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Archive for July, 2007

In an effort to understand labels on food, which one must admit has become quite confusing (‘cage-free,’ ‘free-range,’ ‘pasture-raised’ –what’s the difference?), I came across the Humane Society‘s webpage. Factory Farming is one of their campaigns and they have a page that explains what the rules and regulations are for specific food labeling. What is found most interesting is that out of the 12 labels (claims?) below, only three of them are programs that have guidelines and regulations that must be enforced.

I imagine this can be frustrating for people interested in eating ethically. This further proves that careful consideration should be applied what you eat and why. There are no easy answers, and as people become more aware and interested in where their food comes from, companies are going to try to woo them as fiercly as possible.

The Labels (courtesy of The Humane Society’s Factory Farming campaign)

“Certified Organic”*: The animals must be allowed outdoor access, with ruminants—cows, sheep, and goats—given access to pasture. (Consumers should be aware that there have been concerns about lax enforcement, with some large-scale producers not providing meaningful access to the outdoors.) Animals must be provided with bedding materials. Use of hormones and antibiotics is prohibited. These are requirements under the National Organic Program regulations, and compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Currently, there are no federal or state programs to certify aquatic animals, including fish, as organic.

Free-Range Poultry: The birds should have outdoor access. However, no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals is given. Indeed, the only national guidelines for the term “free range” are basic U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements that poultry raised for meat—but not for eggs—have some access to the outdoors. Producers must submit affidavits to the USDA that support their animal production claims in order to receive approval for this label.

Pasture-Raised and Grass-Fed: The animals have access to the outdoors and are able to engage in natural behaviors, such as grazing. However, no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of how much outdoor access must be provided, nor the quality of the land accessible to the animals is given. Producers must submit affidavits to the USDA that support their animal production claims in order to receive approval for these labels.

“Certified Humane”*: The animals must be kept in conditions which allow for exercise and freedom of movement. As such, crates, cages, and tethers are prohibited. Outdoor access is not required. Stocking densities are specified to ensure animals are not overcrowded, and animals must be provided with bedding materials. Hormone and non-therapeutic antibiotic use is prohibited. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.

Hormone-Free, rBGH-Free, rBST-Free, and No Hormones Added: These labels on dairy products mean the cows were not injected with rBGH or rBST, genetically engineered hormones that increase milk production. Hormones are commonly used to speed growth in beef production, and their use by both the beef and dairy industries are associated with animal welfare problems. Chicken and pig producers are not legally allowed to use hormones. These claims do not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions. There may be some verification of this claim.

Cage-Free: As birds raised for meat, unlike those raised for eggs, are rarely caged prior to transport, this label on poultry products has virtually no relevance to animal welfare. However, the label is helpful when found on egg cartons, as most egg-laying hens are kept in severely restrictive cages prohibiting most natural behaviors, including spreading their wings.

Vegetarian-Fed: These animals are given a more natural feed than that received by most factory-farmed animals, but this claim does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions.

Dolphin-Safe: In the United States, a Dolphin Safe label on a can of tuna means that no dolphins were intentionally chased, encircled, traumatized, injured, or killed in order to catch tuna swimming beneath the dolphins. Due to pressure from other countries, the U.S. government has made multiple attempts to weaken the rules and allow the use of the label even if the tuna were caught by deliberately setting nets on dolphins. The HSUS and others have won a series of lawsuits to maintain the integrity of the label, so a Dolphin Safe label in the United States still means that the tuna were not caught using methods that harm dolphins.

Natural: This claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

Grain-Fed: This claim has little relevance to animal welfare, but feeding ruminants—cows, sheep, and goats—high levels of grain can cause liver abscesses and problems with lameness. As such, beef products labeled “grain-fed” most likely come from animals who suffered lower welfare than beef products labeled “grass-fed.”

“Free-Farmed”*: The animals must be kept in conditions which allow for exercise and freedom of movement. As such, crates, cages, and tethers are not prohibited. Outdoor access is not required. Stocking densities are specified to ensure animals are not overcrowded, and animals must be provided with bedding materials. Hormone and non-therapeutic antibiotic use is prohibited. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Free-Farmed is a program of American Humane.

No label: Most likely, the absence of a label means animals are raised in factory farm conditions that significantly reduce their welfare.

* The claims listed in quotation marks—Certified Organic, Certified Humane, and Free-Farmed—are programs with guidelines or standards, whereas the remaining claims are only labels.

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There is something so appealing about weekend brunch. It’s wonderful to sit down to a leisurely meal, still in pajama bottoms, drinking fresh coffee with cream and brown sugar (as we do at our house), and read the paper, talk, or surf the Internet on our laptops (as we do at our house).

