Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thrilling Purchase

And a question: Given all the time I spent reading the blog French Laundry at Home... Why did I never buy this book before?

http://a7.vox.com/6a00cd978ab445f9cc00fad698b7ff0004-500pi

Also, I have to share my favorite line so far: "The great thing about foie gras is that it's foie gras—like the great thing about caviar is that it's caviar."

Summer Garden Porn

This year's garden, though less ambitious than I'd like (story of my life), is going gangbusters this month, thanks to unseasonably sunny and hot summer weather here in Seattle. (Today's predicted high: 87!)

Of all the things I've tried for the first time this year, my proudest achievement is a tossup between potatoes (I just bought organics at the grocery store, chunked them up, and planted them in a repurposed sandbox, mounding dirt around the plants as they grew) and tomatoes.

Not just any tomatoes, though—these were grown from seeds I bought at the garden shop, against the stern advice of the saleswoman, who advised coming back for plants in a few months. I've been told over and over again that you can't grow tomatoes from seeds in the Northwest—it's too cool and wet for too long to give them enough growing time to set fruit—and while I've yet to harvest anything, the green ones are already coming in. Now I'm just crossing my fingers for a few more weeks of 80-plus temperatures and blue skies.

The first tiny tomatoes.


Potato plants—Russian banana fingerling, purple, and Yukon Gold

Wanna know how to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms? Go here.

Lemon cucumber plants, with the last of this year's fava beans in the background

Tomatillos—another plant I've been told wouldn't grow in the Northwest. It grows like a weed.

Aaaah! They're taking over!!! (Note defenseleess carrots underneath squash plants; the leeks have already been buried.)

I had no idea what these were until I pulled one up. Who would've thought I planted parsnips?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Reason to Love Big Cities

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And I thought the $3.99 brie-topped baked potato I bought at Michou for lunch today was a killer deal... Serious Eats NY has a roundup of food you can buy in New York for a buck or less.

On the list: Deep-fried meat/veggies/fish on a stick (including squid, tripe, beef and broccoli) from a street vendor in Queens, $1; agadashi tofu at May's Place in the West Village, $1; and a falafel half-pita from Cinderella Falafel, $1.

News Flash: No Matter How Many Cookies You Bake In It, Your Car Will Not "Reverse Global Warming"

Photo by Flickr user Amber in Norfolk.

And we're back!

Sorry, folks, for the long absence... as you may or may not already know, I've taken a new gig at PubliCola, which involves my professional and personal passions, respectively: reporting on politics and blogging about food!

I'm hoping, however, to get back to blogging here on a more regular basis now that things have started to settle down a little in my professional life. Although, honestly, the first thing that really got me itching to blog again wasn't about food, exactly—it was this article, linked on the Huffington Post (a site that makes my blood on pretty much an hourly basis) about how "baking cookies on your car's dashboard will OMG save the planet!!!"—which, depending on how you look at it, is a perfect example of greenwashing, "environmental" consumerism, cognitive dissonance, or all three.

I'm not exaggerating. Here's the headline:
Cookies: The New Dashboard Jesus?
They aren't being ironic, I'm afraid:
TreeHugger's virtual “watercooler” (via Skype) was all a buzz this morning with this delicious tip via Lifehacker: warm, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookies baked a la dashboard.

Which we love not only because it’s one more way to keep our kitchens cool during the dog days of summer but because it’s energy-free, no oven—or fossil-fuels—required. And in the grand scheme of things, helps reduce our carbon emissions!
"Have your eco-friendly cookies and eat 'em too," "reverse global warming," blah blah blah.

Look. I've got no problem if you want to bake cookies on the dashboard, eggs on the sidewalk, or whatever. But the idea that you can "reverse global warming" by baking cookies IN YOUR CAR—the same car, I'm gonna go out on a limb and presume here, you drive to work every day—borders on self-parody. Unfortunately, it isn't April 1.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Swoon

And my world is complete... Mark Bittman talks (with Kay Steiger) about feminism and cooking:

Part of the reason food went downhill in this country, the biggest reason, was this marketing assault on the part of convenience food manufacturers that said, “Well, food needs to be convenient.” But why did people want to hear that? Women wanted to hear that because they were sick and tired of making dinner every night while raising the kids and, increasingly from the seventies on, having jobs. So they wanted to hear, “Oh, you don’t have to work so hard. You can put something in the microwave.” It’s too bad, it’s shit, but that’s the way it goes. But now we have—you know, maybe it’s just my kids—but we have this generation of people who say, “I want to cook. I want decent food and I’m not going to get it if I don’t cook.” Everybody knows you can’t afford to eat out all the time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Know What You’re Thinking

"What the world really needs is a special barbecue book FOR THE LADIES," amiright?

Fortunately for all you wimminz who've been too intimidated by your grill-hogging menfolk to "take your place back at the fire," this blatant deficiency in the world of cookbook publishing has been remedied.

Enter She-Smoke—a book of barbecue recipes, advice, and stories from "smokin' women" by Seattle restaurateur Julie Reinhardt. You may not have been aware that women need to "stand up for our barbecue rights," but once you read a few pages of She-Smoke, you'll understand that the typical American woman suffers from "firephobia," believes that her "grill could blow up at any moment," feels "iffy with big hunks of raw meat," and thinks barbecue is "scary."

But aside from learning not to "fear the fire," what gender-specific barbecue knowledge, you might wonder, are women lacking? Well, for the most part, Reinhardt's book reads pretty much like any guide to backyard barbecue, with tips about how to light a fire, how (and how long) to cook various meats, and so forth. Leave out the constant, cutesy references to "kickass 'cue girls," "smokin' barbecue blazers," and "knife-wielding babes," and what you're left with is actually a pretty good, if basic, guide to barbecueing and grilling that would be appropriate for any novice, man or woman.

So why "She-Smoke"? Obviously, it's a marketing gimmick—reel the ladies in with the one barbecue book directed at them—so I'm inclined to ignore the fact that it dresses up finding yet another way to cook for men as "female empowerment." In any case, as someone who owns several barbecue books (and several dozen cookbooks) myself, I'm betting this tactic's going to backfire. When I look for a book on an unfamiliar subject, I don't pick up the one whose color or cover or title seems best marketed to my demographic. (Oooh, pink!) I buy whichever one seems the best. You know, kind of like a man would.

Balut

Today in emails I was excited/somewhat terrified to receive:

On May 27, 2009, at 10:01 PM, [name redacted] wrote:

I bought ten mostly-incubated (but still raw) duck eggs today, and will be boiling some of them tomorrow afternoon with a friend of mine, to be eaten on my sunny back lawn with beer around 5:00.

