Vive la Revolution!


Sometimes I feel a little bit like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills — in my case, the giants of the food industry, who keep churning out highly processed foods laden with stabilizers, preservatives, food coloring, fake flavors, and all sorts of other additives. These giants fill the supermarket shelves with so-called foods that are far removed from real food, designed in a lab to be addictive, and contribute to America’s health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

 

So you can imagine how happy I was to read this wrap-up of Expo West — the natural products trade show, which recently ended in Anaheim, California. Supermarket News reported tremendous sales momentum in the health and wellness category of retail sales, building on similarly fast growth in previous years. More and more consumers are looking for healthful products, and, to remain competitive, supermarkets must carry the products that their customers want. 

 

As one of the leading industry consultants, Jay Jacobowitz, president of Retail Insights, put it during Expo West:

Why is health and wellness a separate discussion in the grocery channel? Why isn’t it integral to the model?

 

As we all know, businesses respond to consumer demands. And it seems we are finally at a tipping point of rising demand for healthful foods. This has always been integral to our business model at Cookiehead: produce insanely tasty, crazy smart cookies, brownies, and muffins. Use the highest-quality, real-food ingredients that come from a kitchen, not a laboratory. Make them satisfying in small portions so people will feel satiated instead of a need to keep snacking. Change the industry by building a loyal customer base that realizes healthful snacks don’t have to taste like sawdust; snacks can be both nutritionally responsible and decadently delicious. Bring tasty, healthful snacks into the mainstream.

 

The Supermarket News report tells me that change is in the air. Supermarkets react to consumer demand, and the food industry giants will react to how the supermarkets allocate shelf space. These days I’m feeling a bit less like Don Quixote and a bit more like George Washington, helping to lead a food industry revolution.

On the Radio

You’ll probably notice I’ve not been posting much on this blog lately due to the intense kitchen-time required to perfect new insanely tasty, crazy smart snacks. (It’s not a bad place to be, given the frigid winter we’ve been experiencing in the Northeast.) However, I have been sharing a few juicy food-focused articles and radio broadcasts on the our Facebook wall and Twitter feed. (Are you following Cookiehead on Facebook and Twitter? Hope so!)

Well, today I’m changing it up. I’m pleased to provide a link to another recent radio broadcast. This time, the subject is, well, me.

Last fall I made the acquaintance of the wonderful folks behind URBusiness Network, an Internet radio station full of podcasts hosted by experts in various realms of business. This led to an invitation to appear on one of URBN’s shows, The Lemonade Stand, hosted by Linda Samuels, nationally recognized educator and author of the book “Girls Can Succeed in Science!”

Linda is a gracious and encouraging presence on the air. She guided me back through time, getting to the roots of my entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen.

Enough of me telling you about the show. Click here to listen to The Lemonade Stand podcast on which I appear. And while you find yourself at URBusiness Network, poke around a bit — it’s a fascinating experience. I’m sure there are other shows that will spark your interest.

Happy listening, and think Spring!

 

 

New from the Cookiehead Kitchen: NADA!

I’m back. Not entirely — we’ve still got plenty of projects simmering — but I’m taking a quick breather to tell you about our latest sweet treat: The NADA Brownie — the nothing but yummy gluten–free brownie. 

 

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We set out to create something that would astonish your taste buds, and we are hearing that the new NADA brownie does just that. Our goal was to bring you the tastiest gluten-fee brownie ever. To satisfy our goal it would have to have a rich, mouth-watering, chocolatey taste and dense texture without a smidgen of gluten, using wholesome ingredients with names you can pronounce. The NADA is the brownie that gluten-sensitive eaters have been waiting for, and one that will delight all brownie lovers.

We sincerely doubt that anyone who tastes NADA would ever suspect it’s gluten free. Everyone can pop one of these gems into a backpack, briefcase or lunch box, and open it up to enjoy a taste-bud party. We also made it a bit smaller than the typical great big 450-calorie brownies — it’s 2.5 satisfying ounces, 300 delicious calories.

