The Other “Whole Foods”

Chef Holly Pierce is back this week with an education on the term “whole foods” – and what it means to eat them.

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When we hear someone say the words ‘whole foods’ often we immediately think of the grocery store chain that has been steadily rising in popularity (and numbers) since its inception in the 1980’s. Indeed, the original Whole Foods Market was conceived in order to “provide a more natural alternative to what the food supply was typically offering at the time” in part by offering local, natural and organic whole foods. They have since expanded their repertoire and offer many different types of food items, some of which are considered ‘whole’.

So what exactly is a whole food? An amalgamation of definitions from Webster’s, Wikipidea and Dictionary.com describes a whole food (or whole foods) as: food that has been minimally processed or refined and contains no additives or artificial substances; food in its whole form. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, dairy items, eggs, beans and unrefined grains (rice, oats, barley, etc) are all examples of whole foods. A rule of thumb has been that whole foods can be found in the perimeter aisles of the grocery store, in the produces, dairy, meat and fish and bakery sections. While this is true to a certain degree, not all foods in those sections are free from additives or artificial substances. This is where things start to get confusing. Let’s start with processing.

Processing is a term used to describe the course of action taken starting with the raw ingredient (beets for example) to the end product (let’s say pickled). The more steps and additives involved, the more processed the food is. In this case, the beets would be minimally processed as they involve only few other natural ingredients (sugar, vinegar, salt) and one step to pickle them. Most processed foods (think any items in a box, can or sealed bag) contain additives and preservatives in order to keep them shelf-stable and prolong their life. Some common additives include nitrates or nitrites, BHA and BHT, artificial colorings and flavorings, high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Meats and dairy can also contain preservatives and additives (such as hormones and antibiotics).

How do we recognize whole foods? One sure-fire way is to choose foods that are in their most natural form and read the label if it comes in a package. Yes, whole foods can come in packages. Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, are whole foods (provided the only ingredient in the package is said fruit or vegetable). A loaf of bread is a whole food. Ideally, bread has about 3 ingredients; flour, yeast and water. If the label on your loaf of bread has more than say, 5 ingredients and some of those you either do not recognize or cannot pronounce, set it back on the shelf and look for another one. Other examples of whole foods in a package are grains (rice, pasta, oats, etc), beans, vegetables, and sauces.

Great places to find whole foods are your local farm stand, farmers market/CSA share or co-op. Buy your baked goods from a local, scratch-made bakery or if you are feeling really adventurous, make them yourself! Ask your local butcher where their meat is sourced from, how it is treated while it is alive and how it is processed afterward.

Another great place to find whole foods is in your weekly delivery box from Just Add Cooking. We source the freshest and most natural ingredients we can find so that what ends up on your dinner table is healthy, whole and delicious.

The basic message about eating whole foods is to help us pay attention to what we are eating and choose the most healthful, nutrient dense, natural foods. The goal is to have a balance of foods which nurture and nourish us, body and soul. An apple is a whole food. An apple turned into an apple crisp is a whole food as well. See? Balance.

A Fresh Take On Thanksgiving Sides

Photo credit: Lexi's Clean Kitchen

Photo credit: Lexi’s Clean Kitchen

While we all love grandma’s secret family mashed potato recipe, it’s no lie that Thanksgiving sides can get a little old. Seriously, how many different versions of stuffing can one really make? It’s time to give the traditional Turkey Day sides a little makeover, with these innovative dishes from around the web! Check out our top 10 Thanksgiving side ideas for 2015.