(1) Would you like to join us?

(2) If not, would you like a couple of them raw to cook at your leisure?

I can't think of many people in my life who also might like to eat these things, but you make the list. ;)


It's true! I AM curious to know what they taste like. Unfortunately, a campaign kickoff prevents me from joining my friend on his sunny lawn, but he's saving me a couple to try later. Report (with photos) to come.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Asparagus, One Zillion Ways


This is the time of year when it's hard to resist eating asparagus at least once every single day. Sure, you can get it out-of-season for most of the year, but few things compare to the sensation of biting into a perfectly crisp, impossibly sweet spear of springtime asparagus just days (or hours!) from the ground. (This isn't locavoran snobbery, I swear: It's just that once you know what the good stuff tastes like, the so-so stuff seems like a waste of money. How many people do you know who will buy a supermarket tomato in the winter?) So far this week, I've had it three ways: As part of a simple cream sauce for fettuccine; in a silky, almost-vegan soup; and lightly braised in butter with oyster mushrooms (my favorite preparation so far). Eventually, surely, I'm going to get sick of all these fresh preparations and start turning to another favorite standby; for now, however, I'm happy to eat as much asparagus as my refrigerator can hold--then no more until next year, when it's available at the farmers markets and in my CSA box again.

First up: An improvised pasta-and-cream-sauce combo featuring asparagus just barely blanched, then briefly rewarmed in the sauce. First, I brought a pot of salted water to boil for the asparagus. While that was heating up, in another pan, I lightly sauteed half a chopped small yellow onion with a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic in about a tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Then I blanched the asparagus, removed it from the water to a strainer, and ran it under very cold water to stop the cooking (I left the water in the pot to use for pasta). Once the water came back to a boil, I added some more salt and tossed in the pasta. While that cooked, I added a splash of half-and-half, some chopped tarragon and flat-leaf parsley from the garden, and the asparagus into the pan with the onions and heated it through. Served over the pasta with a shower of Parmesan, it was filling, rich, and the essence of spring.



The second recipe, for "lemony asparagus soup," is adapted from the wonderful food blog Dishing Up Delights (as did the photo above). The only thing I changed was the addition of some garlic chives and their lovely purple flowers at the end. It would also be nice, hot or chilled, with a dollop of plain yogurt or cream fraiche.

Lemony Asparagus Soup

10 ounces (1 small bunch) asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces with a few 3-inch tips reserved for garnish
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
One 1-inch wide strip of lemon zest, plus 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest for garnish (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Boil all of the asparagus until bright green and barely tender, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice water to cool, then drain again. Set most of the tips aside from the rest of the cut up pieces.

Wipe out the saucepan. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the sliced onion to the saucepan and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock and lemon zest strip, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the lemon zest strip.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the saucepan and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and reheat if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips and grated lemon zest. Serve hot or chilled.

Finally, the best preparation was the simplest of all--Bittman's butter-braised asparagus with oyster mushrooms, from his Minimalist column. Trusting Bittman, I followed it almost to the letter, except for the addition of a teaspoon or so of fresh marjoram (currently going nuts in my garden) along with the tarragon. I'm not usually a fan of oyster mushrooms, finding their delicate flavor and soft texture a little too subtle, but this dish--which renders the mushrooms simultaneously meaty and silken--was a revelation.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/4 -inch lengths
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat mushrooms with butter. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, scallions and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes if using pencil-thin asparagus, and up to 7 minutes for jumbos (until asparagus is al dente).

Stir in peas and tarragon; cover and cook about 2 minutes longer, until peas are heated through and asparagus is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"You Are What You Eat"

The photos in this gallery--a series of images by photographer Mark Menjivar of the interiors of refrigerators in homes across the US--are simultaneously impersonal (the photos depict still lifes, with the only implied human presence being the hands that arranged them) and incredibly intimate (the shot of the fridge containing an open Pepsi bottle filled with water, some miscellaneous bread products, and an unmarked paper bag--belonging to a botanist who "feels more comfortable among flora and fauna ... than people"--just kills me. There are a thousand stories in every refrigerator--of late nights (the San Antonio bartender who goes to sleep every night at 8 am and subsists on food from Styrofoam cartons), family life (the San Angelo, TX construction worker whose wife gets up every day at 4 am to feed their family, whose fridge is crammed with jalapenos and potatoes), and of seeming loneliness (a San Antonio "street advertiser" who lives on $432 a month and whose refrigerator contains a black plastic convenience-store bag and a jar of mayonnaise). A few of my favorites:

9185/1242951126-fridge1.jpg
Carpenter/Photographer | San Antonio, TX | 3-Person Household | 12-Point Buck

801e/1242951276-fridge2.jpgDisabled | Marathon,TX | 2-Person Household | Weighed 390lbs earlier this year.

8c31/1242951343-fridge3.jpgShort Order Cook | Marathon,TX | 2-Person Household | She can bench press over 300lbs. |

Via Sociological Images.

The Cost of Food


A couple of interesting stories today about the price of food.

First, Tom Laskawy at Grist argues that it makes no sense to tax "sin" foods like soda without simultaneously subsidizing the stuff we want people to eat--stuff like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The telegraph:

There’s no free market in food. There’s only the stuff we subsidize and the stuff we don’t. And I’m not talking simply about cash subsidies paid to corn growers. I’m talking about a system that drives the wholesale price of corn and soybeans (the raw materials in all processed foods) to well below the cost of production. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables don’t get that benefit—they’re expected to sell at a premium (even if in some cases the premium is small). ... . It’s nice that we are finally willing to start taxing unhealthy food. But without doing something about the good stuff, we’re only fighting half the battle.


In somewhat related news, the AP reports that cash-strapped consumers have started turning to "cheaper" food products--things like Dinty Moore stew, Kraft mac and cheese, and SPAM.

SPAM? Dinty Moore? Really? I know that time is money, blah blah blah, but I can whip up 8 servings of mac and cheese--using this recipe, for example--in about an hour for less than $7, easy. The same quantity of Kraft Mac and Cheese might cost a little less and take a bit less time, but instead of real cheese, here's what I'd be eating, according to the box ingredients: Whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, calcium carbonate, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, milk, yellow 5, yellow 6, enzymes, and cheese culture. Yum!

Similarly, for the Safeway Club price of $2.99 for 12 ounces of SPAM (ingredients: chopped pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite), I could buy a three-pound pork shoulder blade roast that would taste like meat, not a gelatinous mass of hot dogs molded into a ham-shaped loaf.

