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.

Success! In Three Parts

After feeling ho-hum about two time-consuming homemade meals in a row, I'm happy to report that the last few days have left me feeling utterly vindicated, culinarily speaking.

The first success was one I can't take even a little of the credit for: That goes to my friend Lisa, who suggested that we go to Tamarind Tree, a fancy-ish-for-my-current-budget Vietnamese place behind the Viet Wah supermarket, for a long-overdue dinner date. We started with an appetizer described on the menu as "stuffed esgargot." In reality, it was more of a pork-snail paste (appetizing-sounding, no?) molded around a four-inch length of lemongrass and served with a ginger dipping sauce. Not my favorite (the texture of chopped-up snails is just too rubbery for my taste), but the salad that accompanied it--sticky-sweet just-seared Pacific sea scallops and greens tossed with pickled lemongrass, onions prepared two ways, and a light, tangy dressing--was fresh and light-tasting, almost summery (a serious bit of relief after two straight weeks of overhanging gray skies and rain rain rain.) And my entree was outstanding, even revelatory. The menu described my entree, somewhat parsimoniously, as "steamed rice batter topped with shrimp bits and green onions served with mixed herb fish sauce." What arrived on the table was nine little bowls filled with what looked like custard, and topped with what, in the dim light, you'd be forgiven for assuming were bacon bits. But the flavor was like biting into a coconut, and the texture had more in common with creme brulee than rice. And the bacon bits? Those were tiny flecks of crunchy, deep-fried shrimp, a perfect textural counterpart to the silky custard. With a generous spoonful of spicy fish sauce, it was one of the most exciting (and visually appealing) meals I'd had in months. Lisa's crepe (an eggy, lettuce-wrapped, meat-brimming affair) was pretty good, too.

Up next: My second attempt at creating this recipe, this time with all the correct ingredients! Although the addition of shredded galangal and fresh Kaffir lime leaves and the substitution of actual long beans for the "any old beans" in my previous rendition didn't seem to make that much difference to the taste of the final product (in fact, it may have been better last time because I froze the pork longer, making it easier to cut into paper-thin slices), I did make one major time-saving deviation from the recipe: Instead of mashing everything to a paste in my trusty marble mortar, I chucked it all into my mini-chopper, saving about ten minutes (and a measure of my sanity). Purists may claim that using a mortar and pestle preserves the aromas and volatile oils in the ground ingredients, but when you're dealing with materials as pungent as ground dried shrimp and as tough as whole Thai chiles, the food processor seems like the way to go, in terms of both taste and texture.

Finally, last night, I finished up two recipes that have been sitting in my "to-do" folder for quite a while: Bittman's Hainanese Chicken with Rice, and Gourmet's spicy glazed eggplant with Japanese seven-spice powder. (Culinary crossover, I know, but trust me). I was beyond skeptical about the chicken, which is poached in nothing more than water with a generous handful of garlic and ginger: How could something so simply prepared--no browning, no brining, just plunked into a pot--have any flavor? I'm happy to say that although the chicken, tasted alone, was pretty bland, the combination of warm chicken and rice (I mixed them together, rather than serving the chicken mounded on top of the rice as the recipe suggests), cool dipping sauce, and cold, fresh vegetables was both familiar and altogether new.

Hainanese Chicken with Rice (adapted from the Minimalist)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken, trimmed of excess fat
Several cloves smashed garlic, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Several slices fresh ginger, plus 1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 cup plus two tablespoons peanut oil, or 1/4 cup peanut oil and 2 tablespoons chicken fat
3 shallots, roughly chopped, or a small onion
2 cups long-grain rice
1/2 cup minced scallions
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add chicken to pot along with smashed garlic and sliced ginger. Bird should be just submerged. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let bird remain in water for 45 minutes to an hour, covered, or until it is cooked through.

2. Remove chicken from pot, reserving and straining stock, and let bird cool to room temperature. Put two tablespoons peanut oil or chicken fat in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot or chicken fat is melterd, add remaining garlic, along with shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until glossy. Add 4 cups reserved chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover; cook for about 20 minutes, until rice has absorbed all liquid. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

3. Make a dipping sauce of remaining oil, ginger, half the scallions and a large pinch of salt.

4. Shred or chop chicken, discarding skin. Put rice on a large platter and mound chicken on top of it; decorate platter with cucumbers, tomatoes, remaining scallions and cilantro. Sprinkle sesame oil over all and serve with dipping sauce.

