Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding the Food Crisis: How it Started, Who it Hurts Most, and How to Solve the Problem

If you’ve picked up a paper the last few weeks, odds are you’ve seen a frenzy of stories about rising food prices. And if even if you haven’t, you’ve definitely felt the hit in your wallet. American grocery costs have risen around 5% over the last year, while salaries have only gone up 3.5%. That means we’re paying more for loaves of bread and our paychecks aren’t making up the difference. And in certain nations? The food situation is so bad, they WISH they had our problems.

While some journalists are taking the age-old EVERYBODY PANIC! approach, most are calmly disseminating inflation information as best they can. Unfortunately, it’s complicated stuff - difficult to explain and even harder to cover thoroughly. While I’ve perused dozens of great articles on one certain aspect of the crisis (global impact, farmer prosperity, etc.), I haven’t seen one that gives an overview of the situation: why prices are rocketing, how it affects the entire globe, and where we’re going to come up with solutions.

So, here’s a shot. Hopefully, it’ll help clarify a few things. And readers, if I’ve gotten something wrong (which is pretty normal around here), please set me right.

WHAT IT IS (in a sentence)

For a variety of interconnected reasons, food prices are rising globally, causing economic strife in the U.S. and dangerous shortages in dozens of poorer countries.


1) Population growth. According to The New York Times, “the world’s developing countries have been growing about 7 percent a year, an unusually rapid rate by historical standards.” Simply, this increases demand for food in countries that can’t necessarily keep up.

2) Global adoption of the Western diet, especially in India and China. Newly-affluent nations are seeing high numbers of people move into the middle class. This is ostensibly a good thing, since more have access to health care and housing. However, many are also switching to the Western diet, choosing meat, dairy, and convenience foods over traditional chow like vegetables and grains. This puts a strain on current production methods, driving prices up.

3) Bad weather. This one’s pretty simple. Australia, Canada, and Ukraine, all huge exporters of rice and grains, got meteorologically screwed last year. It put stress on other sources to make up the difference. Forecasts are looking up, though, so that’s good news.

4) Gas prices. Oil is ludicrously expensive the world over, making it hard to grow, fertilize, harvest, package, and transport food – especially to places that can’t afford it.

5) Diversion of crops to make biofuel/ethanol. Since fuel prices are insane, the U.S. is trying to come up with cheaper alternatives, focusing mainly on corn-based ethanol. In fact, Newsweek's Daniel Gross states that, “Last year, one fifth of the U.S. corn crop was diverted to ethanol refineries.” This means three things: A) corn prices rise because it’s now a more valuable commodity, B) the costs of OTHER crops increase since they’re scarcer than before, and C) meat goes up as well, since corn is the main source of animal feed.

6) Investors. These guys are betting on high food prices over the next few years, driving costs up even more. This hurts every single person but the investor, “upsetting business plans, sparking inflation, causing political instability and inflicting widespread economic pain.” (If you hear of someone doing this, smack him. I give you permission.)


First off, unless something apocalyptic happens, U.S. citizens will not starve. Many won’t even notice there’s an issue. Let’s get that out of the way, so we can stop adding to the hysteria by hoarding 50-pound bags of rice from Costco. In the meantime, here are the real effects:

1) Rising costs passed on to the consumer. This one’s the doozy. All of the aforementioned reasons (but mostly the last four) have contributed to skyrocketing prices on common edibles. According to various sources, milk is up about 15%, white carbs (pasta and bread) about 13%, and eggs a staggering 25% over 12 months ago. The New York Times claims, “With a few exceptions, nearly every grocery category measured by the Labor Department … has increased in the last year.” If this really is a full-on recession (which, yep), it probably won’t get better anytime soon, if at all.

2) Inadequate nutrition for the poor. “The Congressional Budget Office projects that a record 28 million Americans will require food stamps this year,” says Newsweek. This is not so good, as it means people in a lower economic bracket are increasingly unable to afford fundamental, healthy meals. Food banks are taking a hit, too, and one Iowa director “estimates that her group's food bills have increased 30 to 40 percent in the past year.”

3) Smaller portions and packaging. Next time you visit a supermarket, you might notice the 1.5-liter containers of soda and orange juice going for the same price the 2-liter guys used to. It’s the same with Skippy Peanut Butter (old: 18oz, new: 16.2 oz), Ramen (old: 4 oz, new: 3.5 oz), and a slew of other products, as companies are looking to save a buck wherever they can.

4) Restaurant cutbacks. Eatery owners – especially family-owned independent ones - are being hit HARD by inflation. Wholesalers raised prices over 7% last year, transportation costs are mounting, and customers are cooking at home more, reducing earnings. According to The Wall Street Journal's Juliet Chung, “Ruth's Chris Steak House saw fourth-quarter profit in 2007 fall 62% compared with the same period a year earlier. Similarly, fourth-quarter profit was down 48% at Domino's Pizza and 35% at the Cheesecake Factory.” Restaurants are compensating by serving smaller portions, using cheaper cuts of meat, and offering more pasta dishes, but the benefits may be marginal.

5) Ethanol controversy. Expect this to be a hot-button issue over the next presidency, as we search for alternatives to oil. The problem is, a lot of people are making bucks off ethanol, including farmers who’ve never seen that kind of money before. Which brings us to …

6) Happy farmers. One of the positive side effects of this whole conundrum is that American farmers are finally seeing profits. David Streitfeld of the New York Times says, “The Agriculture Department forecasts that farm income this year will be 50 percent greater than the average of the last 10 years.” Of course, fuel, fertilizer, and labor (among other things) are becoming more expensive, too, and there’s that whole volatility/who-knows-what-will-happen-next-year issue. But for now, Mr. Green Jeans in Nebraska is probably doing okay.

(Hint: it’s not the U.S.)

If prices have skyrocketed for Americans, they’ve been blown out of the stratosphere for a number of nations around the globe. This sampling of statistics from the Economist is just to give you an idea:

"Last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16%. These were some of the sharpest rises in food prices ever. But this year the speed of change has accelerated. Since January, rice prices have soared 141%; the price of one variety of wheat shot up 25% in a day."

The U.N. has called it "a silent tsunami which knows no borders sweeping the world,” and it’s no wonder why. 121 countries are experiencing crisis-level food shortages, and there are estimates that 100 million people “on every continent” will go hungry. Egypt, Mexico, India, Cameroon, Indonesia, and Haiti have already seen protests and riots, and if food production and distribution continues as-is, the situation will only deteriorate.

The saddest part is, according to one economist, “In 2003, we were talking about ending world hunger—and it looked like a sensible target.” It’s something to think of next time I complain that egg prices went up again.


1) The United Nations task force. The U.N. has developed a two-pronged plan to address the immediate needs of the hungry and provide tools needed for self-sustainable farming. This will come at a cost of $1.7 billion, $475 million of which has already been secured.

