Thursday, June 26, 2008

red wine, pasta and pictures

My son, the Bean, has taken a keen interest in taking pictures with our camera (a Sony Cybershot 10.1 MP). Some of his photos are very good (as good as an adult might take). Most are blurry, since he tends to move to the next shot as soon as his finger is off the button. All of them are fascinating because they really give a good idea of how a three year old views our world.

Along with taking photos of his family members, the Bean's photos have three main themes: "Looking Up", "The Toy Series" and "Textures and Patterns". He even knows to put the strap on his wrist before he takes pictures, and when he reviews them. ( I love our camera, and really don't want to have to replace it for a while!). It's further proof to me that he watches what I do - and what parent doesn't like it when their child wants to be just like them?

Tonight was our turn to cook for the weekly dinner with BIL and GIL. While the Bean snapped photo after photo, I cooked up a dish I had been dreaming about. Two kinds of pasta, a package of squid, some leftover onions, parsley, garlic, red wine and tomato sauce and voilà! To help me along, I used a combination of a recipe from Bon Appétit for squid in red wine and tomato sauce, and one from a Greek cookbook my dad used to own.

At dinner it was BIL's turn to spill the wine. "Too much time spent with this one," was his explanation, pointing to GIL.

We all agreed the Bean had talent, and should get his own camera.

Squid in Red Wine and Tomato Sauce, Nikos Style
serves 4
(recipe sources: and Greek with Gusto!)


1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound cleaned squid, tentacles left whole, bodies cut crosswise into 1/2-inch rings *
1 28 oz can of tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp dried and crushed oregano or 2 tablespoons fresh
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
equal portions of whole wheat and spinach fettuccini

* I used a package of pre-cut frozen squid pieces, It worked fine.


Put a pot of water on to boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 7 minutes. Add squid and sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, garlic, wine, parsley, oregano, tomato paste, and crushed red pepper. Simmer until squid is tender and sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the sauce from heat. Serve the pasta in bowls and spoon the sauce overtop. Serve immediately.

This recipe has been submitted to Presto Pasta Nights, started (and hosted this week) by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. You, too, can take your turn hosting Presto Pasta Nights. Check out the Presto Pasta Nights website for more details, and other great pasta trivia.

199 more words on milk..

I found this article from the Toronto Star that highlights some differences between organic milk and conventional milk. It substantiates a lot of what I wrote, misses some information and adds some new information.

It is interesting to note that pesticides are not covered in this article either.

I've copied their summary chart verbatim, below. But do check out the original article.

  • no growth hormones (rbST)
  • other hormones for lactation timing and/or breeding purposes may be used
  • medicated feed (feed with low-level antibiotics) not allowed
  • antibiotics to treat sick animals allowed
  • feed additives such as Rumensin, to increase growth, may be present
  • animal by-products from poultry/pig may be used **
  • no mandatory outdoor access (but most have access)
  • cows may be tied in a "tie stall"or freer to move in "free stall"


  • no hormones of any sort
  • no medicated feed
  • no antibiotics unless animal's life in danger; taken out of system for at least two weeks
  • no feed additives
  • no animal by-products in feed
  • mandatory outdoor access (weather permitting)
  • cows may be penned in a tie stall or free stall

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

two thousand words on milk

A while ago I wrote about a big debate that was raging in our house about whether or not we should be buying organic milk.

Like a lot of my neighbors and friends, I had the perception that organic milk was better than “regular” milk because it didn’t include hormones, antibiotics or pesticides (three items on my list of things I would rather my kids didn’t ingest). And as I wrote previously, we drink A LOT of milk in this house. Four litres every two or three days to be exact.

Here in Ontario (and presumably in a lot of other places) organic milk is twice the price of regular milk. While I value my children's health and well-being and would pay if there were serious issues, I needed to learn more about the benefits of organic milk.

I relied on the web to do a little research. There are a lot of sites that have opinions on organic milk. I tried to keep to credible sources. I also tried to narrow my search as much as possible to Canadian and Ontario milk.

