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Deciphering Labels: Certified Naturally Grown vs. Certified Organic

In today’s world, figuring out what a food label actually means is no easy task. Marketers are savvy to our desire to be as healthy and environmentally conscious as possible, and their packaging has a way to skirting around the truth in order to sell that message.

Shopping at a Farmers Markets can reduce the mental aerobics that happen at the supermarket. Growers from the farm are right there to answer your questions, and their labeling isn’t crowded with hyperbole and a grab-bag of health claims. Two common labels that you will see at a farmers market are the USDA’s “Certified Naturally Grown” and “Certified Organic”. What exactly do these labels mean?

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Let’s begin with what came first: Certified Organic. The National Organic Program is the federal agency that administers the USDA organic certification, and was created in 2000.  To become Certified Organic, a farmer cannot grow using anything from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (mandated by the Secretary of Agriculture). Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and when a synthetic substance is used for a specific purpose, it must be approved on criteria that examines its effect on human health and the environment. Getting a Certified Organic seal can take several years of advance preparation – standards state that organic crops must be grown on land that has been free from prohibited pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers for three years proceeding growth. After a farm has completed the requirements and a National Organic Program agent has made a site visit and filed a favorable report, maintaining the certification is an ongoing process that requires daily record keeping and data collection. The cost to becoming certified organic varies substantially by which certifying agent you choose (dependent on location), and can be as much as $1,500 per farm.

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For many small farmers, the cost and paperwork required to received a certified organic label is prohibitive and cost-ineffective. That’s why a group of farmers created the the Certified Naturally Grown certification organization, the “grassroots alternative to certified organic”. The CNG label is no less strict in it’s requirements than Certified organic – all produce must still be grown without synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms. Certified Naturally Grown farmers are required to submit to an annual inspection and pay an annual fee. In contrast with the NOP, where inspections are conducted by a USDA-accredited certifying agency and third-party inspectors, CNG farms may be inspected by other CNG farmers, non-CNG farmers, extension agents, master gardeners and customers, with CNG farmers being ideal.

So next time you’re shopping for produce online or at the farmers market and see a lack of “certified organic” growers, don’t be discouraged! Ask instead if a vendor is certified naturally grown. These practices still produce food that is safe and delicious to eat. Stay tuned for the launch of our new website – you will be able to sort vendors by their certification!

 

3 Ridiculously Delicious Cheeses and How to Cook With Them

So you decided to venture out of the Kraft section of the cheese aisle and delight your tastebuds with some real cheesy goodness. The cheese case can be a disorienting place for someone who isn’t familiar with the vast variety available. With the wide the range of flavor profiles, you very well may end up spending money on a cheese that you absolutely hate!

We’re giving you the rundown on 3 simple artisan cheeses and how to easily incorporate them into your next meal or snack.

Halloumi

The Big Easy.

If you’re cheese-shy and err on the side of less intense flavors, halloumi will quickly become your new favorite cheese. Its mild flavor profile and semi-soft quality make it incredibly easy to incorporate into different dishes. Our recommendation – grill it!

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Want it as a snack? Try this recipe for grilled halloumi with basil cannellini hummus (and if you don’t want to bother with making your own hummus, pair it with a flavorful Geek Eats variety). If you need something heartier, try this Moroccan Lamb Burger with grilled halloumi and pistachio salad (we’re salivating just thinking about it!). White River Creamery carries an amazing array of halloumi, including plain, triple pepper, and garlic and chive.

Goat Gouda

The sweet smooth talker. 

Not everyone is a fan of goat cheese, true. But I challenge anyone with that sentiment to try goat gouda. This cheese has a sweet, cooked-milk taste to it, and adds a salty caramel quality to food.

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For a decadent snack, try this butternut squash goat cheese dip. If you’re in need of a 45-minute dinner, make this apple gouda stuffed chicken breast. Again, even if goat cheese isn’t normally your thing, don’t knock goat gouda until you’ve given it a try!

Feta

Salty and tangy

Feta may not seem like an edgy cheese choice, but swapping out normal feta for a marinated variety can kick up the flavor profile of any dish. Crumbly, tangy, and salty, greek marinated feta appeals to most people when used in combination with savory and sweet meat dishes (think Greek food!).

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For your next lunch or easy dinner, try this Greek olive pesto and fried zucchini grilled pitas!Greek olive pesto and fried zucchini grilled pitas! This recipe includes instructions on how to marinate the feta yourself, but you can cut yourself the time and buy this delicious Greek Marinated Feta from White River Creamery.