And, because it’s from Cookiehead, it is, of course, all natural — developed in a kitchen, not a laboratory.

You can find the NADA brownie online — right now, on our site and on other sites that we’ll announce soon. By early 2014 you’ll also be able to find NADA brownies on the shelves at select stores. And if you need a NADA now, leave a comment below this post about why you love brownies. The first five people who comment will receive a pack of four NADA brownies to sample. And if you’re one of the lucky winners, we’d really like to know what you think about our new product; drop us a line with your feedback.

And now, after letting you in on the NADA news, it’s time for me to head back to the Cookiehead test kitchen. Curious about what’s cooking? Here’s a hint: Eat your coffee.

 

Cooking Up Something Good

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Cookiehead Test Kitchen — also known as Cookiehead Quarters. We are introducing a new line of snacks in a few months, and, as I focus on the development of these new treats (which, like all Cookiehead goodies, will be delicious and nutritious), I am temporarily stepping away from the keyboard. It’s exciting, but the time I need to spend on this project means I have to take a break from writing about new developments in the food world and sharing books and articles by great writers and thoughtful foodies who are changing the way we eat, cook, shop, farm and live.

LisaHiatus

We remain committed to creating good-for-you snacks that are, as we say, “Insanely Tasty. Crazy Smart.” And, as you might imagine, before we put anything into the grocery store shelves it must meet our quality standards: excellent, high-quality ingredients; yumminess; and packaging innovation. When we are ready to roll, we’ll be back in touch.

It has been a pleasure sharing my thoughts and recipes with you over the past year. I’ll be back in a while to share the news and continue blogging. Until then, you could say I’ve Gone Cookin.

 

 

Michael, Mark and More

Within the rarified world of food writers, few have made a more major impact in recent years than Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. (We might also mention Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me fame and wonder at the alliterative preponderance of names that start with the letter “M” in this métier). Both writers, of late, have been even more in-the-news than usual, because both have written new books. They even got together a little while back for a friendly, fascinating chat. The subject: healthful eating, of course.

I read just about every column that Bittman writes, and not just for the recipes, but for his perspective onfood and cooking, which I share. His Minimalist columns demonstrate that good, home-cooked food does not have to be elaborate; that satisfying dishes can come together quickly, with few ingredients. But more than that, he encourages people to get cooking, even in the tiniest of kitchens.

Pollan

And now Pollan has also taken up this clarion call. His new book – Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation – decries the food industry’s push to replace home-cooked meals with chemical-laden, sodium-infused packaged, frozen, or take-out foods. He rightly explains that the only way to know you’re getting good food is to take charge of the process, from shopping for high-quality ingredients, to preparing the meal – ideally with family and friends – and serving it at the table, thereby bringing people together.

I live by Pollan’s cardinal rules: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And (as should be obvious from my profession) I am an avid cook, with a keen interest in nutrition and food policy. And, like Bittman, I believe anyone can cook, and I encourage you (and everyone else) to do so. As my mother says, “If you can read, you can cook.” This is especially true if you follow simple recipes, like those in my blog. Yes, anyone can cook a basic meal.

Time does not always allow for the preparation of snacks, and that’s why I created Cookiehead — to provide wholesome, yummy, convenient snacks that are made from ingredients that most people find in their cupboards: recognizable, nutritious and real. They’re the cookies and brownies and muffins you’d make yourself, if you had the time (and my delicious recipes).

BittmanLike Bittman, I adhere to a diet that he calls “flexitarian.” My diet is largely plant-based, but does not eliminate eggs, dairy, fish, and meat — which I eat in moderation. One way to do that is to follow the practices Bittman describes in his new book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health… for Good. Ever since he changed his diet to bring himself back from the brink of pre-diabetes, Bittman has advocated reduced consumption of meat and animal products, for the health of individuals and the planet. His way to do so is to follow a vegan regime eschewing all animal products (as well as processed food) before 6 pm, then eat whatever he wants for dinner. His VB6 diet, if it were adopted by his many steadfast readers, would seriously decrease demand for meat and could help end the industrial, factory-farming practices that are so bad for the environment (and the animals, of course). And it would also go a long way to reversing the diet-based health crisis that threatens our nation’s waistline, coffers, and mortality rates.

