February 27, 2006
I had the opportunity to give this recipe for Light Beef Stroganoff a try on Saturday night. I found it in the latest Wild Oats email newsletter, where they offered light and natural "redos" of popular comfort foods. My husband and I were supposed to be out at a restaurant with friends, but a last-minute babysitter cancellation left me feeling very grateful that I had already bought the ingredients for this dish. Because otherwise we would have been left eating the kids' left-over macaroni and cheese, and that would have just been depressing.
In addition to using all-natural ingredients, the recipe was lightened using several techniques such as substituting vegetable broth, fresh mushrooms and herbs for cream-of-mushroom soup and using light sour cream.
We were pretty pleased with how it turned out. My only complaint was that is was a bit runny--maybe I should have let it cook off some more liquid but I was afraid of overcooking the meat. There was also quite a bit of liquid left over after browning the meat (the first step before adding the other ingredients), so I'd suggest starting with one cup of vegetable broth as opposed to the two called for in the recipe. If you need more liquid, then add the second cup, but you may be okay without it.
This dish was definitely flavorful and decadent-tasting, and quite easy to cook. It probably would have been better had it been served in a nice, cozy, kid-free restaurant in the city, but with several glasses of wine in which to drown our sorrows and a roaring fire in the fireplace we muddled through.
February 24, 2006
Given the number of well-known "natural" macaroni and cheese boxed dinners that are out there, it doesn't seem like there's much need for yet another newcomer. The only reason I picked up the Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner with Organic Cheddar Cheese sauce mix is because my kids have about a three-month window of time with any mac 'n cheese product before they decide that their favorite is now "yucky!" (usually right after I've invested in a jumbo pack of the now-reviled brand).
The first thing to note about the Back to Nature brand is that the sauce mix is organic, but the macaroni is not. Kind of odd. The second thing to note is that the taste of this organic sauce is quite bland. The macaroni was tender and the sauce mixed up well, but it just didn't have a very cheesy taste. However, my kids seemed to like it (pasta made it into the mouth with no coaxing, no screams of protest upon tasting), so I guess I'll be buying it anyway. But if I'm eating with them, I'll be making a packet of Annie's Homegrown Microwaveable mac and cheese for myself. Especially because I have a giant box of it sitting in my pantry.
Stock up your pantry by clicking here and buying Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner from Amazon.com.
Continue reading: "Back to Nature Macaroni and Cheese Dinner"
February 24, 2006
February 21, 2006
As the market explodes with organic products, a general glance at the grocery landscape would give the perspective that we are a healthy nation leading environmentally conscious lives. Unfortunately, like all things in life, the organic market isn't black and white.
In "Does Corporate Organic Change Organic Landscape?" by Hillary Lindsay of Rabble.ca, we learn that large companies are able to undercut the small producer by subsidizing organic products with non-organic ones.
A very thought provoking article that will make you re-consider how much you're "lovin it" when you drink McDonald's Fair Trade coffee.
February 20, 2006
A recent study shows that children who eat organic produce and grains can virtually eliminate two common pesticides from their bodies within a matter of days. According to an article on Forbes.com, in 2003, researchers recruited 23 children ages 3-11 from Seattle-area schools. Researchers monitored levels of two organophosphorus pesticides -- malathion and chlorpyrifos -- in their urine during a 15-day period in which they alternated between their regular diets and diets featuring organic fruits, vegetables and grain products. The researchers found that the pesticide levels dropped immediately when the children started eating the organic foods.
The article continues: "There is evidence that they're dangerous, said Dr. Nathan M. Graber, a fellow in pediatric environmental health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 'We know that at high doses, these pesticides can cause serious symptoms because they are toxic to the nervous system,' he said, adding that there's 'sound scientific reasoning' suggesting that low doses can hurt the developing brain."
The bottom line: if you can afford it, buy organic. For more information on which fruits and vegetables have the highest and lowest pesticide levels refer to this shopper's guide. If you can't find or afford exclusively organic produce, this handy guide will help you determine where you should allocate your dollars.