Part of the problem here is education--I'll wager that most American meat consumers wouldn't know what to do with a whole pork shoulder, much less how to unit-price it next to a can of SPAM--and part of it is our obsession with convenience. If it's quick, it must be good, and if it's "cheap," all the better. But if the cost of all that seemingly cheap food is our health, isn't it worth it to take a moment and learn how to make smarter choices? And ultimately, shouldn't the government spend a little of its food promotion budget educating children about how to make healthy choices, instead of serving as pushers for cheap, processed meat and dairy products?

Photo by Flickr user Grumbler.

You Got Your Arugula in My Poor People!

The National Review's Julie Gunlock (actual last name??) complains that soup kitchens like Miriam's Kitchen in Washington D.C. are serving actual nutritious food to homeless people, when everybody knows homeless people only deserve things real people don't eat, like donuts, canned food, and Velveeta. By treating homeless people like actual people--that is, by serving them things like risotto (rice amd nrptj), pumpkin soup (a cheap root vegetable and some broth) and roasted-garlic-and-turnip mashed potatoes (three cheap root vegetables mashed up with some milk)--Gunlock charges, Miriam's Kitchen is sending a "counterproductive" message--the message that poor people deserve food that meets a "gourmet ideal" instead of "Velveeta, hot dogs, white bread and (gasp!) canned vegetables."

Shorter Julie Gunlock: Poor people should be happy with whatever crap "we" deign to give them (crap that is, by the way, heavily subsidized by the eeeeevil government), and any attempt to provide them with nutritious food--even food that's cheaper than the processed crap it replaces--is "Arugula Elitism" and must not be allowed.

The Internet Food Association's take is here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Three Experiments

The sun finally came out this weekend in Seattle. If you've never lived in the Pacific Northwest, this will be hard to appreciate, but after months of rain punctuated by what an optimist would call "bright gray" days, a warm, sunny day that actually falls on a weekend feels like an unexpected gift. I spent the weekend biking around the city, digging up beds for potatoes, and lazing around in the park--and, of course, cooking and eating. I tried three things for the first time this weekend--and, although I wouldn't declare any of them an unqualified success, each one broadened my culinary horizons in a different way.

The first was a sorbet-based concoction at Molly Moon's Ice Cream, the hyped-to-death new ice cream shop a block away from my office. Let me preface by saying that I don't like ice cream. Too rich, too creamy, too sweet, too much. Sorbet, on the other hand, I love--especially on a hot day, especially if it's not too sweet. Other things I love? Anything that sounds potentially too weird to eat. Which is how I ended up dropping five bucks on a "Sweet Dirt sundae," featuring baby beet sorbet (yum), balsamic syrup (oh...kaaay), shredded carrot (huh?) and parmesan cheese (say WHAH?!) The woman behind the counter described it as "sort of an ice-cream salad." Obviously, I had to try it. And it was... well... really weird. The carrot shreds were a little too coarse to combine with any of the other elements, and the parmesan was actually pretty gross at first--too salty in contrast to the over-sweet sorbet, and the conflicting textures (sandy shredded Parm, creamy sorbet) were really distracting. Eventually, though, everything kind of melted together into a palatable-enough compromise--not something I'd ever pay money for again, but a completely unique combination of tastes I'd never think to try together.

I must've had beets on the brain, because my second experiment was an attempt to rescue the sad bunch that have been sitting in my produce drawer since my CSA pickup two weeks ago. Taking inspiration from this post on Mark Bittman's blog by Stacey Slate, I decided to try pickling them in a simple brine of vinegar and salt with garlic and pickling spice. First, I boiled the beets in water for about 10 minutes--longer than Slate suggests, but I think my beets must have been tougher than hers. Then I let the beets cool (cheating a bit by holding them under cold running water to stop the cooking) and peeled them. While I brought two cups of water, a couple tablespoons of salt, and a cup of vinegar to a boil, I dropped a teaspoon or so of pickling spice (from Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything) and a cut clove of garlic into a pint jar and packed the beets loosely on top. When the brine came to a boil, I poured it over the jars, sealed them, and let them cool. The jars--now filled with a gorgeous fuschia liquid—-are sitting in the refrigerator now, and I plan to open them in a few more days, assuming I can wait that long. (Next time I'm trying Jonathan Ryan's "Beets, Mexican Style," a simple method that also comes from Bittman's blog.)

(Photo via Tamarind and Thyme)

Experiment 3 was only moderately successful, and a little tedious--it took most of my Sunday afternoon and resulted in the removal of a good chunk of my finger and fingernail. (Partially frozen galangal + less-than-razor-sharp-knife = Erica with her finger on ice all night). The recipe was beef rendang, an Indonesian/Malaysian recipe from the London-based blog Tamarind and Thyme, and although it included many of my favorite ingredients--toasted coconut, tamarind pulp, Kaffir lime leaves, lemongass, galangal--the end product just needed... something. It had all the right base notes, but lacked a high note to balance it out and bring all those complex flavors to the surface. It was also, truth be told, a little dry. Maybe I used the wrong cut of beef (the recipe calls for "stewing beef," so I just used what I had on hand, a round tip roast). I'm not giving up, though. Next time I may try using boneless pork ribs verboten in Muslim countries, but more tender than beef) and adding some kind of vegetable to the mix. In the meantime, here's the original recipe, in all its complex, fingernail-slicing glory.


2 lbs. beef for stewing, cut in approximately 1.5″ cubes
3 tbsps peanut oil (or sunflower oil)
1.5 inch long cinnamon stick
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
4 star anise
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1/2 tin of water
2 tsps tamarind pulp, soaked in about 1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
7 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
7 tbsps dessicated coconut (not sweetened)
salt to taste

for the spice paste
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
6 small shallots (I used the Asian purple ones), peeled and chopped roughly
2 stalks lemongrass, tough layers removed and softer inner layers chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of galangal, cleaned and chopped roughly
6 large dried chilies, soaked in warm water, seeded, and chopped roughly
0.5 tsp turmeric powder (I used chopped fresh turmeric, which I happened to pick up at the store recently)
1 tsp salt

First toast the dessicated coconut to make kerisek. In a dry frying pan, add the dessicated coconut and then gently heat it over medium heat. Stir the coconut often until it is a uniform golden brown. Set the toasted coconut aside.

Now make the spice paste. Toss all the prepared spice paste ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until a paste is formed. Add a little water at a time if it’s not blending properly.

