On the goodness scale, Equal Exchange’s almonds, pecans, and cranberries float to the top: They’re not just organic and Fair Trade Certified, but they’re domestic Fair Trade, from small growers right here in the U.S. Check out their cool “Track Your Snacks” feature:
First, go to Equal Exchange’s track-your-snacks page, type in the use-by date on the back of the package, and you’ll see exactly which farm in their collective grew your food. (My almonds came from Big Tree Organic Co-Op in Carmel; a co-op of black Georgia farmers grew the pecans; and the cranberries came from Monika and Keith Mann’s organic bogs in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts.) Compared to conventional competitors, these products really do taste distinctively better. Look for:
Tamari-Roasted Almonds—Some snack almonds can be so heavily processed or flavored with additives that they taste artificial. Not so with these babies. They actually taste like almonds, lightly salted with the flavor of tamari (for an extra umami kick). No other ingredients.
Roasted, Salted Pecans—Just pecans, sunflower oil and salt. Delicate and utterly tasty.
Dried, Sweetened Cranberries—Organic cane juice and cranberries. Spoiler alert: A happy ending; you’ll never go back to Ocean Spray.
If you support being clean and green, and your tastes lean toward refined design or a hip Crate-&-Barrel look, then Caldrea has a product for you. Made by the same folks behind the Mrs. Meyer’s line of cleaning products, Caldrea products are just as green, but their fancier packaging and selection of scents absolutely exude upscale elegance, kissed with exotic aroma-therapy benefits. (They’re biodegradable, not tested on animals, and really do work without harsh chemicals.)
Overly sweet, frou-frou smells choke me up, but these are as far away from that concept as you can get. Caldrea blends natural essences into such options as Ginger Pommelo, Basil Blue Sage, Lavender Pine, Sweet Pea, Citrus Mint, and Seville Orange Amber, among other fragrances, then infuses them into such household handies as dishwashing liquid, countertop cleansers, all-purpose sprays, powdered scrubs, laundry products, and linen sprays. They’ll make your home clean and dreamy, and while I never thought I’d recommend countertop cleansers or linen sprays as luxurious stocking stuffers, these can make unexpectedly wonderful gifts. (Trust me, with four cats and two dogs, I guarantee pet owners will absolutely inhale these products.) Caldrea’s website has new holiday scents, but these are the ones I know best:
They won 2007′s Best New Products Award at the New England Products Show, and we like Robin’s Chocolate Sauces for many reasons. Three of their six sauces are Fair Trade Certified, including the elegant Orange Spice and Tropical Dark (our personal favorites), made with 70 percent dark chocolate.
All of Robin’s small-batch sauces are made with organic cocoa, vanilla and cane sugar, using local dairy products. Serve straight from the jar, or better yet, simply remove the lid, warm the jar in the microwave, and drizzle the velvety sauces over ice cream, bread pudding or cheesecake.
Robin’s Chocolate Sauce partners with National Wildlife Federation and Sustainable Harvest International, helping to conserve tropical habitats for migratory songbirds, and promote sustainable cocoa-farming practices. Unlike Betty Crocker, Robin Jenkins is a real person, whose holiday gifts of chocolate sauce grew into a true family business, starting in 2004. Today her husband and two sons pitch in, using organic, shade grown and local or Fair Trade Certified ingredients whenever possible.
As Robin says, “These standards are crucial to maintaining a sustainable environment, protecting migratory birds and creating healthy communities—and your children and grandchildren will notice the sweet difference.” So stick that in your (or some else’s) sweet holiday stocking! If you don’t live in Maine, where most stores carry their products, buy them online:
Sometimes an instant-read thermometer just isn’t enough. With inventive cooking techniques on the rise, coupled with all too common incidents of food contamination, performing a science-check of all stages of food temperatures seems prudent. Take your pick of Taylor’s Refrigerator-Freezer Thermometers in commercial and consumer versions, and monitor to see if your freezer and refrigerator are truly storing foods in the safe zone. (Buy one for each: freezers should be at or below 0 degrees F., and refrigerators should stay between 34 and 40 degrees F.)
But don’t stop there.
All ovens are subject to hot and cold zones, and calibration alters over time; so double-check for accuracy with Taylor’s Connoisseur Series Oven Thermometer, which hangs, sits, or clips wherever it’s needed (and is easily readable through the oven window). But wait: there’s more! Visual clues give way to precise cooking with Taylor’s Digital Infrared Thermometer. This baby measures surface temperatures, and it does so from a distance; just point and click for a digital reading.
Why is this important?
