Friday, September 12
It’s Friday! Yay!
I’m going to be super quick with my sharing today, just a couple Babble links!
- A Simple yet Scrumptious Snack: Milk and Berries
- Cheers to Surviving Summer with this Autumn Apple Cider Sangria
You know the drill…show and tell means everyone in the class gets to share! Share your stuff!
Thursday, September 11
This post is sponsored by McDonald’s. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
In May, McDonald’s flew me to Chicago to visit their headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. I sat down for 60 minutes of discussion with some of their leadership team, including the senior directors of marketing and management. McDonald’s understands that they have a polarizing brand and they are making efforts to reach out to people who have neutral or negative opinions about the company (people like me!) to engage in a dialogue. When they first approached me about potentially doing a sponsored post on my blog involving an interview with members of the leadership team, in all honesty my initial reaction was “no way.” But I thought about it a lot and decided that this could be an excellent opportunity to talk with decision-makers at the company, ask them direct questions and hear what they had to say (as well as maybe get a chance to share my thoughts around their business).
I feel strongly that what we do in the kitchen has a strong impact on Mother Earth. My New Year’s resolutions always involve an environmental goal that’s directly related to how our family eats. I also try to cook at home as much as I can to feed my family a nutritious and balanced diet. But guess what? We also go to McDonald’s. Not all the time, but we go. Cate doesn’t like McDonald’s and normally doesn’t order anything (she’s well-versed in the concept of monoculture farming but also does not enjoy the food). Anna and Owen, however, love McDonald’s, and it’s a special treat for them when we go. That said, on the occasions that I visit McDonald’s, questions and concerns about sustainability and our food system are constantly swirling in my head.
When my girls found out that I was going to interview people at McDonald’s, I asked if they had any specific things they wanted me to talk about. They both said they wanted me to ask McDonald’s to please put baby carrots in the Happy Meals. I shared our family’s wish with Chef Jessica, so I’ve done my duty. Even though McDonald’s does not accept unsolicited advice – “Jane Maynard’s Requests” was not on the “How a Product Is Developed” infographic they shared with me – if baby carrots ever do appear in the Happy Meal, the girls and I are totally taking credit!
On to the interviews! Here are the folks that I had the chance to talk with, both in person and over the phone:
- Justin Ransom, PhD, Senior Director, Quality Systems, Supply Chain Management
- Erik Gonring, Manager, Global Government Relations & Public Affairs
- Chef Jessica Foust, RDN, Director of Culinary Innovation
- Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RDN, LDN, Senior Director of Nutrition
- Darci Forrest, Senior Director Marketing, Menu Innovation Team
In my discussion with Justin and Erik, we talked about food sustainability and supply issues, which have always been my biggest concerns with McDonald’s and other big food brands. I learned from talking with Justin and Erik that when McDonald’s looks at sourcing, there’s a triple bottom line that’s defined by three Es: ethics, environment and economics. Those three factors drive how the company sources their food. One interesting takeaway that I learned – and something that I honestly hadn’t thought about before – is that McDonald’s wants to get their food from sustainable sources, because they need those supplies to not disappear.
Erik gave the example of the Filet-O-Fish, an iconic McDonald’s item. At one point, the company learned that they were contributing to the depletion of the cod supply off the Atlantic coast. This problem had ethical, environmental and economic implications. McDonald’s knew they had to make a change, especially since they needed a long-term fish supply in order to continue serving the beloved sandwich. After years of work, McDonald’s USA has reached a point where all of the whitefish they use is sustainably harvested, and McDonald’s was the first national chain to serve whitefish sourced from a Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable fishery.
I also inquired about organic and local sourcing. Justin said that 14,000 restaurants using local and/or organic ingredients is a challenge. Taking into account their high standards for quality, safety and consistency, McDonald’s has to minimize risk in their supply chain, which makes organic and locally sourced foods difficult to implement. I understand this on a logical level, but it’s still a concern for me. I asked Justin if he was at all optimistic that, in the future, we could source foods in more sustainable ways at this scale. Justin said he is. Honestly, I don’t know that I am, but I’m glad someone is.
We also discussed waste. On the customer side, I asked about recycling and compost bins in restaurants. Erik said that when there is infrastructure to support recycling and composting, typically they get on board: restaurants in cities including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin have recycling bins, and many of those markets also compost organic waste behind the counter. But he also stressed that customer behavior is the biggest challenge when implementing these systems. On the supply side, I learned that the bulk of the waste at a restaurant happens behind the counter. McDonald’s recycles their corrugate and cooking oil in many restaurants, which makes up to 40% of that behind-the-scenes waste. The company is also taking actions like phasing out polystyrene coffee cups and joining the How2Recycle label program to make it easier for customers to recycle away from the restaurant.