In a large deep saute pan or a large wok or a large heavy casserole, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the spice paste. You’ll find the paste will “soak up” all the oil during frying and when it’s done frying and fully aromatic, the oil will be released again. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and star anise and stir thoroughly. Add the beef and stir again – the beef should just be coated with the paste, not left to brown. Pour in the coconut milk and the tamarind water and enough of the plain water to cover the meat – you might need to add more. Add the sliced kaffir lime leaves too. Stir thoroughly and bring the liquid to a boil.

When the mixture is bubbling, turn down the heat to a simmer. Sprinkle over the sugar and toasted coconut, stir that through and leave the coconutty mixture to simmer slowly, uncovered, stirring occasionally. After about 2 hours, the water should have all evaporated, leaving the beef in a thick paste and with lots of oil floating on top. Now you’ll have to stir much more often, allowing the beef mixture to fry in the oil. The rendang will darken and will be done when it’s a dark brown, which will occur in about 20-30 minutes. Turn the heat to the lowest temperature and proceed to spoon out the oil that’s been floating on top. Salt the rendang to taste, turn off the heat, and serve.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Where Food Comes From

This post by Tom Philpott is worth reading in its entirety, as it points out yet another reason for eating local (and diversifying our local food supplies): California, a state with limited water, overwhelmingly dominates America's food supplies, to an extent that is staggering even for those with some awareness of the state's vast miles of farmland. The state, according to Philpott (citing numbers from the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture), produces 99 percent of the artichokes consumed in the U.S., two-thirds of the carrots, 86 percent of the cauliflower, 93 percent of the broccoli, 95 percent of the celery, 90 percent of the leaf lettuce, 83 percent of the fresh spinach, 84 percent of the peaches, and 86 percent of the fresh strawberries?

That level of reliance on agriculture in a drought-prone state, Philpott notes, is unsustainable.

California’s most ag-centric counties, mostly clustered in the fertile Central Valley, are also its most heavily irrigated. And the Central Valley is locked in a three-year drought that shows no sign of easing up. ...

On top of the drought, farmers are also feeling a water pinch from another source. The area’s farms have for years relied on a generous flow of water from a vast estuary called the Delta, where two big rivers meet in the center of the valley. But by sucking water out of the Delta before it reaches the ocean, Central Valley farmers are placing massive pressure on the coastal ecosystem. ...

Evidently, the lack of fresh water—along with pollution and the introduction of invasive species—has triggered population collapse for the delta smelt, the fish at the bottom of the ecoystem’s food chain. Take away the smelt, and other, higher-on-the-food-chain species decline, too. ...

At one point, it must have seemed hyper-efficient to concentrate the great bulk of U.S. veggie production in a few fertile California counties. Now it looks reckless.


Read the whole thing--including an innovative proposal for solving the problem--here.

Related: This web site from Food and Water Watch uses a deceptively simple interface to help you find out where various foods at your grocery store are likely to come from
—and how to make safer, smarter choices at the market.

Big Ag Update

Grist reports that USDA head Tom Vilsack is on the verge of appointing Dr. Mike Doyle, head of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety, as his food safety czar. Doyle has been praised by the likes of the American Meat Institute (which honored him with its Scientific Achievement Award in 2004 for his "groundbreaking research" into ways of getting rid of pathogens in meat, including irradiation), and has received funding and support from the National Chicken Council, an industry lobby group. Grist notes that Doyle's main champion in Congress is none other than Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and is "associated with the Animal Agriculture Alliance as well as the American Council on Science and Health ... both industry-funded astroturf organizations whose shared mission is to undermine any research that questions the safety of industrial products or practices.

Meanwhile, Vilsack testified in favor of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations, AKA factory farms) at a House appropriations subcommittee meeting last week, the Ethicurean reports. Vilsack defended the crowded conditions and antibiotic use by factory farms, insisting that meat companies are "First and foremost, they're concerned for the safety of their consumers. Without consumers, they don't have a market, and without a market they don't have money." In other words, it's our responsibility to investigate what conditions animals at a particular farm are kept in and make our buying decisions accordingly. Personally, I try to stick to organic meat and poultry for that very reason, but not all consumers have that option--or the kind of access to information Vilsack's condescending comment implies.

Speaking of personal responsibility, big food manufacturers now say it's consumers' job to make sure their pathogen-infested food doesn't make us sick--by cooking their products for so long we kill any crap that's in there. According to the New York Times, ConAgra--whose Banquet pot pies sickened thousands of people with salmonella in 2007--is now telling consumers to heat their products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees "as measured by a food thermometer in several spots"--a habit that's sure to be picked up by consumers who buy the company's $1.99 frozen dinners. (In addition to buying a food thermometer--not a basic kitchen tool for people who don't cook a lot of big cuts of meat--the new frozen-food standards also require consumers to have an 1,100-watt microwave oven.) Basically, the food companies don't want to have to go to the trouble of tracking all their ingredients, so they're covering their asses by putting consumers on the hook for their products' safety.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Can't Win for Losing


Closeup of Ray's Hell Burger with Danish Bleu cheese, applewood smoked bacon, roasted garlic, and sauteed onions (elitist!!!) by Flickr user Alicia Griffin.

The elitists (OK, people who like their meat to taste like meat) ripped Obama for ordering a burger, at Ray's Hell Burger outside D.C., medium well (Spencer Ackerman at Ezra Klein's Internet Food Association: "wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and a crime against meat!"). The rubes (AKA rich Republicans pretending to be "of the people") complained that his choice of Dijon mustard was "elitist" ("Dijongate"!! "Arugula-like"!! "John Kerry-ish"!!)--never mind that Grey Poupon is PRODUCED BY FREAKING KRAFT, and comes in a plastic bottle that makes a fart sound when you squeeze it.

Now even the food-safety folks are weighing in on Obama's food choice--suggesting, as groundbreaking food-safety attorney Bill Marler did, that Obama may not have gone far enough, given that even a medium-well burger could potentially harbor E. coli. "What is medium well? Is it sufficient to kill the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria? Given that in 2006 USDA/FSIS recalled less that 200,000 pounds of E. coli-tainted hamburger and over 44,000,000 pounds have been recalled since the Spring of 2007, was the President taking a risk just over 100 days after taking office?" Marler wrote, in a post titled "Obama Orders and Eats a Medium Well Burger - Did it have E. coli O157:H7 in it? What was the Internal Temperature? Is he going to Die?" Slightly less hyperbolically, Obama Foodorama pointed out that Ray's Hell Burger had several "critical health violations" in its last public health inspection, including mouse droppings, handling food without gloves, and failing to inform customers of the danger of eating undercooked meat. "In future, when the President is making 'unannounced' stops at local eateries, it would be terrific if he'd order his burger fully cooked, since his 'people' clearly aren't checking the health records of restaurants, which are frequently available online," Obama Foodorama's Eddie wrote.