I was inspired to create this recipe after trying Peanut Butter & Co.'s The Heat Is On natural-style peanut butter. A couple of notes: Be aware that seasoned rice vinegars contain sugar. Try Marukan’s seasoned gourmet Lite Rice Vinegar for a little less sugar and no high fructose corn syrup. I found it at a natural foods store, where I also purchased San-J’s naturally brewed Tamari reduced sodium soy sauce. (For more information read my review of both products). However 1 tablespoon still adds 700 milligrams sodium, so you may want to keep your sodium intake light on a day when you’re planning to eat this lest your feet swell up like little melons!
Continue reading: "Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles"
February 17, 2006
One word comes to mind when I ate the Soyco Veggy Singles -- RUN. Don't walk away from these things, run and run quickly away from the faux dairy aisle.
We all know that individually wrapped cheese singles are an abomination of nature. Pallid yellow or close-to-school-bus-orange are not exactly what comes out of any dairy producing animal and most edible items are rarely rubbery and moist at the same time. Heck, I've even seen them stored NEXT to the dairy case, as if the clerks were trying to say, "Come on, we all know this isn't real dairy, so let's make room for the sour cream."
Soyco Veggy Singles, in the cheddar flavor, are that crazy yellowish/orange color we as Americans have come to embrace from our dairy product. The consistency is such that when I tried to remove the item from the paper, if not properly chilled (as in left on the counter for a few minutes), rather than pull away it leaves a smear and I was forced to make my sandwich with whatever I could scrape off with my fingernail. When I tried to melt them into scrambled eggs, instead of the creamy consistency I'm used to, it was oily clumps of orange goo. And if this all isn't appetizing enough, the taste has a slight bitter chemical aftertaste.
The packaging for Veggy Singles is not labeled "dairy free", it does boast the product as "Nature's Alternative to Cheese" and "Soy Nutritious" -- all things that anyone avoiding dairy and animal products in general would seek out. However, vegans beware, included in the ingredients are: skim milk proteins and casein (a dried skim milk protein).
Veggy Singles are an alternative to cheese singles if you are looking for something that has a concerning texture, surprising ingredients and a disappointing taste. At least with good old standard cheese singles I already know where the questions lie and I still enjoy the taste.
About Galaxy Foods Company:
Continue reading: "Soyco Veggy Singles"
February 16, 2006
If you're looking for a more natural way to keep your toilet bowl sparkling, or at least not reminiscent of the toilet bowl scene in the movie Trainspotting, Ecover's Toilet Bowl Cleaner should fit the bill. I recently gave it a try. You'll have to take my word for it, but it did a fine job of cleaning up at my house (I'm happy to post pictures of my dirty stove, but I have to draw the personal sharing line somewhere).
Ecover's toilet bowl cleaner is packaged like a conventional angled-top cleaner which helps put the product under the toilet bowl rim where you need it. The cleaner itself is milky-white and a bit thin, but it clung well enough to do the job. It has an extremely strong pine scent, which is good if you're particular about your house "smelling clean" but would definitely be a problem for someone with a scent sensitivity. In any case, the toilet looked as clean as it usually does after using a conventional product, and it seemed to stay clean for the same amount of time.
Now, I can't claim that my trial of the product was exactly scientific, as I didn't have the lab equipment to test whether the product eradicated every last germ. However, since you're generally not drinking out of the toilet bowl, my personal philosophy is that I'd rather a.) Not flush toxic chemicals into the septic system that's underneath my backyard; and b.) if the odd pet (or kid) did drink out of the toilet bowl, I'd be more concerned about them drinking bleach than the stray germ.
The other thing to love about Ecover's toilet bowl cleaner is that it's from a company that really strives to practice what it preaches. Read the extended entry for details.
Continue reading: "Ecover Ecological Toilet Bowl Cleaner"
February 14, 2006
While my partner had to sacrifice herself to the organic chocolates market, I sit here performing my own servitude for the public: cracking open a bottle of organic Argentinean Malbec.
Let's just say that as public service positions go, cushy government jobs have nothing on this girl.
