School lunches – around the world

Well, these pictures of schools lunches around the world are definitely worth more than a thousand words! The ones you see here make me hungry!

Brie, green beans, carrot, rare steak and pudding of kiwi fruit and apples is served in French schools 

Brie, green beans, carrot, rare steak and pudding of kiwi fruit and apples is served in French schools.

In France, school lunch is an art form: hot, multi-course and involving vegetables. A meal of rice, salmon, ratatouille, a slice of bread, a salad with celery and carrots, and an orange and donut at the Anne Franck school in Lambersart, northern France

In France (again), school lunch is an art form: hot, multi-course and involving vegetables. A meal of rice, salmon, ratatouille, a slice of bread, a salad with celery and carrots, and an orange and donut at the Anne Franck school in Lambersart, northern France.

A meal of traditional flavours: Brazil's rice and black beans, baked plantain, pork with peppers and coriander, green salad and a seeded roll

A meal of traditional flavours: Brazil’s rice and black beans, baked plantain, pork with peppers and coriander, green salad and a seeded roll.

Rice, a chicken croquette, a piece of taro root and yellow pea soup is the school lunch in Old Havana, Cuba

Rice, a chicken croquette, a piece of taro root and yellow pea soup is the school lunch in Old Havana, Cuba.

In Japan, school children tuck into fried fish, dried seaweed, tomatoes, miso soup with potatoes, rice (in the metal container), and milk

In Japan, school children tuck into fried fish, dried seaweed, tomatoes, miso soup with potatoes, rice (in the metal container), and milk.

Wholesome: Seeded roll, shrimp with brown rice, gazpacho and tri-colour peppers. Dessert is half an orange

Wholesome: Seeded roll, shrimp with brown rice, gazpacho and tri-colour peppers. Dessert is half an orange.

A serving of borscht (beetroot soup) with pickled cabbage, sausages and mash. Dessert is a sweet pancake 

A serving of borscht (beetroot soup) with pickled cabbage, sausages and mash. Dessert is a sweet pancake.

Greek school lunches feature baked chicken with orzo, stuffed grape leaves, salad of cucumber and tomatoes, yogurt with pomegranate seeds and two oranges

Greek school lunches feature baked chicken with orzo, stuffed grape leaves, salad of cucumber and tomatoes, yogurt with pomegranate seeds and two oranges.

Bowls of salad are ready to be served at Delcare Edu Center, a local kindergarten and child care center in the business district of Singapore

Bowls of salad are ready to be served at Delcare Edu Center, a local kindergarten and child care center in the business district of Singapore.

A healthier UK school dinner: Two trays at a primary school in London. The meal at right consists of pasta with broccoli and slices of bread, and fruit. At left are vegetable chili with rice and broccoli, sponge cake with custard, and a banana

A healthier UK school dinner: Two trays at a primary school in London. The meal at right consists of pasta with broccoli and slices of bread, and fruit. At left are vegetable chili with rice and broccoli, sponge cake with custard, and a banana.

UK school dinner of frankfurters and beans, a baked potato, corn on the cob, slice of melon and a box drink 

And another UK meal for kids: frankfurters and beans, a baked potato, corn on the cob, slice of melon and a box drink.

South Indian school children eat off a thali plate which has white rice, sambar (dhal), smoked gourd vegetable stir-fry, curd, buttermilk and kesari, a type of sweet dessert made from semolina

South Indian school children eat off a thali plate which has white rice, sambar (dhal), smoked gourd vegetable stir-fry, curd, buttermilk and kesari, a type of sweet dessert made from semolina.

Lunch in an Estonian school is rice with a piece of meat and purple cabbage. They also have bread and a get a cup of chocolate drink 

Lunch in an Estonian school is rice with a piece of meat and purple cabbage. They also have bread and a get a cup of chocolate drink .

Balanced diet: Italian children get pasta, fish, two kinds of salad, rocket and caprese, a bread roll and grapes (courtesy Sweetgreen)

Balanced diet: Italian children get pasta, fish, two kinds of salad, rocket and caprese, a bread roll and grapes.

In Finland lunch is mainly a vegetarian affair of pea soup, carrots, beetroot salad, crusty roll and sweet pancake with berries to finish

In Finland lunch is mainly a vegetarian affair of pea soup, carrots, beetroot salad, crusty roll and sweet pancake with berries to finish.