Yes, You Can Get It From Pork

Photo by Flickr user BBQ Junkie.

First, the World Health Organization insisted that humans couldn't get swine flu from infected pork. Then--whoops!--they recanted, saying that "meat from pigs infected with the new H1N1 virus shouldn't be used for human consumption." Although the Centers for Disease Control--surprise!--doesn't go that far (in their latest advisory, they assure consumers, "You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products), but they do acknowledge that that's only true if the pork is cooked properly--that is, to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Which strongly implies that handling swine-flu infected pork is unsafe, as the Beyond Green Blog has pointed out. Nonetheless, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has assured Americans that eating pork is "absolutely... safe." I'm not reassured.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Question

If the exhilaration that accom-panies, say, the purchase of a large quantity of ground cumin, whole cumin, and Tellicherry peppercorns in bulk for a total of less than $5 exceeds the exhilaration that accompanies actually using these spices, does that make me weird?

Photo by Flickr user Paul Goyette.

Skepticism

Last week, as part of a major restocking in case of swine flu (purchased: Some $500 of frozen/ nonperishable/ yummy stuff to be used up starting now, whether or not a pandemic hits Seattle), Alex made a purchase I cannot condone: Four pounds or so of free-range boneless, skinless chicken breasts, on sale at the PCC for some minuscule discount off the usual extortionary $6.99 a pound or whatever, frozen and shrink-wrapped in a massive "DISCOUNT PAK!!" Ah, commerce.

The thing is, no matter how much you're "saving" on boneless, skinless chicken breast, you always lose. This is because boneless, skinless chicken breast is the plain 35-calorie rice cake of poultry--all but textureless, more than flavorless, and inferior in every conceivable way (unless you're counting calories, but why not just eat less of something actually good?) to any kind of dark chicken meat. This is an indisputable fact. Dark meat just tastes better. And if you have to eat white meat, the skin is its only saving grace--take that away, along with the satisfying experience of biting off the end of a well-cooked chicken bone, and you've got the poultry equivalent of a stale low-sodium saltine cracker--perfectly innocuous, harmless in every way, but why would you eat it?

But--bias, nay, good taste be damned--I've got to figure out a way to cook the freaking things. So far, I'm wavering between Mark Bittman's sauteed chicken cutlets (which redeems the fatlessness of the chicken cutlets by frying them in half an inch of oil); his stir-fried chicken with fermented black beans (the latter, again, for flavor); chicken piccata (a classic, apparently); or the Joy of Cooking's baked stuffed chicken breasts (can't find a recipe online, but it's on page 592 of the 1997 edition). I'll update on whether I ultimately overcome my boneless-skinless-chicken-breast aversion (doubtful) or learn tolerance for America's most popular poultry cut (it's possible!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fact.

This salsa, from Sanderson's Specialty Foods in Austin, is the best salsa that there is (and believe me, I've tried a few hundred):



Why is it the best? Because it achieves the perfect balance of vegetal, sweet, fiery, and tart--plus it has none of the b.s. ingredients (bell peppers, oil, sugar, chemical thickeners) that mar many "natural" mass-produced salsas (Newman's Own, I'm looking at you). This is salsa you could make at home, if you could just figure the proportions out--a mix of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, vinegar, garlic and salt. I buy it every time I'm in Texas and wolf it down, often with a spoon (I'm not proud), almost immediately upon my return to Seattle--and now that I know you can buy it by the case, I won't have to go without the other 51 weeks of the year.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Photo of the Day


Photo by Flickr user rkazda, in the Seattle Food and Drink Flickr pool.

No Thank You

From this morning's Seattle Times:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced its second round of grants for innovative, out-of-the-box, and sometimes just plain strange ideas for global health research.

Among the 81 projects getting $100,000 include a plan to create a tomato that delivers antiviral drugs...


That's a tomato that produces antiviral drugs in people who eat it. Because why wouldn't you want to put antiviral drugs into the food supply?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of baby arugula and gorgonzola salad by Flickr user Marusula.

A Tale of Three Soups

The basic technique for cooking every soup on earth--from creamy coconut milk-based curries to hearty beef stews to light, all-vegetable affairs--is the same. First, if your soup includes a fatty meat, brown it in oil and remove from the pan. Second, heat some fat in the pan and brown your aromatics--onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and the like. Then add the rest of your solid ingredients--any browned meat, peppers, potatoes, herbs, etc.--deglaze the pan with a small amount of liquid if desired, and add your liquid. Cook until done; taste for seasoning and add any last-minute additions--a splash of cream or vinegar, a chiffonade of basil, quick-cooking chicken or greens--shortly before serving.

There are variations, of course--some soups are blended, some left chunky; some call for reserving some softer vegetables until the end, or tossing in pasta halfway through to cook in the stock--but the basic method is the same for every soup under the sun. To demonstrate, here are three soups I made just this week.

Soup 1: Provencal Pesto Soup (Soupe au Pistou)

(Photo and recipe, slightly adapted, from Gourmet)

Ingredients
For soup:

1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), washed and thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 celery rib, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large thyme sprig
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound Swiss chard, stems cut into 1/2-inch pieces and leaves coarsely chopped
8 cups vegetable stock
2 cups thawed frozen edamame (fresh soybeans)
1/2 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup medium pasta shells

For pistou:

1 small tomato
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (3 ounces)

Method

Cook leek, celery, carrot, and thyme sprig in oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 5-to 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables brown and stick to bottom of pot, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

Add potatoes and chard stems with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up brown bits.

Stir in edamame, zucchini, green beans, pasta, chard leaves, and 1/4 tsp salt and simmer, uncovered, until pasta is al dente and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Discard thyme sprig.

Meanwhile make pistou:
Heat a dry small skillet (not nonstick) over medium heat until hot, then char tomato on all sides. Core tomato, then purée with basil, parsley, and garlic in a food processor. Add oil and cheese and blend well.

Remove soup from heat and stir in half of pistou and salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with remaining pistou.

Soup 2: Creamy Carrot Soup with Caramelized Carrots (the same one I served with arugula pesto a couple of weeks ago)

Ingredients
For the soup:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium organic carrots, the freshest and smallest you can find peeled if desired, trimmed, and sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins (about 3 cups)
3 small to medium leeks, trimmed and thoroughly washed, white and light green parts cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 to 7 cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

For the caramelized carrot garnish:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled if desired, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 teaspoon finely shredded (chiffonade) fresh sage leaves, or to taste (I used more)
1 scant tablespoon sugar

Method

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, warm the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter is melted.