Overall, the organic and bio-dynamic wine market is a complex one. While the quality of the wine reigns supreme, this doesn't necessarily mean that organic or bio-dynamically produced fruit is the originator. This creates a difficult situation in that there are those vineyards that produce wine by traditional methods, make exceptional wines, and are not technically organic, and other vineyards that grow and harvest using only organic and bio-dynamic methods for purposes of quality and terrior preservation, and make less than superior wines. Then there are the rare few vineyards that can accomplish both. The best way to judge the organic and bio-dynamic wine market (and it hurts this taste tester to say it) is to taste it bottle by bottle.
The 2004 Jelu Malbec is a treat to drink not only for the sweet dark cherry burst in your mouth, and the smoky bouquet with hints of vanilla, but also because of its value. This Malbec costs between $10 - $14 a bottle and could easily become a regular in the everyday wine lineup. Not terribly complex, the 2004 Jelu Malbec has enough body to compliment saucy dishes, rich cheeses and even an organic chocolate Valentine's Day gift.
Continue reading: "Organic Wine: 2004 Jelu Malbec"
Gentle reader, even though I don't usually have chocolate bars in my house (due to an utter lack of self-control), and even though my husband and I have ignored the commercially manufactured "Hallmark Holiday" for years, I, your intrepid ReallyNatural.com blogger, have sacrificed my rules, not to mention my waistline, to test and report back on various varieties of organic chocolates just in time for V-day. I really do hope you appreciate the lengths I go to to bring you the information you need.
Now the good news about all of this is that some brilliant person discovered that chocolate is actually good for you! Why nothing could be more "heart healthy" than to gift your loved one with a big old chocolate bar and bottle of fine, antioxidant-filled red wine. Hey, I think I like this health food thing!
I reviewed three chocolate bars: Newman's Own Organics Butter Toffee Crunch Milk Chocolate; Whole Foods Market's 365 Organic Swiss Milk Chocolate with Almonds, and Green & Blacks Organic Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Currants
Whole Foods' 365 Organic Swiss Milk Chocolate is a good basic choice. With 33% cocoa, it has a light, creamy taste for those who prefer their chocolate mild. The almond pieces are small and plentiful. According to the package, the bar is made in Switzerland using "Old-World" blending methods, and the cocoa beans are grown in the Dominican Republic by a co-op of small farmers called the YACAO Project that works to provide a healthy livelihood to small farmers and their families.
Newman's Own Organics Butter Toffee Crunch Milk Chocolate is a fancier bar. While still classified as milk chocolate, it's definitely on the darker side. I couldn't find the percentage of cocoa used. The chocolate itself is very good; smooth and with a deep chocolate taste. However I must say I was disappointed that it didn't contain more toffee crunch. The pieces were quite small and didn't exactly provide the "crunch" I expected given the name of the product.
For those who like their chocolate dark, Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Currants, with 60% cocoa content, has a much stronger, slightly coffee-like taste. The hazelnuts are finely chopped and plentiful. The currants were also small--so much so that they got a bit lost. However they did add a sweetness and chewiness that provided a rather pleasant counterpoint to the intensity of the chocolate. This bar is a good choice if your sweetheart happens to be a vegan, as it contains no milk products.
Here's another fun idea: buy all three (or more) and conduct your own chocolate tasting! Here are some pointers from a recent article in the Boston Globe.
Continue reading: "My Organic Valentine: Chocolate Bars For Your Eco-Conscious Honey"
If you're looking for a dinner-party-worthy recipe chock full of fresh healthy ingredients, give this dish a try. I found the recipe on the Whole Foods Market web site, and that's where I purchased all of the ingredients. (Note: It tastes better than it looks in the picture! Someday soon, when reallynatural.com is raking in the big bucks, we'll hire our own food stylist.)
The mix of the many different fresh herbs results in a strong, wonderful aroma and distinctive taste. I might have cut back just a touch on the rosemary (although the recipe gives the measurements for the herbs in terms of "sprigs" and it's entirely possible that I misunderstood what constitutes a "sprig" of rosemary). The recipe mentions adding water to the blended herbs if needed but I didn't find this to be necessary. The directions said to cook the beans until "a light sauce forms around the chicken pieces." Um, that never quite happened as far as I could see, so don't get too hung up on this or you might overcook the chicken.