However, people will only follow such a diet if the food tastes good – hence Bittman’s new focus in his New York Times column: Healthy, Meet Delicious. Funny, that has a familiar ring to it… Oh, right, the Cookiehead ethos: that healthful snacks don’t have to taste like sawdust! And our tagline, of course: Insanely tasty. Crazy smart.
Salt-Sugar-FatBoth of these books, Bittman’s VB6 and Pollan’s Cooked, are on my reading list. They’re queued up behind another food book by another “M” author, Fat Sugar Salt, by Michael Moss. Apparently, these three M-guys stick together. Here’s another recent Times story, with video, featuring the Michaels (Pollan and Moss) shopping and making lunch together.

In my too-busy career, creating snacks that are free from preservatives and chemicals, yet full of nutritious, real-food ingredients, I’d love more time to read the books by my original-thinking, concerned food-activist colleagues.

If you’ve been reading this blog in the past year or so, you’re well aware that I always make time to cook for my family. I do wish for more time to read what’s on the bestseller list. Having had only enough time to peek into these new books, I can tell they’re full of food for thought.

Love Letters

I created Cookiehead on an educated hunch that there was a need in the marketplace for great tasting snacks made from real food.  No chemicals. No preservatives. No trans fats.Chocoholic Chunk cookied

Using my skills as a baker and my knowledge of nutrition, I developed cookies, brownies, and muffins full of flavor, fiber and an array of beneficial ingredients — oats, sprouted spelt, and other whole grains; dark chocolate; real fruit and nuts; crunchy, nutrient–rich seeds — and devoid of any preservatives and chemicals. I knew people would like them once they tried them and realized that snack foods made from wholesome, natural ingredients don’t have to taste like sawdust.

Oatmeal RaisinNow that Cookiehead snacks can be found at places like Whole Foods, Costco, various coops and health food stores, and online through our own website, we are hearing from happy customers who find that our cookies, brownies, and muffins are exactly what we set out to create: “Insanely Tasty. Crazy Smart” goodies.

 

We’re so gratified by this feedback that we’ve created a page on our website overflowing with love from Cookiehead fans. We hope you’ll take a look at what smart snackers are saying about Cookiehead, and feel free to add your voice to the chorus.April_Cookie_head

Love.

Inspiration from the Storm

Maybe it was the snowstorm…

A few weeks back, when my world was blanketed in pure white snow, with more falling by the second, I dreamed up this recipe for warm cauliflower salad over pasta. I was walking through the winter woods in The Berkshires, and had a craving for warm, roasted cauliflower. Realizing that it would be boringly white (especially with pasta, which I also was in the mood to make on this wintry day) I decided to jazz it up, not just visually, but nutritionally, and photograph it for you. I also decided, since I was so hungry when I got home, to steam the cauliflower and make a simple warm salad.

Purple and orange cauliflower is readily available at our local markets, and I hope you can find it. The vibrant hues indicate the presence of beneficial phytonutrients.Cauliflower

 

But don’t feel short-changed if your grocery store only has white cauliflower. Whatever its color, cauliflower is full of fiber and, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, it provides plenty of vitamins C and K, plus antioxidants that may protect against heart disease and cancer.

This recipe calls for steaming the equivalent of a whole head of cauliflower (two halves, actually; one of each color). I’m a big fan of “dry steaming” veggies in the microwave. Not only is this technique quicker than steaming over water on the stovetop; it preserves more of the nutrients, and keeps the vegetables slightly crunchy. I microwave veggies in a glass bowl, covered with a plate or microwaveable lid, and never add water. This process keeps the nutrients inside, and forces the water out, which cooks them. You’ll notice the water that remains in the bowl is clear; that’s because the nutrients didn’t leach out.

