Recipe Clean Up – Turkey Burgers

July 13, 2011

One of our favorite family recipes comes from AllRecipes.com; Actually Delicious Turkey Burgers.  These turkey burgers are nothing short of amazing.  I find most turkey burgers to be dry, plain, and mostly flavorless affairs.  These are the exact opposite.  They are moist, flavorful, and have completely replaced hamburgers in our household.  The last time I offered to make hamburgers for my wife and daughter, I was politely turned down and asked to make these instead.  Wow!

This recipe is already pretty “clean and real” by my standards, but we had these for our Fourth of July cookout, so I decided to see how I could tweak it to make it even better.

First, the ingredients in the original recipe.

3 pounds ground turkey
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 egg whites, lightly beaten 
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

I’ve highlighted those ingredients that I think are candidates for improvement.  I chose not to worry about the onions because, as I discussed here, onions are one of the least contaminated produce items in the grocery store.  I haven’t yet found good sources for organic herbs and, to be entirely honest, I’m not sure how far I want to take my eating clean crusade.  Does organic truly matter when we are talking about 1/4 cup of parsley, or one clove of garlic?  I’m not sure, but I suppose that’s a post for another day.

I replaced conventional ground turkey with organic turkey bought from Whole Foods.  I didn’t pay close attention to the price, other than noting it seemed considerably more expensive than conventional ground turkey I buy at Costco.  I think in future recipe posts I’ll compare the price of conventional vs organic/clean food.

Egg whites were easy; most stores carry organic and cage free eggs (although “cage free”, sadly, does not always mean what one would think it means), so I simply used organic chicken egg whites.

The toughest for me is bread crumbs.  I haven’t found a good source of bread for my family yet.  I would like break that isn’t full of fillers and unpronounceable ingredients and I’d like it to be whole grain.  To accomplish this, we’re going to have to get fresh baked bread because conventionally made bread on store shelves is loaded with preservatives to make it “shelf stable” for a couple of weeks.  Real bread should be stale or moldy within a few days of being made.  I’ve got more work to do in this area, so for today I simply used prepackaged bread crumbs from the store.  Once I solve my clean bread dilemma, I’ll post my solution.

So, the consensus on the burgers was, as always, rave reviews.  My family loved them.


OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter

June 24, 2011

I think there are few eating pleasures of summer better than fresh cherries.  The rich, red color.  The sweet, but not cloying, flavor.  The excess of juices running down your chin…cherries are one of my favorite “raw” foods to eat.  I have no problem just popping them in my mouth and spitting the seeds with varying degrees of velocity into the bowl in front of me.  The fairer members of my household find this practice…less than appropriate.  That’s where a cherry pitter come in.  Last summer we were visiting some friends when their girls got out a big bowl of cherries and a cherry pitter.  Our daughter was fascinated watching their girls pit the cherries with ease, and we all enjoyed sharing the fresh cherries.  Later, I began looking for one of these devices.  When I saw the OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter on Amazon, I just had to try it.  Any kitchen gadget with a 4.5 star rating from 100+ reviewers is definitely worth a try in my book.

We’ve been using it for about 9 months now, and up until last week have been really pleased with it.  It does what it is supposed to do really well; that is, remove the cherry pits.  You have to line the cherry up properly in the pitter (we’ve found it works best with the cherry upside down in the pitting chamber), but once you figure out how, you get reliable pitting 80% to 90% of the time.  The only negative was that we found the device had a propensity to spray cherry juice in a circle around the sprayer if the clear pit chamber wasn’t firmly pressed onto a hard surface, like a kitchen plate.  This was only a minor nuisance, as it was easy to adapt to (although, sadly, it completely ruined my vision for competitive cherry pit launching contests in our back yard).  Even more importantly, this can easily and safely be operated by our four year old daughter (with a word of caution each time from Mom or Dad not to get her fingers pinched in the hinge mechanism).  So, overall I would give this product a nine on a scale of ten.  It does what it is supposed to with only minor tweaks needed from the operator.