The answers I found were surprising, and also raised more questions.

Interested? Read on.

The Business of Milk

According to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, "milk is the most heavily safety-tested food in the Canadian food supply system. Ontario dairy farms are inspected regularly under Dairy Farmers of Ontario Raw Milk Quality Program to ensure that Ontario milk meets provincial standards. Inspectors ensure that all surfaces and equipment are clean and that milk is cooled efficiently. Inspectors also look for Grade A management practices such as good cow housing, sufficient pasture area and exclusion of milk from cows that are being treated for illness with drugs or antibiotics. "

Agriculture Canada says that "dairy production generates $4.84 billion in total farm cash receipts and $11.5 billion in manufacturing sales. The dairy industry ranks fourth in the Canadian agricultural sector following grains, red meats and horticulture...[and is] also renowned for the superior quality of its cattle herd. Canada exports genetic material to 84 different countries."

Milk is seriously big business.


The Canada Food Inspection Agency says this:

Milk shall not be sold that …[among other things] is contaminated by chemical, veterinary drug residue, inhibitory substance residue or any other foreign substance.

Natrel, a large milk producer (so take this for what it's worth), has interpreted the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Dairy Products Regulations Canada (Canada Agriculture Products Act) source information to come up with this:

Whether organic or non-organic, milk from a cow given antibiotics is discarded for a minimum of 2 days after the cow has finished its treatment. The amount of time a cow is taken out of the system, and the amount of antibiotic it is given is determined by a veterinarian, whether at an organic or non organic farm.

I'm going to assume that everyone follows these regulations. Which means that there are no antibiotic residues in our milk - either organic or regular.

Score one for regular milk.

rBGH free!

This section is for all my friends who don't want to give their kids regular milk because of fear of hormones.

The hormone that freaks everyone out has a name: recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (or rBGH for short). It’s also known as rbST. It's a big debate in the US because it's permitted there, and a lot of milk sold in the US has traces of rBGH. In Canada, however, this hormone was banned by the Canadian government in 1999.

The original press release appears to no longer be available, but I found references to the decision in a variety of places - two of which are Scientific American and here.

And again, Natrel is pretty emphatic in their FAQ:

The growth and lactation hormones (RBST, BST, RGBH or any other growth or lactation hormone) are illegal in Canada. ….No cow in Canada is allowed to be given these growth or lactation hormones and so no milk [organic or regular] in Canada contains any of these hormones*. The Canadian Dairy Farmers are one of the main lobbyists against allowing the use of growth or lactation hormones in Canada.

*emphasis is mine

I did discover, however, there are six hormones that are allowed in beef in Canada. Three are natural (progesterone, testosterone and estradiol-17ß; ) and three are synthetic (trenbolone acetate (TBA), zeranol and melengestrol acetate (MGA). Supposedly the synthetic ones are more stable analogs of the three natural ones, according to a report by the Center for Global Food Issues, which provides an interesting US perspective on the allowable hormones.

I’m choosing to believe that the actual danger of these hormones is minimal (especially the natural ones), thanks to an article written for Nursing BC around the time that rBGH was banned in Canada.

Score two for regular milk.

What about pesticides?

I will admit that the data for this section has so far been tough to find, and most of the conclusions are drawn from verbal sources. By using the terms [pesticide residue in milk Canada] I got a lot of links to pesticides in breast milk, plus a link to the Total Diet Studies carried out by Health Canada. They list the amount of pesticides detected in a number of foods for various regions, but did not list pesticides in milk specifically.

I have been told that cows who produce organic milk are either grass-fed or fed pesticide-free grain, whereas cows that produce non-organic milk may not be. I say "may not" because I know from speaking with my cousin in Alberta (who grows feed barley) that they do not use pesticides. I need to learn more about pesticide use in Ontario. Could it be, as she says, that "[p]esticides control nasty bugs, which thanks to our winters, Canada doesn't have much of...". That would be ideal.