Spicy Glazed Eggplant
Adapted from Gourmet
1 1/4 lb Asian eggplants (about 4), trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) or rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger (use a Microplane)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Japanese seven-spice powder* (sometimes labeled “shichimi togarashi”), or to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt and drain in a colander, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes.

Rinse eggplant under cold water and dry well, pressing out any excess moisture.

Stir together mirin, soy sauce, ginger, and seven-spice powder.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then sauté eggplant until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in mirin mixture and cook, gently stirring and turning frequently, until sauce becomes a glaze and eggplant is browned and tender, about 1 minute.

Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with chives.

* Or you can make your own, like I did; the recipe I used is available here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of lovely, lovely lettuce by Flickr user Miky Jpeg.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food as Fuel

I don't generally think of food this way, but every now and then--a few days before payday, for example, when I'm short on cash and relying on a couple of dollars a day to see me through--I come to think of what I eat as sustenance, something to get me by rather than something I savor. And some weeks, I just end up making a whole bunch of meh - either the recipe doesn't work out quite right, or my heart isn't in it, or it just isn't what my brain and body wants that day. That was the case with a couple of dishes I made this week--both of which, to add insult to culinary injury, I had really been looking forward to. The first was a posole recipe I adapted from Serious Eats. With hominy, chicken thighs, chile powder (homemade) and a generous jolt of cilantro, I thought there was no way to go wrong. But the recipe was just... off. Too much broth, not enough flavor, and weird instructions for trying out the chicken fat that just resulted in flabby skin. (I rescued the skin by panfrying it, but the bloom was off the rose). The second was red beans and rice with sausage, which--at no fault to the sausage, which was amazing turkey andouille homemade by my coworker Jonah--ended up too thick, somehow both overcooked and undercooked, and somewhat tacky in texture. Maybe it was the fact that we were out of white rice (I used brown basmati) but even a small serving ended up being too much food for a person to confront.

Given that losing streak, I'm a bit nervous about the dinner I have planned for later this week--Mark Bittman's Hainanese chicken, which calls for simmering a whole chicken in water with ginger and garlic and serving it with a spicy pan sauce. I've made--and loved--simply prepared chicken before, but my recent string of so-so culinary experiments has made me long for something assertive, spicy, and altogether unfamiliar. Sigh--maybe next week.

Photo of the Day

Photo of Shrimp papaya salad by Flickr user WenDaLicious.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of grilled squid by Flickr user Joits.

Gayest Food Ad EVAH!?

Behold: Quiznos' "Tasty Torpedo Ad":

Toaster (deep male voice): Scott, I want you to do something.
Scott: Not doing that again. Got burned.
Toaster: We both enjoyed that. Now I want you to introduce my greatest creation: The new Toasty Torpedo.
Scott: The new Toasty Torpedo?
Toaster: Yes, Scott. You make one.
Scott: Me?
Toaster: Put it in me, Scott.
(Sexy music starts).
Toaster: It's over a foot of flavor on a slim sleek ciabatta for only four dollars. Say it, Scott.
Scott: Only four dollars?
Toaster: Say it sexy.
Scott: Only four dollars.
Toaster: Sexier...
Scott (sexy voice): Only four dollars.

Via AdFreak's David Griner, who says, "you'd be hard-pressed to forget the point: that Quiznos has foot-long meat tubes just waiting to be jammed in the hotbox for you."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Race, Food, and the Obamas

In all the discussion about the Obamas’ decision to convert part of the White House lawn to an organic garden (is organic gardening inherently elitist? Why no beets? Does the fact that Michele, not Barack, is in charge of the garden reinforce stereotypical gender roles?) one aspect utterly escaped me (and, I suspect, most food bloggers): the historical and symbolic significance of a black First Lady, descended from slaves, digging with a shovel on the White House grounds.