A couple of ingredient notes: I used Whole Foods Market's own brand of organic cannellini beans, and Jacob's Farm fresh herbs.
February 10, 2006
As much as I don't relish my husband's business trips (and the resulting solo childcare duties), I must admit that a tiny piece of me looks forward to a few indulgences I can only truly enjoy on my own: the ability to watch trashy TV and to eat whatever the heck I want. Now I can certainly do these things when he's home, but it's more fun when someone's not harrumphing and glowering from the couch.
Tonight I put on my terrycloth robe, fuzzy pink slippers, and hair curlers (ok, that's pulling a James Frey), and cooked up a genuine frozen dinner. But this was no Hungry Man, rather an organic vegetarian meal from Moosewood.
Moosewood, a line from Fairfield Farm Kitchens, offers about half a dozen organic vegetarian entrees ranging from Moroccan Stew to Spicy Penne Puttanesca. The recipes are based on those from the famed Ithaca, New York Moosewood Restaurant. I chose the Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans.
Overall, it was pretty good for a frozen meal. Everything held up reasonably well going from frozen to microwave reheating. The cornbread, if not straight from the oven fresh, was at least not the hockey puck I imagined it would be. It had been covered a bit by the red beans which helped lock in some moistness, and it had a somewhat sweet flavor from the sugar and "hint of orange" in the recipe. The beans, which were mixed with rice, celery, corn, tomatoes, and spices, had a mild spicy flavor. Nothing was overcooked--in fact the celery even held a bit of its crunch--but I would have appreciated more corn as there were so few kernels that they almost seemed like an afterthought. A couple of stray pieces of rice were undercooked but overall the dish was moist. It was also plenty hearty for one. I paired it with a simple green salad, and if you really want to enjoy yourself I'm sure it would go well with a nice glass of wine.
The best part is, with my husband away, there was no need to worry about the potential after-effects of a bean-filled dinner. Yet another advantage to spousal business travel, I suppose. Honey, don't rush back, 'kay?
Continue reading: "Not Your Mother's TV Dinner: Moosewood's Organic Vegetarian Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans"
February 7, 2006
Felix Tannenbaum, an artist and former chef at the renowned Denver organic food restaurant, the Mercury Café, provides us with an original organic recipe every month. Here's his first contribution:
One of my favorite dishes to prepare and eat, this a simple and quick recipe that highlights one of the many pleasures of organic food: its taste. The few ingredients used are wonderful complements to one another, so if you can get really nice produce (which could be tough this time of year depending on where you live) you will notice it right away.
A few notes about buying avocado and tomato: Stores are reluctant to keep really ripe avocado on hand being that many customers are shopping for the entire week, and because a ripe avocado is only one too-strong-of-a-squeeze away from being a ruined avocado. Still, they usually have a few, and if you take the time to feel a lot of them, you’ll find ’em. The modern American tomato is a poor imitation of a tomato. Sure, it’s bright red and it fits just about perfectly onto a hamburger bun, but that’s about all that it does. You will be better served by buying those weird-looking (and, unfortunately, pricey) heirloom tomatoes or even the vine-ripened kind in the little mesh bags. My general rule with tomatoes is smell them---if they don't smell like anything they won’t taste like anything either.
A few notes on buying scallops: the fresher the better. Your fish seller should be able to tell you how fresh they are, and they won’t lie to you seeing as they want you to return. I enjoy eating fish on the day I buy it, but it seems to last another day or so in the fridge in a pinch. Smell your scallops before throwing them in the sauté pan, they should smell of the sea, maybe a little sweet. If there is a slight “fishy” smell, try rinsing them off in the sink, and give ’em the smell test again. If they are still unpleasant, bring them back to the market and you should easily get our money back. But I don’t mean to be negative, in all the years I’ve been cooking, I’ve only had to return seafood once.
Continue reading: "Felix’s Fancy Meal of the Month: Pan-Seared Scallops with a Salad of Basil, Avocado, Tomato and Fresh Spring Greens"
February 5, 2006
I rely heavily on Asian cooking in my home, especially Thai and Chinese. I like how the intense and spicy flavors can be paired with vegetables, fish, and noodles or rice to create tasty low-fat meals. However, there are a few pitfalls to avoid with two staples of Asian-style cooking: soy sauce and rice vinegar. Many brands contain high salt, high sugar, and less-than-natural ingredients.