Community Cookbook: Broccoli Soup

Today we’re sharing a delicious, simple soup recipe featuring something that is currently abundant in Arkansas…broccoli!

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Broccoli Soup

Recipe by Tifany Hamlin

1 large head broccoli, rough chop
1 large onion, diced
1 cup carrots, rough chop
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
4-6 cups vegetable broth or water
Sea salt & pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsps olive or coconut oil

  1. In a large soup pot, heat oil to a shimmer and sauté onions and carrots with a little salt until translucent and light golden brown.
  2. Add broccoli and potato. Cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add broth, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover slightly and cook for another 30-40 minutes or until potato and broccoli are fork tender.
  4. Remove from heat and blend soup (using a stick blender or a stand blender in small batches) until all veggies are not longer visible. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with a drizzle of crème fraîche or good olive oil.

3 Foods That Supercharge Your Immune System

Flu season is hitting us full force, and according the CDC, still may not have reached its peak. If you’re one of the lucky few who hasn’t succumbed to the virus, you should be doing everything you can to keep your immune system fully functioning and your body ready to fight off infection. Below are three foods proven to boost your immune system, and tips on how to incorporate them daily. Remember, we’re not your doctor and can only recommend these based on the scientific evidence – consult with a physician if you have any concerns!

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You might be familiar with the incredible health benefits of the “flavonoids” found in fresh berries, but did you know that elderberries outrank other berries in flavonoid concentration? A 2009 study found that elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent influenza cells from becoming infectious, even comparing it to the anti-flu activities of Tamiflu. To get the most out of Elderberries, try an elderberry syrup (available at natural health food stores like Natural Groceries) or buy a bag of dried elderberries and make your own elixir.

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One of the best ways to thwart a virus is to start incorporating lots of fresh, raw garlic (and breath mints) into your daily routine. Freshly crushed garlic contains the antiviral compound allicin, which can destroy the virus before it becomes full-blown. During a virus outbreak shoot for eating three to four cloves a day. It’s important to note that garlic must be consumed raw and freshly ground to receive the full benefits of the allicin, which means you may want to keep your distance from your coworkers for a while (but you were doing that anyway, right?). If the thought of shooting back raw garlic makes you want to hurl, try putting it into capsules, or mixing it into a glass of water with honey and lemon.

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Fresh ginger has been shown to benefit health in a variety of ways, but its microbial properties make it especially helpful during flu season. In order to get the full effects of ginger, you should consume it raw and freshly grated, and plenty of it (we’re talking . Start grating it into your tea or water with some honey and lemon. If the taste isn’t for you, ginger extracts are available – get the alcohol based variety for the most potency.

Community Cookbook: Rabbit & Vegetable Pot Pie

Recipe by: Tifany Hamlin
Adapted from NY Times recipe

Filling:

¼ cup olive oil or lard
2 – 2 ½ pounds rabbit, cut into serving pieces
1 large shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups carrot, rough chop
1 cup turnip OR 1 large potato, rough chop
1 cup celery, rough chop
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 Tbsps brandy
4-6 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
½ cup peas
1 Tbsp cornstarch w/ 2 Tbsps water
Sea salt & pepper to taste


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Topping:  Drop Biscuits (recipe follows)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil or lard in a large dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Lightly flour rabbit pieces and brown in batches. Remove rabbit and set aside. In the same pan, lightly brown shallots, garlic and onions in oil remaining in pan. Add carrots, turnip or potato, and celery and cook for a minute more. Stir in tomato paste and oregano. Add the wine and brandy and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce.
  2. Add the stock and bay leaf and browned rabbit to the pot. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook in a preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and remove rabbit to a platter. Cool until easily handled. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  3. While the rabbit pieces cool, bring remaining cooking liquid and vegetables to a simmer. Mix cornstarch and water into a slurry and add to pot. Stir well and cook until sauce thickens a bit (3 minutes or so). Remove from heat.
  4. Debone the rabbit pieces keeping meat in medium pieces. Add rabbit meat and peas to pot and mix well. Place mixture into a large casserole or individual 8 oz. baking dishes/ramekins.
  5. Mix drop biscuit recipe and place on top of pot pie mixture. Make sure to cover the top(s) well. This will make a seal while baking. Place a parchment paper lined baking sheet under pot pies (they will run over!).
  6. Bake for another 20-25 minutes or until biscuit topping is golden brown.