Obama Foodarama, typically, is all over it:

To remind, the White House was built primarily by slave labor, as was much of DC, including the Capitol, where Barack was sworn in as president. This was constantly referenced at The Inauguration, and the idea of how far we've come as a nation was one of the themes during Inauguration Week (although Attorney General Eric Holder dumped on this idea a month ago, when he pointed out, in a speech that caused much controversy, that we're still a nation of cowards when it comes to race). Michelle Obama's great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born around 1850 and lived as a slave at least until the Civil War, on a sprawling rice plantation outside Georgetown, South Carolina. But just two months into the Obama Era, it seems like now either no one cares about the politics of racial history anymore, or that no one is appreciating the hugeness of yesterday's events...or that it is still too charged to be addressed. Digging up a piece of the White House lawn to plant an organic garden as the first First Lady who is documented to be a descendant of slavery is a somewhat transgressive act in terms of making a statement about food politics, food policy, healthy eating, nutrition...and about cultural/racial history, when you consider that much of the agricultural work in this country was done by slaves, from the Founding through the Civil War, and even beyond the Emancipation. "Field Negros" as a crucial population of agricultural laborers did not vanish even after slaves were "freed."

It’s interesting to note that most of those who have criticized the Obamas’ gardening activities have had one of two polar reactions. The garden is either: a) Utterly elitist, an arugula-scented sign that the Obamas are out of tough with real Americans who don’t have the time or money to shop at Whole Foods or till and maintain their own politically correct patch of dirt; or b) Utterly low-class, one step away from installing an outhouse outside the West Wing. Both reactions reveal a profound uneasiness with the Obamas’ role as the first black First Couple, whether it’s manifested as disdain for their supposed elitism (“uppity Negroes”) or their supposed classlessness (the despicable “watermelon patch” meme).

Read Obama Foodarama’s whole take here.

Photo of the Day

Photo of naan by Flickr user jennifer.foodess.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of onion rings by Flickr user Res_ta.

The Obamas' Victory Garden

The food world is buzzing with the news that the Obamas are going to start an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn. Earlier this year, more than 100,000 people signed a petition asking the Obamas to convert part of the White House lawn into a vegetable garden. It will be the first since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden during the Second World War. According to YumSugar, the garden will be overseen by Sam Kass, the Obamas' former private chef from Chicago.

Here's what it will look like (wish I was this organized with my own garden!):

For the most part, food bloggers are over the moon about the First Family's decision, part of Michelle Obama's push to put healthy eating on the national agenda. The only criticism I've seen so far is about the Obamas' choice of vegetables--no beets?--and speculation over whether they might be getting started a little late ("I got my spinach and peas in last week and the Obamas are http://www.chewswise.com/chews/2009/03/white-house-garden-starting-late-.html.
?") Personally, I'm sympathetic -- I just got the first peas and fava beans in the ground last weekend (running outside to dig furrows between bouts of hail), so I'm willing to give the President and First Lady a pass.

Photo by Flickr user dulcie.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Make Scrambled Eggs

With all due respect, this is not the correct way to make scrambled eggs. This (as MFK Fisher could tell you) is the correct way to make scrambled eggs:

First, put a tablespoon or two of butter in a cold pan over very, very, very low heat.

Once the butter has just melted, crack as many eggs as you like directly into the pan.

Add about a tablespoon of cream or milk per egg and stir very lightly with a wooden spoon, just enough to break up the yolks. VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT whisk the eggs. Just swirl enough to mix things up a little.

Leave the eggs alone. Nothing will seem to happen at first. Do not be frustrated. Go water the garden. Read a magazine article. Come back when the whites are just starting to turn opaque. Stir again, gently, just enough to create large curds. Uncooked eggs will fill in the gaps. Cook, again on the lowest possible heat, until all the whites are opaque. Stir one last time, remove from heat while still "wet"-looking, and season with salt and pepper.

This method, adapted from MFK Fisher, is not for the impatient—as Fisher herself wrote, it is "never to be attempted by a nervous, harried woman, one anxious to slap something on the table and get it over with. Its very consistency, slow and creamy, is a deterrent to irritation." It takes between half an hour and 45 minutes, but it results in the creamiest, gentlest-tasting scrambled eggs you will ever make. Fisher again: "I love this recipe, for its very gentleness, and for the demands it makes upon one's patience." You can make scrambled eggs more quickly, and less well, but why would you bother?