School lunch in Alba, Spain (left):  white flesh peaches, strawberries and yogurt melts, cous-cous, broccoli, cucumbers and roasted salmon; (right): Poached apple pears, strawberries and blue berries, boiled swede and fresh garden peas

School lunch in Alba, Spain (left):  white flesh peaches, strawberries and yogurt melts, cous-cous, broccoli, cucumbers and roasted salmon; (right): Poached apple pears, strawberries and blue berries, boiled swede and fresh garden peas.

South Korean children tuck into broccoli and peppers, fried rice with tofu, fermented cabbage and fish soup

South Korean children tuck into broccoli and peppers, fried rice with tofu, fermented cabbage and fish soup.

And then, there are U.S. school lunches…

Thanks Michelle Obama? New school lunch rules backed by FLOTUS have students nationwide tweeting '#thanksMichelleObama' along with photos of meals like this

The backlash is part of the first lady's push for healthier school lunches

What is it? School lunches in the United States stand in stark contrast to the wholesome and in some cases even decadent meals served to kids in other markedly less fortunate nations

School lunches in the United States stand in stark contrast to the wholesome, and in some cases even decadent, meals served to kids in other markedly less fortunate nations.

By the way, did you know that most U. S. schools NO LONGER ACTUALLY PREPARE THEIR OWN MEALS? Yes, they have been outsourced to, primarily, fast food places, and THIS  is what your school taxes are paying for. Happy? Hope not.

This is only “balanced” in the minds of embarrassed parents and school lunch servers, bureaucrats and the lobbyists who have paid them off. Actually, most schools I am acquainted with would just have pizza and soda, although there is a growing backlash, just not large enough.

This is the kind of junk they have been eating all year and we wonder why our kids misbehave, can’t concentrate, are growing fatter every day and don’t know what healthy eating looks like except on government flyers. Will you sit by and let it be the same come Fall? Your kids will likely eat better when NOT in school.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I would like to add at least one: Pathetic.

Feel free to add your own adjectives.

 

Images and descriptions from:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2958640/Photos-school-lunches-served-world-reveal-just-meager-America-s-meals-compared-cash-strapped-nations.html

“Sultan’s Pleasure” – Eggplant has never tasted better!

If you have ever wondered how else you can prepare eggplant other than Eggplant Parmesan, grilled eggplant or Baba Ganouj, check out this wonderful recipe!  In Turkey they call this unusual dish Sultan’s Pleasure, for reasons which are obvious as soon as one samples it.  Particularly delicious with chicken.  We also like it as a dip for various breads, like pumpernickel.

********************************

Sultan’s Pleasure (Eggplant Cream, Hunkar Begendi)

3 medium eggplant
1 Tbsp lemon juice

6 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp hot milk
3 Tbsp Parmesan or grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Prick the skin of eggplants in several places and set in hot oven (350-400 F) on a cookie sheet, or grill them whole and unpeeled by holding over a flame and turning slowly.

When the skin begins to break and/or the insides feel very soft, cut off end and cut in half and scoop the pulp into a saucepan.

Mix lemon juice with pulp and simmer until very soft, stirring often (10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter, then add flour and stir until it makes a brown roux.

Beat the roux into the eggplant mixture (we use a hand mixer for consistency).  Slowly add the milk (more, if desired), and continue beating until mixture resembles mashed potatoes.

Lastly, add the Parmesan or grated cheddar cheese (adjust quantity to taste) and cook several minutes more.  Serve immediately (it’s best warm!).

 

 

Homemade soup – poetry in digestion

Poetry…

an art form.

Thus, soup!

A cooking video – perfect scrambled eggs

Did you know it is actually EASY to make really good scrambled eggs?

 

Nutmeg – Everything you never knew

Here in American we usually know very little about our spices. Consider nutmeg. Did you know that, according to toptropicals.com, it grows on:

“…a tropical evergreen tree that reaches about 65 feet tall. The nutmeg fruit is similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-colored edible pulp surrounding a single seed, the nutmeg. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat. The shell is then broken and the nutmegs picked out.”

The flowers are unprepossessing – small and pale yellow.

