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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Scams and deceptions

Last summer, while produce shopping at the Union Square Green Market, I found yellow, green and purple string beans. I thought my kids would be ecstatic to eat rainbow beans (it's all about the marketing, people). I bought the three kinds and steamed them for a couple of minutes (separately, I didn't want to take any chances with the colors bleeding) to serve them for dinner. Oh!! How disappointing it was to discover the purple ones had magically morphed into their green siblings. No traces of purple left*...I felt robbed. My whole strategy was destroyed.
I've been holding grudges about the incident since then, so I'm dedicating this post to mention some of what I consider to be the saddest food deceptions I've encountered lately.

*NOTE to self and those of you who find those "Royal Burgundy" beans. As I learned after the fact, you should eat them raw. Direct heat decomposes the purple pigments called anthocyanins, which are responsible for the purple color in many fruits, vegetables and flowers. The beans turn green because the chlorophyll--which was always there, but hidden by the darker hue of the anthocyanins--becomes prominent once the anthocyanins levels decrease.
Extra tip: anthocyanins love acidity, so vinegar and lemon juice will preserve the beans purpler (made up word?).

OK, so I've complained about the doings of mother nature and the purple-not-really-purple beans. Now, the following I find to be pathetic. I know I just said it's all about the marketing, and the folks at Nabisco certainly agree, as they have the chutzpah to decorate their trucks with this add for Oreos:

Three words only, but I'm sorry, it's just very offensive. Fresh is definitely not the right adjective. Oreos might be tasty, sweet, eternal, liked-by-most, black and white, creamy-centered, etc, etc... but NOT fresh! They are supposed to defy freshness. They don't spoil, they are ever-lasting. Not fresh.

Moving on, I was recently browsing through the shelves at the gorgeous new kosher butcher and bakery they opened in the Upper East Side. The place is full of beautiful, unique and delicious-looking foods. I almost broke into tears when I saw White Truffle Oil. Its box looked so fancy, and the Italian landscape in the label convinced me to pay the $25.00 for the little bottle. "Quality," I justified myself... Maybe once I used it, it would be like in the pasta commercials, where Andrea Bocelli sings harmoniously in the background as the Tuscan sun illuminates the golden wheat fields.
Well, it happens to be that if you read the aforementioned colorful label closely, and by closely I mean with a magnifying glass, and bypass all the "white truffle oil" titles in it, you'd discover that the ingredients of D'Allasandro Gourmet Ingredient's white truffle oil are: "100% pure olive oil infused with artificial truffle aroma." Thank you very much for shattering my Italian dreams!

Finally, I'm closing with Starbucks' colorful touch on their Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos, strawberry-banana smoothies, raspberry swirl cake, and red velvet whoopie pies. Well, the pink and red in those goodies doesn't come from anthocyanins like they do in purple beans, real strawberries and raspberries. The company, after pledging that: "From coffee, tea, smoothies and skinny lattes to fresh fruit, salads, whole grains and reduced fat pastries, Starbucks offers a variety of delicious options to meet our customer’s needs. And you can feel good knowing that all of our foods are no more than 500 calories and free from unnecessary ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, dyes, and artificial trans fats," can't be accused of failing to comply with their promise. In deed, they don't use artificial dyes. They use the very natural extract of cochineal beetles, yes bugs. It doesn't count as a lie, but it just shows how little we really know the foods and drinks we are consuming. You thought you were getting a fruit smoothie, well you got it with the secret ingredient, and it wasn't love...
Don't worry, the company said that by June, they'll finish replacing the bugs with lycopene (from tomatoes). I wonder why they don't just use strawberries or raspberries...

If you made it here reading me kvetch, I thank you, and as a token, I'll share with you this recipe. Just like the rest of the post, it's a bit deceptive in many ways, and I hope you enjoy it.


  • Farro, a type of ancient whole wheat, without an exact and universally accepted definition, can be the berry--according to different Italian regions and opinions-- of emmer, spelt or einkorn wheat varieties. Farro is similar in taste and consistency to barley, it has a nutty taste and delicious chewy texture. It's rich in fiber, vitamin E and magnesium. It's cooked in liquid like most grains and it can be prepared like risotto (called farrotto). But instead of standing at the stove mixing and mixing for a long time, it's possible to CHEAT using a crock pot.

  • Jerusalem artichokes, also called sun chokes, although delicious, are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes. Yes, the name is poetic, but completely MISLEADING. According to Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food , these North America native tuber is linked to the Holy City due to a "seventeenth-century English distortion of the old Italian name girasole (sunflower) articiocco, acquired because it tastes like an artichoke and produces a flower that turns to the sun." Although sun chokes look similar to ginger root, their flavor is mild, nutty and sweet. Their carbohydrates are mainly in the form of inulin, a type of fiber that has been suggested to aid control blood sugar levels, and feed the healthy bacteria in our gut (prebiotic). They are high in iron, potassium and vitamin B-1. But please note that these delicious knobs should be eaten in moderation for the first time, as they tend to cause gas in some people. I personally love them roasted whole, peel and all. Just scrubbed really well, some extra virgin olive oil and into a very hot oven.

  • When I say oysters, don't get too excited about shelled mollusks, as I'm referring to oyster mushrooms. These delicious fungi are a good source of zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B-1 and B-2. Their name does come from their similar appearance to real oysters. And although this vegan version doesn't make any pearls, it's great for strengthening the immune system and is rich in ergothioneine, a very protective antioxidant found in mushrooms.


  • Lacto-vegetarian (contains dairy)
  • Free of: nuts, eggs, soy
   1 cup farro (I used semi-pearled)
   21/2 cups low sodium, organic vegetable broth
   1/4 cup white wine, optional, but recommended
   3 fresh garlic stems (use 3 garlic cloves, if you can't find fresh) 
   4 small (or 2 large) shallots
   1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
   1 pound small Jerusalem artichokes, rinsed and scrubbed
   3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
   3 (3.5 ounces) packages oyster mushrooms, tough stems discarded and caps cleaned with a damp paper towel
   Parmesan cheese, to taste
   sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

In a slow cooker (crock pot), place farro, broth and wine and turn on on high (i like using crock pot liners for easy clean-up).

Cover and let cook. 

Peel and chop finely garlic and shallots. Quarter Jerusalem artichokes.
In a saute pan, heat oil and cook garlic and shallots until soft.

Add Jerusalem artichokes and let them caramelize for a couple of minutes, mixing often to avoid burning. Season with salt and pepper.

Add mushrooms and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and add vegetable mixture into crock pot.

Cover and let cook in high for about 2 1/2 hours or low for 5 hours. Go have fun and when you come back, your gourmet dinner will be waiting...

To serve, check for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.
Deceive: don't tell anyone it was SO easy!


laury said...

LOVE this post. Was not, but will no longer be tempted, to be drinking smoothies from Starbucks (hmm maybe there should be more bugs in high calorie options).

Alexandra said...

That's a good idea, but they should publicize their use of criters as ingredients