The biggest takeaway from my discussion with Erik and Justin is that McDonald’s won’t compromise on their final product. The McDonald’s fry is a good example of this. Justin said that the taste of McDonald’s fries must remain consistent around the world. This means that McDonald’s only uses a handful of potato varieties from specific regions of the world. I was told that identifying new varieties is a long and arduous process and McDonald’s would never allow customers to notice a change in their fries. For me, this is a perfect example of how our demand for one specific product leads to problematic farming practices. If there were more room for variation, we wouldn’t need to farm such limited varieties of potatoes. When there is such a high demand for just a few crops, those plants are susceptible to pests, which in turn necessitates the use of either GMOs – which McDonald’s made clear that they do not use – or pesticides. Industrialized monoculture farming, where you grow un-diversified crops, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our demand – what we will or will not buy – directly impacts how food is grown.
In my discussion with chef Jessica, nutritionist Cindy and marketer Darci, we talked at length about the menu, how it’s developed and efforts around nutrition. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion:
- When a new product is rolled out, it takes anywhere from nine months to four years to develop, from conceptualization to finally being sold in restaurants.
- McDonald’s has reformulated a long list of their ingredients, from the Big Mac bun to nuggets, to contain less sodium.
- McDonald’s is working on a set of initiatives for their top nine and top 20 markets to be fulfilled by 2020 that include, among other things, increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are served, as well as offering more salads and produce as options with meals.
- Taste is key. McDonald’s won’t sacrifice when it comes to taste and is completely focused on serving customers what they want and will buy.
The Arches, a full-service McDonald’s restaurant in the corporate office building.
A lot of the issues that I have with McDonald’s and our food system in general map back to the consumer. For instance, I asked Darci why McDonald’s peels the apples in their Happy Meals. (I really wish that the apples were not peeled so that my kids would at least have the option of eating better.) Darci explained that McDonald’s serves apples that way because it was the best balance they could find of serving a product that parents would feel good about giving their kids but also one that the kids would eat, based on testing prior to the product launch. Corporations as large as McDonald’s have a social responsibility and should take a leadership role, but purchasing power is also incredibly important when it comes to effecting change.
So did I learn anything new through this process? Yes. Did I get some answers that weren’t completely satisfactory? Yes. Did I get some positive answers I wasn’t expecting? Yes. Could I have asked questions all day long? You bet. And do I still believe that we, the consumers, are at the root of the food system and that we can make a difference? Yes!
Let me know in the comments section below: if you could ask the McDonald’s team one question, what would it be?
Tuesday, September 9
A few months ago I was thinking that naan bread would make a good crust for quick pizzas. I wrote it on my “to try” list and then ignored the list all summer. Then, this week, I picked up the America’s Test Kitchen magazine “6 Ingredient Recipes” (which is on newsstands now until October 20 and it’s great!) and guess what they had as one of the recipes? Naan pizza! I decided to finally get my act together and give it a try.
This past Sunday I was planning to make homemade pizza. I have really perfected the pizza-making process (not to brag or anything) and was looking forward to having pizza for dinner. (Here is my crust recipe – I will also be doing a full post about making homemade pizza soon, so keep an eye out.) But Sunday ended up being really busy as well as ridiculously hot. I simply didn’t feel like turning my oven on at 550º F for 2-3 hours. So, I broke out the naan bread and fired up the grill!
Naan bread works perfectly as a pizza crust. Following the technique below, it gets nice and crispy on the bottom but still has some chew, and it’s just so quick and easy! Making the naan pizzas on the grill worked beautifully, but I also cooked one in the oven and that worked great, too. If I had to choose I would go with the grill, but you can’t lose either way!
Naan pizzas are also a great lunch option – I made one for myself yesterday in the toaster oven and it was quick and painless!
For the record, I love my homemade crust more. But these naan pizzas are still pretty amazing and are perfect for when you need a good homemade pizza cheat!
Pizza flavors pictured: Barbecue Chicken (BBQ sauce, chicken, cheese and cilantro tossed on after cooking) and Honey Goat Cheese with Caramelized Onion
Sunday, September 7
How is it time to plan a menu already? I know I say this pretty much every week, but, goodness, time flies!