Photo of the Day

Photo by Flickr user Splat Worldwide, whose evocative caption is, "The radishes dreamt of being roses."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stir-Fried Pork with Any Old Beans

So I finally got around to making the stir-fried pork with long beans I mentioned the other day. But before I tell you how it went, I have to mention one ingredient that, to my utter astonishment, totally rocked my world: The shrimp paste, which sounds awful, smells worse, and doesn't even look like food. Mixed into a paste with a bunch of other extremely assertive ingredients (garlic, cilantro stems, and chiles among them), though, it was subtle, aromatic and--most shockingly--not fishy at all. In fact, I suddenly understood why so many of my efforts to make authentic Thai food at home have been unsuccessful--I lacked this one (to me) obscure and relatively tough-to-find ingredient. I think this combination of flavors--salty, sweet, pungent, mild, and rotten-fishy--would work with any number of base ingredients, including tofu, chicken, shrimp, or even plain old green beans. In any case, I'm really looking forward to experimenting with these ingredients (and probably variations on this exact same recipe) again.

Stir-fried Pork with Any Old Beans (adapted from Gourmet)


For seasoning paste:

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, root end trimmed and 1 or 2 outer layers discarded
3 (2- to 3-inch) dried hot Thai chiles or other small dried chiles, including seeds
3 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons shrimp powder or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried peeled shrimp (I found this in the Hispanic foods section at Safeway)
1 teaspoon minced cilantro root or stem
1 teaspoon minced Kaffir lime zest or regular lime zest
1 teaspoon minced peeled galangal (fresh or thawed frozen)*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste

For beans and pork:

1/2 pound long beans or regular green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces; or snow peas (which is what I had on hand), trimmed
3/4 pound boneless pork shoulder (boneless pork "ribs" are perfect)--toss it in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon packed grated palm sugar (available at Asian markets) or light brown sugar
3 medium Kaffir lime leaves (fresh or thawed frozen; 2 sections each), ribs discarded and leaves minced


Make paste:
Mince 1 tablespoon lemongrass from root end. Put minced lemongrass and remaining paste ingredients in mortar and vigorously pound to a smooth paste using pestle (most chile seeds should be crushed), 6 to 8 minutes. (I didn't do it quite this long and it came out slightly chunky, but fine; one of the reviewers at Epicurious claims it took them more than an hour to get it smooth, but that seems like perfectionistic overkill).

Cook beans and pork:
Cook beans in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop cooking. Drain again.

Pat pork dry, then cut across the grain into one-eighth-inch-thick slices (about 2 by 1 inch).

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then cook seasoning paste, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add pork, tossing to coat, then spread out in skillet and brown, turning occasionally (to keep paste from burning), about 2 minutes. Add fish sauce, palm sugar, and beans and cook, tossing, until pork is just cooked through and beans are hot, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and toss with lime leaves.

* The one ingredient I still have yet to find!

Cooks' notes: &149; If using dried shrimp, grind to a powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder or use mortar and pestle. &149; Seasoning paste can be made ahead and chilled, covered, up to 1 week or frozen 1 month.

Photo by Flickr user Paul Goyette

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of peanut butter pops by Flickr user windysydney.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lists, Part 2

Not really a followup to my previous post, but a quick guide to go-to flavor boosters that I really found helpful, from the popular blog How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. On the list: Vanilla beans (interesting, because Cook's Illustrated just determined that even the most experienced tasters couldn't tell the difference between real vanilla extract and quality imitation, at least in baking), miso (a big umami booster that I never seem to think of) and flavored salts (which seem like they'd be best for finishing a dish, rather than flavoring it). To his 21 I'd add: dried mushrooms (the bacon of the vegetarian world); Dijon mustard (welcome just about everywhere--from salad dressings to tuna salad to pasta sauce to roasted vegetables); Sriracha (AKA rooster sauce--a blazing-hot condiment often found in Asian restaurants); and lemon juice and zest, which--although not strictly pantry staples--can punch up the flavor of just about anything.

Speaking of pantry staples: For about a year now, I've been slowly collecting the ingredients for this recipe, and this week, I'm going to make it. Even if it's the best thing I've ever eaten, I doubt I can eat it every week--which means I'm going to have to figure out a use for 12 ounces of shrimp paste.

