Happy Birthday Heart of the Matter!

Heart of the Matter is turning two years old!

Nearly three years ago, Ilva from Lucullian Delights and I started thinking about beginning a monthly blog event dedicated to heart-healthy eating. In February of 2007, Ilva, along with Joanna from Joanna's Food, made those thoughts a reality when they launched the website for Heart of the Matter - Eating for Life and called out to the food blog community to send in their recipes for heart-healthy foods. I finally joined them in October as a host and for nearly two years, your recipes have been rounded up and archived every month so that we all have a go-to resource for diverse, heart-healthy recipes and information about heart disease.

Last month, we were concerned that we were going to have to end Heart of the Matter (HotM) because we were getting fewer and fewer entries every month. We sent out a plea for recipes and you came to our rescue - we had a whopping 20 entries! This month, we'd like to have even more! To celebrate that HotM has survived, and in honor of this very special anniversary, we've revamped the website and we're going back to our very first theme: Finger Foods. Entries will be due at midnight on Sunday, March 15. Please send your entries to my email: phillipslayden AT gmail DOT com with the subject "HotM" and link back to this announcement in your post or to the HotM blog. I'll post the round-up by March 18th.

(Here we see the Italian prize: black rice from Veneto, a small bottle with White Truffle Scented Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar Jelly and Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans from Slitti)

But what would a birthday be without presents, right? Even though it is the birthday of HotM, we feel that it wouldn't exist today without YOU. So we want to give YOU a gift for being a vital part of the HotM community and participating! After the round-up is posted on the 18th, you will have one week (until March 25th) to vote for your Favorite Recipe and the recipe with the Best Presentation. The winner of the favorite recipe category will win a special box coming all the way from Ilva's home country, Italy, packed with goodies (see the photo above)! The winner of the presentation category will be sent a box from my state, Hawaii, full of delicious tropical treats, including Planted by the River exotic curds, Waialua Estate Single Origin Hawaiian dark chocolate, Red Alaea Salt, and Hawaiian grown macadamia nuts (picture to come soon)! Stay tuned after the round-up for more details on this.

Keep in mind that your entry should be low in saturated fats (lean meats and fish), be low in salt (sodium), and have loads of vegetables or fruit (nuts, wine and chocolate are also considered to be healthy for your heart in smaller quantities!). See the HotM blog, especially here and the links to various heart disease related organizations on the side bar. This list of Joanna's is also helpful as are this, this, this, this, this and this and even this post! Please only use your entry for this event so that we can keep things centered on heart-healthy recipes.

So no matter if you're new to HotM, you've been waiting for that perfect time to join in (this is it!) or if you've been participating with us since the beginning (a special thank you to you!), send in your healthiest, heartiest finger foods! See you at the party!

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How to Buy from Whole Foods Without Spending Your Whole Paycheck

Foodies in Hawaii have been abuzz about the September opening of a Whole Foods store at the Kahala Mall - the first of these stores in the Hawaiian Islands. Whole Foods isn't exactly known for being a reasonably-priced, value-driven grocery store. In fact, the nickname for this corporate-owned natural foods store is, as I'm sure many of you who have Whole Foods in your area already refer to it by (at least we used to in Monterey, CA), "Whole Paycheck." The nickname is not without substantiation, either. You can easily walk into Whole Foods and spend a pretty penny for a very small bag of groceries.

In Hawaii, where food is already at premium prices no matter where you shop, I was curious to see how Whole Foods would hold up against the hype, and if it would be worth the 30-40 minute drive across the island to shop there, since I live on the other side. Luckily, I have a partner in food crime, so to speak, and received an email shortly after the store opened from my friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen to attend a "Value's Tour" at Whole Foods - finding healthy food and doing high quality shopping at Whole Foods on a tight budget. Needless to say, I was game. While we attended this tour some time ago, and I am just now [finishing] writing it up, with the economy on a downturn, I thought the information we obtained during the tour is even more relevant now, so I'd like to share. They now run these tours weekly on Saturday mornings at 11AM.

We arrived to a fully-booked tour at 11AM, given by the very pleasant marketing supervisor, Elyse. She started off by explaining to the group (I think Deb and I may have been the youngest in attendance...and neither one of us is exactly a spring chicken either) why Whole Foods is different from other grocery stores - and I learned a few things about Whole Foods that I didn't know before this. For instance, they only feature foods that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats - foods they consider "pure." I was skeptical about this claim, having just finished Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (yes, I know I am the only one out there that hadn't read it yet), but every processed product I picked up off the shelves didn't seem to have any strange ingredients that I couldn't name or a "red #5" on the label.