I think it’s supposed to be hot again this week. I am absolutely not complaining about California weather, but I sure wish our hot summer weather would come in the summer instead of September when school has started. I just want to jump in the pool, not run to school and soccer! I know, rough life.
– Chicken Salad Sandwiches
– Fresh fruit
– Spaghetti and meatballs (Anna’s request)
– Oriental Chicken Salad #2
– Rachel Sandwiches
– Fresh fruit
– Takeout night
– Breakfast for Dinner: Scrambled eggs and smoothies
You know the drill…time to share your dinner plans for the week! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got cookin’!
Posted by Jane Maynard at 2:07 pm 22 Comments
Categories: weekly menus Tags: dinner plans, free printable, meal plan, menu plan, PRINTABLE MEAL PLAN, shopping list, weekly menu, weekly menu planning |
Friday, September 5
When I started this blog nearly 8 years ago, I was constantly sharing my favorite Trader Joe’s finds, much to the chagrin of those readers who didn’t have a Trader Joe’s near their home. I backed off a lot over the years, but I recently found an item that I am loving and have to tell you about. If you don’t have a TJs, my apologies. The Half-Baked Panini Rustic Rolls are AWESOME. We’ve used the rolls for pesto chicken salad sandwiches and for a variation on our caprese paninis. The bread is perfect for sandwiches, with a nice crisp exterior and chewy interior. The big bonus is that, magically, the sandwich fixings don’t squeeze out as you eat the sandwich. We LOVE this bread!
On to food links!
- On Babble: Easy and Delicious Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken
- On Cosmo: 7 Ways to Turn Whipped Cream Into the Best Dessert Ever
That’s all from me today…what do you have to share?
Wednesday, September 3
Confession: I’m not that into fruit pies, cobblers or crisps. I mean, they’re okay but not my first choice. Nate, on the other hand, goes weak in the knees over a good apple crisp and loves those other fruity desserts almost as much. That’s really saying something because he rarely goes weak in the knees over food. This is just another of the many ways in which he and I are complete opposites! (Shout-out to the ever wise Paula Abdul.)
But there are a few fruity desserts that I can get on board with. This Apple Bavarian Torte is one of them. The recipe has been hiding on my blog since Day One, but I have never written a post about it or photographed it for you. Honestly, I’m usually making this torte late the night before Thanksgiving so photographing has never been an option!
Since autumn is in the air I decided it was a good time to finally give this apple recipe the attention it deserves. It is SO GOOD. Even this apple dessert hater loves it.
A friend named Sarah gave me this recipe nearly 15 years ago. (Sarah is also the one who gave me the pizza crust recipe that I still use to this day. I sure am glad I met Sarah!) Sarah got this apple Bavarian torte recipe at a Pampered Chef party and that’s about all I know about it. Well, besides the fact that it’s amazing.
Sunday, August 31
Hi there. I can’t believe it’s time to plan another menu…here we go!
So, I completely underestimated what an interruption to normal life repiping our house would be this past week. I didn’t cook once. We’re almost back to normal now and I actually am cooking this afternoon, which will be nice! Needless to say, lots of repeats on my menu this week from last. (For those of you in California and Nevada, if you are ever in need of repiping your home, see below for info on the company we used.*)
– Happy Labor Day!
– Hot dogs & hamburgers on the grill
– Chicken Caesar Wraps
– Fresh fruit and carrot sticks
– Homemade pizza night (flavors TBD!)
– Taco night
– Breakfast for Dinner: Waffles
– BBQ Chicken on the Grill
Your turn! Share your menu for the week, pretty please with a cherry on top!
*Repiping info for California and Nevada folks: Repipe 1 was the company we used and they were fantastic. Their prices are phenomenal, they are super organized and timely, and the customer service has been great. I highly recommend them. The only issue we had was with the crew that patched up our walls. I won’t go into the too much detail, but the biggest issue was that they should have done a much better job putting plastic over our belongings, which ended up being a major headache for me. The company was quick to respond, however, and offered to come out and help clean everything (which I declined in the end and just did it myself). Even with a few hiccups on patch day, I still highly recommend them.