Because solid pieces of meat (roasts and whole turkeys, for instance) typically carry bacteria on the outer surface, so a check of the exterior temperature is as important, or even more so, than reading internal temperature. And here’s something else to think about: use it to measure a pan’s surface temperature. Now you can tell if a griddle has reached 350 degrees F., the optimum temperature for pancakes, and do away the guesswork of dancing water droplets (which bead between 320 and 440 degrees); and candy making becomes less messy (no contact thermometer needed, just point and click). Cool!
Green as the Hills, Cast Iron Cookware Lasts Lifetimes
Reviewed by Kate Heyhoe
Consider this: Some of Lodge’s cast-iron cooking pieces made over a century ago are still in use today. In an era when reduce, reuse and recycle are buzzwords, Lodge cookware stands out because it literally lasts for generations. It’s also made right here in the USA*, near the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, by the same original family, the Lodges, in a town barely approaching 3300 people. But history aside, the superior performance endears this cookware to professional chefs as well as home cooks. And though it’s been hard to improve their quality, the folks at Lodge have made some notable changes for the better.
Lodge is famous for their cast iron Dutch ovens, skillets, and other cookware pieces. But one obstacle for many consumers was always the simple but extra step of “seasoning” the pan before use, meaning coating with oil and baking it to seal the finish. Now, all of Lodge’s cast iron pans are sold pre-seasoned, ready to cook with. The more you cook in cast iron, the better the seasoned patina becomes, creating a natural nonstick, non-toxic surface. Plus, cast iron may take longer to heat than other materials, but once hot, it retains heat superbly, with even distribution. You can turn off the burner or oven and finish your cooking just with the iron’s retained heat. After use, simply clean the cookware with hot water and a stiff brush (without soap, biodegradable or otherwise), dry it, and lightly spritz or rub with oil.
New items bring Lodge’s cast-iron wisdom and expertise to contemporary designs and enamel-coated cast iron. I’ve personally tested the pieces below and think they’ve got a place in every home, with every style of cook. Plus, the company’s forward-thinking green practices make me pleased to support them even more. Check these out:
Chef’s Skillet: Loved by both gourmet and home chefs, the all-purpose10-inch skillet with curved edge lets spatulas and spoons glide across the entire surface, with no hard corners or edges, so food slips right out. And again, it’s pre-seasoned so it’s ready to go.
Cast iron is naturally stovetop and ovenproof, so you can sear foods over a burner then pop the skillet into a hot oven to continue the cooking process. The classic Southern cornbread recipe typically requires pouring the batter into a hot, greased cast iron skillet then baking until done. The crust is crisp and crackly, with the center perfectly moist and tender. (Use any cast iron skillet, or their Wedge-Pan and make these Cast-Iron Cornbread Recipes: Coyote Cafe’s Skillet Pinon Cornbread and John Ryan’s Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread.)
Lodge’s Signature Series brings contemporary design to cast-iron, with shiny stainless steel handles, and a range of pre-seasoned skillets, grill pan, and Dutch ovens handsome enough to go from kitchen to table. I’ve found their Covered Casserole to be especially handy. It’s the size of a 12-inch skillet and can be used on stovetop. With two short side lifts, instead of one long handle, it fits easier in the oven and on the table.
Lodge’s Enamel-on-Cast Iron cookware blends the heat attributes of cast iron with the sleek surface of enamel. Lodge’s Color series of skillets and Dutch Ovens come in three rich hues (Caribbean Blue, Island Spice, and Cafe), and are truly multi-functional. They’ll withstand not just oven and stovetop cooking, but also marinating and refrigeration. While other Lodge cast iron pieces are made in the USA, their enamel cookware is manufactured overseas (which is typical of most other enamelware brands).
Okay, you’ll need a large, heavy-duty stocking to hold the Lodge Cast-Iron Grill Press, but it’s a worthwhile goodie for the cook who has almost everything. Use the press to keep bacon from curling, flatten panini, and quick-cook a spatchcocked chicken or chicken breasts for the “chicken under a brick” effect. I also wrap mine in a plastic bag (to keep it dry), to press liquid from eggplant, vegetables, tofu, or salmon when making gravlax. The round press is 7-inches in diameter (they make a rectangular one, too).
For any size stocking, pick up Lodge’s Miniature Cast-Iron Skillet, about 3-1/2 inches across. Sure, it’s cute, but it also makes a terrific spice toaster, for a couple of tablespoons or less of spices, sesame seeds, or nuts at a time. Or melt butter in it. Or buy several and bake itsy-bitsy little cakes. Lots of good uses for such a tiny little pan.
*Lodge _enamelled_ cookware is made in China.