Photo of the Day

Bacon-wrapped asparagus photo by Flickr user disneymike.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of shrimp fried rice by Flickr user aloalosabine.

Lists, Part 1

Gourmet recently compiled a list of the top "20 Tools and Technologies" that "have had the most lasting impact on home cooking." Leaving aside the inherent slipperiness of such lists (why not 21? Or 120? Why not include societal developments that have been as influential as technology? Etc.), I found the list intriguing, incomplete, fascinating, and deeply flawed.

First of all, the list, in the order presented:

1) Nonstick coating
2) Air conditioning
3) Mechanical kitchen timers
4) The chimney charcoal starter
5) Plastic wrap
6) Television
7) Vacuum sealers (for freezer storage)
8) The dishwasher
9) Silpats
10) The refrigerator
11) Overnight freight
12) The Internet
13) The food processor
14) The gas grill
15) Microplane
16) Blender
17) The slow cooker
18) Tupperware
19) The microwave oven
20) The Weber grill

Of course the list of things that have changed the way I personally cook would be quite different--I've only been cooking for a decade and a half or so, and I don't grill that often, so many of the items on the list have either been around "forever" or are irrelevant to my personal kitchen routine.

Even so, I have to say that many of the tools Gourmet chose as crucial, life-changing kitchen accessories are ... well, a little bizarre. Two kinds of grills? Blenders and food processors (the latter of which is easy to live without; the former, somewhat indispensible)? If plastic wrap makes the list, why not aluminum foil? How many people really own vacuum sealers? And aren't we supposed to be eating local, not ordering fresh out-of-season persimmons from Israel?

Others are things cooks can (and do) live without completely, in some cases for the better. I get that nonstick coating had a heyday a couple of decades ago; but anyone who's ever eaten food soiled with the unmistakable taste of melted Teflon (not to mention read the studies linking the stuff to cancer) tossed theirs in the garbage years ago. Similarly, Silpats freak me (and, judging from the comments on a recent post at Epicurious lots of other people) out--I just can't trust that silicone is safe to cook with, and the reassurances of companies like Dow "sure, those breast implants are safe" Corning don't exactly assuage me. More to the point, why do I need yet another set of bakeware? Regular old metal pans--the clanged-up ones that are already taking up more than their share of space beneath my oven--work just as well, without the worry.

And call me a hippie if you like, but I live perfectly well without a dishwasher, Microplane grater, and slow cooker--and, until recently, a microwave. I wish it was true that these innovations had (as the Vatican recently suggested about the washing machine) truly liberated home cooks, most of us women, from the worst parts of kitchen drudgery, but cooking, cleaning, and reheating leftovers still takes time and effort, whether you do it the newfangled or the old-fashioned way.

What do I like on this list? Refrigerators, for one, have been undeniably life-changing--without them, we'd all still be curing our own meat, confiting our own poultry, and getting our dairy in daily doses from the milkman. The Internet (and, before its time, television) has made it tremendously easy for avid amateur cooks to find recipes, tips, and inspiration--provided, of course, that they have the Internet access and the time. I can't imagine life without a digtal kitchen timer, of which the mechanical timer was the forebear. And Tupperware (and its imitators) is undeniably useful--it doesn't break, it's lightweight and portable, and its airtight seal keeps leftovers fresh.

A couple of things I would have added to the list, leaving aside my personal affinity for heat-resistant spatulas and citrus zesters: The can opener (made many foods, including soups and produce, staples year-round); chemical preservatives (made foods shelf-stable for much longer and enabled housewives to buy foods they had previously made from scratch); the electric freezer (allows people to store foods for many months) and the international highway and railway systems, which is still how most of our food gets shipped within the United States.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make This. Now.

I was going to write about the ongoing question of who Obama will pick to lead the USDA's (maybe, maybe not irradiation apologist Michael Osterholm), which Obama Foodarama has been covering somewhat, um, obsessively.

But then a bag of kumquats got in the way.