Unfortunately, last week I discovered that the plastic body near the hinge is beginning to crack.  I expect this after five years or more of regular use, not after nine months and less than a dozen washings in the top rack of the dishwasher.  Our other OXO Good Grips products have proven to be far sturdier and last for years, so I am really surprised and disappointed by this.  We’ll continue to use the pitter until it breaks entirely, at which point we’ll replace it.  I’m not sure I’ll get another of this model.  Perhaps the Progressive International GPC-5000 Cherry-It Multiple Cherry Pitter (pictured below), which can pit four cherries at one time and seems built to better contain the flying juices on the other end, will be our replacement…?  If so, I’ll post a review here.


Are store bought vegetable washes effective?

June 24, 2011

In light of yesterday’s post about the most and least pesticide contaminated produce, I began to ponder my habit of washing all produce with a store bought vegetable wash.

I happen to use Fit vegetable wash in my kitchen, primarily because I was able to buy bulk quantities of the dry powder from a restaurant supplier and mix up my own 1 gallon batches for about $0.50 per gallon, far cheaper than what this stuff sells for in the grocery store.  I keep a small bottle in the fridge (not sure if Fit needs to be refrigerated, but I figured I’d err on the side of caution) and a larger, 1 gallon jug of it in the garage refrigerator.  I routinely spray down all our produce and let the veggie wash sit on the produce for a couple of minutes in the colander before rinsing it.  I know I’m not going to wash away most pesticides, as those are likely absorbed into the flesh of the fruit or vegetable long before they get to my sink.  Instead, what I’m really after is washing off / killing any surface bacteria that might exist.

So, is the veggie wash effective, or is there a better (and potentially less expensive) way to literally put the “clean” in my clean food kitchen?

Imagine my excitement when I found out that Cook’s Illustrated had tested this very topic.  For the uninitiated, Cook’s Illustrated is only the best foodie magazine EVER!  That and the companion TV show on PBS, America’s Test Kitchen, are regarded by this humble blogger as the pinnacle of what a cooking magazine and cooking TV show should be.  They will test sometimes hundreds of different methods of preparing a particular food until they arrive at the single best method and provide step-by-step instructions that can be reproduced time and again.

Unfortunately, the content at Cook’s Illustrated’s website is so good that they charge for it.  In fact, they charge a lot.  I consider it a necessary expense, but because the article is behind a pay wall, I can’t link to it directly.  Instead, I found that In September 2007 National Public Radio (NPR) summarized Cook’s Illustrated’s finding on cleaning vegetables, which is a close second to reading the Cook’s Illustrated results yourself.

Click through the link above to read the whole article, but I’ve selected a few pertinent quotes below:

So the magazine did some comparative testing, by cleaning apples and pears in four different ways. They washed one batch with an antibacterial soap. (That, by the way, is not recommended by food safety experts — nobody thinks swallowing soap is a good idea.)

They washed other pieces of fruit with a solution of diluted vinegar (one part vinegar to three parts water), rinsing afterward with pure water. They scrubbed the third group with a brush, and simply rinsed the fourth group with clean water.

To measure how well each technique worked, they sampled the outside of the fruit with sterile cotton swabs, then rubbed the little bits of grime onto Petri dishes.

Jack Bishop says they next let the Petri dishes sit at 80 degrees for several days to see what bacteria grew. Then they counted how many bacterial colonies were present.

It turns out the scrub brush removed 85 percent of the bacteria — a little more than the water alone.

But the cleaning method that worked the best was the dilute vinegar rinse. It removed 98 percent of the bacteria.

Okay, so my foodie gurus at Cook’s Illustrated determined that an acid wash of vinegar and water worked pretty well.  But what about the fancy schmancy vegetable wash I was shelling out money to use.  That had to work better, right?  I’m sure you can guess where this is headed…

The folks at Cook’s Illustrated are not the first to document the effectiveness of acidic washes. Researchers at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University tested dilute vinegar against plain water and a commercial product called Veggie Wash that they purchased at a grocery store.

“We really did not really find the veggie washes effective or necessary,” says Sandria Godwin, who oversaw the project.

