Sep 29, 2009

Quick & Healthy Mashed Potatoes

a mouth-watering bowl of mashed potatoesOne of the top comfort foods in the USA (Credit: U. S. Potato Board)

Thanks to the U. S. Potato Board and its consumer website, here are a bevy of recipes for making delicious mashed potatoes in your microwave. At the end of this post you'll also find a video from USPB that clears up any questions you might have about microwaving this ultimate comfort food.

Recipe: Quick & Healthy Mashed Potatotes

4 Servings
Preparation Time: 10
Cook Time: 10

  • 1- 1/4 lbs. Russet potatoes*
  • 1/2 cup each: nonfat plain yogurt and fat-free milk
  • 1 -1/2 tablespoons healthy butter spread
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic or seasoned salt)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
*Yukon Gold, yellow or white potatoes can be substituted


Place whole potatoes (do not poke) into microwave-safe dish. Cover dish. (If covering dish with plastic wrap, poke small hole in plastic.) Microwave on HIGH for 10 to 12 minutes depending on strength of microwave. Use oven mitts to remove dish from microwave; carefully remove cover and mash well. Stir in yogurt, milk, butter spread and seasonings. Cook for a minute or 2 more to heat if necessary. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Info:
  • Calories: 170 Carbohydrates: 29 g
  • Fat: 3.5 g Fiber: 2 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 Protein: 5 g
  • Sodium: 220 mg Potassium: 644 mg
  • Vitamin C : 50%

Variations to the Basic Recipe

Spinach and Bacon Mashed Potatoes
  • Stir 3/4 cup coarsely chopped, loosely packed fresh spinach, 1/2 cup shredded low-fat sharp Cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons real bacon bits or pieces into hot mashed potatoes with yogurt, milk, salt and pepper.
  • Cost per serving: $.76
  • Nutritional analysis per serving with skins: Calories: 220, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 15mg, Sodium: 450mg, Potassium: 695mg, Carbohydrates: 30g, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Protein: 10g, Vitamin A: 25%, Vitamin C: 50%, Calcium: 35%, Iron: 8%
Veggie Mashed Potatoes
  • While potatoes are cooking, sauté 1 small chopped onion in the buttery spread for 10 minutes over medium heat. Stir in 1/2 cup shredded zucchini and 1/3 cup shredded carrot; cook for 3 minutes more. Stir into hot mashed potatoes with yogurt, milk and seasonings.
  • Cost per serving: $.52
  • Nutritional analysis per serving with skins: Calories: 190, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 230mg, Potassium: 771mg, Carbohydrates: 35g, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 6g, Protein: 6g, Vitamin A: 40%, Vitamin C: 60%, Calcium: 15%, Iron: 8%
Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Mashed Potatoes
  • While potatoes are cooking, sauté 1 medium chopped onion in the buttery spread for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. Stir into hot mashed potatoes with 3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon dried dill, yogurt, milk and seasonings.
  • Cost per serving: $1.19
  • Nutritional analysis per serving with skins: Calories: 280, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 25mg, Sodium: 310mg, Potassium: 749mg, Carbohydrates: 36g, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 7g, Protein: 12g, Vitamin A: 15%, Vitamin C: 60%, Calcium: 35%, Iron: 8%

Sep 26, 2009

What's in your peanut butter?

Do you think one peanut butter is like another?

I did, until one day a couple of years ago when I bothered to read the ingredients on the Jif Reduced Fat Crunchy Peanut Butter in my fridge:
  • Peanuts
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Sugar And Soy Protein
  • Contains 2 Percent Or Less Of: Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed And Soybean), Salt, Mono- And Diglycerides, Molasses, Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Ferric Orthophosphate, and Copper Sulfate.
I was horrified. Corn syrup solids? Fully hydrogenated oils? What the hell were Pyridoxine Hydrochloride or Ferric Orthophosphate? And isn't Zinc Oxide that white stuff in high-quality sun block?