On the left are the fruit and what they look like when they split open. Then on the right you can see the red webbing around the nutmeg that becomes the spice we call mace (yep, that white powder we use in baking).

According to http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Myri_fra.html:

Nutmeg is not a nut, but the kernel of an apricot-like fruit. Mace is an arillus, a thin leathery tissue between the stone and the pulp; it is bright red to purple when harvested, but after drying changes to amber.”

In the nutmeg trade, broken nutmegs infested by pests are referred to as BWP grade (broken, wormy and punky). BWP grade nutmegs must be used only for distillation of oil of nutmeg and extraction of nutmeg oleoresin. Occasionally, however, they are ground and sold illegally. For the very real danger of molds producing aflatoxins on BWP nuts, consumers should buy their nutmegs as a whole, and grind for themselves. Whole nutmegs will also keep their flavor longer.  “Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground; therefore, the necessary amount should be grated from a whole nut immediately before usage.”

It surprised me to learn that nutmeg is ONLY safe to ingest in the usual culinary small doses. Amounts of 1/2 to 1 nut are dangerous to ingest, which may cause very unpleasant side-effects which include prolonged extreme nausea, hallucinations, and long-term hyper­sensitivity to nutmeg. Wow…perhaps my own body’s sensitivity is why I have never been overly fond of nutmeg. Good thing, it seems!

Why Yeast Bread Might "Fail" Inexplicably

When you have been making bread for a while with reasonable success, it is easy to get a little careless, imagining that past successes will predict future results. No so. In bread making, small things can have large effects. Water, for instance. Also, cleanliness can seem so easy, so natural, that one can start to have problems and not be able to figure out why. Here are a few points to watch.

WATER: Filtered, if possible, or bottled, if necessary.
REASONS:

  • Chlorinated water may add an objectionable flavor; let the water sit overnight so the chlorine dissipates. Very heavily chlorinated water may actually inhibit yeast.
  • If you have a water softener, the excess salt can retard yeast action.
  • Soft water may make a bread dough slightly sticky.
  • Hard water may toughen the dough; the rising period will be longer.

MIXING/RISING BOWL: Non-porous (metal, Pyrex, glazed ceramic) and quite clean.
REASON: Plastic is porous, and over time can absorb minute amounts of yeast (even though you scrubbed that  thing!) which can go bad and make future batches have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail. (Voice of experience)

KNEADING SURFACE: No leftover dough bits from prior dough balls.
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

UTENSILS: Spatulas, mixing cups, spoons, etc. should be completely clean, with no residue at edges or in crevices.
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

HANDS: If touching dough, should be washed first (and especially around and under nails).
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

Beyond these, a really excellent resource about yeast dough is http://www.four-h.purdue.edu/foods/Yeast%20dough.htm. The Cooperative Extension system is a fantastic source of accurate research-based information in one place (no searching for hours, no guessing, no opinions masquerading as facts). The land grant university system is one of the most efficient and effective uses of government $ that I know of, in fact, one of the few places where the money IS well-spent! Check to find one in your county and make use of their excellent help.

Under or over-proofing dough

I re-discovered the “no-knead bread” video and then found the Cooks Illustrated modification (making it now nearly no-knead, but still very easy) but in the process have been learning about “proofing” the final rise, and this is the best description I have found so far (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/24941/help-pain-au-levain-crust), so I shall share it here. When I finish refining my version of the recipe for how I make it I will post the whole thing later.

Overproofing:

  • poor oven spring
  • greyish crumb
  • greyish dull crust
  • dense gummy texture
  • sometimes unpleasant yeasty smell and/or flavor
  • when slashed before baking, loaf significantly collapses
  • dough feels sticky and flabby after bulk rise or final proof*
  • dough collapses when poked with finger (more than just a little indentation)

Underproofing:

  • dough explosions (out of the side, bottom, etc), extreme oven spring
  • poor crust color (light-brown or grey)
  • Some bubbles in crumb with dense dough around them
  • Unevenly distributed dense areas of crumb
  • Dough immediately springs back when you poke it with your finger
  • Dough feels very firm and dough-like, no sense of lightness.
* some wet doughs, like focaccia, are naturally sticky, but when you learn how they’re supposed to feel, they still don’t feel “flabby”
Here’s another way to think about it: imagine you’re chewing a piece of bubble gum, and you blow a bubble.
  • If you blow a really big bubble, it’s flabby and collapses: that’s overproofing.
  • If you blow a really tiny bubble, it’s really firm and unpopable: that’s underproofing.
  • Somewhere in the middle is the perfect bubble, with good surface tension, that won’t immediately pop if you were to poke it, and can hold its shape: that’s correctly proofed.