Posted by Jane Maynard at 11:21 am 19 Comments
Categories: around the house, new house fun, weekly menus Tags: dinner plans, free printable, meal plan, menu plan, PRINTABLE MEAL PLAN, repipe 1, shopping list, weekly menu, weekly menu planning |
Friday, August 29
Happy Friday! Today for show and tell I have a lot of movie and tv talk. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
First, Cate and I went to see The Giver this week and it was so good. The movie doesn’t have high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and I don’t understand why, it was great! The book really is one of the best books ever, so Cate and I were worried about how it would be adapted to film. We didn’t need to worry – the film was beautiful. There were a few changes to the story but the changes made sense, and the visual interpretation was lovely. Plus, Cate and I were both sobbing at the end, which earns the movie extra points for sure. Definitely a great movie, go see it! (If you haven’t read the book, do that first!)
Second, Netflix is starting to overwhelm me! I was super excited about the final season of The Killing coming on the service this month and totally liked it. Since the series is now done, I kind of figured I was sort of all caught up on my Netflix originals viewing. And then I heard about Bojack Horseman and Happy Valley and had to add them to our list. Then Nate and I watched the first episode of An Idiot Abroad, which was hilarious and necessitated another addition to our list. Make it stop! My playlist is too long! Sidenote: I will be forever bitter that Ricky Gervais didn’t win the Emmy this week for his acting on Derek. Don’t even get me started on Jim Parsons…for crying out loud.
One fun food link this week on Babble: 12 Clever, Tasty Recipe Hacks for the Dorm Room.
You know the drill…share your stuff!
Thursday, August 28
Earlier this summer I received an email from Tillamook, inviting me to visit the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon as well as see one of their dairy farms. After a little “please pretty please can I ditch our family for three days” begging with Nate, I promptly emailed Tillamook and said YES to the invitation. We love Tillamook around our house. From the time I was a wee thing my mom taught me that Tillamook cheese was the best. Not only do I think their products are great, but I always love getting a peek into food production, so I couldn’t wait for this trip. (I want to add a little something here, copying and pasting one of the comments from one of my mom’s best friends, Jona, who is the source of our family’s loyalty! “Your mom was indoctrinated by me when she was 17, Jane. So glad you loved Tillamook and beyond. I hope you saw my grandfather’s picture in the Cheese Factory. He was one of the earliest cheesemakers back in the early 1900’s. I am so proud of that heritage.”)
Two weeks ago I flew to Portland, OR, where I arrived at what appeared to be the set for Portlandia. Oh, wait, it was just Portland. Portland IS Portlandia, in case you were wondering. I loved Portland and had a wonderful afternoon exploring and eating my way around town. A delicious lunch at Tasty n Alder, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and a large portion of my very short time spent at Powell’s Books, which is now on the list of my most favorite places on the planet, made for a pretty perfect day.
Let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we? Cheese! I have so much to share about Tillamook it’s almost overwhelming, so I’m going to let my pictures from the trip guide me through this post.
We headed west from Portland to Tillamook, OR. The drive was unbelievably picturesque and you can’t miss the factory once you reach town. There I am in front of the GIANT Tillamook sign with Stephanie from 52 Kitchen Adventures…she is wonderful, btw.
We of course were given a tour of the factory. Anyone can visit the factory for tours and to shop in the store, so if you’re ever in the area be sure to stop in! We also had a chance to go behind the scenes and see where the cheese is aged and stored. The facilities are quite impressive.
Have you ever noticed a boat on the Tillamook logo? Well, there it is! The ship Morning Star was used in the early days to deliver cheese up and down the coast. Obviously it’s a little landlocked now but it is just as beautiful as ever.
Part of our tour was lead by Dale Baumgartner, Tillamook Head Cheesemaker (a.k.a. the Head Cheese…that joke is irresistible). Dale has been working for Tillamook for for over 40 years and he knows his cheese. It was fascinating learning how the cheese is made today, but maybe even more interesting hearing about his early years at Tillamook. I always love talking with people who truly love their work and are such experts at what they do. It’s inspiring to me and something, quite honestly, I can’t imagine.
Want some fun cheesemaking facts? Here you go! (I stole these from the signs on the tour.)
- Each of the eight stainless steel cheese vats holds approximately 53,500 pounds of fresh milk. On average each vat makes three batches of cheese per day.
- It takes 10 pounds (1.16 gallons) of milk to make 1 pound of Tillamook cheese.
- More then 1.7 million pounds of milk arrive at the plant each day. Approximately 167,000 pounds of cheese are made each day.