Cauli and I started this tradition before we were married. I’d research a recipe and make it on a Saturday or Sunday, and we would linger over our meal, making fresh coffee when the last grew cold, and enjoy the late morning. I’m very glad this tradition has stuck.

I’ve recently read a some blog posts about slow cooked scrambled eggs (I can’t find the exact blog post I had previously found and liked, but The Amateur Gourmet has a good post). I beat some eggs* in a bowl and added a little bit of half and half. I then melted some butter in a pan on low (the butter I made!) and cooked the scrambled eggs on low, mixing in some fromage blanc near the end. I continued to stir them as they cooked, not letting them chunk up together, and what resulted were very creamy eggs with a slight tang from the cheese. I topped these off with sauteed shitake mushrooms from the farmer’s market and thyme from my herb garden; a recipe that is rapidly becoming my favorite way to serve mushrooms. I also took some cinnamon chicken apple sausage links (not local, but California-raised chicken – the best I could do) and formed them into patties to fry up. We rounded the meal off with some leftover plum clafoutis.

*I’ve been buying Judy’s eggs as they are located in Petaluma, and therefore local. After doing a quick websearch to find their website, I found this post at the The Ethicurean. This is a perfect example of how important it is to really know where your food is coming from. As Cauliflower has often pointed out, places like Whole Foods offer a false sense of security to those who are interested in shopping ethically, locally, and organically (I’m embarrassed to admit that I was sucked in myself for awhile). There will never be a one-stop Feel Good Store that will offer all the right choices. One must continue to think carefully about the choices they make and do a little research, even more so now that the local and organic food movement is becoming industrialized, much what has happened with the “green movement.”

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Brunch in our backyard.

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Make Your Own: Butter

There was an article in the New York Times recently about making your own butter. I thought this was a great idea as Cauliflower and I don’t use much butter, and it would be fun to make it ourselves in small batches (and, okay, it would be fun to smugly point out at a dinner or brunch that I’d made the butter myself because really, who does that?!).

The basic idea is to agitate heavy whipping cream until it passes the whipped cream state and separates into butter and buttermilk. I used heavy whipping cream from the Straus Family Creamery, a local creamery located in Tomales Bay.

I first tried blending the cream in a food processor, which didn’t work as the whipped cream didn’t move through the processor very well. I then moved the the whipped cream to a bowl and mixed it with a hand mixer. This worked really well, and it was amazing to see the butter separate…as well as amazing to watch the buttermilk fly around the kitchen. Take steps to cover the bowl as you’re mixing.

Afterwards, I drained the buttermilk and began rinsing the butter in cold water until it ran clear. Then I squeezed the rest of the moisture out. Pressing it would work too. If you don’t do this, the butter will sour. At this point you’ll also want to salt it (if you’re going to). This will give the butter more taste and it will keep longer.

Now…go be smug.

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Butter in my hand.

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Finished butter in a bowl.

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Plum Welcome

For the inauguration of my food blog, I’m featuring a plum clafoutis. Why? Because I made one.

And that right there is the purpose of this blog. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,my focus on food became sharper. The idea of the slow food movement and a thoughtful and ethical approach to food appealed to me in a deep way. As a society, we’ve lost our connection to food and cooking. I believe that has reverberated in ways not yet understood. And because of this, I’ve tried to create a community of food in my own family, focusing on local food, new recipes, and the importance of sitting down to a good meal and connecting.

One part of the book that stuck with me was to make recipes from the food that you have, not to hunt for ingredients, which is why I named my blog Hunt the Recipe. Not only can this foster creative recipes (or desperate ones), but it can also train one to cook seasonally, utilize leftovers, and learn what ingredients that can be kept on hand.

On with the clafoutis…

Clafoutis is a French word that, out of my mouth, sounds something like, kla-foo-tie (kaflooie?). Though I learned from the often-suspect Wikipedia that a clafoutis is only called as such when it’s made with cherries, as it traditionally is. When it’s made with other fruit, it’s called a flognarde (i’m not even touching that one).

I troll food blogs daily in what is probably a form of mild OCD. I’m ever searching for better pictures (I can only hope to not put fuzzy pictures on this blog), easy recipes, and good results. I came across Ceres & Bacchus the other day and was entranced by the plum clafoutis recipe. The ingredients were so simple: (Eggs! Sugar! Milk! Butter! Flour! Vanilla! Plums!). The directions were so simple: (Mix! Pour! Bake!). I had recently bought a bunch of plums at the Ferry Building Farmer’s market ( my first time buying plums. EVER.) I had all the ingredients on hand. What was the catch? Probably the 1/2 cup of butter that made the recipe so good, that I ate it for breakfast and dessert. I have seen a recipe somewhere with no butter, which I thought was an accident. No butter? Dear GOD. Maybe someday I’ll try it.

Meanwhile, I need to go get something from the fridge…

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Parsnip’s first clafoutis.

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