2) Small-scale agriculture. Globally, farmers have suddenly become V.I.P.s, as millions increasingly depend on their crops and labor opportunities to survive. Due to this trend, many are citing smaller, more localized growing as a possible fix to the food shortage. Malawi in particular has been heralded as an example, as their harvest increased 100% in a single year after officials “established a special fund to help its farmers get fertilizer and high-yield seeds.”

3) Moving away from ethanol. Again, a controversial subject, but experts say it could help alleviate budget strain.

4) Time. Since growing food takes awhile, new agricultural strategies won’t produce results for a few years now. But positive weather forecasts, a slight shift back toward wheat farming, and plans put into affect now mean good things for the future.


1) Economize. Plan ahead. Recycle. DIY. Cut costs. Shop smart. Employ ideas you’ve only read about up ‘til now.

2) Stay informed. Watch the news. Read the paper. Research the issues.

3) Take action. Brush up on local politics. Attend a town hall meeting. Write your senator. Boycott. Protest the shameful profiteering of oil companies.

4) Donate and volunteer. The benefits of giving money are immediate and apparent. As for volunteering, it will not only cut labor costs for philanthropies, but you’ll get to experience up close what the food problem means for so many people. Charity Navigator and are great places to start.

5) Don’t panic. And stop hoarding food, dangit!

And that’s it. Readers, I’d love to hear opinions and (definitely) corrections. Where do you see this all going? What are you doing to alleviate the situation? Bring the noise.


Assessing the Global Food Crisis (BBC, 4/08)
Biting Into Your Budget (Newsweek, 4/08)
Costs Surge for Stocking the Pantry (New York Times, 3/08)
Cutback Cuisine (Wall Street Journal, 3/08)
How to be a Foodie Without Breaking the Bank (SFGate, 3/08)
How to End the Global Food Shortage (Time, 4/08)
The New Face of Hunger (Economist, 4/08)
Now it's the $6 Loaf of Bread (Newsweek, 5/08)
Price Volatility Adds to Worry on U.S. Farms (New York Times, 4/08)
Readers Write in With More Examples of Shrinking Products (Consumerist, 3/08)
U.N. Sets Up Food Crisis Task Force (Time, 4/08)
What's Going on With Rice and Flour? (Chicago Tribune, 4/08)
The World's Growing Food-Price Crisis (Time, 2/08)

(Photo courtesy of Flickr member (kerry) .)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday Megalinks

It's a saucy batch of links today, folks. Opinions abound on the impending recession/ever-increasing grocery prices, and bloggers aren't afraid to get all up in ... uh, somebody's ... face. Read on and don't forget to express yo'self! (Note: Not necessarily Madonna-style.) (Note: Though, if you have a cone bra, go for it.)
Chief Family Officer: No Surprise – Cooking at Home is Cheaper
Cathy summarizes an LA Times article that discovers full-blown gourmet meals can be prepared in one’s kitchen for a little over half the price. THAT'S whaI'mtalkin'bout!

The Digerati Life: Coupon Tips and Tricks That Can Cut Your Grocery Bill By 80%
TDL presents the best, most exhaustive outline of couponing strategies I’ve seen yet. Trick #8 is the key to LIFE. Read it. Absorb it. Make sweet love to it.

Gen X Finance: Maybe Higher Food Prices Are Really Good For Us as a Society
It’s the literary equivalent of castor oil, in which a recent CNN article is absolutely picked apart for its tremendous “duh” quotient. You’ll eat your recession and like it!

Jezebel: Dear America – Maybe Leave the Hoarding to Countries that Can’t Live Off Their Fat for a Few Months
The incredible femme-blog presents eight highly recommended sources for Food Crisis updates. I’ll have lots more on this in tomorrow’s article, so stay tuned, my pets. (P.S. Am I allowed to say “my pets”? I’m only 30, and am not one of Disney’s evil stepmothers, so I’m not sure.)

New York Times: Boy or Girl? The Answer May Depend on Mom’s Eating Habits
Wow! A link has been found between baby genders and skipping meals. Here’s a preview: “There was also a strong correlation between women eating breakfast cereals and producing sons.” This could mean strange things for cereal-naming professionals. Anyone up for a nice bowl of Cracklin’ Oat Man? How about Honey Boy-nches of Oats? (Gah. Sorry.)

New York Times: Recession Diet Just One Way to Tighten Belt
While the article takes a wholesale (no pun intended) approach to cutting back, it does offer a few illuminating restaurant and food stats. Much better than the CNN piece.

New York Times: Strategic Spending on Organic Foods
Turns out that peaches, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, celery, and lettuce get pretty good bang for the buck, while you don't really need to bother buying organic onions, mangoes, asparagus, broccoli and eggplant. Read the mile-long comment section for more.

Serious Eats: Buying Produce for One
As god is my witness, I shall never buy romaine for a family of 12 again! (Note: Because it’s just me and The Boyfriend, you see.) (Note: Anyway, lots of good suggestions here.)

Serious Eats: Cooking for the Pope – Lidia Bastianich Comes Full Circle
Sweet Lidia presents her papal menu for Benedict’s U.S. tour. I’ve had the good fortune to eat those pear/romano raviolis before, and they are heaven on a stick. (Note: they don’t actually come on a stick. It’s an expression.) (Note: That I made up just now.) (Note: Now I'm just babbling.)

Wall Street Journal: Load Up the Pantry
Stockpiling is usually a good idea, but Iiiiiiii dunno about this piece. It's a tad alarmist, and the first of what will surely be many, “OKAY, IT’S TIME FOR EVERYBODY TO FREAK OUT!” articles on rising food prices. There’s no shortage in the U.S., so I'm thinkin' everybody needs to chill out for a sec. (Thanks to Like Merchant Ships for the link.)

Photos courtesy of Flickr member ptharriet and BiologyBlog.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Roasted Chickpeas: Wrong Way, Right Way

Mornin’ everybody! Hope y’all had a lovely weekend, and that the weather was half as nice as it was here in Brooklyn: blooming trees, perfect skies, visible patch of grass – the whole nine. Even our neighborhood Incredibly Frightening Drunk Who Hangs Out 24-7 at the Last Remaining Pay Phone on Earth was suitably enchanted.

My weekend was fantastic, spoiled only briefly by a botched attempt at Roasted Chickpeas. I got ‘em right the second time around, but wanted to transcribe the wrong directions, just in case anyone ever attempts them. Here goes:

1) Comb Food Blog Search for acceptable Roasted Chickpea recipe.

2) Settle on Roasted Chickpeas at Anne’s Food. Revel in Scandinavian…ness, as she is fellow Swede.

3) Resolve to visit Sweden, see if everyone is really blonde/lithe.

4) Rinse and dry chickpeas. Place on cookie sheet. Place in preheated 425ºF oven.

5) As chickpeas roast, play Scrabulous with friend F. Watch in horror as F spells “EQUATES” and “SLUGGED” one after the other, scoring 86 and 79 points, respectively.

