Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tomato paste rant

How many times have you made a recipe that called for 1 or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste? You scoop out what you need, put some plastic wrap over the can, stick it back in the fridge and then discover it weeks later all covered with a scary black substance. So then you throw the can away.

I once wrote to Hunt's (or maybe it was Contadina) to ask them why they had to sell their product in steel cans. I wanted to know if there wasn't some packaging that would allow the consumer to keep the leftover tomato paste without it turning nasty colors. Well, no surprise, nobody wrote back to me.

There is actually an interesting solution to this: tomato powder. Tomato powder can be reconstituted to tomato paste (or to sauce, if you add more water). You just spoon out what you need, mix it with water and voilĂ . The downside to tomato powder is that it is more costly than canned tomato paste, but if you factor in all the cans you throw away, it might actually end up a savings.

If you're interested, you can check out a place called Barry Farm Foods. They have a lot of other interesting dried fruits and vegetables, too, like artichoke powder. I wonder what you can do with that?

(P.S. I do know about the trick of freezing tablespoons of leftover tomato paste, but it still annoys me that I have to do it.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Teenage girls and magnesium

In a study at Yale med school, scientists discovered that teenage girls with a higher magnesium intake have better bone mineral density. They determined this by studying 44 teenage girls (ages 14 to 18) who took either a magnesium supplement or a placebo for a year. At the end of the study, the supplement group had greater bone mineral content than the placebo group. The study authors are quick to caution that this does not mean young girls should start taking magnesium supplements. But the study does point out that magnesium is critical to optimum bone health in growing young women.

We think that a good thing to do for your kids, especially if you have any teenage daughters, is get more magnesium into their diets. The RDA for magnesium for girls in the 14-18 year range is 360 mg.

Here are some foods that will provide at least 30% of that in a single serving:
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup cooked spinach
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice
  • 1 cup cooked white or black beans
  • 4 ounces tofu
  • 5 ounces cooked halibut
[P.S. 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate has 50% of the magnesium a teenager needs. Shhhh.]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cupcake courier

I actually hate cupcakes. (Ask anyone.) But I do understand that I am in the minority. There are clearly people out there who delight in all the baking, frosting, decorating and fussing, because ultimately they are the same people who enjoy eating cupcakes.

One of these cupcake lovers--a Californian mother of two named Jennifer Gunn--was plagued by the problem of transporting all of her lovingly baked and decorated cakelets, and so she invented The Cupcake Courier. The device comprises three stackable plastic trays, each of which holds 12 cupcakes (or muffins), a sturdy base and a top with a handle. You can buy the carrier from Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sweet onions like Vidalia (from Georgia) and Walla Walla (from Washington) were once a somewhat esoteric ingredient. These crisp, sweet (well, relative to other onions anyway) vegetables were available locally in the regions where they grew, but they didn't travel much. Part of this was because of their perishability (sweet onions do not keep as well as other onions) and part of it was because there was no consumer demand.

Well, that's certainly all in the past, because most supermarkets now routinely carry sweet onions. Starting in the spring, there is a big influx of sweet onions from places in North America, but in the winter, sweet onions come from South America.

If you really know your onions, you are already familiar with the OsoSweet onion, which grows in the Andes in Chile. But if you haven't ever had an OsoSweet, then hurry up, because the season for this winter onion lasts only through the end of March.