Add the carrots and leeks. Sauté the vegetables for about 10 minutes, or until they have begun to soften.

Add the potato, sage, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in 6 cups of the broth. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all of the vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat and let the soup cool for 10 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, or in the pot using an immersion blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat on medium-low until heated through.

To make the caramelized carrots:

Heat the butter and oil in a medium-size skillet or sauté pan placed over medium heat.

When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, stir in the diced carrots and shredded sage. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the carrots are tender and lightly browned.

Sprinkle with the sugar and cook briefly to allow the sugar to caramelize. Season with a little salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

To serve, ladle equal portions of soup into six bowls. Garnish each serving with a spoonful of the caramelized carrots and serve immediately.

Soup 3: Thai-Style Chicken Soup with Basil (adapted from Gourmet)

Ingredients

2 fresh lemongrass stalks, root end trimmed and 1 or 2 outer layers discarded
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 qt rich and flavorful chicken stock; or 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth diluted with 3 cups water
1 (14-oz) can diced tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving juice
2 oz tamarind from a pliable block (a 2-inch cube), chopped
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 (2-inch-long) fresh Thai chiles, thinly sliced
2 fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves
1 (2-inch) piece peeled ginger, thinly sliced
1 lb chicken thighs, skin and bones removed
1/4 lb snow peas, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/3 cup packed basil leaves (preferably Thai)

Method

Cut off and discard top of lemongrass, leaving 6-inch stalks, then finely chop. Cook lemongrass, shallots, and garlic in oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add stock, reserved tomato juice, tamarind, fish sauce, chiles, lime leaves, and ginger and simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes.

While soup simmers, freeze chicken just until slightly firm, 20 to 30 minutes, then thinly slice crosswise.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. Return to a simmer and stir in chicken, diced tomatoes, snow peas, and basil. Gently simmer just until chicken is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with additional fish sauce and salt over cooked jasmine rice.

Three very different soups, each delicious in its own way, three nearly identical methods. Once you've mastered one soup, you've mastered them all.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo by Flickr user redvalley.

Interesting

Turns out you're more likely to indulge in junky food if you have the option of choosing something healthy instead:

In the experiment, 100 college students were presented with two menus. One included fries, chicken nuggets, and a baked potato, and another with those three items--plus a salad. Students were told they could choose one item. Participants' levels of self-control were also measured through separate tests and then analyzed with their choices.

The first menu led to intuitive results: those with high self-control rarely chose fries. But the second menu--offering a healthy option, a salad--showed different behavior: participants with high self-control were "significantly more likely to choose the French fries."

The reason:

"The authors suggest their finding shows that merely presenting a healthy option vicariously fulfils health-related eating goals, drives attention to the least-healthy choice and provides people with license to indulge in tempting foods."


Leaving aside the fact that a baked potato can also be a "healthy option"--so long as you don't smother it in sour cream, butter and (passe) bacon bits--this finding makes me think twice about scoffing at McDonald's for offering salads and sliced apples alongside bacon Macs and supersize fries. Maybe, once again, the fast-food chains are smarter than anyone realized.

Bacon: The Verdict

5d98/1240960335-no_bacon.jpg
Over.

If the Tom Douglas-hosted yuppiefest that was Baconopolis (which featured, admittedly, some lovely-if-not-exactly original little bites, like bacon tempura) was the final straw, swine flu is the triumphal kick in the teeth. (And yes, I know you can't get swine flu from eating pork, and no, I don't care.)

The new bacon, according to Alex? Goat. Make a note of it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In Other News, Tobacco Industry Opposes Cancer Warnings, Booze Lobby Opposes Tougher DUI Laws, Etc.

The American Meat Institute is opposing a campaign called "Meatless Mondays," which is urging Americans--including President Obama--to go meatless one puny little day a week. The campaign wants Obama to support Meatless Mondays because "moderate reductions in meat consumption will mitigate climate change, lessen fossil fuel dependence, conserve fresh water and help reduce the chronic preventable conditions that today kill 70% of all Americans — cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

The funny thing is that they don't seem to be disputing any of that. Instead, they're seizing on the statement that the meat industry is "inefficient"--a common criticism of meat consumption is that meat takes far more resources to produce than, say, whole grains--calling it "completely false."

"The industry is so efficient it can now feed U.S. citizens, export customers and U.S. troops without resorting to rationing, [American Meat Institute president and chief executive officer J. Patrick Boyle] added. And because meat is so nutrient-dense, less of it is needed to nourish people than is needed of other foods."

I don't know if that's false consciousness or just not understanding the question, but it made me laugh all the same.

Photo of the Day


Photo by Flickr user homersometimes.

Ask And Ye Shall Etc.

After my post yesterday saying that I was craving something light and springlike--something like, say, RADISHES--what should arrive in my CSA but...



RADISHES! The first of the season (that blurry person in the background is my coworker Eli Sanders, and yes, my office couch is that tattered.)

I think I'm going to use them in this recipe from Apartment Therapy, which calls for braising them with butter, salt pork, shallots, and vinegar.

Not tonight, though. Tonight I'm going to Tom Douglas's sold-out Baconopolis, to watch a bunch of rich people ooh and aah over what was, until like a year ago, poor people's food. Bacon salt, Baconnaise, Bacon Explosion™, grumble, grumble.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Photo of the Day

After all the heavy food of the last week or so and the bout of stomach ickiness I'm still getting over, I'm seriously craving something like this edamame and radish salad, shot by Flickr user Santos.

The Center Can't Hold

News Item One: At G8 this week, Obama's ag secretary Tom Vilsack has been promoting the use of agricultural biotech, including the use of genetically modified organisms, to combat global hunger. He also advocated against creating global grain reserves. As Tom Philpott writes,

"For most of agricultural history, societies have kept grain stores, to be released during shortages to soften shocks. Starting about 20 years ago, the U.S. government and institutions like the IMF and World Bank decided that government grain reserves interfered with the magic of the market and began selling them off and discouraging developing nations from keeping them. It’s a little bit like dismantling levees, on the theory that they interfere with the magic of water flow."

Yet that's exactly what our agricultural secretary is advocating.

News Item Two: According to a study by Purdue University researchers, farmers relying on Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup Ready crops are finding that the herbicide is losing its ability to control weeds. Not surprisingly, the farmers who saw the most benefit from Roundup were those who rotated Roundup Ready GMO crops with conventional crops.