  1. Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Shallots with Balsamic Vinegar: In-season brussels are the star of this easy 4-ingredient dish. We love the touch of sweetness from the balsamic vinegar to balance out the flavors!
  1. Sweet Potato Gratin with Smoky Breadcrumbs: Enjoy one of our favorite seasonal root veggies without the usual loads of marshmallows and added sugar. This sweet & savory side is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!
  1. Roasted Pumpkin with Shallots & Sage: Pumpkins aren’t just for carving or table centerpieces! Roast in the oven for a crisp, flavorful dish – complete with fresh sage.
  1. Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with Rosemary & Garlic: This vegan side has all the flavor without the added butter. Fresh rosemary and minced garlic marry together perfectly in this heart-warming autumnal favorite.
  1. Creamy Farro Pilaf with Wild Mushrooms: Add some hearty grains to your feast lineup with this wild take on rice pilaf! We love the rich, creamy texture the Parmesan and white wine brings.
  1. Florentine Fennel Gratin: Move over, potatoes! Fennel – a member of the carrot family – gets all the spotlight in this twist on a French favorite. Be sure to make extra…it’s bound to go quickly!
  1. Harvest Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing: Enjoy the flavors of the season in this go-to Thanksgiving salad. Kabocha squash, kale, and pomegranate seeds come together for a colorful dish that’s both delicious and good for you. Did we mention the maple balsamic dressing is absolutely to-die-for?
  1. Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions & Goat Cheese: It’s time to give your traditional mashed potato recipe a bit of a makeover! Creamy goat cheese, caramelized onions, and garlic totally do the trick.
  1. Sautéed Broccoli & Kale with Toasted Garlic Butter: We’d be remiss not to tell you to eat your greens, even on Thanksgiving! But when they’re topped with toasted garlic butter, do we really have to tell you twice?
  2. Cheddar Cornmeal Biscuits with Chives: Add some pizzazz to your bland cornbread recipe! These melt-in-your-mouth savory biscuits have just a touch of honey for sweetness, and are great for soaking up extra gravy. Win, win.

Now we want to hear from you! What are your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes, both traditional and new to the family?

All About Halloumi Cheese

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Halloumi (pronounced ha-LOO-mee) is a firm, salty white cheese traditionally made from sheep and goat milk. More recently, cow’s milk is also used in the production. It has a distinctive layered texture, similar to fresh mozzarella or feta, and is brined which lends to its salty flavor.

Born in Cypress somewhere between 395 – 1190 AD, Halloumi has some deep roots. Originally created by the Greek population of Cypress, it spread throughout the Middle East and is now gaining notoriety in the US. It is an integral part of a Cypress meze, often served with a cold beer. Traditionally it is eaten during warmer months with watermelon, the sweetness of which plays against the saltiness of the cheese.

One of the interesting features of halloumi is that it holds up well either grilling or frying, retaining its shape. When cooked, halloumi loses its saltiness and becomes creamy. It pairs well with a variety of foods and cuisines. Uncooked, its salty flavor and firm texture is a great foil for sweet flavors like melons, dates, figs, or tomatoes to name a few.

Top salads with slices of grilled halloumi or serve thick, pan-seared slices alongside a vegetarian curry. Top a burger with a few slices or add some to an omelet. Halloumi does not melt, and therefore offers a nice, firm bite to the tooth. A terrific, simple preparation is to heat some olive oil in a skillet, add cubes of halloumi and cook until beginning to color, shaking the pan as you go. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a crushed clove of garlic and continue to cook until the halloumi cubes are golden brown. Toss in a handful of fresh parsley and serve with olives, roasted peppers, a squeeze of lemon and your favorite crusty bread. Add a glass of chilled, sparkling white or rose and presto, instant meze!

This week we’re pairing thick slices of grilled or fried halloumi with savory lentils in our Sesame Halloumi with Lentils and a creamy, refreshing cucumber salad and topping it off with the nutty crunch of sesame seeds. The contrasting textures and flavors are like sparklers for your tastebuds!

Take some halloumi out for a test spin and amp up your culinary chops!

Meet Our Fishermen: Red’s Best

 

Just Add Cooking’s local promise is about providing you the freshest possible ingredients, reducing food miles and supporting the local food economy. That’s why we’ve partnered with Red’s Best, a local fishing network, for much of our seafood.

RS175__MG_0293-lprRed’s Best is an innovative company that connects us directly with local fishermen who make their living off the sea and have true pride in providing the best wild-caught fish. With a direct connection to these fishermen, the fish arriving at your door in recipes like next week’s Mediterranean Fish is days fresher than what you can find in the supermarket.

Red’s Best was born from the mind of Jared Auerbach, a young fisherman from Boston who cut his teeth fishing on commercial vessels in Alaska and Cape Code, MA. Jared learned from the generations of fishermen there and across America, and he set out to create a brand for each and every fisherman that represents the pride of the profession.

