy protein concentrate, which I try to avoid. Also, the cheese isn’t organic so I don’t think I’ll buy this again. It’s pretty filling though, and the stats are better than the Seeds of Change lasagna: it only has 290 calories and 2g sat fat, while having plenty of calcium, iron, protein, and even some fiber (5g).

Trader Joe’s South Indian Sambhar (Jar): I’ve been enjoying my homemade sambar so much, I was curious to see if TJ’s version was as good. Turns out it’s not very good at all. It has a very faint whiff of that canned soup taste I abhor, but mostly that’s covered up by the curry spices. Although the ingredient list is quite nice, almost all just beans and vegetables, and the nutritional content is quite good (if high salt), the flavor is terrible. It doesn’t taste anything like sambar, and doesn’t even taste like a nice dal. Avoid this one.

Trader Joe’s Pizza Olympiad (Frozen): Very good flavor, especially the olives and feta. The outer crust was nice and crisp, but the center was still soggy. One pizza has 450 calories–not bad. The ingredient looks mostly normal, except for a few items, but the cheese isn’t organic.

Trader Joe’s Garden Vegetable Lasagna (Frozen): The sauce was good but the lasagna tastes strongly of broccoli, and when I inspected ingredient list, indeed it’s the first vegetable on the list. Blech. Somehow broccoli and lasagna just don’t go together. I’d try another Trader Joe’s lasagna though. Everything but the cheese is organic.

Rising Moon Organics Feta Hazelnut Ravioli with Butternut Squash (Frozen): Great flavor–much more complex and subtle than I expected. They don’t taste like feta or hazelnut or butternut exactly, but more a balanced combination of all three. The ingredient list is all organic, and very all natural. One package is 540 calories, with lots of vitamin A and iron. They’re low fiber though, and mostly carbs.

Rising Moon Organics Spinach Florentine Ravioli (Frozen): I was disappointed in this flavor–they tasted kind of green and muddy. I wouldn’t have even finished them except I was starving. On the plus side, they’re vegan, and mostly organic. One package is 440 calories.

Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza (Frozen): These little dumplings taste quite fresh and healthy. They’re not exactly delicious, but not bad tasting either. The first 7 ingredients are all vegetables. They make a tasty little snack, but aren’t terribly filling. Each dumpling has only 35 calories, but not much nutritive value. Also, the dough is made with partially hydrogenated oil, and they’re handmade in Thailand, which means the environmental cost of shipping the frozen dumplings must be high. I probably won’t get them again.

The Fillo Factory Spinach and Cheese Fillo Pie: I was desperate for Spanokopita, so bought this “all natural” version at Trader Joe’s. I baked it in the oven for 40 minutes, and it crisped up quite nicely. The flavor was good, but it had a lot of dill in it, which I don’t normally associate with Spanokopita. Derek *loved* it. The stats aren’t bad. A third of the pie has 417 calories, 66% of vit A, 41% of calcium, and 25% of iron. It’s 14% protein, 47%! percent fat, and 22% of calories from sat fat, 26% of your daily sodium, and only has 3g of fiber. But this is Spanokopita we’re talking about–what did you expect? It made a very nice, portion-controlled treat. The ingredients are pretty natural looking, with spinach as the first ingredient. The only problem is the cheese and butter are not organic. I would buy it again except for the non-organic dairy.

Cedarlane Spinach and Feta Pie: Can you tell I’m on a Spanokopita kick? This one wasn’t quite as tasty I think, although to tell you the truth I don’t remember it as well. I think it was less cheesy, and more vegetable-y. One package has 520 calories, and provides 60% vit A, 41% calcium, 50% vit C, and 40% iron. It has more protein (19%) and less fat (17%) and sat fat (14%), and 5g of fiber. So it’s healthier, no wonder it’s not as tasty! It does has very high sodium, though (54% of daily needs). The feta is not organic but the mozzarella is (but who puts mozzarella in spanokopita?). I don’t think I’ll be buying this again.

Moosewood Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans (Frozen): I really love my homemade cornbread pie, and it seems like a hard thing to screw up. But Moosewood managed it. The package says the beans are infused with chipotle, garlic, cumin and lime. The only thing I tasted was tomato and sweet. Indeed, when I looked at the ingredients tomatoes were listed first. This doesn’t have any nice spicy chile flavor. The cornbread was okay, maybe a little too sweet. It also came with white rice, which was totally gratuitious. Derek tried it and thought it was bad as well, although not as bad as he expected. And he’s the one who bought it! Not recommended.