In case it isn't obvious from the shot selection on the Photos of the Day, I'm not a big fan of sweet stuff. A good piece of dark chocolate? Yum. Chocolate Blackout Orgasmic Explosion Cake? Blech. So when a bag of kumquats arrived in my CSA box last week, I knew I wanted to figure out something savory to do with them.

For the uninitiated (and those who avoid kumquats because of the vaguely dirty-sounding name--kumquat kumquat kumquat!), a kumquat (alternate spelling: kumquat--snerk) is a small citrus fruit that tastes like an inverted orange: Super-sweet skin, puckeringly sour interior. They originated in China, their season is from late fall to midwinter, and they look like this:

Photo by Flickr user CoCreatr

Cute, aren't they?

Anyway, trolling around the Internet for a suitably savory recipe (there aren't many out there, and neither Bittman nor Joy had any), I came across Gourmet's very '90s-haute recipe for "sauteed chicken over wilted spinach with kumquat sauce" at Epicurious. As I may have mentioned earlier, I'm pretty sure Gourmet can do no wrong, so despite my skepticism about that particular combination of flavors, I decided to give it a whirl.

And seriously? OMFG it was good. The sour kumquats married just perfectly with the bitter arugula (which I substituted for spinach--sauteed spinach just squicks me out) and piquant vinegar-based sauce, and the sauteed chicken (I used legs instead of the breasts called for) was a suitably savory but unobtrusive base. I can imagine this recipe working well with a bland, sturdy whitefish like halibut, too. Yum! Here's the recipe, with my changes noted.

3 kumquats (I had a large bag, and they were pretty small, so I used 5 or 6)
1 large shallot
2 boneless chicken breast halves with skin (I used whole legs, which take a little longer to cook)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar (I used a little less)
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
4 cups packed spinach leaves (I used arugula)


Cut kumquats and shallot crosswise into thin slices, discarding any kumquat seeds. Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a skillet heat butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides and sauté chicken, skin sides down, until skin is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook over moderate heat until just cooked through, about 5 minutes more. (Legs will take longer than this--I covered mine up once they were brown). Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm, covered.

Add shallot to fat remaining in skillet (I poured a lot of the fat into my chicken-fat jar and don't think the flavor suffered) and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over shallot and cook, undisturbed, until sugar is melted and golden. Immediately stir in kumquats, water, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stir in parsley and salt to taste and, if sauce is too liquid, simmer until thickened to desired consistency, about 1 minute.

Transfer two thirds sauce to a small bowl and to remainder add spinach (/arugula) and salt to taste, turning with tongs until just wilted.

Divide spinach between 2 plates and top with chicken. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Photo of the Day

Photo of stir-fried tofu, spinach and okra by Flickr user sassyradish.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of beignets and cafe au lait by Flickr user Jim Shank.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of fried okra by Flickr user rachel is coconut&lime.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of grilled tamales with poblano peppers and corn by Flickr user anotherpintplease.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of fried chicken in bento box by Flickr user FromEast2005.

The Joy of Cooking is Not Why We're All Fat

Those who know me well know I'm a little obsessed with The Joy of Cooking. And I'm not convinced that the problem with our food system can be boiled down to, "People are just eating larger portions, therefore they're getting fat." So I was thrilled to see blogger Sweet Machine call bullshit on a recent "study" showing that the calorie counts of the "average" JOC recipe had gone up an astonishing 928 calories, or 44 percent. As she notes, that's only true because the study focused ONLY on recipes that had remained in every edition of Joy since 1932. That narrowed it--in a cookbook that now includes hundreds of recipes, everything from cucumber salad to cheese souffle to borscht--to: beef stroganoff, waffles, macaroni and cheese, goulash, Spanish rice, brownies, sugar cookies, and apple pie. That's hardly representative of current American eating habits, as Sweet Machine points out:

I’m not trying to universalize my own eating habits here, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most of these, to quote Obesity Propaganda Cookie Monster, a sometimes food? I know the phrase is “American as apple pie,” but how often do you actually bake an apple pie? I just can’t work up much excitement that a list of foods that were basically already vehicles for enjoying some fat and/or sugar may now contain more fat or sugar. This is not to demonize fat and sugar–far from it!–but just to point out that these may be staple recipes, but that doesn’t mean they’re staple foods.