Curious, I next perused the ingredient labels of all peanut butters on the shelf at my grocery store. Most of them contained icky ingredients that I didn't think should be in peanut butter. Or in me.

I finally settled on a jar of Adams 100% Natural Peanut Butter, which comes in these varieties: Creamy, Creamy Unsalted, Crunch, and Crunchy Unsalted. Soon after, on a trip to Trader Joe's, I discovered that store's house brand peanut butter. From then on I've stuck to Adams and Trader Joe's peanut butters.

The ingredients in both? Peanuts. That's it.

And isn't that as it should be?

Sep 24, 2009

Safeway vs. Walmart: Grocery Prices

I live in the wine country town of Sonoma, California, where I buy day-to-day grocery items at Safeway and most everything else at the farmer's markets or at the local Whole Foods.

Sometimes the prices at Safeway outrage me, but that chain is no different than any other; Sonoma has another mainstream chain store, Lucky, where prices are just as high as at Safeway. Both have good sales each week, but it's the items not on sale that put a dent in the ol' wallet. These prices have nothing to do with location; items cost exactly the same whether I'm shopping Sonoma Safeway or an hour away at the Safeway on San Francisco's Marina Green. I imagine the same is true for all other chains, as well.

So a while back, when my stepmother suggested that I try shopping at a Wal-Mart grocery, I decided to trek over to the one closest to me---about 25 minutes away---and give it a try. I did so this past September 9. I was startled by how good the prices were on almost everything. Few items were on sale; they just had good baseline prices. When I left the store, I thought: "I bet if I bought these exact same items at Safeway it would cost at least twice as much." I decided to find out.

The first thing I did was make a chart of all items I'd purchased at Walmart along with any salient info, such as size, weight, brand name (or house brand), and price. Then, over the course of a couple of weeks, I took my chart along with me on trips to Safeway and filled it in with the current price. I had to remove two items from the chart, because Safeway didn't carry them, but everything else was on hand.

The end result: I spent $54.50 at Walmart; for the same or similar items I would have spent $105.58 at Safeway---nearly twice as much! You can download a PDF of my chart for your interest, but let me give you a few examples:
  • A 32-oz container of low-fat cottage cheese at Walmart was $2.08; at Safeway it was on sale for $3.79 (the regular price was $4.49)
  • 1.15 pounds of sweet potatoes at Walmart: .83; at Safeway, $1.69
  • 1 can tomato sauce at Walmart: .26; at Safeway, .69
  • Healthy Choice roasted turkey medallions (frozen): Walmart, $1.68; Safeway, $3.00
  • House Brand 42-oz box Old Fashioned oatmeal: Walmart, $1.94; Safeway, $3.99
And so on....

Of course, Walmart is notorious for the fact that many of its "associates" don't earn a living wage or have health insurance (check out Wake Up Walmart, which is waging a campaign to change Walmart; or walmart employees speak out, with numerous awful stories; or Wal-Mart Watch, which fights for the rights of Walmart employees).

On the other hand, the employees of Safeway, Lucky, Whole Foods, and other chains make a good living---even a very good living---and can provide for their families. They have health care, and a good preventive health plan (read this Wall Street Journal article by Safeway's CEO about its health plan). That's as it should be, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

But what I want to know is this: Why can't I buy reasonably-priced groceries in a store where employees earn a decent wage? Isn't there some sort of medium ground---where prices could be halfway between Walmart and Safeway, and employees are paid decently?

I don't know the answer. I'm not an economist. I read all the time that food in America is cheap, but it doesn't seem that way to me. What do you think?

Download a PDF of 9/09 Safeway vs. Walmart prices

© Suzanne Rodriguez 2009

Sep 18, 2009

Update to Making Yogurt at Home

Back in January I wrote about my first-time experiences making yogurt at home. I've been enjoying home-made yogurt ever since, whipping it up about once a week.

However, it's about time I updated my original recipe, since I've learned a couple of things that result in better, easier-to-make yogurt.

