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.


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:

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


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.


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


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