Back From Houston!

I'm back from my weeklong trip to Houston, where the weather was lovely (sunny, high 70s), the family was doing well, and the Tex-Mex and barbecue were AWESOME. Some highlights:

During an uncharacteristic late-spring downpour (Alex, who's lived in Seattle off and on for a decade: "Houston is the rainiest city EVER"), we made a stop at Pizzitola's Barbecue on Shepherd, where we had dry-smoked ribs (I prefer 'em wetter, but the gravy boats of sweet-hot sauce on the table did the trick) and incredible, perfectly smoke-ringed, fork-tender brisket. The owner (Jerry Pizzitola) was a little overbearing (as in, he wouldn't leave our table for ten minutes at a time), but the 'cue was authentic, the coleslaw and potato salad were cold, and everything came with plenty of white bread to soak it all up.

On the fancier end of the scale, my parents took us out for dinner at Shade, a restaurant in the Heights area of far North Houston. Unfortunately, I didn't write everything down and the menu on their web site is out of date, but the two best things we ordered were: A trio of perfectly seared, sweet scallops served on top of a creamy pasta with sweet peas and shitaake mushrooms (mine) and a beautiful grilled double pork chop topped with a square of seared pork belly and a savory tomato jam (my dad's). Both were incredible, but I have to confess a tiny bit of disappointment--not in the food at Shade, but at the fact that I was the only one lobbying to go to Feast, a place on Westheimer specializing in nose-to-tail dining. Alas, a recent glowing write-up in the New York Times couldn't convince my squeamish companions that they wouldn't end up dining on pickled kidneys and severed fish heads, so the more conventional (though also very, VERY good--and paid for by my wonderful, generous parents) Shade it was.

Of course--as is, strangely, typical for me on trips away from home--my favorite meal might have been one that was utterly unplanned: Tacos picked up from El Rey, a busy lunch spot up the street from our hotel, and eaten on the hotel bed before a long, well-deserved midafternoon nap. (We'd left the hotel for a conference a few minutes past 7 in the morning). The "Cuban tacos," shredded beef cooked carnitas-style on two corn tortillas, were to die for, and the rice and beans (white rice, black beans) were healthy (-seeming) without being bland. But the best part was eating in the freshly made bed, red and green sauces on the bedside table, then drifting off to sleep while Shattered Glass (AKA the Best Movie Ever) played in the background.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Photo of the Day


Photo of sandwich at the Hobbit (nee Hobbit Hole) cafe in Houston by Flickr user mlinksva.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Photo of the Day


Fried chicken and waffles photo--chosen in honor of my imminent trip to Houston--by Flickr user wenno.

From Humble Beginnings

"Best" and "soup" are not words that generally go together for me. More like "soup" and "is it still winter?" or "soup" and "again?"--about one billion times more so if "soup" is preceded by the name of any root vegetable. Parsnip bisque? Blech. Carrot puree? Sounds like baby food.

So now you've got the lay of the land here at The C Is For Cocina, soupwise. Ready to hear the ingredient list for what may be one of my new favorite soups--nay, meals--ever?

Carrots. Leeks. Stock. A potato. Butter. Oil. Sage, salt, pepper and sugar.

No lie: That's all it takes to make an incredible soup that will clear out your blood vessels and wake your taste buds up from their winter torpor. Of course, if you're like me, you'll want to gild the lily by stirring in an improvised arugula pesto (approximate recipe at the end), but even if you don't have the makings on hand, I promise this will be one of the most refreshing, revelatory little soups you've ever tasted. And you won't even wish it wasn't winter anymore.

Carrot Soup with Caramelized Carrots, adapted from Cookthink

For the soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium organic carrots, the freshest and smallest you can find peeled if desired, trimmed, and sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins (about 3 cups)
3 small to medium leeks, trimmed and thoroughly washed, white and light green parts cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 to 7 cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

For the caramelized carrot garnish:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled if desired, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 teaspoon finely shredded (chiffonade) fresh sage leaves, or to taste (I used more)
1 scant tablespoon sugar

To make the soup:

1. In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, warm the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter is melted.

2. Add the carrots and leeks. Sauté the vegetables for about 10 minutes, or until they have begun to soften.

3. Add the potato, sage, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Stir in 6 cups of the broth. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all of the vegetables are tender.

5. Remove from the heat and let the soup cool for 10 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, or in the pot using an immersion blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat on medium-low until heated through.

To make the caramelized carrots:

1. Heat the butter and oil in a medium-size skillet or sauté pan placed over medium heat.

2. When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, stir in the diced carrots and shredded sage. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the carrots are tender and lightly browned.

3. Sprinkle with the sugar and cook briefly to allow the sugar to caramelize. Season with a little salt and pepper and remove from the heat. To serve, ladle equal portions of soup into six bowls. Garnish each serving with a spoonful of the caramelized carrots and serve immediately.

A Sort of Recipe for Arugula pesto:

Large handful arugula, thick stems removed
A few leaves of sage, to taste, roughly chopped
Two to three cloves garlic, roughly chopped, plus a few garlic chives if you happen to be growing them
About 1/2 cup pine nuts or roughly-chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Large pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the first six ingredients together in the bowl of a food processor. With the blade going, slowly pour oil through the processor's feed tube until the desired consistency is reached. Swirl into individual soup bowls before garnishing with carrots.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of olive and tomato tart by Flickr user nettsu.

Oh, Padma

I've written before--on my previous blog, I'm Sick of Your Insane Demands--about the fact that while male food personalities typically look like this...

Women who are "really into food" have to look like this:


But Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi's new commercial for the Hardee's Western Bacon Thickburger takes the "sexy foodie" trope to a whole new level.

While bow-chicka-wow music plays in the background, we see Lakshmi sitting on her steps, taking out an enormous burger, hiking up her skirt, and downing the sandwich lustily, licking and sucking bits of "sweet, spicy" sauce off her fingers, legs, and the burger itself. (Seriously, Hardee's: Who licks a burger?) In voiceover, she all but moans: "I've tasted just about every flavor imaginable. But there's something about the Western Bacon."


Confidential to Padma: Next time, if the tagline for the product you're hawking is "More Than Just a Piece of Meat," you might consider asking why the scriptwriters are treating you like one.

Cross-posted.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, aka "rumaki," by Flickr user pliabletrade.

Speaking of Astonishment

Last October, I took a free composting class from Seattle Tilth, where I learned a composting method known as Interbay Mulching. For someone like me, it was ideal: No bin required (my previous compost pile was literally that, a pile on the ground); no real cost (or minimal if you buy burlap in bulk, a nonissue here in the Northwest where coffee sacks are plentiful and free); and, best of all, MINIMAL EFFORT: You just set it up, cover with sacks, and let it sit for five or six months. In fact, the less you disturb it, the better.

