Greening Your Kitchen
As terms like grass-fed, organic, locally grown, and sustainable become household words, eco-conscious cooks and manufacturers focus on the next frontier. After you get your pasture-raised chicken home, what are you cooking it in? After dinner, how are you packaging your leftovers?
Nonstick cookware, long considered one of the great culinary advancements of the 20th century, has some major drawbacks. Last month, a study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine linking chemicals in nonstick pans to high cholesterol in children. This is in addition to multiple studies which have shown that at high temperatures, Teflon, the chemical used in the original nonstick pans, can be lethal to animals and cause flu-like symptoms in humans. How hot the pan needs to be to cause illness is still up for debate.
Aluminum pots and pans have been all but phased out of most home kitchens, since studies show they may be linked with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet every single chef and restaurant owner I spoke to in researching this article still used them in their restaurant.
How you store your food has been called into question as well. A 2008 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a connection between Bisphenol A and health risks such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, neurological disorders, early puberty in females, and diabetes. Bisphenol A is commonly known BPA, and is a chemical found in plastics that are used most notably for food storage containers and baby bottles. A joint study conducted by 38 experts concluded that the levels of BPA found in the average person are higher than those that cause harm to animals in lab experiments. For two years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disputed the validity of these reports and insisted that BPA in plastic was safe for everyday use. However a few months ago, the FDA made a complete reversal and released a statement with a new message;
“On the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children. The FDA is taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. These steps include: supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market; facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans; and supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings.”
So now we know that we should avoid plastic that contains BPA, but what about all of the other chemicals in the plastics we use on a daily basis. On the bottom of most plastic bottles and containers is a number- from 1 to 7- a recycling code which helps guide you, if you know what the numbers mean. Here’s a simple guide:
Plastic #1: Commonly found in soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, and peanut butter containers. This type of plastic is safe if used just once, however it should never be rinsed out and used a second time.
Plastic #2: Commonly found in milk containers and whipped butter tubs. This type of plastic has no known health hazards.
Plastic #3: Polyvinyl chloride often referred to as PVC. This is one of the more dangerous forms of plastic because it contains chlorine, which releases toxins when it gets too warm.
Plastic #4: Commonly found in food storage containers and grocery bags. This type of plastic has no known health hazards.
Plastic #5: Commonly found in baby bottles, bottle caps, and straws. Early studies show that it is safer for cold liquids than for hot, as high temperatures may cause chemicals in the plastic to leech into food or beverages.
Plastic #6: Commonly known as Styrofoam. It has been proven that this type of plastic is not a food-safe product. It can cause eye, respiratory, and skin irritation, kidney disorders, and depression. For many years it was used to create egg cartons, disposable plates, and take out containers. We now know that it can leech toxins into your food and should be avoided.
Plastic #7: Contains the controversial chemical, BPA, and should be avoided. It had been used for decades to make food storage containers, plastic silverware, plastic “sippy” cups, and baby bottles and its use has not been completely phased out yet by manufacturers.
So what should you be using to cook and store your food in?
At home, as opposed to in their restaurants because of economic factors, many eco-conscious local chefs are replacing their old cookware with new “greener” products. There are several new brands of pots and pans on the market which offer a similar nonstick surface while guaranteeing that they do not use harmful chemicals in their products. After testing several of these new cookware lines, I found that the Starfrit line sold at Wal-Mart was hands down my favorite and all of the chefs I spoke to who had tried it agreed. It is made of sustainable, non-toxic materials, and has every feature that traditional nonstick has.
When shopping for cookware at garage sales as many of us do, stick with the materials that have been used for centuries; cast iron (which actually has health benefits), enameled cast iron, stainless steel, and copper (which reduces your carbon footprint by shortening cooking times).
As for food storage, the easy answer is to avoid plastics altogether and go with glass. It has its downside, such as being heavier to carry and more likely to break, but I find that the peace of mind it gives me is worth the hassle.
Cooking should be fun, and we shouldn’t have to be experts in environmental engineering to put a healthy meal on the table. If you want to keep it simple, use the materials your grandparents used, use plastic in moderation, and don’t forget to eat your vegetables.
Curry Chicken Sandwich; an easy weeknight dinner
A big satisfying sandwich can make a great weeknight dinner. For this recipe, the chicken can be prepared the night before and dinner can be on the table in 10 minutes. I usually serve this with some homemade potato chips, or a green salad with sliced apples.
Some people get along famously and would make ideal next door neighbors. Others would be better off separated by a few streets (or towns). Food is the same way. Companion Planting is the practice of using plants that “get along well” to help each other grow. And those plants often taste great together too…Mother Nature’s way of flavor matchmaking.
You may have heard the expression, “what grows together, goes together”. When you’re trying to create a meal, this is a great starting point. Things that grow in the same region, at the same time of year, very often compliment each other. Tomatoes and basil, carrots and peas, apples and squash, cucumber and dill, corn and beans…there are so many classic combinations.
Tomatoes and asparagus are a great example of Companion Planting. Tomato plants keep the common asparagus beetles away, and asparagus plants emit a chemical which destroys the roundworm, an enemy of the tomato plant. In late summer, when tomatoes are at their peak, I like to make this tomato-asparagus frittata for a few friends on a Sunday morning…..
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of green asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces
1 ½ cups Swiss cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and sauté asparagus about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Cook 2 minutes more.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk or cream. Be sure to lift your whisk out of the bowl a little as you go. This whips some air into the eggs and keeps the frittata light and fluffy. Spoon the asparagus and tomatoes from the skillet into the bowl with the eggs. Keep the same skillet over a medium flame and add the butter. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet, and stir well. Season again with a dash of salt and black pepper. Stir in the Swiss cheese and cook for 5 minutes over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally. Then put the skillet in the oven to cook for about 10 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the frittata comes out clean.
Slide your knife around the whole pan to loosen the edges of the frittata, then carefully transfer it onto a platter, or serve it directly from the skillet. Garnish with chopped fresh chives.
RAW CORN CHOWDER
As many of you surely know, the St. Mark’s Farmers Market is one of the gems of the East Village. Each Tuesday from 8 am- 7 pm, a dozen or more local farmers set up delectable tables piled high with their seasonal bounty; Seafood, eggs, fresh pasta, organic produce, vibrant flowers, ripe fruit, and home-baked goods. It’s enough to keep you out of the Supermarket for most of the week.
Recently I stopped at the Troncillito Farm table and bought a few ears of corn that were as sweet as candy. Troncillito is a third generation fruit farm in Marlboro, New York. Up until 1990 they produced only apples, but they’ve since expanded to include plums, peaches, corn, cabbage, tomatoes, and green beans.