Mark Bittman - my new BFF
Had a marvelous time this past week hanging out and cooking with Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times. Well, not so much actually with him in body, but gobbling up his fascinating new book Food Matters - A Guide to Conscious Eating. Bittman's essential point is that the North American diet, heavy in meat, refined sugar, and processed foods, is bad for both the planet and human health. Not only has the amount of food we eat increased alarmingly over the past several decades (in the fifties, for example, Americans ate 138.2 pounds of meat per capita; in 2005, they ate 195.2 pounds) but we spend huge amounts of energy making foods with little nutritional value (Bittman says it takes 2,200 calories of fossil fuel to make a can of diet soda.) The system, he convincingly argues, is just not sustainable.
After reading Food Matters, which promotes the supremely common-sense notion of eating less meat and more vegetables and whole grains, I went to his mega cook-book, How to Cook Everything. Not only did reading Bittman remind that simple steps, such making your own yogurt, and cooking dry beans rather than buying cans, gives you greater control over the ingredients your family eats, but reduces packaging.If you love good food, and are concerned about the impact your family's diet has on the planet, get both - or either - of these books. How to Cook is available at Chapters and at independent booksellers such as the Cookbook Store for about $29.
Inspired by Bittman, I’ve been making home-made yogurt, in part to a reduce my use of plastic containers. All I needed was a good thermos, some store-bought yogurt as a starter, or a powered yogurt culture such Yogourmet, which is available from Noah’s Natural Foods www.noahsnaturalfoods.ca for $3.99 for 30-gram package that makes about six litres of yogurt. Bittman's yogurt recipe calls for a quart of milk (I'd go with at least 2 per cent, he suggests whole mlk) and one-half a cup of active yogurt. You heat the milk just to the boiling point and then let it cool to between 110-115 F. Whisk the yog in and pour the mix into a thermos and let it sit for six hours. (You want to keep it at about 100 F) Check it after six hours. If it's not set, let it sit another six hours. I've have hit and miss success with this simple method (my thermometer may be off) but it's worked every time I've used the started from the health food store.
On a tip from a friend, I added a heaping tablespoon of dry milk powder for every litre of milk to make it thicker, and did notice a slight difference. (Then I read the milk power ingredients - what's Vitamin D palmitate, you ask? Hhhm, not sure, I'll get back to you). I also tried adding a big dollop of sweetened condensed milk and some vanilla to the boiled mix to flavour it. Delish - try it with Bittman's homemade granola recipe (page 821 of How to Cook Eveything) or with chopped fruit, home-made jam or nuts.