Easier Yogurt
  • The original recipe called for slowly heating the milk in a saucepan to a slight simmer. Not hard to do, but cleaning out that pan was a real chore and I began to simply hate all that hard-knuckled scouring. So eventually I tried heating the milk in the microwave---and it worked perfectly! I use a 4-cup Pyrex glass measurer, the kind made of heavy-duty glass. With the milk at the 4-cup line, it takes 10 minutes on High in my microwave to achieve a simmer. I then remove the milk from the microwave, stick in a liquid thermometer, and wait for the temperature to drop to somewhere between 110-115°. Later, after transferring the milk to a different container for transformation into yogurt (called setting), cleaning the glass measurer is a snap.
  • My plans call for purchasing a 1- or 1.5-quart lidded glass casserole in which I can (1) heat the milk, (2) set it into yogurt, and (3) store in the fridge. This will make everything even easier than it already is.
  • I determined that there was no need to pre-heat my gas oven to get it hot enough to work the yogurt-making magic. I've deleted that step altogether. Along with 2 other deleted steps, the original 9-step yogurt is now a 6-step yogurt.

Better Yogurt
  • Instead of the original 2 Tablespoons of yogurt to get the new batch started, I now use at least half a cup, usually more. What this does is produce a fabulously thick yogurt similar to Greek-style yogurt...except that I use lowfat milk (1%).

Revised Recipe

1 quart (4 cups) whole or lowfat milk
1/2 to 2/3 cup plain yogurt

  1. Pour milk into a microwave-suitable container. Heat on High until the milk begins to simmer. Time will vary with your particular microwave, but will probably be in the vicinity of 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from microwave . Place container on towel or hot pad, and let the milk cool until the thermometer reads between 110-115° F.
  3. Transfer milk to a container for setting and eventual refrigerator storage. Since I set my container in the oven, I use a casserole dish with a lid, transferring it from oven to fridge when it's set.
  4. Gently stir 1/2-to-2/3 cup yogurt into the milk, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Cover container and place in warm spot or in a gas oven (the pilot light provides all the heat necessary for yogurt to set). Setting takes anywhere from 6-14 hours.
  6. When yogurt has set, place in the fridge. Let it sit for a few hours before eating---it will get better and better over the next few days.

Items You May Need

Want to try making your own? Here are a few things you may need to get:

Sep 16, 2009

The Latest Food Trends

Pulled Pork Sandwich...Yum!

Here's a roundup of up-and-coming food trends across three categories, compiled by the Center for Culinary Development. Follow the links below to learn more.