6) Retaliate with “NOOSE,” as F has just essentially hanged you.

7) Resolve to start socializing with dumber people.

8) Attempt to remove chickpeas from roasting vessel. Instead, spill entire pan in oven.

9) Gnash teeth. Traumatize backyard squirrel with volume of yelled obscenities.

10) One by one, painstakingly pick 150 chickpeas out of ancient, formerly scorching oven, taking care not to burn digits and/or face off by accidentally leaning on blazing surface.

11) Burn digit and/or face off by accidentally leaning on blazing surface.

12) Yell more obscenities. Resolve to enroll backyard squirrel in therapy.

13) Realize (with horror) oven has not been cleaned since the Paleozoic era.

14) Resolve to clean oven.

15) Realize you will never clean oven.

16) Resolve to get roommate to clean oven.

17) Realize roommate will never, ever clean oven, as roommate rarely cleans anything.

18) Ponder life.

19) Attempt recipe again, using correct directions (listed below).

20) Succeed!

21) Lose Scrabulous by record 4 billion points. Remain happy due to ultra-cheap, highly tasty chickpea recipe.

Roasted Chickpeas
4 servings
Adapted from Anne's Food.

1 14.5 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt (1/2 will be very salty. - Kris)
5 dashes cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin

1) Preheat oven to 425°F.

2) Place chickpeas on baking/cookie sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Shake the pan. (Do not spill on kitchen floor.) Roast another 10 minutes.

3) In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas, oil, salt, and spices. Stir well to combine.

4) Spread chickpeas back out on baking sheet. Roast between 5 and 15 more minutes, until they're browned and super crunchy. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
135 calories, 4.3 g fat, $0.15

1 14.5 oz can chickpeas: 500 calories, 4.8 g fat, $0.50
1 teaspoon olive oil: 39 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.03
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
5 dashes cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 539 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.58
PER SERVING: 135 calories, 4.3 g fat, $0.15

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Comments of the Week! (Now With Extra !)

A bunch this week on the diet foods post, including Dani’s sugar substitutes, Anne’s Tasti D-Light observations, and Kelly’s inventive SnackWells sandwiches. Plus, check out Slinkystar2002’s solid, extensive comment on Touchy Subjects: Confronting Loved Ones About Weight and Money Problems. It’s a bit long to cut-and-paste here, but her stories provide some good insight on the subject. (It’s the last one.) Finally, three cheers for Elaine, who dropped 50 pounds! Nice!

On Popovers and Out

Collier: I woke up starving this morning with nothing in the house but egg whites, flour, skim milk and pam. so i made this recipe substituting pam for shortening and using three egg whites in place of one egg and two whites. they are delicious, and cooked in 20 minutes under 450. the batter made 12 popovers at about 50 calories a serving.

On The Problem with Diet Foods

Dialectially_yours: To make things 'fast food easy' and to control portion sizes a bit more, I sit down and portion out snacks into the plastic snack bags. It's a good visual activity to SHOW someone how quickly those calories have stacked up.

Jaime: 90% of the time, I'm much happier eating a mango and a small piece of dark chocolate than 2 100-calorie packs of Oreo wafers. Of course, the other 10% I'm clutching a bag of BBQ Fritos like my life depends on it, so who am I to say.

Annie K. Nodes: One thing I've noticed lately...I rarely see anyone who's thin eating Tasty D-Lite.

Elaine: I know ALL about the SnackWell Syndrome. I think that's part of how I gained weight a number of years back. BTW, in the last year I've lost 50+ pounds, mostly by reducing portion sizes & taking up bike commuting.

Kelly: On Snackwell's syndrome: in high school, I used to take a Snackwell's brownie, slice it in half lengthwise, and fill it with peanut butter. This was my favorite side dish for a while. The more I pay attention to nutrition and to my eating habits, the more I'm convinced that eating as little processed food as possible - diet or regular - is the way to go. If I eat, say, a Lean Cuisine for lunch, I'm hungry again almost before I'm done eating. The same calories in homemade beans and rice fill me up all afternoon!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook: It's taken my taste buds a couple of years to adjust to a whole-foods, no-fake-sugar diet, but honestly, now that they have adjusted, a much smaller portion of the sweet stuff (the real sweet stuff), homemade or from a bakery, is far, far more satisfying than a larger portion of diet foods is. And I have the ability now (that I previously did not possess at ALL) to tell that some foods are actually too sweet to enjoy much of.

Daniel Koontz: What worked for us was this: instead of buying diet foods, we switched most of our weekly meals to vegetarian. Vegetarian cuisine is typically higher in fiber, more nutritious, less energy-dense and best of all, cheaper. We still eat meat, but only on occasion.

Dani: To cure sweet cravings, go cold turkey on sugar and use an unprocessed equivalent like muscovado or rapadura. They're not addictive and you'll find that in no time at all the sweet cravings have gone.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cantaloupe Soup: The Pop Quiz

Hey everybody! It’s multiple choice time! So gather your wits, sharpen your, uh, keyboard and let’s get going.

Cantaloupe is:
A) Surprisingly easy to chop, though the juice gets dang near everywhere.
B) Difficult to spell, with that whole “loupe” thing.
C) Something your roommate might confuse for a hatstand.
D) Meant for better things than fruit salad.

Orange juice is:
A) Pretty friggin’ expensive, man.
B) Orange.
C) Being suspiciously cut back to 51 ounce containers (rather than 64) by some companies.
D) A good base for any liquid with additional fruits.

Soup is:
A) Eaten with a spoon. Or a fork if you’re looking for a challenge.
B) Blind Melon’s second album.
C) Not something you throw at your sister.
D) An anytime kind of dish made from nearly any substance on Earth.

A beverage is:
A) Seriously, where are you going with this?
B) Because I’m not sure where it’s leading.
C) And it’s making me hungry.
D) A nourishing liquid taken from a glass.

Based on your previous answers, how would you evaluate a cantaloupe/orange juice-based liquid that makes a refreshing, fruity summer soup, but would also be delicious in a scotch glass with a jigger of vodka?
A) Ohhhhhh. I get it. Okay. I’m ready to answer now.
B) A soup, dummy. It’s spoonable, yes?
C) A drink. Who ever heard of fruit soup? You need a brain checkup.
D) Enh, it could really go either way, dawg.

And that concludes our quiz. You can find the answers at the bottom of this post, but before you go there and/or look at the recipe, a few notes on AllRecipe’s Cantaloupe Soup:

1) Make sure your cantaloupe is ripe. In the supermarket, you can tell when it’s ready to go by taking a whiff of the little circle at the top. If it smells, uh, cantaloupe-y, you’re in.

2) On the advice of AllRecipes reviewers, I cut a cup of orange juice out of the original recipe, which makes it more soup-like, but brings the servings down from a small six to a medium-sized four. If you’re making a drink instead of a soup, feel free to add the extra O.J. back in.

