I must see King Corn

Michael Ruhlman, noted author and Anthony Bourdain's arch on-screen enemy, has posted a brief note about a new documentary, King Corn. I've not paid much attention to corn in general, but I've tried to be more alert to high fructose corn syrup (which, it turns out, is in everything). From Ruhlman's description, though, the problem goes much deeper than that:

It’s an excellent and entertaining reminder of what Pollan describes in Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan’s work inspired the film and he’s interviewed as well): that we are walking, breathing corn.  The film makers (above) buy an acre in Iowa to get hands on experience of America’s most important crop.  And also its scariest.  We grow a single strain designed to thrive in close quarters (urban corn); it costs more money to grow than it’s worth and you can’t eat it.

It sounds like an excellent movie, taking a very small, very real look at two guys' efforts to grow corn and make corn syrup and using that approachable situation to shed light on a much larger picture. Ruhlman maintains the real tragedy is that people eating this food won't get to see the movie--and probably wouldn't go even if it came to their towns. I agree. But more tragic than that is people's inability to buy anything healthier.

I worked for a company that went bankrupt just before 9/11. After 9/11 the job market was incredibly soft. I bounced to a couple consulting gigs, but even those were few and far between. With one salary between us (bless her heart, my wife--to be, at the time--drove a two-hour commute every day to keep us fed), we had to hunt for bargains. I realized inexpensive food fell into one of three categories: easy to make, hours to make, or required specialized knowledge. The people who won't see King Corn probably don't have the time or money necessary to eat healthier, whether they know about it or not.


World Health Organization's guidelines for child nutrition

According to Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, the United States pressured the W.H.O. into recommending a child's daily caloric intake should be one-quarter sugar.

That's a lot of sugar.


Savory and Sweet Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup with roasted walnutsOctober marks a transition. A transition to fall after September's equinox. A transition from lush green to spare orange. It's a harvest month. A time when autumn's vegetables supplant summer’s fruits and berries.

Ask people what they associate with October, and many will say Halloween and its requisite pumpkins. But pumpkins can be used for more than just jack-o-lanterns. You can use fresh pumpkins to make a delicious, savory/sweet soup that’s just the thing on October’s chilly evenings:

Pumpkin Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 2-pound pumpkin peeled, seeded, chopped (about 6 cups—you can substitute two cans pure pumpkin for the fresh, just add the pumpkin during the puree process) approx. 4 cups chicken stock or low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Several shakes of allspice (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)


  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons honey (brown sugar also works very well--you can alter the amount to suit your sweetness cravings)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Toss in the carrots, celery and onion (this is called mirepoix, if you want to get fancy and Frech). Sauté about 8 minutes or until tender. Add the pumpkin, the chicken stock and spices. Cover and simmer about 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender (you should be able to pierce it with a knife with bare resistance).

Puree the soup in a blender using short pulses (Safety warning: take the top off the blender after every two or three pulses to allow the steam to vent out. I didn’t, and pumpkin splatter shot out the stop and all over my counter, floor and clothes). You can also use a food processor. Put the soup back in the pot and stir in the cream and honey. Add salt and pepper to meet your tastes (or you could always let your guests season the soup at the table). For a delicious additional touch, pan roast a small handful of walnuts for each bowl of soup. October is harvest month for walnuts and the only time you can get fresh ones.

This soup can be made well in advance and frozen. It also keeps well in the refrigerator--just heat and serve.

What to pair it with?
This soup calls for a wine that's going highlight the sweet and savory characteristics. A good white pairing would be a gewürztraminer, as the spice and floral characters would enliven the soup's flavors. If you wanted to go red, however, I think a petite syrah would do well, or you could always fall back on a solid California Zinfandel.