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Breakfast Cereal Reviews

September 15, 2006 at 7:39 am (Product Reviews)

These are my reviews of breakfast cereals I’ve tried. There are only a few here now but I will add to it as I get the time. For a fair comparison, nutrition info is always for a 150 calorie serving.

Nature’s Path Organic Optimum Rebound Banana-Flax-Almond-Matcha Green Tea

That’s a mouthfull!

  • Taste: Excellent. I really enjoy the texture–flaky with substance but not rock hard. This cereal tastes very sweet and also pleasantly nutty.
  • Nutrition: 7.2g sugar, 5.8g fiber, 4.8g fat, 8g protein: a good balance of 23% fat / 17% protein.
  • Ingredients: There are a number of whole foods such as rolled oats, almonds, and sunflower seeds, as well as lightly processed foods such as soy nuts, wheat bran, dried bananas, oat bran, and molasses. However, there are also a number of refined sweeteners, soybean and sunflower oil, as well as highly processed ingredients like soy protein and puffed Kamut. They do add flax, but it’s *whole* flax seeds. Sigh.
  • Environment: The box is slightly smaller than a typical cereal box, but there is an inner plastic bag that is still only 1/2 full. It’s 100% organic which is a plus. The company also has a committment to sustainability, and has some good initiatives regarding electricity usage, carbon offsetting, and sustainable energy sources.
  • Company: Nature’s Path312is a Canadian company, with factories in Vancouver and Washington. It has no large parent conglomerate. The founder is a vegetarian.
  • Conclusion: An okay choice for an occasional breakfast but shouldn’t be a daily food choice.

Nature’s Path Ginger Zing Granola

  • Taste: Excellent. There’s a pleasant little bite (or should I say zing?) from the ginger, it’s a little sweet, and has good texture.
  • Nutrition: 5.5g sugar, 2.2g fiber, 5.5g fat, 3.3g protein: The lack of protein (32% fat / 9% protein) means this granola doesn’t have much staying power.
  • Ingredients: Oats are the first ingredient, but the second is sugar and third is soy oil. The rest of the ingredients look okay except for some more sweetener (oat syrupt solids).
  • Environment: It’s available in bulk. You can’t do better than that for lack of packaging. The company also has a committment to sustainability, and has some good initiatives regarding electricity usage, carbon offsetting, and sustainable energy sources.
    Company: Nature’s Path is a Canadian company, with factories in Vancouver and Washington. It has no large parent conglomerate. The founder is a vegetarian.
    Conclusion: A good alternative to dessert, but not a very good breakfast.

Nature’s Path Flax Plus:  not bad in flavor, okay in nutrition.  Will write more later.

Nature’s Path Oaty Bites:  I bought this chex-type cereal hoping it would taste like Barbara’s oat cereal, but no such like.  These are much sweeter tasting, with a strong rice syrup or barley malt flavor.  I really disliked them with soymilk, but they’re not bad to grab a handful of when you feel like munching on something sweet.  They have only 1g fat and 3g protein per serving, so mostly carbs.  They’re organic though, and the ingredient list is normal looking (grains, sugar, natural flavors).

Kashi GoLean Crunch

  • Taste: Good, not great. It’s a little sweet and a lot crunchy.
  • Nutrition: 10.4g sugar, 6.4g fiber, 2.5g fat, 7.2g protein: A bit high on sugar, and low on fat (13% fat / 17% protein), although adding flax seeds would balance this out.
  • Ingredients: Various whole grains make up the first ingredient, but the second is (highly processed) soy protein, and the third and fourth are forms of sugar. Later is has whole grain flour and canola oil, neither of which thrill me.
  • Environment: A typical bag, big box combo. Haven’t researched Kellogg’s otherwise, except that they have fought against GMO labeling.
  • Company: Kashi is owned by Kelloggs, maker of pop tarts, eggo waffles, etc.
  • Conclusion: Don’t buy, but if you’re stuck at a friends house it’s a better choice than fruit loops (another Kellogg’s brand).