3) This is one of the easiest dishes ever. My sister and/or a slightly dumb monkey could do it. (Not to say my sister is a monkey, but rather that she’s not so good with the cooking. Love you, L!)


Cantaloupe Soup
4 servings
Adapted from All Recipes.

1 cantaloupe - peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1) In a blender or food processor, combine cantaloupe and 1/2 cup orange juice. Blend until completely smooth. Pour into a big bowl. Add lime juice, cinnamon, and other 1/2 cup of orange juice to bowl. Stir. Cover with plastic wrap and stick in fridge for at least 60 minutes. Like mint? Sprinkle some on top right before serving.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
78 calories, 0 g fat, $0.40

1 cantaloupe: 188 calories, 1 g fat, $0.98
1 cups orange juice: 120 calories, 0 g fat, $0.27
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.33
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 313 calories, 1 g fat, $1.59
PER SERVING: 78 calories, 0 g fat, $0.40

ANSWERS: All of them. Everything was correct! You get an A++++! Now go buy that Red Rider carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time, but for pete’s sake, don’t shoot your eye out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

CHG Favorites of the Week

Blog of the Week
Frugal Dad
Thoughtful, well-written and often funny, Frugal Dad’s four-month-old site is quickly becoming a go-to for folks interested in everything from finance to square-foot gardening. Check out his 7-day turnaround plan for some neat ideas on how to kick-start a savings strategy, and don’t forget to chime in on his latest post about Kids and Allowance. The salary chart is genius.

Comedy of the Week
“Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld
Oo! Someone code-named AlasforAlas comped the best moments from the legendary “NO SOUP FOR YOU” episode! In a related story, the real-life Soup Nazi used to run his store a few blocks from my workplace, and he was really a pretty intimidating guy. But man, that soup was worth it. Especially the seafood bisque.

Organization of the Week
charity: water
This Jennifer Connelly-supported philanthropy helps provide clean drinking water and safe wells to communities around the world. Why water? Well, according to the site, “Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation causes 80% of all sickness and disease, and kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.”

Quote of the Week
Ross: I honestly don't know if I'm hungry or horny.
Chandler: Stay out of my freezer.

Untried Cheap, Healthy Recipe of the Week
Magnificent Mussels at Kitchen Wench
Mussels are some of the most abundant and environmentally sustainable kinds of seafood out there, and this easy, tasty-looking recipe will make you want to buy a billion. Seriously. Look at that picture. Couldn't you even eat the shells?

Video of the Week
“Sodajerk” by Buffalo Tom
Continuing with our “My So-Called Life” theme from last week, it’s Buffalo Tom’s best single, which appeared on the show’s soundtrack, as well as almost every mix tape my friend H ever made. Boy, do I miss these guys. Big Red Letter Day was such a stellar record, and they apparently released a new one last year, which I definitely need to get on.

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
“Bowie in Space” by Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand’s fourth most popular novelty folk band, the Conchords are the funniest musical act to come along since Weird Al was still wearing specs. Stick with “Bowie” through the preamble – it’s funny, but the song is killer. For supplemental extra-credit listening, try “Albi the Racist Dragon” and “Business Time.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Problem with Diet Foods

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I eat diet products. I drink Diet Coke, inhale low-fat granola bars, and am not ashamed to love No Pudge brownies as if they were my own mother. Moreover, I challenge anyone who insists that their yogurt tastes better than Weight Watchers’ Amaretto Cheesecake brand to an all-out dairy war. (Note: I will win.)

Like most people who’re even slightly concerned about the magnitude of their bum, diet products are a part of my everyday life. I buy them regularly because they let me think that I care about what I eat, without actually having to care about what I eat. And in a world of 770-calorie Strawberry Frappuccinos and Deep-fried Cheesecake, doesn’t that borderline awareness count for something?

As it turns out, maybe not.

A flood of recent studies and articles claim that many diet foods may not be as beneficial as they initially seemed. While they can keep calorie counts down, there’s apparently a link between consumption of certain products and the tendency to be overweight. Some foods have even been found to flat-out promote obesity in animals, as well as high cholesterol and other exciting conditions.

I don’t mean to condemn diet products altogether, but these findings definitely raise some questions: like what, exactly are the problems with them? How do we address those issues? And in the long run, does it even matter? Let’s explore.


Diet products may cause overeating. This occurs in two ways. The first happens when an individual gorges on a diet food, since she believes it won’t hurt her as much as the full-fat version. (There’s even a name for it: “the SnackWell Syndrome.”) The second cause of overeating, according to Time Magazine’s Alice Park, is that “people are preprogrammed to anticipate sugary, high-calorie fulfillment when drinking a soda or noshing on a sweet-tasting snack. So, the diet versions of these foods may leave them unsatisfied, driving them to eat more to make up the difference.” In other words, you’ve initially tricked your brain into less calories, but your body won’t stand for it later.

Diet products might help people develop tastes for full-fat versions of the same food. One study suggests that this might be especially true of children. Says Sarah Kliff of Newsweek: “when we eat diet foods at a young age we overeat similar-tasting foods later in life, suggesting that low-cal foods disrupt the body's ability to recognize how many calories an item contains.” Think about it: if you’ve gobbled fat-free hot dogs your whole childhood, doesn’t it make sense that you’d wolf down the full-fat varieties as an adult?

Diet products can cost more. If you’ve ever priced shredded cheese against lower-fat versions of the same brand, this may ring particularly true. It may only be a $0.10 or $0.20 difference, but they add up over time. The most egregious example of this trend, however, is the rise of the 100-Calorie packet. You know, those baseball-sized bags of wafers purchased for $3.99 when three cookies would cost a fraction of the price? According to Morgan Stanley food industry tracker David Adelman, “The irony is, if you take Wheat Thins or Goldfish, buy a large-size box, count out the items and put them in a Ziploc bag, you’d have essentially the same product.” [Peters, NY Times.]

Diet products contain more artificial flavors and preservatives. This is more my own observation than the research (so please take it with a grain of salt), but diet foods seem to have lots more chemicals than their regular counterparts. Compare the ingredients of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips (Potatoes, Corn and/or Cottonseed Oil And Salt) with those of Lay’s Light Original Fat Free Potato Chips (Potatoes, Olestra, Salt, Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Tocopherols, Vitamin K, And Vitamin D). Though I’m sure an abundance of cottonseed oil isn’t spectacular for the heart, isn’t olestra the stuff that “may cause anal leakage”? (Mmm … anal leakage.) Yikes.


Shop smart. Nowadays, it’s pretty commonly accepted that the prices of nutritionally sound eats are too high. Yet, with a little planning and some strategic shopping, whole foods are as affordable as a pack of low-fat Twinkies (and they’ll satiate longer, too). Making a plan, drawing up a list, shopping the perimeter, clipping coupons, stockpiling, and ESPECIALLY paying attention to circulars are just some of the brainy strategies available to anyone with healthy ambitions.