I found this information about pesticides in grass and soil:

According to the Organic Center : about 95 percent of the residues found [in a 2004 test of milk] were DDE, a breakdown product of the well-known chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide DDT, which was banned from agricultural use in the early 1970s. If the Organic Center report is to believed, both conventional and organic farmers can do little to avoid the DDE residues in milk since it is crops AND grasses and can be found in the fat of virtually all people and dairy cattle around the world..Moreover, according to their study, the bigger pesticide health risk is in vegetables and fruits, as the levels of pesticide residue were higher in those items than in milk.

On a Canadian site I found this quote:

If the same levels of DDT found in human breast milk were found in cow's milk today, the product would be banned. -- Plan B Organic Farms, Hamilton “What’s the Deal with Pesticides?”)

I’m still waiting for an e-mail response to a question about the original source.

Until I can get better data, I think my conclusion here is this: it seems like whether you buy organic or non-organic milk, there are pesticides. I guess the question is “in what quantity?

In the End

My search (as sleep deprived and limited by the web as it might be) has helped me decide that the key differences I thought existed between organic and regular milk just are not there.

I won't argue that organic milk has nutritional benefits. However, my kids have a pretty balanced diet filled with fruits vegetables and other meats, so the additional health benefits of organic milk are less appealing to me.

For now, unless someone can convince me otherwise, my decision is to stick to regular milk (in recyclable containers) as often as possible, and save the money I would spend on organic milk for other things.

If anyone has any other constructive thoughts, I'd love to hear them....

FINAL DISCLAIMER: I do not profess to be a milk expert, or an organics expert, or a nutrition expert. I was just interested in seeing what information I could find about the differences between organic milk and regular, or conventional milk. Other people have found and may find additional information. I just had to stop researching and start writing at some point)

Monday, June 16, 2008

weekend hollyhock pestos

I love our neighbourhood for a number of reasons. One, it's within walking distance of downtown, and a growing farmer's market. Two, it's close to bike paths that run for kilometers along a canal and a river, and in late April/early May, these pathways are abloom with all colors of tulips. Three, we have one of the best playgrounds in the city within four blocks of our house (and that's not just my opinion). It too is surrounded by lots of green space. And finally, living here, I feel a real sense of community. I know more of my neighbours in this area than I ever did living for 17 years in the house I grew up in. Maybe having two little kids and a very social cat helps people get to know us - but still, there is something special about being able to walk down the street on a regular basis and stop and talk to one, two or more of your neighbours as you walk by. And I love the diversity of the people who live in the community too.

This weekend, our neighbour down the street (I'll call her the Flower Lady) hosted a block party and asked everyone to bring a little something. The Flower Lady is one of the special people in our lives who can completely engage the Bean in long discussions (long for a three year old)-usually about bugs and flowers. Her smiles are genuine and her laugh is infectious. The Bean likes her a lot and so do we.

Just that week, I'd had a wonderful sundried tomato pesto made with sunflower seeds at my sister's house. She served it as a spread with a baguette, some cream cheese and baby spinach. It was decadent, earthy rich and meaty, and easy, so I knew I had to make it again for the party. I also chose a pesto made with cilantro, lime and sesame seeds to use up the last of our fresh cilantro. Both of these pestos come from Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil, a book I can't say enough about since the recipes use fresh, easy to find ingredients, are easy to make and--most importantly--very very good.

Because it was light and refreshing, the cilantro pesto disappeared especially quickly. I'm sharing both recipes here so I can spread the gospel of Hollyhock goodness.

PS Although I served these as spreads with crackers, they are also suitable to mix in with pasta (soba noodles and sesame cilantro pesto anyone?). Since I didn't get a chance to make a pasta dish this week for dinner, I am going to cheat a little and make this my submission to Presto Pasta Nights. Hopefully Ruth, the gracious host and founder of PPN, won't mind.

Sundried Tomato Pesto with Sunflower Seeds
makes 4 cups

Note: the original recipe calls for walnuts in place of the seeds, but I was told by my sister that using sunflower seeds makes it nut-free. You can also use sundried tomatoes that are not oil-packed, but they need to be soaked for 20 minutes in water before using them.