Godwin says they do get rid of most bacteria, but her team of researchers found that water works just as well. They found that water can remove 98 percent of bacteria when it’s used to rinse and soak produce.

For vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower that have lots of crevices, Godwin recommends a two-minute soak…

So, there you have it.  The produce wash is effective, but no more so than a thorough scrubbing with either water or a vinegar / water solution.  I think I’ll opt for the vinegar and water, since the Cook’s Illustrated folks found it a bit more effective than water alone.

So, making my happy day complete, I now have a reason to buy absurdly large quantities of vinegar at Costco.  Yay, one more reason for a Costco run!!


Environmental group publishes a list of the 12 most pesticide laden produce

June 23, 2011

The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit but likely partisan environmental group) released a “study” citing the 12 fruits and vegetables most contaminated by pesticides and the 15 least contaminated.  This seems like a cross between real science and “junk” science.  The methodology used by the Environmental Working Group seems fairly sound; to take a decade of FDA scientific data (which I’m inclined to trust) and data mine it to determine the “most contaminated” and “least contaminated” produce.  That’s a good start, but this is the point where real science would be helpful.  Just because pesticides showed up in apples and lettuce, does that make them both equally damaging?  Are some pesticides demonstrably worse than others to consume?  This list is a good starting point, but I feel there’s a lot of follow up research lacking.

My own opinion is that I really don’t want to be the canary in the mine when it comes to determining what level of pesticides in a person’s diet is safe vs toxic.  Especially now that we’re changing our family’s eating to consume fruits and veggies at each meal.  Instead, I’ll err on the side of caution and try to get as much of our produce as possible from pesticide-free sources.  For those who cannot source all of their food from pesticide-free sources, this list may be helpful in determining which items are more important to buy “clean” than others…


Harvard Study: Consumption of processed, starchy food leads to weight gain. Sky still blue, water still wet.

June 23, 2011

The Washington Post has a story today about the results of a long-term Harvard study on health and nutrition.  The findings showed that those who consumed more fried or heavily processed foods like french fries, potato chips, or sugary drinks gained weight (not that this should come as a shock to anyone).  However, the Post did seem surprised by the inclusion of refined grains and all types of potatoes on the list.  This really isn’t surprising at all, considering the body metabolizes refined grains and starchy potatoes in about the same manner as sugar (i.e. spiking insulin levels, storing energy as fat, etc.)

The accompanying graphic (shown below) is interesting; of the foods that led to significant weight gain, I would only consider unprocessed red meats and butter as foods that could be considered clean and/or real.  Do those consuming unprocessed red meats and butter with greater frequency gain weight because of the consumption of those two items?  I suspect this is not the case.  Butter and red meat have been vilified (unjustly, in my opinion) by the nutritional community for going on four decades now.  I would guess the typical eater looking to eat in a healthy manner eschews both of those food categories, while the less health conscious eater likely indulges in both while also consuming greater quantities of heavily processed and refined foods (since they’re already throwing caution to the wind by consuming the dreaded red meat and/or butter).  I suspect unprocessed red meats and butter find themselves on the weight gain list in part due to their higher caloric density, but also in part due to guilt by association; those who enjoy butter and red meat likely aren’t as health conscious overall.  I say this not because I believe consumption of red meat and butter are in and of themselves unhealthy, but due to the anti-butter and red meat bias in modern nutritional advice, it seems only those choosing to ignore the tenets of modern nutrition would consume larger quantities of either of these foods.

The least surprising aspect of this study is that of the 11 foods that led to weight reduction or minimal weight gain, I would consider 10 to be clean and/or real foods.  Only diet soda jumps out as the outlier, but I suspect its inclusion in the weight reduction group is similar to the inclusion of butter and unprocessed red meats in the weight gain group; people who consume diet soda over sugary drinks are likely more health or weight conscious, so they are likely making healthier eating decisions overall.  The fact that they are excluding hundreds of calories of sugar from their diets can’t hurt either, but I am not convinced that drinking diet soda in lieu of regular soda contributes that much to weight loss.  And I am absolutely convinced that diet sodas are neither clean nor real food.  But that’s a post for another day…


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