Emerging Ingredients, Flavors & Dishes
  • Porking out gains traction…Pulled pork sandwiches, a classic Southern BBQ staple, have hit menus of all sorts in the Bay Area. Tipsy Pig serves a non-traditional pulled pork Sloppy Joe topped with aioli and cabbage slaw; Town Hall has a 12-hour smoked pork sandwich; take-out window Little Skillet offers a pulled pork po' boy with tomato and shredded lettuce. (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16)
  • Any way you slice it…Chefs view pizza as the perfect canvas for showcasing intriguing flavor combinations and seasonal ingredients. Some notable examples of creative pizzas include: Taleggio and 3-hour Roasted Grape at La Madio, Chicago; Potato Chip Pizza (with house-made chips tossed with chile flakes and Parm) at David Burke at Bloomingdale's, N.Y.C.; Guanciale, Soft Egg and Arugula at Serious Pig, Seattle. (Restaurants & Institutions (R&I), August)
  • Greens to envy…To liven up the leafy side of the menu, some chefs are turning to greens with edgier, bitter bites for salads and braises. Some braising choices include escarole, radicchio, kale and endive. A new favorite in San Francisco is Little Gem, a hybrid lettuce that is a cross between Bibb and romaine. (R&I, August)
  • Green cuisine: London's sustainable restaurants set new culinary trend…A growing number of London restaurants are committing to sustainable practices which include sourcing sustainable fish and produce, buying fair trade goods and reducing energy consumption. Time Out magazine now bestows an award on the best sustainable restaurant. The 2008 winner was The Clerkenwell Kitchen. (Wall Street Journal, 8/7)
  • Carnivorous cocktails put meat in your glass…Led by Black Rock Spirits' Bakon Vodka, meat-flavored spirits are beginning to appear on cocktail menus around the country. Thrasher, a speakeasy in Alexandria, VA, serves a BLT cocktail featuring a huge lettuce-water ice cube, clear tomato water, bacon-infused vodka and a rim of bacon salt. A ham-and-cheese cocktail has appeared at Nacional 27 in Chicago. (Associated Press, 8/21)
  • Where to go next: New indie restaurantsFood & Wine finds that some of the country's most innovative food is coming from farmers' markets stands and food trucks. It profiles the Kogi Taco Truck in L.A., Mogriddler's in N.Y.C. and our favorite, Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago. We included Hoosier Mama in our Generational Comfort Food Culinary Trend Mapping Report, in our profile of The Return of Pie. (Food & Wine, August)
  • Bacon: A new wave of cured-pork mania…Today bacon is in everything from desserts to liquor. New additions to the craze include Maple Bacon Crunch ice cream made by The Surreal Gourmet for an Austin, TX. competition; Chocolate Oatmeal Cupcakes with Maple Bacon frosting were introduced at Yummy Stuff, a bakery in Toronto; and bacon-flavored gumballs. (The Globe & Mail, 8/27)
New Product Launches
  • Pepperidge Farm serves veggie-infused goldfish…The new Goldfish Garden Cheddar crackers contain a third of a serving of vegetables and are part of a ìstealth healthî trend growing for years in cookies, crackers, chips and fruit snacks. Research conducted by Pepperidge Farms shows that 73% of parents say their child has gone an entire day without eating a single vegetable. (Brandweek, 8/28)

  • Gelatin grows up…Three new antioxidant-rich flavors join the Jell-O brand sugar-free line: Açaí, Raspberry Goji and Wolfberry. Adding superfruit flavors makes the dessert more appealing to parents as well as adults concerned with weight management and healthful eating. (Prepared Foods, August)
  • Benefiting beverages…Brain function, mood drinks, gut health and cardiovascular benefits are just a sampling of the functional claims appearing on new beverages. Hybrid drinks, such as Cherry 7Up with Antioxidants, are another way functional benefits are being introduced to new beverage segments. However, some ingredients, like those associated with mood, have less research than behind them than others, like probiotics. (Prepared Foods, August)
  • Unwrap a little Godiva every day with the introduction of Godiva Chocolatier Gems…The new, individually wrapped chocolates are intended to make the brand more affordable and accessible. The Gems will be available in new locations such as Safeway, Publix and Wegmans. Three varieties include Solid Gems, Caramel Gems and Truffle Gems, available in milk or dark chocolate. (PR Newswire, 8/27)
Food & Beverage Industry News
  • The real cost of food…The conversation about sustainable food, humane meat production and the high environmental and human cost of cheap food hits the pages of Time. There are more choices than ever for alternative-to-conventionally grown food, but are consumers willing to pay for them and consider the hidden costs behind some low prices? (Time, 8/21)