1 240 mL jar (about 4 oz) of oil-packed sundried tomatoes
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp crushed garlic (I used 2 medium sized cloves)
1 tsp black pepper
a dash of hot pepper sauce
3/4 cup water (if you soak your sun dried tomatoes, use that water)
1 1/2 cups of toasted sunflower seeds

Put all of the ingredients except for the seeds in a food processor or blender and process until it becomes a thick paste. Add the seeds and process until you get the texture you like. Thin the pesto with additional water if needed.

Cilantro Pesto with Sesame and Lime
makes 2 cups

(I omitted the 1/2 a seeded and minced jalapeno. The cookbook also includes a couple of variations, but I prefer the sesame seeds.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup, packed fresh cilantro
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic (I used 3 good sized cloves)
3/4 cup toasted and ground sesame seeds

juice of two limes
salt to taste

In a food processor, pulse the olive oil, cilantro, ginger, garlic until blended. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sesame seeds, lime juice and salt. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

georgian bean salad, twice removed

Thanks to hot and muggy days this week and a broken oven, salads have turned into a theme for dinners in our house.

So far I have made three salads that I have been really happy with. The one I'm going to cover in this entry is my adaptation of a simple pasta salad with kidney beans and cilantro that I found over on Food Nerd.

The other two salads were a green bean salad with smoked salmon tips from the Hollyhock cookbook and a lovely Asian inspired coleslaw. The green bean salad with smoked salmon was the favorite of the three, and really deserves more than just a mere mention. Stay tuned.

But back to the pasta salad with beans. It was the use of cilantro that caught my eye. I love fresh herbs but there is just something special about those tiny green leaves that add a fresh tang to just about anything you add them to. I also hate to see good cilantro go to waste, so when I buy a bunch, I go through as many recipes as I can to use it all up.

And, like the Food Nerd, I also like to change things up, based on my tastes and ingredients on-hand. Which is exactly what I did with her salad recipe.

The original recipe for Georgian Bean Salad is from Smitten Kitchen. The Food Nerd version adds pasta, and omits the walnuts. My version:
  • omits the walnuts (I didn't check the original source before preparing the salad)
  • uses red pepper (had it on hand and saw a recommendation for it)
  • uses white navy beans (what I had on hand)
  • uses baby shells (again, what I had on hand)
  • uses lemon juice instead of vinegar (taste preference)

I also fried the onions in butter before adding them to the salad because my family finds the taste of raw onions too strong.

I'm submitting this recipe to Presto Pasta Nights - started by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast and guest hosted for the very first time this week by Kevin at Closet Cooking. If you like pasta at all, Presto Pasta Nights are a great place to get a tonne of inspiration.

I'm also going to use this opportunity to ask a question to all you pasta salad makers. I'm not a big fan of onions and vinegar in salads, yet when it comes to pasta salads, that seems to be a scommon combination. Maybe I haven't looked long enough, but it seems like every pasta salad recipe (and indeed a lot of other salad recipes I have) call for both. Aren't there any other possible choices for dressings? I'd love to hear from others about how you put the zing in your pasta salads - especially if it doesn't involve vinegar!

Red, White and Green Pasta Salad
adapted from Food Nerd's Summer Pasta Salad with Kidney Beans and Cilantro

serves 4-6


1 garlic clove, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro - I put in a whole lot more because I subscribe to the same view on herbs as Tom Collichio - you can never have too much when it's fresh!
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 15-ounce can white or navy beans, drained and rinsed

4 oz baby pasta shells, cooked al dente

Salt and pepper to taste

My preparation
Put a pot of salted water on to boil. While the water is boiling, mince the garlic and cilantro, and place in a large bowl. Whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together with the garlic and cilantro. Dice the onion and add it to the bowl as well.

Once the water has come to a rapid boil, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and add to the bowl with the other ingredients. This is where I added the beans and the red pepper.

