August 28, 2008

Briefs: New Books to Help You Help Your Kids Eat Healthy

Your kids may not believe it, but there is life -- and food -- beyond chicken nuggets.

And if you need help persuading them of this, two new cookbooks offer a bit of guidance. First is Jennifer McCann's "Vegan Lunch Box" (Da Capo Press), which is drawn from the author's popular blog that chronicled the lunches she packed for her son.

McCann's book is great for children willing to try new foods, but might be stuck in a lunchbox rut. As the title implies, the recipes are all vegan, but they still offer plenty of appeal. Many are quite inventive.

As in, aloo samosas (simple Indian-style potato hand pies), sushi, polenta fries, and hazelnut banana sandwich bites.

For children with more carnivorous palates, check out Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel's "Real Food for Healthy Kids" (William Morrow), a primer on helping kids eat right and eat well.

Seaman and Steel, editor-in-chief of, cover plenty of nutrition basics, then put them intro practice with appealing, kid-friendly recipes. Offerings cover cookie jar treats (usually spiked with whole-wheat flour), and everything from breakfast to dessert.

Try the Orion Cooker for speedy grilling

Yet another cool toy for the griller in your life.

The Orion Cooker, which more closely resembles a small stainless steel rocket than any grill you're likely to encounter at the home goods store, is a new, unusual and speedy way to get your grill on.

Here's how it works. Meat is placed inside the barrel-like chamber. Coals are lit in outer chambers above and below the food, creating a convection-like indirect heating environment. It also simultaneously smokes and steams the food.

The results are fast and moist -- a 15-pound turkey can be turned out in under 2 hours; six baby back racks are done in just over 1 hour.

The Orion Cooker does a nice job and is ideal for people who like to smoke or cook whole birds and other large pieces of meat. However, because of setup time and the amount of coal used, it's not a a replacement grill for somebody who just likes to do a few burgers.

It is available from major retailers, including Ace Hardware, True Value and Home Depot for about $140.

It's all about the meat

Some surprising facts about meat:

- Jesse James refused to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas, because his favorite chili parlor was in the same building.

- On a 1965 space flight, astronaut John Young smuggled a corned- beef sandwich on board for crew mate Virgil "Gus" Grissom.

- Chicago artist Dwight Kalb made a statue of Madonna from 180 pounds of ham.

- Turkeys have been bred to have such large breasts that they can't have sex and must be artificially inseminated.

- Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie gave up meat around age 60, explaining: "My intestines wrote me a letter."

- There's no chicken in chicken fried steak, so why is it called that? Probably because the beefsteak is coated in flour or batter, much as is done with fried chicken. Like many Southerners, Elvis Presley loved chicken fried steak, which he called "ugly steak."

Trans-fat-free baking requires some changes

With the trans-fat-free shortenings, home bakers can be frustrated when their cakes don't turn out well.

Trans-fat-free baking is still a developing science. In New York City, where a trans-fat ban went into effect July 1, there actually is a Trans-Fat Help Center to help bakeries make the transition.

The center's work is focused on bulk baking used in the industry, but we may eventually get good information for home bakers from that project.

Wanda Cropper, assistant dean of the baking and pastry program at Johnson & Wales University's Charlotte campus, says they tried several trans-fat-free shortenings before settling on one made with palm oil.

The key to success was creaming. "You really need to mix that shortening well before you add anything to it," she says.

Shortening and the other ingredients need to be at room temperature to keep the shortening from being too hard to mix well.

Adding chilled eggs, for instance, can make the shortening stiff and hard to beat smoothly.

Originally published by staff and wire reports.

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