Saturday, November 21, 2009

Processed vs. Unprocessed

Between out of town guests and desperately trying to finish my thesis, I have been way too busy for words. In theory, by this time next week, I will have already submitted the final version of the thesis that has taken me all of 2009 to write. Yikes!

In the meantime, Ben and I have been mulling the concept of processed vs. unprocessed foods. How does one define them? How does the technical definition of unprocessed foods differ from the practical parameters that we will need to establish for our year of "unprocessed" eating. For example, refined flours are processed foods in anyone's book. However, $1400 a month might buy a lot of things (like your very own cockroach collection)in San Francisco, but it does not allow for a mill in the kitchen. So, we will continue to eat flour, but we will choose the least refined versions -- darker flours with more parts of the whole grain attached. I've listed some initial thoughts on the definition of processed foods:
*Prepared foods (anything already made like cookies, bread, pasta, chips, etc)
*Purchased condiments (ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, etc)
*Cheese? (where does that go? are artisanal cheeses ok? kraft and cream cheese are definitely out)
*Items with more than one ingredient
*Something that came from a factory
*Anything with preservatives or words that one struggles to pronounce (the dreaded HFCS - high fructose corn syrup is a sure no-no)
*Refined sugar (are honey or maple syrup all right because they are less processed?)

I would like your opinion! How do you define process foods? What kinds of things should we avoid? What types of seemingly processed foods can you make an exception for (think wine)?

After I sort through all the ideas, Ben and I will post the official parameters for 2010. Thanks for your help!

(The only processed foods in the burrito above are the tortilla and sour cream.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pickled Beets

Check out my recipe for pickled beets from today's Boston Globe!

Makes 2 quarts

Pickled beets are often too sweet (think Harvard beets, which are cloying) or too sour (19th-century New England cooking school teacher Fannie Farmer preserved hers with nothing more than distilled vinegar). The key to pickling beets is the right balance. Boil the brine in a stainless steel or ceramic-lined pot; avoid aluminum as it will cause off flavors. For long-term pantry storage, boiling water processing is necessary; visit the National Center for Home Food Processing at for more details. However, you can still make the beets without the rigmarole of the canning process; store them in the refrigerator; these beets will last up to 1 month on a fridge shelf. And while you may be tempted, wait at least a week for the flavors to marry. Then spoon them beside slices of cold roast turkey.

2 bunches beets, trimmed at both ends
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup bottled water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken in half
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice berries
2 thin slices fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

1. Have on hand two 1-quart canning jars or smaller jars that equal that amount. Rinse them with boiling water.

2. In a large pot, combine beets with cold water to cover them. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Let them bubble gently for 1 hour or until tender. Replenish water as needed.

3. Drain the beets into a colander. Rinse under cold running water until cool enough to handle.

4. Working over a plate, remove and discard the skins from the beets. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch dice. Place beets in jars, leaving enough room for brine. Set the jars on a wooden board.

5. In a nonreactive pot, combine cider vinegar, water, brown and granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice berries, ginger, and black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugars. Remove from heat and ladle over beets while the liquid is still hot. Screw on the lids.

6. Cool jars to room temperature and store in refrigerator.