  • Personalized foods…Thanks to advancements in nutritional systems biology, product formulators are seeking ingredients that provide select segments of the population with specific health benefits, so called lifestage foods. From supplement drinks for pregnant women to omega-3 DHA-fortified kids' food to vitamin-E-rich foods for men, lifestage foods hold promise. (Food Product Design, August)
  • Beyond packaging: Wal-Mart turns to sustainability…The mass retailer, in cooperation with a group of suppliers, universities and other industry leaders, announced plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index to rank suppliers. The score will be on product labels, informing the consumer as well. (Food Processing, August)
  • Kids are well aware which foods are healthy, finds Technomic…A new study finds that nearly nine out of ten kids surveyed say that fresh vegetables and whole fruits are healthful. Other healthful foods identified by kids are salad, steamed veggies and eggs. The findings are part of a new Kids & Moms Consumer Trend Report designed to help restaurant operators and suppliers understand dining behavior. (, 8/5)
  • How consumers approach functional foods…Whole grains, fiber and protein are top of the list for consumers looking to improve their diets by eating more of a specific type of food, according to a new American survey by the International Food Information Council. (Food Navigator-USA, 8/13)
  • Battling inflammation through food…There is growing evidence that foods like vegetables and fish can ease an overactive immune system, according to a host of new diet books such as The Anti-Inflammation Zone by Barry Sears. These books come at a time when chronic inflammation is an emerging field in medicine. (Los Angele Times, 8/17)

Sep 12, 2009

Germany's Beer Purity Law

Imagine this: in 2010, Munich will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of its world-famous Oktoberfest!

That brings up the topic of beer---and particularly German beer.

In Germany, going green when it comes to beer and wine production isn't a trend---it's a century-old tradition and a central part of quality. The German Purity Law for beer, signed by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516, is the oldest food regulation in the world. It remains the law for every beer brewed in Germany today (see a translation of the law below).

Known as Reinheitsgebot, the law decreed that only pure and essential ingredients be used when making beer. Only three ingredients allowed were allowed: barley, hops and water. Today, of course, yeast is also recognized as a vital ingredient. Yeast was a brewing element whose effect was not understood at the time the law was written.

As a result of the Reinheitsgebot, German beer became renowned for its quality and consistency, a reputation it holds to this day. More than 900 breweries operate in Germany and they all adhere to the purity law.

German Beer Purity Law, 1516

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer: From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig]. If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered. Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass. Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail. Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned." Signed: Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on April 23, 1516 in Ingolstadt.

Learn more about the German purity law for beer.

The Culinary Gadabout recommends:

Free Laphroaig Webcast/Seminar

Here's a great opportunity for single-malt fans: Distillery LIVE, a free, online whisky tasting and seminar on Friday, September 25 to celebrate the relationship between Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch and Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky (specifically, the maturation process of Laphroaig in former Maker's Mark barrels). The event will be broadcast from Maker's Mark Distillery in Kentucky and hosted by Laphroaig Distillery Manager John Campbell and Maker's Mark Master Distiller Kevin Smith.
"We're bringing a taste of the Islay, Scotland to Kentucky," said Campbell, "by contrasting the rich, smoky flavors of Laphroaig with the sweet yet complex flavors of Makers Mark Bourbon Whisky."
At 8:00 p.m. ET on September 25, Campbell, Smith, and John Hansell (publisher/editor of Malt Advocate) will conduct a 45-minute tasting from inside the Maker's Mark Distillery. The online tasting and educational seminar will include traditional Laphroaig expressions such as Laphroaig 10 Year Old; the newly released Laphroaig 18 Year Old; and Maker's Mark Bourbon. Distillery LIVE offers U.S. whisky enthusiasts the opportunity to preview the bold, distinctive flavors of traditional American and Scotch whisky, while interacting LIVE online with the whisky authorities at Laphroaig and Maker's Mark.
"Whether a Scotch aficionado or a bourbon connoisseur, online tasting participants will be taken on a comprehensive tasting journey while interacting LIVE with spirits enthusiasts around the globe," said Smith.
About the expressions:
  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old: Richly smoky and salty -- fully peated with a hint of sweetness
  • Laphroaig 18 Year: An instant warming tang of smoke that fades into smooth floral scents and blends seamlessly into an oaky nuttiness and leaves a lasting sweetness
Participants of legal purchase age can download tasting notes and guides and submit their questions in advance at
You may be interested in my earlier post, Single Malt Whisky Tasting Map

To learn more about the webcast, visit