Read nutrition labels. If you do buy a processed diet product (and who doesn’t?), take the time to scan the Nutrition Facts and ask some questions: what’s the saturated fat content? How many calories are in a serving? In what order are the ingredients listed? Are you comfortable with all the additives? Once there’s a better understanding of what goes into a product, your perspective on it might change. For help with decoding, here’s the FDA’s guide to food labels.

Eat real food. Straight up, it’s better for you, and there’s an easy guideline to separating the real from the processed: “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” (Thanks, Michael Pollan [yet again]!)

Cook. Preparing meals at home instills healthy habits, encourages quality time with family, and allows eaters to know exactly what’s going into their dinner. It de-emphasizes diet products and promotes a reliance on whole foods, as well.

Limit portions. Admittedly, I haven’t read French Women Don’t Get Fat, but friends and reviewers sum it up thusly: Gallic chicks eat almost whatever they want, but know when to say when. Conversely, we Americans aren’t raised to savor taste; we gulp our food down, and then look for more. That means one thing: dude, we need to get on the ball. Reasonable quantities are essential to both a balanced lifestyle and weaning ourselves off diet products, and the American Diabetes Association and Mayo Clinic have more.

Drink water. In almost every article I read, diet soda was cited as a main villain in the product studies. Water is free, abundant, crazy-healthy, and can actually be very tasty.


While I hardly think diet victuals are the devil, this research has helped convince me of something: we gotta try to eat right. That means no (or fewer) shortcuts. That means fruits and vegetables, rice and grains, and lean meats and fish (environmentally sustainable fish, of course). It means cooking and keeping a careful eye on what’s piling up in the pantry. It means indulging intelligently and avoiding chemical-laden science projects that attempt to pass themselves off as actual edibles.

Alas, nobody’s perfect, and being on-point all the time is exhausting. But, if once - just once - I can sub an orange in for that 90-calorie pencil-sized granola bar, at least it's a step in the right direction.


Can Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat? by Alice Park (Time, 2/08)
Diet Soda No Better for You Than Regular by Marisa McClellan (Slashfood, 7/07)
Do Diet Foods Lead to Weight Gain? by Alice Park (Time, 8/07)
Four Ways Not to Lose Weight by Sarah Kliff (Newsweek, 10/07)
The Oreo, Obesity, and Us by Delroy Alexander (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/05)
Skip the Diet Soda by Lucy Danzinger (SELF, 3/08)
Snack food companies are placing bigger bets on smaller packages by Jeremy W. Peters (New York Times, 7/07)

(Photos courtesy of Things, ecandy, and DK Images.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Michael Pollan Earth Day Special

Hey everybody,

I didn't add "Why Bother" by Michael Pollan to this morning's links, but please read if you get the chance. Thoughtful, informative, and full of solutions, it's an excellent piece on how we as individuals can and do affect the environment.

Two excerpts:

1) "The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences."

2) "The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world."

Happy Earth Day!


Tuesday Megalinks

Folks, I don’t know if you knew this, but it’s not only National Jelly Bean Day and National Karaoke Week, but also National Welding Month. So get out there, pop a Buttered Popcorn, belt “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and hug the nearest guy holding a blowtorch.

AV Club: Taste Test – Nutriloaf
And you may ask yourself, “Sweet merciful crap, what is that THING?” And the Onion's answer is: “Nutriloaf, a.k.a. Prison Loaf, a.k.a. what it tastes like to have your soul whither and die inside of you.”

Casual Kitchen: More Applications of the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
A sweet continuation/expansion of Dan’s original piece on the 80/20 cooking rule. He’s been on a tear lately with the recipes, too, so be sure to check one out.

Chow: Q&A Alton Brown
OO! Alton’s got a sequel to Feasting on Asphalt coming up called Feasting on Waves. It’s Alton on the sea! And after that? Feasting in Air and Space. AND? He’ll be featured in the Wii version of Iron Chef: Supreme Cuisine. Man, I love this guy.

CNN: Men eat meat, women eat veggies
A.k.a. Also - Puppies are Fuzzy and Socks Feel Nice: Things We Learned Just By Being Alive (Thanks to Get Fit Slowly for the link.)

CNN: Moms’ new battle – the food price bulge
Quick, story-based summary of nationwide saving strategies. This stuff's been all over Frugal Hacks for the last 47 years, but it's nice to see a more widespread acceptance of the frugality shebang.

The Economist: The new face of hunger
We’ve heard a lot about rising U.S. food prices lately, but they’re absolutely soaring in other corners of the globe. Basics (wheat, corn, rice) have jumped as much as 141%, and dozens of countries are in serious danger of a shortage. The really interesting part is where it all comes from: “The changes include the gentle upward pressure from people in China and India eating more grain and meat as they grow rich and the sudden, voracious appetites of western biofuels programmes, which convert cereals into fuel.” (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

Festival of Frugality #122: On Financial Success
In clever paragraph format. Hark! The keyboard is truly mightier than the sword, good sir!

iVillage: How to Use Up Leftover Ingredients
Short’n sweet slideshow on … take a guess. It includes quite a few recipes along with the photos of gray-haired aunties opening suspiciously perfect refrigerators, so skip on over.

The Kitchn: Kitchen Spotlight – London Urchin’s Fold-Out Jewel Box
This tiny Transformer-esque galley took top honors in Apartment Therapy’s Smallest Coolest Kitchen contest last year, and with such good reason. Flat-dwellers, take notes! (P.S. The 2008 Small Cool Contest is up right now at AT, and it’s definitely way fun. East #9: Roxy’s Room to Grow is my favorite so far.)

NY Journal: Stars, Here and Elsewhere
Confidential to New Yorkers: ever wonder why a four-star Time Out eatery might only notch two stars from the New York Times? Here’s your answer. Nice breakdown of the restaurant star rating system for Michelin, the Daily News, New York Magazine and more.

New York Times: Leftovers, Yes, but Perfectly Crisp
Speaking about NYC, it looks like the frugality movement finally made it over. S’about time, Mets fans.

Pinch My Salt: Use Food Blog Search to Find the Best Recipes
Thorough, gushing review/description of Food Blog Search, an excellent, Google-sponsored search engine for blog-spawned recipes, as well as a must-see if you like pretty pictures, enjoy clever writing, and/or want to get off the AllRecipes/Epicurious/Food Network grid.

Slashfood: Jamie Oliver says lighter meals for a better chance to score
(*Bowm-chicka-bowm-bowm.*) Just another pleasant side effect to light eating. Know what I mean, baby? (*wink*)

Torontoist: Vintage Toronto Ads - How to Prevent a Domestic Disturbance
For anyone who’s ever reminisced about the good old days: Torontoist found a vintage Canadian Heinz ad that begins with the following excerpt: “Most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives…” And yes, it gets better. Crazy. (Thanks to Jezebel for the link.)

Wall Street Journal: NYC Can Force Chain Restaurants to Post Calorie Counts
Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King are gonna hafta start listing health information, which is even MORE important in light of recent findings that very few people have any idea what’s in the average fast-food sandwich. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link.)