Each time that local fishermen unload their boats, that inventory is shared with Red’s Best—and with us! We’re able to select the absolute freshest options to deliver right to your door when you pick one of our weekly seafood options as part of your menu. Wild catch includes Atlantic Cod, Hake Fillet and Monkfish, depending on the season.

By using proprietary technology, Red’s Best aggregates the catch from hundreds of independent local fishermen to create a robust market of fish for us to choose from while also sustaining the livelihoods of the local fishing fleet.

At Just Add Cooking, we’re proud to support the local fishing industry while also providing you with the best and freshest fish available. Enjoy!

Want to learn more about Just Add Cooking’s local commitment? View our local promise and read about our featured vendors here.

The Bacon Buzz: Facts around the WHO study

The World Health Organization lit up the culinary world last month when it published its study linking cancer to the consumption of red and processed meats, comparing their carcinogenic effect to tobacco and asbestos.

As one can imagine, this ignited a huge proverbial fire in the kitchens of chefs and home cooks around the world. According to the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), processed meats such as sausage, bacon and ham are classified as ‘Group 1’ carcinogens which, upon consumption, cause cancer. Response to the study has been immense and runs the gamut of emotions, opinions and invectives. The WHO, since publishing the study, has issued statements amending and explaining the findings.

Several other organizations and individuals have also commented on the study, providing detailed information about the findings. A fair amount of crucial information was overlooked in the WHO study by the outlets who published it (for example: in order to increase the risk of colon cancer by 18%, one would have to eat about 5 slices of bacon daily over the course of a lifetime). Many other similar examples point to the idea that perhaps this study, with the potential to be viewed as inflammatory, has been sensationalized so that the facts have become obscured.

The overall message of the study, if taken in context, is that the additives used in the process of curing the meats (notably nitrates and nitrites) are generally carcinogenic and increase the risk of cancer.

What does it all really mean? Especially for those of us who enjoy bacon and eggs in the morning, a ham sandwich, pepperoni on our pizza and a great steak every now and then? As with most things, moderation and balance play a great role in overall health and well-being. In this instance, choosing to buy natural, locally produced meats is a step in the right direction. Look for packages of bacon or ham that are labeled “uncured” or “nitrate/nitrite free”. This is something that the WHO study insomuch as I am able to understand their findings, did not take into consideration, nor was it offered as an alternative. In our growing, food-savvy culture, it just makes sense to know what goes into what we are eating.

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This hub-bub around the WHO study can be a reminder or a wake-up call to be more diligent in knowing where our food comes from and to ask questions. Often the flashy headlines are no more than an attempt to stir the pot. It is up to us to dig deeper and read between the lines. So go ahead and enjoy the bacon in this week’s Chicken and Roasted Vegetables, we’ve done our homework.

How to Clean and Cook Leeks

Chef Holly Pierce of The Soul Chef is back this week with a primer on leeks. These are abundant at New England farmer’s markets and in season right now, but they can be a little tricky to clean or figure out how to use. Check out Chef Holly’s tips or give them a try in our Leek & Potato Soup this week!

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Leeks, a member of the onion and garlic family (called Allium), are a delicious addition to many dishes. Their flavor is a cross between onion and garlic and you can use them raw or cooked.

Leeks are grown in sandy soil and, like onions, have many layers to them. These layers can trap the sand, making them gritty if not cleaned well. The easiest and quickest way to clean leeks is to cut off the root end (the end that looks like a paintbrush) and the dark green leafy end, leaving the white and light green parts. Slice the leeks into rounds or half-moons (slice the whole leek in half from white end to green end then lay the flat side on a cutting board and slice into half rounds) and place the slices into a bowl filled with water.

Swish the leeks around a bit and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes. Lift them out into a colander with a slotted spoon or small mesh strainer. You’ll see that any dirt or grit has sunk to the bottom of the bowl. Give the leeks a good shake or blot any excess water and add them to your recipe as directed.

You can use leeks interchangeably with onions, and saute or fry them in the same way. Watch them carefully when you cook them (use a medium heat) as they can burn easily and turn bitter. They are also wonderful braised slowly in a bit of water or broth until very tender and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Most famously, they are a key component in the French soup Vichyssoise, made from a puree of leeks, onions and potatoes.

Give these delicious veggies a try this fall and winter for a new addition and flavor in your favorite recipes!