Ravenswood  2005 Vintners Blend ZinfandelRavenswood Vintners Blend
2005 California Zinfandel
Ravenswood wines traditionally offer great value. They are all new world in style, very drinkable and pair well with a broad range of foods.
Color: A marvelous cranberry red that fades to salmon at the edges
Nose: Fruit. Definite berry (strawberry) and other red and dark fruits. A hint of vegetation or moss and a touch of leather and spice.
Palate: Very bold. Berry flavors and some spice. Strong body with little complexity but is highly food friendly. Nice tannins and a good structure.
Finish: Clean. Lingering hints of the nose, particularly the leather. Leaves you eagerly anticipating a bite of food, or another gulp from the glass.


Eric Asimov provides 10 reds for under $10 a piece

New York Times columnist Eric Asimov gives us a list of 10 excellent wines priced at under $10 a piece. I try not to spend more than $10, ever. If pressed, I'll spend up to $15. But for the most part, I've been very happy with the wines I get for about $10 a piece.

Eric's list:

Casa Cadaval Portugal Ribatejano , $8.99, ***
Padre Pedro 2002

Domaine de l’Ameillaud France , $9, ** ½
Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2005

Viña Gormaz Spain Ribera del Duero , $9, **
Tempranillo 2005

Georges Duboeuf France , $9, **
Beaujolais-Villages 2006

Altas Cumbres Argentina Mendoza , $9, **
Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wyatt California Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 , $10, **

J. Vidal-Fleury France , $10, **
Côtes-du-Ventoux 2005

Domaine Monte de Luz , $7, **
Uruguay Tannat 2006

Ravenswood California Vintner’s Blend , $10, **
Merlot 2004

Paringa , $9, * ½
South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I'll have to trust the man. I mean, he did get the Ravenswood, which are pretty consistently good values. I wish more people would seek out and try the some Rhone reds, especially the Domaine La Garrigue 2004 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine. They're all surprisingly complex and deliver an excellent value for under $12 a bottle.

Garlic Chicken paired with Espelt Sauló

Garlic ChickenI love to cook. There are few feelings better than plugging the iPod into my kitchen speaker rig, pulling out ingredients, and peeling that first garlic clove. Even better when I don’t have to worry about making up a recipe or following along in some book. Just the food, counter, pots and pans. And music.

This past Sunday was pretty hectic for me. There’s just a lot to do to get ready for the week. Luckily, I’ve got an excellent go-to recipe that’s easy to make, absolutely delicious, and doesn’t require a bit of thinking on my part. It’s a garlic chicken recipe from Tapas by Susanna Tee, a great little book I picked up on sale.

Note: the ingredients have been reduced from the original version to more aptly feed four, not eight

  • 4 – 6 chicken thighs, skin on, boned and cut into bite-sized pieces (The thighs are easier to bone and cut if they’re fresh from the refrigerator)
  • 5 or 6 (or more) cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbl. finely chopped parsley
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • 1 table spoon of olive oil

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Toss in the garlic and let cook for about a minute, or until it just begins to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack or paper towels. Place the chicken in the pan (skin-side down, for those pieces that have it) and let it cook for about six minutes on one side. Then turn the pieces and let them cook for another four to five minutes. You want to make sure you give it plenty of time to brown nicely on each side. Don’t go flipping them every minute! After the chicken has had time to brown, add the bay leaf and the wine. Bring it up to a boil and then reduce to simmer for another 10 minutes. After five minutes, dust with paprika and sprinkle with salt. When it’s finished, remove from the pan, plate, and place the sliced garlic cloves here and there around. Toss on the parsley and serve with some good, crusty bread.

What to pair it with?
The succulent nature of this dish and the somewhat heavy flavor of the chicken skin and garlic call for a well-structured wine with good tannins. Espelt Wineries’ 2005 Sauló (an organic wine made from garnacha and carinena varietasl) is a shining example of just such a wine.

Color: Deep, opaque red fading to violet at the edges.
Nose: Spice—definitely a Spanish wine. Heavy, with deep berry, vanilla and a hint of roasted coffee. A very nice complexity
Palate: Rich flavor and excellent structure. Strong tannins finish with a surprisingly supple mouth feel.
Finish: An absolute clean sweep that perfectly prepares your mouth for another mouthful.