The store also had a very large selection of organic, gluten-free and local foods. Every organic item is 3rd party certified and no herbicides or pesticides can be used (maybe obvious, but now I've been hearing about the "natural" pesticides that organic companies can use like Rotenone - read the second sentance in that link if you dare...). Most of the fish are also certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and many come from our local fishery fleet in Honolulu. They have a large selection of gluten-free foods too - and all of them are prominantly marked and many are segregated into their own areas to help with ease in finding what you need. The local foods are what really got me though (what can I say? I'm a locavore at heart!), because it was by far the largest selection of local products I have seen here in a single place, and they are all prominently displayed and easy to find. There are little tags everywhere sticking out from the shelves identifying local products and as soon as you walk in the door, there is a huge case of all locally grown produce (the picture above this is the other half of the case):
Yes, that is asparagus on the top shelf in the picture (from Waimea) and Kahuku sweet corn in the middle, both from Oahu. Apparently, asparagus grows year round here and believe it or not it's actually good year round here too (I know, go ahead, hate me all you want to - and then come and visit!). The produce prices are surprisingly reasonable, for some things. For instance, back in September, locally grown organic mangoes top out at $3.99/lb (not bad for here). A little (#1 recyclable, I might add) plastic box of Ho Farms family tomatoes (those cute ones you saw in this salad) are $4.99 (Foodland has them for $3.99 on sale usually, but 4.99 regularly priced). Locally grown papayas were going for $1.99/lb, and organic bell peppers were running for 3.99/lb (el cheapo!).

Many other products are priced similarly to Safeway or Foodland here or PC Market in Eugene - so basically, they seem competitive. Watch out for the prices on certain items though, dragon fruit, which I just bought at Foodland a few days ago for $4.99 was a steep $9.99 at WF. Unfortunately, since September, prices have risen a bit...while not completely outrageous, many things are a dollar or more expensive now than when I was first there. I'm not sure when they did as I only make it there probably once a month these days because I don't go into Honolulu that often - or if it's only a seasonal jump in price, but that remains to be seen.

One thing going for WF is that they definitely know how to make food pretty and it does help sell their products no matter how much it costs. Check out the coffee selection...feel like you're at some kind of Colombian farmer's market (or, perhaps, Hawaii since we do produce our own coffee here)? And not that you can read it, but their in-house coffee is locally grown - complete with a big sign to tell you exactly which island it came from. You have to admit, that's pretty cool.

And if the coffee station doesn't sell you, the fish case will (check out that moonfish/opah in the top picture!). All the fish had pretty eyes and pretty scales (yay - fresher!) and we even learned that you can pick out your fish, decide how you'd like to cook it that night, go off to do your grocery shopping - and heck, while you're busy picking out your Veggie Booty, they'll even cook it for you - free of charge! They smoke meats and fish in-house and don't even get me started on the glorious cheese and charcuterie sections and the enormous (and quite tasty) deli area. The meats, however, are not local, which I happen to find a good thing...our one local grass-fed beef supplier, North Shore Cattle Company, can barely keep up with the farmer's market...but when I asked, the guy behind the counter told me that WF is attempting to work with producers on Molokai and the Big Island to get some local meat later on.
Okay, so enough already about what it looks like, how can you save money?? Elyse gave us 7 ways to save and I'm passing them on to you:

  1. Shop the Sales: Like most grocery stores, every other week WF begins a new sale on certain items in the store. The sale items are identified by the bright red "SALE" tags sticking out from the shelves - just like the green, local tags. You can simply browse down the aisles, looking for red tags and buy up what you can. But then you've got to be able to cook with whatever you can get on sale...we're used to using this strategy here because we practically only buy what's on sale anyway!
  2. Search for Values: WF has another way of showing you how to save money by marking products that are already good values even without a sale price attached to it. For these items, WF is passing along to the consumer savings they've gotten from the producer of the item through partnership or by buying in bulk. These are labeled by another green sign (this one is dark green - the local foods tags are light green) that says "Best Buy!" or "Value!"
  3. Buy 365 (WF Brand) Items: Similar to Trader Joes (Oh TJs - how I miss you!), WF arranges with a specific producer to make a product that is specifically for them at a set, nearly unbeatable price and which they can put under their own label. These are often the cheapest brand in the store and the producer has to follow all the other WF requirements of good, clean, pure food so you're still getting a high quality product, even if you don't know the name of who actually produced it (or so they say).
  4. Bring in your Manufacturer's Coupons: WF will accept manufacturer's coupons - you know the ones, from all your favorite health food magazines - so bring them in and use them to save money!
  5. Buy a Lot of One Thing: If you really like papayas, buy yourself a case! Or how about boxes of Peace maple pecan cereal? Similar to how wine stores give a 10% discount if you buy a case of wine, WF offers a 10% discount off cases of your favorite foods.
  6. Oh, and if you like wine as much as I do, did I mention they also have a special rack of $10 or less wines too? So that even if you're in a hurry, it's easy to find the cheaper vino.
  7. Buy in Bulk: As any self-respecting crunchy individual like myself knows, bulk foods are a great way to save money and you can buy as much as you want to. WF has a fairly decent selection of granolas, beans, pastas, dried fruits and other bulk items. It's far better than many of the other grocery stores here and many of them are organic.
So, while I won't be trudging over into Honolulu every week to do my grocery shopping, in part because of the cost of food and gas (driving over there and back takes nearly a 1/4 of my gas tank and I drive a ford escort), the more I hear of WF working with local farmers and fisherman from the local farmers and fisherman, and the better variety of local foods and food in general, I have to say I'm happy to patronize this big organic chain store on occasion. I go over and stock up on essentials (and the occasional fun goodie too) when I want something healthy, organic or specific (they are the only store I've been to on the island that carries broccoli rabe!), and heck, armed with value savy information from the tour, sometimes I even save a few dollars too.