(Photos courtesy of The Onion AV Club, Nouriche, and

Monday, April 21, 2008

Popovers and Out

There comes a time in every former dieter’s life when she takes a good, long look in her boyfriend’s full-size IKEA mirror and comes to the realization that her thighs are slightly thicker than they were a year ago, her arms a tad flabbier, and her butt, while not quite epically proportioned, is definitely nearing a novella.

It is not a fun realization.

Ask any Weight Watcher, South Beach devotee, or heaven forbid, Slim Fast quaffer, and they’ll tell you straight up: the problem with dropping pounds isn’t necessarily doing it in the first place. Rather, it’s keeping them off. Maintaining that level of discipline over the long run is, for lack of a better term, really, really hard. Some ridiculous percentage of dieters pack the bulk back on within a couple of years, and I hoped that between the blog, the cooking, and my ever-burgeoning awareness of food, I could avoid that pitfall. Alas, a few too many beers and nachos later, and I’m at a delicate crossroads. Namely, do I address this minor gain now (before it gets worse), or do I hope a future of healthy eating and raised consciousness will right my nutritional wrongs?

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. My body’s oscillated in heft since the mid-‘90s, a 40-pound swing I’ve strived mightily to halt. In 11 years, I’ve donned everything from an itty-bitty cocktail dress to a what I’m pretty sure was a burlap sack once worn by the Incredible Hulk. And I know it’s not good. The dietary see-saw is bad for my heart, my self-esteem, and womankind in general. I don’t want to care as much as I do. But I do. For all kinds of reasons.

Which brings us to popovers? (How’s that for a segue?) I remember Ma making these for my siblings and I when we were little, and being totally stoked at how huge and puffy they grew in the oven. Soft and chewy and warm, I didn’t know until yesterday that they’re also pretty healthy for a baked good. (Thanks, Betty Crocker!) You can eat ‘em anytime, and what’s more, at $0.14 a pop(over), they’re one of the cheapest foods ever to be featured on this here blog. Sweet.

I expect I’ll be eating a lot of popovers the next few months, but I’m not sure. I’ll keep y’all updated on my gluteal magnitude, though (lucky you), and hopefully we can make some sense of it together. Whee!

Makes 6 popovers.
Adapted from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook.

1 teaspoon shortening
1 egg
2 egg whites
1 cup skim milk
1 cup all-purpose flour (Do not use self-rising flour)
½ teaspoon salt

1) Preheat oven to 450ºF. Grease 6-cup popover pan or 6-cup muffin pan with shortening.

3) In a medium bowl, beat eggs a little. Then, add rest of ingredients and beat until smooth. (Don't go crazy - overbeating is not so good.) Split batter among pan cups. Each should be about 1/2 to 3/4 full.

3) Bake 20 minutes.

4) Drop oven to 350ºF and bake 15-20 more minutes. Popovers should be brown and puffy when finished. Remove from oven and get popovers out of pan a.s.a.p. Serve immediately.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
115 calories, 2 g fat, $0.14

1 teaspoon shortening: 37 calories, 4 g fat, $0.02
1 egg: 74 calories, 5 g fat, $0.17
2 egg whites: 34 calories, 0.1. g fat, $0.33
1 cup skim milk: 91 calories, 0.6 g fat, $0.25
1 cup all-purpose flour: 455 calories, 1.2 g fat, $0.05
½ teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 691 calories, 10.9 g fat, $0.83
PER SERVING: 115 calories, 2 g fat, $0.14

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Comments of the Week

This week: stellar suggestions for maximizing kitchen equipment, a few great ideas for healthier mac and cheese, and the start of the Great Ranch Dressing Wars. Bring your courage ... and a salad.

As always, some comments have been edited for length.

On Mission: Light Mac and Cheese

Erica: I've also found a great way to make mac and cheese low fat is to sub in some cottage cheese. If you use 1/2 cheddar and 1/2 low-fat or 2% cottage cheese it tastes almost as cheesy. And the cottage cheese actually becomes very creamy.

Kevin: I have tried a few lower fat versions of mac and cheese. … My favourite of the ones that I tried is from a show called Eat, Shrink and be Merry.

Kristen: Whenever I made mac and cheese, I depend heavily on a roux to make it taste richer than it is. It helps a great deal with any weird clumps of cheese, and you can just toss it with hot pasta and the cheese, then stick it under the broiler for a browned top. An uber-simple roux is this: melt 2 T butter in a microwave-safe dish, then stir in 2 T flour with a fork. When it is lump-free, add 1 c milk (1% works just fine, or you can use something less skim), and heat until just bubbling around the edges. Whisk thoroughly to dissolve the flour mixture in the milk, and you'll see it start to thicken. Alternatively, melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and whisk constantly until you can smell the nuttiness of the flour. Add the milk, which you've heated to just under boiling in the microwave or on a separate burner, and whisk until the mixture thickens. Season with freshly ground black pepper, salt, and nutmeg. Toss with the hot pasta and sprinkle with cheese, or add the cheese to the roux, stir to combine, and toss with pasta.

On Tuesday Megalinks

Paid Twice: Sandra Lee still sucks. She could be blind and have one leg and still suck. Maybe she's missing taste buds... maybe that's why.

On Cheap Healthy Salad Dressing: 102 Light Recipes

Hops: Ranch dressing is everything that's wrong with this country.

J. Sassydo: Agreed, hops--ranch should never have ventured forth from the hidden valley. Also, when I want to keep it light, I dress my salad with a few squeezes of lemon juice or a drizzle of good vinegar. (Berry vinegars are especially great on summer greens.) Toss in some salt and freshly ground pepper, and you're in fat-free business.

: Don't be hatin' -- ranch dressing has its place.

On Of Cheese and Rock: Low-Fat Cheddar Broccoli Soup

Julia: I've been meaning to make my ricotta-spinach soup from True Tuscan by Cesare Casella, a fabulous cookbook, and you've inspired me to do it this weekend. It's an absolutely luscious use of part-skim ricotta cheese...does that fall under healthy? I hope so. But honestly, it's so good I don't care.

On Free Cooking Lessons Part II – A Beginner’s Guide to TV Chefs

Anonymous #1: I learned to cook from one of the early TV chefs - Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet - who passed away a few years ago and disappeared from the air severals years before that because of a bit of a scandal. He was incredibly informative and took pains to be sure to show all techniques and methods. I'm sure you must be able to get all his different series on DVD, and, as I have them, can recommend the companion books wholeheartedly. (Good call, Anonymous. Can't believe I forgot this guy. - Kris)

Anonymous #2: I'd just like to add that Ina can't go a half hour without saying "That's fabulous.” (This is TOTALLY true. It’s like her favorite word next to “Jeffrey.” - Kris)

On Finding Quality Kitchen Equipment on the Cheap

Anonymous: One thing to keep in mind is that certain pieces are WAAAY more versatile than others. Steel, NON-TEFLON cookie sheets get such a workout at our house that I have half a dozen and am always looking for two more, just to avoid having to stop cooking in the middle to wash and dry them! The other thing to remember are non-standard uses for less "necessary" items. Ramekins- the 7oz ones, or the new, 16oz "soup mugs" which are microwave and oven safe and come with a plastic lid. Why buy a jumbo-muffin pan if you have four or six 7oz ramekins? Set them on a cookie sheet for easy carrying/handling, and dont fill completely--there's no support for really big muffin tops. … 7oz ramekins are *wonderful* for making individual meatloaves or meatless quiches, and actually cook faster and more evenly in the smaller containers.