Scratch Cooking – learning by necessity

It seems few people know how to cook from scratch anymore. I even know a woman putting up with a relationship she doesn’t want – because he cooks and she feels like she and her daughter would starve without him. Seriously. That’s what she told me. Wow…

Well, over the years I had to learn how to make a many things from scratch, for both health and economic reasons. I just wish there had been affordable classes to shorten the learning curve, or at least someone I could have gone to (my family was far away). Sometimes necessity/life is the best teacher.

Anyway, I drive some friends to an independent food pantry that picks up food directly from the stores, with no government help (which ALWAYS comes with strings and restrictions). Consequently, choices vary weekly and you find yourself faced with the opportunity to try to figure out what to do with what was there. These are some very simple examples.

CROUTONShomemade-croutons
Occasionally they have some wonderful bread (soft crust organic whole wheat with interesting grains added) which makes excellent croutons, although regular bread is fine, too.

  • Stack a few slices at a time and cut in strips, then the other way for little squares.
  • Put them in as large a bowl as you have/need, and toss with “homemade” Good Seasons Italian dressing.
  • Put them in a casserole (or two) and dry in oven at 180-200 F, stirring occasionally until toasted to your liking. Remove and cool.
  • Store in large glass or plastic containers (like pretzel rods come in), re-filling a smaller, more convenient container as needed.

APPLE THINGS
Occasionally there would be a plentiful supply of hard, crisp apples, but one can only eat so many without soon looking like a bear before hibernation. So you can:

  • Make and can apple butter (info available online, from library, at canning section of stores, bookstores).
  • Make dried apples rings (slice thinly, then toss with a little lemon juice to minimize browning and for flavor,then dry on very low temp in the oven).

Both have been successful and wildly popular with my family, which is nice.

CITRUS

Certain times of the year there is an abundance of oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.

  • Lemons and limes can be squeezed then frozen in ice cube trays (each cube is about 1 oz, or 1/8 cup), then pop them into freezer bags and keep until needed for homemade lemonade or limeade, or added to iced tea.
  • Grapefruit and oranges can be squeezed and frozen in shallow amounts in freezer containers, then transfer the flats to a larger container (like gallon zip bags).

WINTER SQUASH
Buttercup (#1 for sweetness!!) and butternut (#2) are multipurpose. I cut them, scoop the seeds (to toast “cleaned” but unwashed in butter – yummy!), bake the squash and scoop it into freezer containers for later use in squash soup (best only if made from the above two), added to pancake batter and also to other soups for an interesting color and delicious flavor.

As a result of going there to help my friends, I have found and tried vegetables I never would have spent the money on in the first place, and I am glad I did!

Canning Collard Greens

I grow collard greens, but as much as I like them they can be time consuming to make, so I usually blanch and freeze them flat in gallon bags. I also freeze smoked turkey tails (precooked, picked and boned and defatted) in their cooking broth in plastic containers. Problem is, they can take up considerable space in the freezer.

So, a while back, I decided to try canning the two together, but had an inexplicable problem – liquid loss during canning. Although I had no failed seals as a result, it was messy to clean up and I wondered what had gone wrong.

My first batch was in pints and they were edible, but not suitable for public viewing because I had lost about an inch of liquid (and I had started with an inch headspace).

I checked online and learned that others had similar experiences. One woman thought she should have precooked or blanched the greens but I tried that and it makes no difference.

My second and final batch (so far) was quarts, and this time I tried 1-1/2 inches headspace – same disappointing result.

I reread all instructions, but the only clue I could find was the sentence: “Fill jars looselywith greens and add fresh boiling water.” Dang. I guess they only expect you to process raw greens.

Conclusion? I have found NO ONE who can claim to have successfully canned them with meat, so if you have, or have a link to someone who has, drop a comment – please!

 

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