Allow the salad to cool to room temperature, toss and serve. Garnish with a few more cilantro leaves if desired.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

cafeteria food gone upscale

...thin crust mulitgrain pizza with vegetable masala toppings baked in a wood-burning oven
...butternut squash agnolotti in fresh sage butter, red onion and chili flakes
...pâté, brie and tapenades

Definitely not the food of my university days! The Globe and Mail Life section featured a story recently about how campus cafeteria food has gone upscale, leaving me wishing I was back in residence!

This is interesting to me, because not only does it speak to how aware we have become about food (and how this is filtering down generational lines) but it also makes me wonder about what impact this will have on dining expectations and the cooking skills of the students who dine in these cafeterias...

And just how good is the food anyway?

original image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

cool down with this

Yes, it's freaking hot here. But now I have 16 pints of Cool Hemp - certified organic, locally grown, non-dairy frozen dessert full of natural Omega-3s and Omega-6s. My favorite is the Cool Chocolate and my husband prefers the Cool Maple. I'm also not afraid to give it to the kids.

Have you tried it? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

c is for cubanelle

Dear cubanelle,

I'm sorry I misjudged you. I didn't include you in a recipe because I thought you were going to be spicy like a jalapeño.

The first way you tripped me up was your appearance. You are light green, long and skinny (and oddly shaped like a crocodile head, in this photo). Usually when I eat a long, skinny, green pepper, my mouth heats up like a fiery stove and I have to drink copious glasses of milk just to ease the pain.

The other thing that tripped me up was your name. Cubanelle. Don't you think it sounds a little hot and spicy? Not even a little? The first time I saw your name, I thought of Latin American salsas, humid days and nights, and...jalapeños. And since the Bean has an especially sensitive palate for "spicy" food, I don't think you can truly blame me for being reticent.

I admit, I could have taken a minute or two to look you up on the Internet. Especially since I am online at least once a day. But I have two small children, and only so many items on my mental to-do list can fit in my brain at any given time. When I did actually take the time to look you up, I discovered that you are part of the sweet pepper family. The descriptions also say that you can range in colour from red to yellow. When I actually did my own taste test, you were sweet like a regular pepper, but not as fleshy on the inside. Like you've been dieting. But other than that, I felt there was not much of a difference between you and a regular green pepper. So I have to look elsewhere to figure out what would have made that meal taste better (Should I blame the onions??)

So there you have it. I was wrong, and I apologize. My horizons have been expanded. I now know the truth about cubanelles.

real simple pasta with spinach, raisins and ricotta

Oops, I forgot the basil and parmesan!

I'm off epicurious this week and back to my old standby, the big purple binder full of recipes clipped from various sources. Someday I would like to dedicate a post to this big purple binder that has been my constant companion for the last 12 years, at least - ever since I moved out on my own.

But first I have to get through this post, which will be my submission to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast. I've been delinquent in submitting something for the past two weeks, and I hope Ruth can forgive me ;-).

The recipe that follows was clipped from an October 2004 issue of Real Simple. I like it because:
1. It's easy to make - the only thing that requires cooking is the pasta.

2. It has lots of green vegetables in it (especially if you add peas, like I did)
3. It contains golden raisins and pasta - two things that are surefire kid-pleasers in our house.
Another nice thing is that it's intended to be served at room temperature. This may not seem like a big deal, but it's nice not to have to worry about things being too hot to serve to kids, or dishes that get too cold because no-one can get to the table on time (or does that only happen in my house?).
I would love to regale you with a heartwarming tale of this dinner as it was served at our house, but I only have a few more minutes until my little Boo wakes up from his afternoon nap. So instead I will leave you with the recipe and a promise to write more soon.
Fusilli with Spinach, Ricotta, and Golden Raisins
from Real Simple, October 2004
12 ounces fusilli (4 cups) or rotini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
10 ounce package baby spinach*
*the printed version says you can use frozen, but I recommend fresh
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup whole or part-skim ricotta
Kosher salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and spinach and toss to wilt. Stir in the scallions, raisins, ricotta, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the basil. Divide among individual bowls and top with the Parmesan and pine nuts, if using.
**I also added 1 cup frozen peas.