In addition to learning all about how the cheese is made, we also spent part of our day with Jill Allen, Manager of Product Quality. Jill leads the sensory team, which spends all day every day tasting every single batch of everything that is made at the plant, from butter to yogurt to cheese to ice cream to sour cream. Jill was equally as fascinating to listen to, plus she let us taste all kinds of delicious things. And, in case you are wondering, her team expectorates everything they taste so that their tastebuds are as ready to go on the first bite as they are on the last. Bottom line, after everything we learned about sensory, I would absolutely not want to be on that team! I’m glad other people are up for the job!
During our session with Jill, we taste tested Tillamook products alongside leading competitors. You can even tell from this crappy indoor photo how different Tillamook’s cheddar is compared to other brands – the difference was night and day! Many factors play into this, from the quality of the milk to the water content or the cheese to the smaller blocks of cheese that are made. Great care is taken at every step in the process, making for a higher quality final product.
I think one of my favorite things we tasted that day were the cheddar cheese curds. The curds is what the cheese looks like before it’s compressed naturally into blocks. Sadly you can only buy the curds at the Tillamook factory store, which was, by the way, awesome.
That evening we drove west, where we had a view of the amazing Oregon coast.
We stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where my hotel room looked out on this:
I didn’t want to leave. But they made me, which wasn’t too hard since they gave me cute yellow boots and told me I could go look at cute baby cows. Sold!
Before we flew home, we spent the morning at one of the Tillamook dairy farms, owned by Ryan and Wendy. Tillamook is a cooperative, so the farmers all have a stake in the business. There are less than 150 farms in the co-op and they are all within a fairly short distance of the plant. And, from what we witnessed, the cows on those farms are living good lives as Tillamook employees.
Here’s the deal. We did not hear one “MOO” the entire time we were on the tour. Wendy said that cows only “moo” when they are discontent or warning other cows about something, so if they’re quiet, it pretty much means they’re happy and content.
Wendy and Ryan were gracious hosts and taught us all kinds of interesting things about being dairy farmers. I think what struck us most is how much work it is and how tied they are to the farm. It’s really hard for them to ever get away and I think they said it’s been 2 years since their last vacation. Heavens. And Ryan is up before 3:00 AM every day. I can’t even imagine.
They explained that it costs more to make high-quality milk but that Tillamook incentivizes the farmers to make high-quality milk, so it’s worth it. It is amazing how much goes into the process of milking cows twice a day. This particular farm has around 400 cattle and it costs $7/day/cow just for feed. Ryan is a 4th-generation dairy farmer, so he knows what he’s doing. He and Wendy were both incredibly relaxed and happy.
Needless to say I had a fabulous time, surrounded by wonderful people, delicious food and cute cows! I learned a lot and am so appreciative that I was able to be a part of the trip. Also, we had the chance to taste a new Tillabar flavor that is coming out next year and it is AMAZING. I’m not allowed to tell you what it is, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it hits stores!
Thank you, Tillamook!
Wednesday, August 27
Today I have a quick kitchen tip, which involves sharing yet another awesome find from my recent unexpected shopping spree on the King Arthur Flour website. In fact, today’s item is what started the whole shopping spree to begin with!
I love my silicon baking mats and use them multiple times every week. (Side note: if you don’t have one already, hop to it!) As much I use my SILPAT, I do still use parchment paper for various projects, including when I make granola bars each week. (Side note #2: I cook granola bars on parchment paper, then tear the paper into small pieces to place between the layers of granola bars in my storage container. Works great!)
I don’t remember the details, but for some reason one day on Facebook two of my food blogging friends Barbara and Diane told me about flat parchment baking sheets. I had always just bought parchment paper in a roll at the grocery store and didn’t even know flat sheets existed. Diane and Barbara told me how awesome the sheets were so I decided to order some on the King Arthur website (along with many, many, many other wonderful items I didn’t know I needed but totally did).
Anyway, the bottom line is that I love the parchment paper sheets just as much as Diane and Barbara do. Those ladies were so right. The flat sheets are much easier to work with than the rolled up paper, which tends to curl easily when you’re trying to lay it out, and they fit perfectly in a cookie sheet. The flat parchment sheets are also easier to cut down to different sizes when making cakes. (Side note #3: You can also buy 9-inch and 8-inch round parchment paper sheets if you really don’t want to ever have to cut parchment paper yourself again.) One last benefit is the sheets that I got at King Arthur are also reusable. They’re pretty much magic.
Barbara lives in Utah and gets her parchment paper sheets at Orson Gygi. I am not fortunate enough to have a wonderful restaurant supply store near where I live, which is why I ordered mine online from King Arthur.
Happy parchment papering!