I wonder what would happen if you compared the cream-and-gelatin monstrosities that passed for "salads" in 1932 to the salad recipes included in Joy's recent 8th edition. My guess is that the result would be just about as enlightening.

Americans Eating Less? Probably Not

Alcohol isn't the only thing Americans are spending less on. According to BusinessWeek, American food expenditures have dropped by an inflation-adjusted 55.7 percent--or $56 billion. Although the BusinessWeek blogger who posted that stat speculates that "fat Americans" are simply eating less, my guess--judging from my own life and those of my friends--is that people are buying cheaper, in many cases crappier food, and eating out less. Much as I'd like to think people were no longer eating "too much food," I'm inclined to believe they're really eschewing restaurants, especially high-end restaurants, and eating more convenience foods, fast food, and conventionally grown produce.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo by Flickr user nicubunu.

How to Make Hoppin' John

Photo by Flickr user peppergrasss

Hoppin' John is one of those things I guess I grew up eating, but never knew the actual name of. To me, it was just peas and rice, eaten throughout the year but especially on New Year's Day, when it's believed that eating black-eyed peas brings luck for the coming year). There are as many variations on this dish--which utilizes cheap ingredients to delicious, filling effect--as there are cooks in the South, but this is how I do it.

First, soak

One cup dried black-eyed peas

in water to cover for a few hours.

When the peas have almost absorbed the water, heat

2 Tablespoons olive or corn oil

in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add

One smoked ham hock (you can use a hog jowl if you can't find a hock, but it'll take longer to soften; or you can slice four ounces of slab bacon into lardons and fry those--just make sure to drain most of the oil before going to the next step)

and cook until browned, turning occasionally.


One yellow onion, chopped
Two to four cloves garlic, chopped

lower heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened.


Small hot red chiles or red pepper flakes to taste
Two sprigs fresh thyme
One bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
(it's best to undersalt at this point, since you'll be adding stock)

and stir.


One 14.5-ounce can diced organic tomatoes
6 cups stock
(preferably homemade, low-sodium pork stock, although chicken stock or even water will do)
The soaked peas

and bring to a low boil. Lower the heat, partially cover, and cook until the peas are almost tender. Add a cup of long-grain white rice (more to taste) and cook until the rice is done, adding more water or stock if the bottom of the pan gets too dry. Adjust seasoning and serve with lots and lots of hot sauce.

Cafe Vignole

In this week's Stranger, I review an Italian restaurant in the still-rough neighborhood of Rainier Beach called Cafe Vignole, which I called

the kind of neighborhood gem that Southeast Seattle—particularly Rainier Beach, which has suffered more than most parts of the city from the economic downturn—desperately needs. It's cozy, adorable, affordable, and friendly. More importantly, it's good—not graded-on-a-curve good, not thank-God-it's-not-another-Tutta-Bella-or-Via-Tribunali good, but extraordinarily good. Literally dream-about-it-that-very-night good. Destination good. And since it's practically in Renton, that's saying something.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of Hoppin' John fritters--found while working on a post for tomorrow--by Flickr user JenWaller.

For Example...

Apropos of my post yesterday about the differences between Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, Bon Appetit actually arrived in my mailbox last night. (I had--honestly--forgotten I subscribe.) In this issue, they tell me the following things I already know:

1) What tomatillos, poblano peppers, five-spice powder (featured in a spread titled "Family Style: Dinner for you and your kids--plus leftovers"), Asiago cheese, creme fraiche, hoisin sauce, smoked paprika, Greek yogurt, mirin, sesame oil, coconut milk, unsweetened coconut, mascarpone cheese, raw sugar, and Marcona olives.

2) Where to buy creme fraiche ("most supermarkets and at specialty foods stores")

3) How to make chocolate-dipped frozen bananas (thanks, but I'm not three)

4) That limes have Vitamin C;

5) How to microwave leftover rice;

6) How to level a measuring cup; and

7) That "making matzo balls isn't rocket science.

I've also been advised to just buy pre-cut frozen veggies and use canned low-sodium broth; read not one but TWO recipes featuring specific brands of white chocolate; and learned all about NASCAR star Jeff Gordon's line of wines.