Let Them Eat Cake! Orange Chocolate Brandy Cake, That Is.

I recently attended a potluck and member meeting for my local Slow Food organization – Slow Food Oahu. Being January (and thus a month where we are still reeling from the painful sucking dry of our bank-account paying for health insurance, estimated taxes, car registration and of course, the ghosts of Christmas presents past), I needed something that didn’t require a trip to the nearest grocery store for $20 worth of ingredients (though I can’t seem to get out of the nearest grocery store for less that $30 no matter what I am buying). Thus, it had to be easy and use only ingredients that I might already have. Surfing through my blog recipe archives (which sorely need updating), I found just such a thing: Chocolate Brandy Bundt Cake.

The first time I made this humble cake was in the beginning of my blogging days – over three years ago. Since then, the recipe has sat in my archives – lost, lonely and unused. That’s a shame for a cake that has coffee, cocoa and a hefty shot (ahem…1/2 a cup) of brandy in its humble ingredient list. Not to mention that the cake is easy to make, can be whipped up simply using a whisk, a couple of bowls and a single pot, and includes ingredients you’re likely to have in your larder – if you own such a thing (which, of course, I don’t) – or at least in your cupboards. I don't even own a "real" bundt pan, but that's okay too.

Reading over my old post, I saw that back then, while I thought the cake was good, it didn’t have much brandy flavor to it. Since the particular potluck in question was a round-up of the various chefs, restaurant owners and resident foodies in town that care about where their food comes from, I thought I should probably kick it up a notch. I decided to add a bit of orange zest and cinnamon to the cake, guessing that one couldn’t go wrong with the combination of brandy and oranges, and that a bit of cinnamon rarely hurts most baked desserts. Luckily, I was right. The combo is delightful, and LB and I practically licked the bowl clean before it was even baked - something I haven't done since I was a kid. It smells amazing coming out of the oven and this time, the brandy didn’t hide behind any of the other flavors, making the cake rich and complex even with only a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

The only other dessert in attendance at the potluck was a concoction made of tangy lilikoi (passionfruit), bananas, yogurt, honey and tiny squares of poundcake (um, YUM). Everyone raved about how tasty it was to mix the lilikoi and yogurt with the chocolate cake and I have to admit, the tartness of the lilikoi was a nice offset to the richness of the cake. So if I was doing a dinner party at home, I might even serve this with a bit of lilikoi ice cream next time since we just so happen to have a tree outside that kicks off a few lilikoi every couple of weeks (which I of course run over and snag before the neighbors get to them) – but plain old vanilla ice cream or even lightly sweetened whipped cream would also do the trick.

There are a few things I did differently this time while making it because my style of cooking and baking has changed over the years. I’ve listed these changes, as well as modified the recipe for cooking here in Hawaii, but the old recipe works just fine too. Honestly, I’m re-posting it now because there’s some sort of satisfaction in being able to re-post an old recipe because you’ve figured out how to make it better – and besides, don’t you just love taking a (little) better picture than you did the first time? It’s like a special kind of food-blogging retribution. I have one more version I want to try of this cake - a spicy version - so you'll be seeing it again sometime in the future.

Orange Chocolate Brandy Bundt Cake

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghiradelli) + 1 tbsp. for dusting pan
1/2 cup strong, brewed coffee
1/2 cup brandy
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch peices + extra for pan
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
zest from one (organic, preferably local) orange

Preheat your oven to 325F. Generously butter a bundt (or pseudo-bundt as the case may be) pan and dust with 1 tbsp cocoa; knocking excess out. Heat coffee, whiskey, and remaining cup of cocoa powder in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. When this is warm, add the butter and whisk until the butter is melted. Remove the pan from heat and add sugar, whisking until it's dissolved. At this point, it should turn dark and silky. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool ~5 minutes.

While the chocolate is cooling, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a separate bowl. In a third bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and orange zest, then whisk this mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture until combined well. Finally, add flour and whisk until just combined (the batter will be thin and bubbly). Pour batter into your prepared bundt pan and bake until a wooden skewer or pick inserted into center comes out clean (about 45 - 50 minutes; though it took 55 min. here in Hawaii).

Cool completely in pan on rack (about 2 hours), then remove from pan onto rack. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.