(Photo courtesy of Jupiter Images.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Low-Fat Broccoli Cheddar Soup: Of Cheese and Rock

Wednesday night, The Boyfriend and I jaunted off to Queens to play Rock Band with our friends A and A. I’m not a big video game fan, preferring to read, socialize, or hit myself in the head with a mallet. That said, Rock Band was the most incredibly fun game in the history of America, time, and space. Seriously, playing skee ball on a roller coaster in Oz wouldn’t even compare. I got to strum bass to a Pixies song, bang drums to an R.E.M. classic, and discovered that my vocal range most resembles that of ‘70s-era Ozzy Osbourne. Which, frankly, is a tad uncomfortable, but good to know for future karaoke parties/Black Sabbath auditions.

Our impromptu evening of RAWK curbed my cooking plans, so I was forced to make Cook’s Country Low-Fat Broccoli Cheddar Soup late last night instead. (And lemme tell you - nothing endears you to a roommate faster than running a blender at 11pm.) The soup is part of my self-imposed Use More Cheese mandate, as one of the drawbacks of writing a healthy cooking blog is the general absence of face-loving, soul-warming, high-in-fat foods like bacon, chocolate, cheese, and bacony chocolate cheese. Cooking Light’s Fresh Tomato Lasagna, Cheesy Eggplant Bake, and Light Mac and Cheese have also been also part of the effort.

Which brings us back to the soup. I liked it! It made a healthy, gloriously green side or main course, with enough frommage-y goodness to keep me from feeling like I was drinking a salad. There are, as always, a few notes:

1) Leeks are dirty, dirty birds, so they have to be cleaned pretty thoroughly before adding to a recipe. I use Lidia Bastianich’s method, which can be found here.

2) I didn’t puree the soup well enough at first, which resulted in something not unlike leaf-strewn rainwater. It took a few minutes on ICE CRUSH to finally get a smooth consistency, but the extra choppage was worth it in the end.

3) Both leeks and broccoli were pretty pricey in my ‘hood this week, and I’m betting that better shoppers could make this schlamiel for about two bucks cheaper.

Cook’s Country kindly provided the nutritional information, so only the price calculations are listed below. Happy weekend, everybody! (And go play Rock Band. Seriously. Now. Run.)

Low-Fat Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Makes 6 (large) servings
Adapted from Cook's Country.
Note: I know this picture is terrible. Please, please make it anyway. You won't be sorry.

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1-1/2 pounds broccoli, florets chopped, stems peeled and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup fat-free evaporated milk
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
salt and pepper

1) In a large pot over medium heat, warm butter until melted. Add leeks and broccoli stems. Cook around 8 minutes, or until both are a tiny bit soft. Add garlic. Cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant. It will look like this:

Add broth and water. Jack up heat until everything starts to boil. When that happens, drop heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer around 8 minutes, or until broccoli stalks are pretty soft. Then, add broccoli florets. Cover again and cook another 5 minutes, until those are tender, too.

2) Kill heat. Add soup to blender. Blend/puree the heck out of it, until there are no broccoli bits left. I can't emphasize this enough: it should be totally, completely smooth. Add mustard, milk, and cheese to blender. "Puree until cheese is melted." Salt and pepper to taste. (You can do this in two batches. Whatever you do CC says, "make sure to fill your blender no more than halfway with hot soup.")

Very special note: this soup will last a few days in the fridge, but be careful reheating. Boiling it will cause the cheese to do weird things, so cook leftovers over medium-low.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
210 calories, 11 g fat, $1.34

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter: $0.05
2 leeks, white and light green parts only: $2.00
1-1/2 pounds broccoli: $2.97
2 garlic cloves: $0.06
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth: $1.00
1 cup water: FREE
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard: $0.18
¾ cup fat-free evaporated milk: $0.37
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup): $1.25
salt and pepper: $0.03
TOTAL: $8.01

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CHG Favorites of the Week

Hey everbody! I learned how to embed videos! Well, actually reader Hops taught me because I'm 30 and don't understand this newfangled technology stuff. Now, if there's anyone out there that can explain the flashing "12:00" on my alarm clock ...

Blog of the Week
My Recycled Bags
After a few seconds on this site, you too will be pretty amazed at what Cindy can do with a few dozen used plastic grocery bags, and how cute they can look when they’re repurposed the right way. She’s also newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so if you can pop over and lend a few words of support and/or “Wow! Nice bags!” it would be awesome.

Comedy of the Week
"Cookie Monster Searches Deep Within Himself and Asks: Is Me Really Monster?" at McSweeney's
Oh man – HILARIOUS. An excerpt: “Snuffleupagus not supposed to exist—woolly mammoths extinct. His very existence monstrous. Me least like monster. Me maybe have unhealthy obsession, but me no monster.” Many, many thanks to reader Beanalby for the link.

Quote of the Week
"As you know, the hot dog was invented in America when a family of raccoons wandered into a toothpaste factory." – Stephen Colbert

Service Organization of the Week
This is dead brilliant, and it’s a bit difficult to get all the details right, so I’ll let the site do it: “Canstruction is a design/build competition currently held in cities throughout North America. Teams of architects, engineers, and students mentored by these professionals, compete to design and build giant structures made entirely from full cans of food. The results are displayed to the public as magnificent sculpture exhibits in each city where a competition is held. At the close of the exhibitions all of the canned food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to emergency feeding programs that include pantries, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers.” How neat is that?

Tip of the Week
Kings County’s local ant population decided to convene at our back door this past weekend. It wasn’t terrible, as Brooklyn ants are pretty laconic, preferring to smoke, swear, and whistle at 16-year-olds rather than lay siege to our food, but it did necessitate a terrible killing spree, along with 14,000 pounds of boric acid mashed into various household crevices. (Poisonous! But effective!) In retrospect, I would have been a lot better reading this post at Get Rich Slowly before totally losing my mind.

Untried Cheap, Healthy Recipe of the Week
Tube-Shaped Pasta with Wild Mushrooms at Serious Eats
Simple, filling, and still bizarrely Spring-y, I bet you could do this with button mushrooms and a little less olive oil and still get a pretty decent meal. Anybody wanna give it a shot?