Bear Naked Banana Walnut Oatmeal

  • Taste: Not too sweet, but sweet enough. A bit slimy from the flax seeds. Edible if you’re hungry, but not too tasty. The banana flavor was faint, but I didn’t care for it. I think I’d try the peach and nut flavor next time.
  • Nutrition: 7.9g sugar, 3.5g fiber, 6.2g fat, 4.4g protein. Reasonable stats, if just a bit high on fat, and low on protein (37% fat / 12% protein), but the flax seeds and walnuts help make this cereal quite filling.
  • Ingredients: Second ingredient is sugar, but otherwise it’s made of just a few natural, whole foods.
  • Environment: Individually packaged packs of oatmeal in a cardboard box. I couldn’t find anything about the environmental record of the Bear Naked compay.
  • Company: Appears to be a small, American company.
  • Conclusion: Not a bad product to keep in your desk at work for when you need reasonably filling, nutritious food fast, and you’re hungry enough you don’t mind the slightly slimy texture.

Breadshop Bulk Blueberry ‘n Cream Granola

  • Taste: Not very sweet at all, with unsweetened soymilk a little dull tasting.  The dried blueberries are great, but I think I’d rather just add dried  blueberries to another cereal.   The texture is not great–the granola doesn’t have much crunch, more like meuslix.
  • Nutrition: 4.8g sugar, 2.7g fiber, 5.1g fat, 4.1g protein.  High fat (31%) without even a nice crunch.  Low protein (11%) and low on fiber.  Poor.
  • Ingredients: Excellent! Just a few ingredients, all pretty whole/natural:  Oats, honey, expeller pressed canola oil, freeze-dried blueberries, natural blueberry flavor, oat bran, soy milk powder, natural vitamin E.
  • Environment: Bulk, can’t do much better than that.
  • Company: Owned by Hain, a large organic/natural conglomerate that doesn’t have a parent company.
  • Conclusion:  Neither nutrition nor the taste is solid enough to buy this cereal.  I won’t buy it again.  I will find some dried blueberries to add to my cereal though.

An article about organic cereals, and their parent companies

Cascadian Farm -> General Mills

Kashi -> Kellogg

Barbara’s Bakery -> Weetabix, the leading British cereal company, which is owned by a private investment firm

Mothers -> Quaker Oats -> Pepsi

Healthy Valley -> Hain-Celestial group (a large organic/natural conglomerate)

Arrowhead Mills -> Hain-Celestial Group
Peace -> Golden Temple, a for-profit company owned by a nonprofit group

Nature’s Path -> a Canadian company with no parent company

A chart showing the ownership of many organic and natural brands:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/orgChart.pdf

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Yogurt Taste Test and Dilemma

August 21, 2006 at 7:52 pm (Product Reviews)

3I decided to stop buying low-fat yogurt even though I like it much better than nonfat, because of Dr. Greger’s talk at the vegetarian summerfest about the high levels of dioxins, pcb’s, pesticides, and other toxins in animal fat (even the fat of organic animals). But trying to choose a non-fat yogurt is always a bit of a dilemma here in Pittsburgh.

My favorite nonfat yogurt is made by Brown Cow. Unfortunately, though, it’s 1) not organic, and 2) from the west coast. It is free of growth hormones, and according to the Brown Cow website the milk supposedly comes from family farms, where the cows are fed grains like corn but no animal meal. (BTW, Brown Cow was recently bought by Stonyfield Farms.)

The organic brands that I can get in Pittsburgh are:

Seven Stars Rating: 5/5 Phoenixville, PA (281 miles)
Stonyfield (yogurt) Rating: 4/5 Londonderry, NH (617 miles)
Butterworks Farm Rating: 5/5 Westfield, VT (717 miles)
Wallaby Yogurt Rating: 4/5 Napa, CA (2550 miles)
Nancy’s Rating: 4/5 Eugene, OR ( 2676 miles)

The rating is based on how resonsible their organic practices are, based on their responses to a survey conducted by the Cornucopia institute. The miles is the distance to Pittsburgh.

Seven Stars is by far the closest, and got a top organic rating from the Cornucopia Institute. (5/5). However, their yogurt is terrible. I’ve tried it multiple times and it’s always lumpy and runny and off-tasting. I cannot imagine who actually buys it?

Butterworks is also an East-coast brand, but like Seven Stars it’s pretty bad. It’s also lumpy and runny, but the flavor is perhaps a bit better than the Seven Stars yogurt.

Stonyfield yogurt isn’t bad. Right now it’s my top choice out of the East Coast organic brands.

Wallaby is a very thin yogurt, but very smooth with good flavor. Unfortunately it’s a west coast yogurt.