Now, maybe I'm being a bit facile in my description (you can find a much more thorough "recipe" here) but really, this is the easiest mulching/compost system there is. You pile your yard waste in layers of greens (grass clippings, debris and plant matter left over from the summer garden, coffee grounds, tea, whatever) and browns (I used leaves, which were conveniently lying all over our un-raked yard, but you can also use straw, evergreen needles, rotted burlap, and shredded paper), in a long pile a foot or more high. Cover with burlap, leaving no spaces if you're using coffee sacks, moisten and walk away. The web sites I've consulted caution you to check periodically to make sure everything's staying moist--but again, that's rarely a problem here in the damp Northwest.

Over the last couple of weekends, I've finally started digging my mulch beds under--and, to my slight astonishment (my garden experiments rarely go quite as planned), my piles of yard waste had transformed in mere months to rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling black humus, positively teeming with the creepy crawlies that help keep gardens healthy. Other bloggers have written about the challenges of creatin compost--and I don't want to diminish the work it takes to build an honest-to-God container composting system--but honestly, this is one of the easiest and most rewarding gardening projects I've ever done. Of course, only time will tell if what looks like rich earth actually produces better radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes than the $15-a-bag stuff I used to buy, but at least I'll know I did it myself.

It Never Fails to Astonish

Spring has finally come to the long-frozen Northwest (seriously, snow? If I wanted you, I'd move to Chicago), where the weather forecast is sunny (for now):



... the cherry blossoms are going nuts:

(Photo by Flickr user anaxila)

... and the contents of my CSA box look like this:



Apples, schmapples. I'm just psyched to be getting asparagus, leeks, and strawberries after a long winter of potatoes, pumpkins, and miles of greens as far as the eye can see.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Photo of the Day


Photo of calcots in Catalunya by Flickr user Carlos Lorenzo.

Hold On To Your Wine Glass!

I hope you're sitting down for this one. A new study into the Byzantine workings of the primitive ladybrain has determined that women make their wine choices based not on fashion or diet concerns, but by basically the same criteria men use: Does it taste good?

Shocking? It was to researchers who conducted the first-ever study of women's attitude toward wine in the UK, who professed "surprise" and "interest" at the finding that women buy wine based on how it tastes and whether it goes well with food, as opposed to how well it works as a fashion accessory and whether it will help them shed pounds. Also shocking to researchers: The fact that women tend to bristle at wine ads aimed specifically at them (e.g., those b.s. "girlfriends" wine ads aimed at professional women who supposedly spend their time together knitting, giggling, and scrapbooking--all over glasses of shitty Mondavi or Gallo whites), and the fact that women actually prefer red wine despite the fact that white wine is marketed as "lite."

Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo, which conducted the survey, "was particularly pleased with the response of 79% of women who said they drink wine because they like the taste – as opposed to its compatibility with food or fashion status, calling it 'extraordinary'."

God, the next thing you know, women will be buying food because it tastes good. Try to contain your astonishment.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo by Flickr user jlunar.

OMG WANT

This adorable book (Serious Eats claims it's a children's book, but I think that's ageist) by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (and illustrated by Scott Magoon) is about a self-conscious spoon working his way through an identity crisis. He's jealous of Fork (who gets to "go everywhere,") feels threatened by "cool and exotic" Chopsticks, and worries about going "stir crazy" from never being able to spread jam on bread or cut into a spongey slice of cake. Ultimately, though, Spoon realizes that he's pretty lucky: He gets to clink against the side of a cereal bowl, twirl around in a mug, and "relax in a cup of hot tea." And what knife, fork or chopstick can say that?

Spoon's family portrait (Spoon in front, looking at the reader; his cousin Spork looking uncomfortable far right):



Spoon goes on sale April 7; preorder on Amazon now. (Via Serious Eats).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo by Flickr user sonicwalker.

Vintage Sexism, Get-Back-In-the-Kitchen Edition

(Image via Haleysuzanne on Photobucket) Via Slashfood, a letter that ran in the New York Times in 1907, which argues not only that the job of a woman is to cook for and serve men, but that the only reason some women don't enjoy cooking and housework is that they don't know how to do it right.

WOMEN ENJOY COOKING.
A Pleasure, Not a Drudgery, Once the Art Is Acquired.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

Will you allow me space in THE TIMES to take up the discussion of the subject reported in to-day's TIMES before the Woman's Conference for the Society of Ethical Culture, in which Leslie Willis Sprague advocated the training of women for domestic service? [...] I think what I have to say may be of interest.

I am a strong advocate of schools to teach cooking, and in my professional life I advise every woman who comes to me for advice as to her future to learn to do the things which make for property house-keeping and home-making. As long as the race exists, men will have to eat, and some one will have to do the cooking. [...] I believe that if women could learn to cook well at proper schools so that they know how and why they do the various things in preparing a meal, the doing of it would be a pleasure and not a drudgery.

One of my father's pet stories is how one day he came into our home for lunch, and found me sitting in the kitchen with a cookbook on my lap, crying great tears into the pages while I tried to find out what to get him for lunch. He thinks it is a good story [!!!--ECB], but I know the trouble was that I was attempting to do a thing I did not understand, and was declaring that I never could and never would cook. After we finished that meal of bread and milk, I went at it with a will and learned to cook properly, and stuck at it under Mrs. Rorer and my mother until I could cook everything in the usual family menu, and as soon as I learned how I loved to do it. And I have never since then heard a woman decry cooking who was herself a good cook. Watch that point, and see if it is not so. [...]

Housework done intelligent is not drudgery. Cooking done well is as great a pleasure as painting a picture. Serving a good meal cooked by yourself is as great an achievement as arguing a case well in court. And the woman who can do so, and lets her servants have the benefit of her knowledge, has no trouble with her servants. [...]

GABRIELLE STEWART MULLINER
New York, March 26, 1907

While it may be true, as I've written elsewhere, that men think they do a lot more housework, cooking, and child care than they actually do, we've come a long way in the last 100 years. Maybe in another 100, that 70-30 split will actually be closer to 50-50. I still doubt that either gender will have started liking housework, though.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Photo of the Day


Photo of chicken gyro by Flickr user ncmysteryshopper.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of green bean salad with polenta croutons by Flickr user sonicwalker.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of seaweed salad (yes, I'm on a salad kick) by Flickr user Sifu Renka.