Video of the Week
“Lips Like Sugar” by Echo and the Bunnymen
Ladies and, uh, the one gentleman that reads the blog … it’s time to muss your hair, don a black peacoat, and start gazing at your navel, because the BUNNYMEN are here. Yes, the BUNNYMEN. ALL HAIL THE BUNNYMEN. (*dances*) Woot!

Special Extra Bonus Video That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do With Food … of the Week:
The Collected Wisdom of Angela Chase
If any of you, like, hit high school in the mid-‘90s, odds are Claire Danes was, like, thinking everything you were, like, thinking. About life. About love. About school. About how Jordan Catalano’s hair hit his jawline at juuust the right angle. About how your mom is always, like, doing things that annoy you. About how Rayanne needs to cut back on the booze a little bit. About how Tino probably doesn’t exist. Anyway, like, these are her insights, and you should, like, watch them. (Thanks to Jezebel for the link.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cheap, Healthy Salad Dressing: 102 Light Recipes

Ah, Spring - the birds are singing, the trees are budding, the construction next door has resumed, the writers’ strike is over, and last but not least, salad season is finally upon us. So gather ‘round, my leafy green-lovin’ compatriots, and let’s talk dressing.

Much like marinades and mixes, making your own salad dressing is a frugal, delicious, and preservative-free exercise. The problem, alas, is the fat content, as homemade toppings generally contain a small tureen of olive oil. While the heart-healthy liquid can have enormous health benefits in moderation, let’s face it – sometimes you just want (need?) to pile the stuff on.

Subsequently, as a naked salad is a dinnertime tragedy, listed below are 102 recipes for lightened dressings of all colors, shapes, consistencies, and flavors. They come from a variety of sources, including Eating Well and Cooking Light, both of which have dozens more deep within their recipe pages. And for those of you wishing to branch out? is another excellent resource, and includes a long inventory of options that haven't been added here. If anyone out there knows of other neato sites, please share! (The comment section is waiting for your call.)

Oh yeah - one more thing: many of the dressings have good-to-excellent ratings on their home sites, but I haven’t tried a single one myself. Thus, this a strictly try-at-your-own-risk adventure. (A saladventure?) Like an Indiana Jones movie, only with lettuce.

Now, go forth and eat salad!

Asian-inspired Dressings

Cooking Light: Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette
Epicurious: Spicy Vietnamese Dressing
Mayo Clinic: Ginger-Miso Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Asian Ginger Dressing

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressings
Cooking Light: Balsamic Vinaigrette
Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serious Eats: Light Balsamic Vinaigrette

Blue Cheese Dressings
All Recipes/Taste of Home: Low-Fat Blue Cheese Dressing
Cooking Light: Blue Cheese Salad Dressing
Cooking Light: Blue Cheese-Buttermilk Dressing
Eating Well: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Epicurious: Blue Cheese Dressing

Buttermilk Dressings
Epicurious: Buttermilk Dressing
Mayo Clinic: Buttermilk Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Cayenne Buttermilk Dressing

Caesar Dressings
Alton Brown: No Guilt Caesar Dressing
Cooking Light: Caesar Dressing
Cooking Light: Creamy Caesar Dressing
Eating Well: Caesar Salad Dressing

Curry Dressings
All Recipes/USA Weekend: Non-Fat Curry Dressing
Epicurious: Curry Dressing
King County: Curry Dressing

French Dressings
CD Kitchen: Low-Calorie French Dressing
Eating Well: French Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Makeover Creamy French Dressing

Fruit-based Dressings
All Recipes: Orange Vinaigrette
All Recipes: Raspberry Vinaigrette
Cooking Light: Citrus Vinaigrette
Cooking Light: Cranberry Vinaigrette
Cooking Light: Vanilla-Pear Vinaigrette
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Ginger Orange Dressing
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Raspberry Vinegar Dressing
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Garlic-Lemon Dressing
Eating Well: Moroccan-Spiced Lemon Dressing
Eating Well: Orange-Oregano Dressing
Eating Well: Orange-Sesame Dressing
Ellie Krieger: Apple Cider Dressing
Epicurious: Creamy Lemon Dressing
Epicurious: Creamy Mango Dressing
Epicurious: Grapefruit-Ginger Dressing
Epicurious: Tangerine Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Honey Lime Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Lemon, Orange, and Dill Salad Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Lemon Yogurt Vinaigrette
Recipe Zaar: Orange Honey Vinaigrette
Recipe Zaar: Strawberry Vinaigrette

Green Goddess Dressings
Cooking Light: Green Goddess Dressing
Epicurious: Green Goddess Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Herb-based Dressings
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Basil Vinaigrette
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Creamy Herb Dressing
Eating Well: Creamy Tarragon Dressing
Epicurious: Creamy Basil Dressing
Epicurious: Mint Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Dijon Herb Dressing

Honey Mustard & Mustard Dressings
All Recipes: Mustard Salad Dressing
Alton Brown: Honey Mustard Dressing
Cooking Light: Creole Honey Mustard Dressing
Cooking Light: Dijon Vinaigrette
Cooking Light: Honeyed Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Honey-Mustard Dressing
Epicurious: Honey-Mustard Dressing
Kathleen Daeleman: Mustard Vinaigrette
Recipe Zaar: Creamy Mustard Dressing

Italian Dressings
All Recipes: Italian Dressing Mix
Juan Carlos Cruz: Creamy Italian Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Creamy Italian Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Italian Dressing

Poppy Seed Dressings
Cooks Recipes: Honey Poppy Seed Dressing
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Poppy Seed Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Lowfat Poppyseed Dressing

Russian Dressings
Eating Well: Russian Dressing
Geocities: Russian Dressing – Low-Fat
Geocities: Russian Dressing Lo-Cal

Ranch Dressings
All Recipe/Taste of Home: Low-Fat Ranch Dressing
Cooking Light: Ranch Dressing
Eating Well: Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Eating Well: Creamy Dill Ranch Dressing
Ellie Krieger: Ranch Dressing
Epicurious: Low-Fat Herbed Ranch Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Creamy Ranch Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Healthy Homemade Ranch Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Ranch Dressing

Thousand Island Dressings
Cooking Light: Thousand Island Dressing
Epicurious: Low-Fat Thousand Island Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Extreme Low-Fat Thousand Island Dressing
Sara Moulton: Low Fat Thousand Island Dressing

Vegetable-based Dressings
Cooking Light: Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
Cooking Light: Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Creamy Garlic and Chive Dressing
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette
Epicurious: Creamy Chive Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Creamy Cucumber Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Onion Garlic Low Cal Salad Dressing

Other Dressings
Cooking Light: Honey Vinaigrette
Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone: Basic Vinaigrette
Eating Well: Creamy Feta Dressing
Eating Well: Warm Maple Dressing
Ellie Krieger: Greek Dressing
Epicurious: Tamarind Dressing
Epicurious: Tasty Diet Dressing
Recipe Zaar: Golden Middle-East Dressing

(Photos courtesy of DNROnline.)

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