Nancy’s is another west coast brand, and I think I’ve tried it and it was somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I’m not positive.

Then there’s Horizon, of course, but the Organic Consumer’s Association is boycotting that brand, so I’ve actually never even tried it.

So for right now, when I buy nonfat yogurt in Pittsburgh I stick with Stonyfield Farm, but I really wish there was a better tasting Organic yogurt from the East Coast available. Can anyone recommend another brand? Maybe I can get the co-op to carry it instead of all those west coast brands.

Or maybe buying from the west coast isn’t so bad? Does anyone know? And how different is the Brown Cow yogurt from truly organic yogurt? Are their cows actually treated pretty similarly to organic cows since they’re (supposedly) from small family farms? Anyone have any hard facts about this?

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My tea recommendations

May 3, 2006 at 6:31 am (Product Reviews)

I am what Derek calls a teetotaler. I’ve never been a fan of coffee, and don’t really like any alcohol either. Juice is delicious but the calories add up fast. What does that leave? Tea.

Why drink tea?

  • Tea is a very healthy way to satisfy a sweet-tooth craving.
  • Tea is a great way to train the palate. After I tried lavender tea for the first time I could pick out the lavender flavor in my salad dressed with herbs de Provence. I never really knew what turmeric tasted like until I made myself a cup of straight turmeric tea.
  • Many teas are full of antioxidants.
  • Hot tea is a marvelous thing to bring to the movies. I always seem to want popcorn or candy or some such thing, even if I’m not really hungry. Instead I bring my largest mug and buy a big mug of a very fragrant tea. It lasts me a good half hour and I’m always happy.
  • Herbal teas make it easier to get in the recommended amounts of water each day, without feeling like you’re forcing it down.


Simple herbal or spice teas:

  • lavender tea is pale purple, floral, and delicious
  • plain ginger is intense but very soothing
  • plain turmeric is very strong and metallic tasting, but not unpleasant. Give it a try sometime.
  • burdock?
  • dry lemongrass?

Homemade herbal blends:

  • fresh ginger and fresh lemongrass is intense and wonderful
  • lemongrass and chamomile?

Proprietary blends:

  • Stash’s lemon ginger tea is very good, but hard to find in Pittsburgh. If anyone knows of a local vendor please let me know.
  • Celestial Seasonings’ Red zinger makes great ice tea, but I don’t like it hot
  • Good Earth tea is so cinnamon-y, I love it.
  • I tried Celestial Seasonings Roastaroma but didn’t enjoy it at first. I thought it was dirty tasting and not sweet enough. Lately I’ve been enjoying it more. Its bitterness helps keep sweet cravings at bay.

Green tea:

I’m pretty picky about my green tea, but I like the yogi tea green tea super anti-oxidant pretty well. I also really like green tea with mint.
Black tea:

White tea:

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Product review: Nut butters

May 1, 2006 at 5:13 am (Product Reviews)

Tahini

I normally get tahini from the bulk section at the East End Food Coop. I’m not sure if it’s from roasted sesame seeds or not, but it’s never bitter at all. After sitting in the fridge for awhile it separates into sesame oil and a firm paste that tastes almost exactly like halvah to me.

I ran out of tahini recently and couldn’t make it to the co-op so restocked at whole foods with Marantha brand unroasted unsalted tahini. The consistency seems thinner, although maybe it will also separate after sitting in the fridge leaving a firmer paste. It’s also somewhat bitter, and not nearly as tasty to eat by the spoonful. As it has aged, however, it seems that the bitter taste has decreased.

Peanut Butter
At Whole Foods they have peanut butter made from ground honey roasted peanuts–talk about decadent. For more every day needs, Derek swears by Smuckers. He can’t stand the co-op peanut butter but I think it’s okay. It does go rancid if you leave it out of the fridge for a while, however. Derek also claims that all organic peanut butters taste awful. I think this is because almost all organic peanut butters are made from Valencia peanuts, which are a different peanut that grow in drier, more temperate climates, and apparently don’t taste nearly as good (at least to us). Derek’s mom gave us some non-valencia organic peanut butter from Whole Foods though, that tasted fine I thought (Derek was less positive.)

Almond Butter
I love almond butter and honey sandwiches on Ezekiel sesame bread. I haven’t noticed much difference between brands, however, except in price.

Sun butter:  see my review in a separate entry

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