I've recently tried two "lite" and "natural" alternatives of two Asian-style cooking staples: seasoned rice vinegar and soy sauce, both purchased at a health food store. I compared both to larger brands purchased at an ordinary chain grocery store.
Marukan offers a Lite Seasoned Gourmet Rice Vinegar with "low sodium and sugar." In comparing it to a non-lite version I picked up at a local supermarket (Nakano), Marukan does have less sugar (4 grams per tablespoon versus 5), and does not contain high fructose corn syrup like the other brand. However, Marukan's sodium content was actually higher (350 mg per tablespoon as opposed to 240 mg in the non-lite version). In terms of taste, the Marukan Lite variety was somewhat less pungent than Nakano's brand, but otherwise comparable.
I compared San-J's Naturally Brewed Tamari Premium Soy Sauce Reduced Sodium to La Choy's Lite Soy Sauce. (Note: San-J also offers an organic lite version but it was not available at my market that day.) The difference in taste was startling. Although the San-J brand contains more sodium than the La Choy (700 mg and 560 mg per tablespoon, respectively), the San-J tasted much less salty and had a deeper, more interesting flavor. Their web site attributes this to the fact that the product is made with more soybeans than ordinary sauce.
The bottom line: if you're interested in using a rice vinegar and soy sauce that have more natural ingredients, these two products fit the bill. However, be aware that using them will still add quite a large load of sodium to a dish (personally, I always cut the amount of soy sauce called for in any recipe in half). Just make sure to plan ahead so you don't overdo your daily sodium intake, especially if you plan on wearing those cute pointy toed heels that night!
Continue reading: "Asian Cooking the Natural Way: Marukan Lite Rice Vinegar and San-J Tamari Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce"
February 4, 2006
I can't say as I have ever been concerned about accidentally eating any particular cosmetic (except the random lip balm when I was younger), but that is a serious consideration when I use Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub.
The Burt's Bees Citrus Scrub smells like you are rubbing a divine slice of carrot cake across your face. Besides the delectable aroma, it is also a wonderful skin exfoliating experience. The paste consistency stays on your fingers while you are mashing it about onto your skin, unlike some products that end up slipping down the drain. The texture feels like a nice beach sand or granular snow fall, much more enjoyable than the other scrubs that have literally left dig marks in my forehead because they were too cheap to grind up their almond shells. My skin is soft and glowing afterwards, not bumpy and red -- a definite plus when trying to look better, not worse.
The only complaint I would register is the packaging. While I love little glass jars of all kinds, particularly since they are usually more environmentally safe than plastic, this particular product deserves a word of caution. Since the facial scrubbing is a task easier done in the shower (otherwise I have a puddle of water on the floor and scrub somehow in my ears), it takes extreme care on my part not to drop this delicate vessel and spread shards of glass around my naked feet. So, hats off to the glass jars, just be sure to stock up on the bandages if you're clumsy.
The Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub is 2 oz. of sinfully scented and simply delicious cleansing experience. (No, I didn't actually taste it...yet.) An absolute heavenly addition to any winter skin regimen.
Stock up on Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub -- click here.
About Burt's Bees":
Continue reading: "Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub"
February 3, 2006
According to the JÃSÖN Natural Products website, "This natural deodorant is mild, safe and delivers long-lasting protection." While two out of three is generally good odds, it doesn't work with deodorant when you're trying not to offend the public.
Is the product mild? Quite. I am a delicate creature that has problems using standard deodorants. I am always on the lookout for one that does not irritate, but still does a modestly good job (I realize we can't perform miracles.) With the JÃSÖN deodorant, there was no burning or stinging sensation when applied, so 'mild' would be an appropriate word.
Is the product safe? Absolutely. Beyond the fact that rubbing nothing into your armpits is the safest way to go, this product has no aluminum chlorohydrate or alcohol. The ingredients include organic aloe vera gel (a proven skin soothing agent) and vitamin E (a healing agent.)