I'm not a snob, I swear! I just want a food magazine that doesn't think I've been hiding under a rock since 1984 and have yet to discover coconut milk and Asiago cheese! Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of boiled peanuts by Flickr user biskuit.

There Is a Difference Between Gourmet and Bon Appetit

A few days ago, Gawker's Hamilton Nolan--noting Conde Nast's financial troubles--did a post headlined, "Bon Appetit and Gourmet Both Exist. Why?" The post went on to note the two mangazine's similar circulations (Gourmet: 950,000; Bon Appetit: 1.3 million) and median reader incomes (Gourmet: $79, 942; Bon Appetit: $81,981) and called the magazines "combo-ready."

As someone who has subscribed to both Gourmet and Bon Appetit, I beg to differ--strongly. Gourmet is for people, like me, for whom reading about food and making dinner are equally important parts of our love affair with food. Their photo spreads are lavish, inspiring, lush; their travel writing makes you want to be in the places they're writing about Right Now (a recent piece on the Camino de Santiago, for example, made me long for some sturdy walking shoes and a ticket to Spain). Their recipes range from simple but elegant to elaborate and time-consuming; they don't assume that just because you made the linguine with broccoli, red pepper and pine nuts on a weeknight, you won't try the cassoulet with homemade confit on a Sunday afternoon. Bon Appetit, in contrast, assumes you're a working mom with a busy life and guests perpetually on the way; their recipes focus on ease and do-ability ("do-ahead" recipes are a big focus), to the point that they will actually recommend you use things like bottled grocery-store pesto and canned broth as shortcuts. I'm not saying I never use such things (hell, I eat frozen dinners), just that I don't want my food magazine to tell me to do so.

Food magazines, at their best, are both useful and aspirational--they give us suggestions and guidelines for how to eat better in our daily lives, and they offer us fantasies of what our cooking and dining lives could be like. I read Gourmet for the same reason people read Martha Stewart Living, or any number of home-decoration magazines--they're an escape into a world I don't exactly have now, but want, and can imagine having. I don't need a magazine to tell me how to have a "low cost pizza party" or to make the perfect "simple chicken soup" to make my "family warm and toasty". And I already know how to make garlic bread, thank you very much. What I want is important news about food politics, riveting travel stories about places I'll never go, and food photography that makes my mouth water. That's why I subscribe to Gourmet. Ultimately, it's about the experience, not the recipes.

Photo of the Day

Photo of Scotch eggs by Flickr user santos.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Photo of the Day

Photo of fried tofu by Flickr user aloalosabine.

Food News Roundup

No time for a long post today, so here's some of the interesting food news that's making the rounds:

• Frito-Lay has discovered that women eat twice as many "snacks" as men, but also feel more guilty about it. Their solution? Packaging junk food like Sun Chips and Baked Lays in plain brown bags, with copy that emphasizes their "healthy" ingredients. Also an infuriating-sounding marketing campaign, which will target "fab, funny, fearlessly female" women with jokes about pushup bras and Cindy Crawford.

• One market that's doing better than ever in tough economic times is vegetable seeds--especially organic seeds, whose sales have jumped nearly 50 percent since last year. Observers credit fuel costs, the economy, and the fear of tainted produce caused by last year's salmonella outbreaks for the spike in sales.

• Surprisingly, one thing that isn't selling so well is alcohol--in the fourth quarter of last year, take-out alcohol sales (differentiated from drinks bought at bars) dropped 9.3 percent, four times as much as overall consumer spending. The drop shatters the previous record of 3.7 percent, set in the fourth quarter of 1991.

• Sprig has a roundup of the "ten most dangerous foods," most of which qualify because of high levels of PCBs and pesticides. A few that surprised me: Conventional bell peppers (which had the highest pesticide levels per serving of any vegetable); non-organic strawberries (which, in addition to having high pesticide levels, may have been irrigated with NutraSweet-laced water, for sweetness), and farmed salmon (which contains dioxin levels up to 11 times higher than their wild equivalents).

• Finally, this is a couple of days old, but I found it fascinating: According to food-science whiz Harold McGee, there's no reason to boil your pasta in gallons of water; moreover, if everybody in the US started boiling their pasta in just a few cups of water, we could save between 250,000 and 500,000 barrels of oil every year.