Quick and Easy Drop Biscuits

1 stick (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces and refrigerated
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
¾ cup buttermilk OR milk kefir
1-3 Tbsps water (you want a wet batter for pot pies)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Toss butter into the dry ingredients until coated with flour. Working quickly and using your fingers or a pastry blender, rub or cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal.
  4. Add milk (and water if using for pot pies) and stir with a fork until it just comes together into a slightly sticky, shaggy dough.
  5. Top pot pies and follow baking instructions as mentioned above.

 

Continue for biscuits (omit water)

  1. For small biscuits: Using a teaspoon or small ice cream scoop, mound walnut sized balls of dough onto the prepared a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  2. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes for small biscuits and 20 minutes for large ones. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Our Favorite Smoothie Recipes

With an abundance of freshly frozen fruits and vegetables available from last season, it’s time to celebrate one of the most perfect on-the-go meals in a cup: the smoothie.

Smoothies are the perfect way to fill yourself up with healthy protein and fats, as well as enjoy tons of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Here are three of our favorite health-conscious smoothie recipes!

Vegan Strawberry Peanut Butter Smoothie

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Blueberry Muffin Smoothie

 

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Green Detox Smoothie

 

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Four Fail-Proof Tips to Kickstart Healthy Eating

By Claire Admire

Chances are, half of us woke up in the New Year with some lofty goals for the next 12 months. And chances are, most of us have already missed the mark on those New Year resolutions.

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What keeping New Year’s resolutions feels like

The majority of our New Year goals center around creating a healthier lifestyle, like losing weight, establishing an exercise routine, or, finally – FOR REAL THIS YEAR – cutting out bread. If your intention is to change your diet, we have a few helpful tips to keep you on the right path (or get you back on it).

  1. Identify your priorities. Our bodies and nutritional needs vary to a degree, so it’s up to the individual to decipher what “eating better” means. If you haven’t already, start by clearly identifying what that looks like for you. Do you want to reduce inflammation? Eat more seasonally? Cut out red meat? Increase your healthy fat intake? Get clear on your goal and educate yourself around the protocols and risk factors before starting any new diet. Sometimes half the battle can be won just by rephrasing “eat less processed food” to “cut out white sugar”.
  2. Focus on one goal at a time. Some people do just fine overhauling their diet overnight (no really, the rest of us are ecstatic about your most recent successful juice cleanse). Alas, not all of us can forsake refined carbohydrates for a life of carrot sticks and crustless pizza overnight (turns out the concept of willpower is overrated anyway). If you’ve tried elimination diets before (like going Paleo, Whole 30, etc.) with repeated failure, then it may be time to reframe your goal. Go back to your priority list and identify what you would most like to cut out/add in/replace. It can be something so small that it seems ridiculous. For example, if you’ve decided to nix refined carbohydrates, start with looking at just one aspect of that. Keep ordering your hamburger (yes, even with the fries) but ask for the kitchen to hold the bun and replace it with a lettuce wrap. A “small win” (when I order a hamburger, I don’t eat a bun) is much easier to repeat successfully (and feel good about) than demanding your will power handle a statement like “I will never eat bread again”.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate meal planning. You can follow all the food bloggers and Pinterest boards your heart desires, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that eating healthy requires a never-ending rotation of interesting recipes and foods you haven’t heard of before. Or that you have to have the same thing five days in a row for lunch, for that matter. This is the time to find a meal plan (or no plan at all) that works for you, not in spite of you. Cook everyone in your family the same dinner, look into online shopping options like the Little Rock Food Club, and identify healthy meal options at the restaurants you’re already accustomed to eating at. Look for the small wins that are right within reach first, and let the success of those add up. You might be surprised how those seemingly insignificant habits blossom into something much bigger overall!
  4. Boost your body with intermittent fasting. The science is clear: those who restrict their calorie intake to an 8-12 hour timeframe lose more weight than their grazing counterparts. Even if losing weight isn’t ultimately your goal, fasting has been shown to have some extraordinary benefits for our brain function, immune system, and ability to fight off cancer and other diseases. Intermittent fasting, or the practice of cutting off your food intake for 12-16 hours (overnight), is also a sort of shortcut to getting rid of your unhealthy cravings and constant need to snack during the day. You will be satiated more easily and less likely to binge on unhealthy food during the day. Suddenly that spaghetti squash may not be such a battle to eat and enjoy!