Also, you’ll notice that this recipe, yet again, draws on one of my favorite cooking tricks: using nutritious avocado to provide that rich, creamy sensation. And it adds even more color to this vibrant dish.

Warm Multicolor Cauliflower Pasta Salad

For 3-4

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1 lb. pasta (your choice; I recommend shapes over strands; we used baby shells)

Scallions to taste

1/2 head purple cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 head orange cauliflower, cut into florets

Baby spinach leaves or arugula

1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

1 handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

1-2 avocados, sliced

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Boil a pot of water and cook your choice of pasta while you prepare the veggies. When it’s done, gently season to taste, with salt & pepper, EVOO and scallions. (Chopped red onion is fine, too.)

Steam cauliflower florets in the microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Leave the cooked cauliflower in the covered bowl so it continues to “cook.” You want the florets to be a little crunchy, but fully cooked.

Slice the avocado, chop some cilantro, mint or basil (or whatever fresh herbs you have), and dice the red onion.

Toss the warm cauliflower with salt, pepper, onion and EVOO. Add the spinach leaves or arugula and taste to be sure it is seasoned the way you like it. Add lemon juice for a little kick. Then add half the herbs, saving half for the garnish.

Arrange the plate: make a bed of pasta, top with the warm, tossed cauliflower salad. Put the slices of avocado on the side (or you can toss them with the cauliflower), add salt & pepper to taste, and drizzle more EVOO on the whole salad. Sprinkle the remaining chopped herbs on top.

Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino, and enjoy.

Interview with the Head Cookiehead

There’s a great monthly magazine in Western Massachusetts that we always pick up at the Berkshire Co-op Market or other local grocery stores. It’s called Preview, and every month I turn right away to the back page interview, called PeopleView, to see who is featured.

This month, that back page interview? Me. The writer, Sarah Buttenweiser, very swiftly got to the bottom of why I founded Cookiehead: to make sure that consumers can find nutritionally responsible, real-food alternatives to the packaged cookie nightmare commonly found on store shelves; and to show cookie eaters that nutritious and delicious are not mutually exclusive. When more people understand this, and stop buying snacks made from fake ingredients, perhaps the big players in the food industry will take notice and change their ways. That’s my vision, and Cookiehead’s ultimate mission.

You can click here to read the March 2013 PeopleView profile, and many thanks to Sarah, and also to photographer Paul Shoul, who snapped this shot, for capturing Cookiehead.

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I did want to clarify one point in this interview, because the rationale behind why we use the real-food ingredients in our recipes is very important. And there is science behind it. So I’m going to give myself a do-over on Sarah’s final question of the interview, which was:

“Why are these smart cookies?”

Cookiehead cookies are smart because they are real food, made with healthier ingredients than conventional sweet snacks, yet taste like “real” cookies (our consumers tell us). Simply put, the ingredients are natural: we use good fats (nuts and seeds), whole grains (oats and sprouted-spelt flours) and dark chocolate.  We always bear in mind that cookies are treats, not health food. Since there is more awareness about nutrition and health these days — from the impact of consuming trans fats to the benefits of eating whole grains, the increase in childhood obesity and the prevalence of diabetes – we develop our cookies to include some healthful benefits.

For example, fats aren’t the enemy of health. You need fats — good fats, like nuts and seeds and olive oil. We have learned about the importance of maintaining a low LDL profile (low density lipids, the bad cholesterol). Sunflower seeds reportedly lower LDL, so Cookiehead includes these and other seeds in the cookies in order to help consumers who are snackers enjoy some good-for-you goodies everyday. Cookiehead has found a way to add these ingredients “tastefully.” As another example, by now, everyone knows that dark chocolate, in moderation, is good for you. We use that, too. What’s life without chocolate?

 

 

The Mediterranean Diet

Last week the media was again abuzz with food news as The New England Journal of Medicine published the findings of an extensive study on the Mediterranean Diet. The study turned up solid evidence that a diet high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish and whole grains, and low in red meat, processed food, and soda, could protect people at high risk of heart disease from heart attacks, strokes, and death. Participants in the study were encouraged to drink wine with meals, and to eat foods scorned by many diets, such as dark chocolate, nuts, and olive oil. In fact, the results of this study were so conclusive that it was ended early, after nearly five years.