Does the product deliver long-lasting protection? No. Now, I wasn't running marathons or even pushing the baby stroller at a fast clip the day that I tested this product, however I can only conceive couch potato status would be an adequate level of activity when using JÃSÖN Aloe Vera deodorant. And even then you might have to reapply several times. While there was a refreshing scent to the actual stick, I can't quite claim the same thing about myself when wearing it.
Since I seek out a deodorant that is more natural, I understand and expect not to be "protected" for 24 straight hours, but rather coverage for a good portion of my day. I appreciate the effort to be as natural as possible in an unnatural solution to body grooming, but in this case, the product delivers too much natural and not enough protection.
About JÃSÖN Natural Products:
Continue reading: "JASON Aloe Vera Deodorant Stick"
Glorious! Heavenly! And sometimes, an accidental full meal. The Garden of Eatin' line of blue corn tortilla chips are by far my favorite chips in the blue chip arena. There are actually 6 different varieties of the blue: regular, low salt, "Red Hot", "Little Soy Blues", "Sesame Blues" and "Sunny Blues". While I haven't come across the soy or sunflower variations (each offers organic soybeans and organic sunflower seeds, respectively), I have to say the other four are a delight.
Garden of Eatin's blues are dense, crisp chips that hold up well to heavy guacamole or chili, large enough for a delightful mouthful, but small enough to scoop into most salsa jars (as those of us that are lazy chip eaters will appreciate.)
All are hearty and packed full of corn flavor without being greasy or bland, thanks to the organic blue corn and expeller pressed oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil. The original flavor has just the right amount of salt so not to overpower sauces and dips. I like how the No Salt version is healthier and yet the chip packed with taste. Sesame Blues has a hint of nutty sesame flavor, and goes wonderfully with fresh guacamole and/or salsa. Red Hot Blues are spicy enough to make you stand up and take notice, but not enough to make you sweat.
With only a few high quality ingredients, and so much taste, you can't help but wonder what is going on with all the other chips out there.
About Garden of Eatin':
Continue reading: "Garden of Eatin' Blue Corn Chips"
Did you know that the largest consumption of avocados in the U.S. is on Super Bowl Sunday?
The proportions in this recipe are dependent upon how large a batch you would like to make. The following recipe makes enough for four average servings or two guacamole addicts.
2 ripe avocados, mashed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ripe plum tomato, diced
juice of 1 wedge of lemon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fresh cilantro, chopped
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients together and add more or less of salt, cilantro and garlic depending upon personal preference. This recipe works best when avocados and tomatoes are in season (late spring - summer), otherwise the entire experience is a shadow of itself.
Best served with Garden of Eatin' blue corn chips.
February 2, 2006
After trying Seventh Generation's Free and Clear Natural All Purpose cleaner, I wondered why I've ever used traditional toxic cleaners. Why on earth would I spray chemicals all over my home when a natural alternative works so well? According to the Seventh Generation Web site, this cleaner is non-toxic, biodegradable, and contains no chlorine or ammonia. It's not tested on animals and doesn't include any animal ingredients.
I tested this cleaner on several areas around the house, including a stove that had suffered from a nasty encounter with a bubbling pot of red pasta sauce (see the before and after pictures). It cleaned up nicely after a single application and minimal elbow grease. After perusing the Seventh Generation Web site, I ran across a press release regarding a 2003 article from the Wall Street Journal in which this product was selected as the "Best Overall" eco-cleaner by the Wall Street Journal Catalog Critic. I was definitely satisfied with my own experience.
So put any fears you might have about how "those natural cleaners just don't work" to rest, and give 'em a try. How can you not love a cleaner who's "CAUTION" statement reads: "If swallowed, drink a glassful of water."
One note: the "Free & Clear" line is free of added fragrances, which doesn't mean it has no smell at all. There's a very subtle but kind of odd, almost "fishy" type odor. If you don't have a sensitivity to fragrances, you may want to try one of the citrus-scented cleaners.
To stock up on this product at Amazon.com, click here.
About Seventh Generation:
Continue reading: "Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural All Purpose Cleaner"