To be clear, this study was not was not about weight loss; it was specifically designed to see if the Mediterranean Diet could reduce the risk of heart disease.  (And in the interest of full disclosure, critics have noted that the study was funded by the olive oil industry, which has raised some concern among advocates of a strict low-fat diet.)

As you can see from some of the recipes I’ve shared on this blog, I’ve been a quite (non-proselytizing) advocate of the Mediterranean Diet — without naming it as such. There’s no use in seeing food as an enemy; eating well is a pleasure, one that can be enjoyed in moderation. Not all fat is bad for you; nuts, avocados, and olives are nutritionally rich, and deserve a place on your plate. As Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, says in this story from the New York Times:

Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

That ability to enjoy life is key to sticking with the Mediterranean diet, which is not so much a “diet” as it is a lifestyle change. It’s one of the principles behind Cookiehead. Our ingredients are real — whole and sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, dark chocolate — and our cookies, brownies and muffins are nutritionally responsible, and they also taste good! If your food doesn’t taste good, why in the world would you eat it?

One key to this diet is enjoying indulgent foods in moderation. To be sure, Cookiehead snacks are a treat, and these insanely tasty, crazy smart snacks were created with portion control in mind. Their rich flavor and real-food ingredients are combined with satiety in mind; you can satisfy your taste buds and hunger without mindlessly reaching for more. Cookiehead makes moderation easy. After all, it’s easier to stick with a diet that does not preclude the pleasure factor.

You can read more about this study of the Mediterranean Diet here and here. We salute an approach to health that emphasizes the enjoyment of real food.

The Book We’ve Been Waiting For

It started last week, when the New York Times ran a story online (before it was published in Sunday’s magazine section) by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss. The story was called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, and it unveiled the machinations of Big Food to create fatty, salty, “nobody can eat just one” chips; oversweet beverages that compel consumers to go for the “Big Gulp;” and other (non)foods that have greatly contributed to this country’s ever-expanding waistlines, not to mention the troubling trends in obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

Salt-Sugar-FatMoss goes back through the decades, speaking with former executives of the food industry giants to track the development of addictive, chemical-laden, highly processed food that was created not to be nutritious but to keep consumers consuming more and more empty calories. He even tells of how some soda companies describe their most loyal customers as “users,” a term taken from the lexicon of drug addiction. Moss describes teams of scientists and consultants working on product development in sensory labs, far from anything resembling a kitchen. It’s a long article, but it’s only an excerpt from his new book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. The picture Moss paints makes for engrossing reading, and I hope it’s a clarion call, and a game changer.

The industry Moss describes is the reason I founded Cookiehead. Our brownies, cookies, and muffins are real food, made with the kinds of ingredients you’d find in your own kitchen. They provide a good dose of nutrition, like fiber from whole and sprouted grains, and essential fatty acids from nuts and seeds. They taste great and they’re modestly sized, but you won’t find yourself mindlessly reaching for more. We’ve created these snacks with portion control in mind; the high fiber content and rich flavors mean you CAN eat just one, and your taste buds and stomach will be satisfied.

If you’ve read my address at last fall’s Next Level Summit on Food Innovation, you know that I was invited to share the Cookiehead approach with those same food industry giants whom Moss portrays in his article. I made a direct appeal to the executives of Big Food to collaborate and change the direction of the snack food industry. Though several approached me afterward, expressing interest in my nutritionally responsible approach, they all seemed resigned to their path, seeing no way to unwind the damage that has been done.

Having read this exposé by Moss (and looking forward to reading his book), I’m more hopeful. This book has the potential to be as influential as the work of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). It seems that we are reaching a tipping point in terms of demanding better options from our food producers, and I’m hopeful that this will lead to a fundamental change for the better in the food industry.