Moving Day

I've moved: Kitchen Sojourn. I'll do a proper farewell post when I have the proper time.


More evidence on the dangers of high fructose corn syrup

As the Corn Refiners Association continues their pr campaign, more media sources are beginning to pay attention, though probably not with the intended results. First up, NaturalNews.com reinforces high fructose corn syrup's main ingredient is corn. While the ads ask, "What's wrong with corn?" the answer might just be, "Plenty."

Well here is another question that no one really thinks about. What is SO beneficial about corn? Corn is not a vegetable but a grain. Grains are metabolized into sugars very rapidly in the body and cause a huge spike in blood sugar, thus requiring an outpouring of insulin from the pancreas further straining this already so overworked organ. This is one of the major contributors to the massive increase in type II diabetes were seeing in modern times.

And Rebekah Denn, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cites an excellent point from Michael Pollan:

"Pollan says not to eat HFCS, but neatly breaks the standard impasse about whether HFCS is any more of a nutritional criminal than other sweeteners. Instead, here's Pollan's logic: HFCS is not necessarily harmful in and of itself, but it is one of the "reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed to the point where they may no longer be what they purport to be. They have crossed over from foods to food products."

By the way, Michael Pollan is rapidly becoming my new hero.


Feds shutter pesticide testing program

Photo credit: Shawn Econo

The Bush administration closed a government program that has tested pesticide levels "in fruits, vegetables and field crops" for the past eighteen years. The White House states the $8 million price tag is too steep, according to The Seattle Times:

Data from the 18-year-old Agricultural Chemical Usage Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were collected until this year, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the data to set safe levels of pesticides in food.

The information was also widely used by university and food-industry researchers, including a University of Illinois program to help farmers reduce the amount of pesticides they use.

One of the central philosophies that got us into the current financial mess is deregulation. As government turns a blind eye to corporate conduct, more in the corporate sector begin to cut corners, shave costs and increase profits. When it comes to hosing pesticides on crops, those costs may come in the form of Americans' well-being.

Would it have been more prudent to increase taxes on those industrial farmers who continue to use certain levels of pesticides? I'm not sure, but it seems like a sensible interim solution. Rewarding those farmers and companies who seek to lessen chemical influence on our food, environment, and our bodies, and have those who continue using chemicals help offset the cost of testing for those chemicals.


Wednesday Newsbites for 10/01/2008

photo credit: Left Hand Rotation


Why you should eat fat
Salon.com interviews Jennifer McLagan about her new book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. In it she describes some of the benefits of eating animal fat over manufactured, polyunsaturated fats, and lingers on the succulent, savory taste fat brings to food. Just in time for World Vegetarian Day!

Many Foods Will Soon Be Labeled by Country of Origin
Finally we'll be able to tell whether or not the tilapia we're eating comes from California, Chile, or China.

Economy Bad, People Eat More at Home, Food Magazines Prosper
According to Serious Eats, via the Wall Street Journal, more people are eating at home and buying up magazines for recipe and food ideas. Makes sense, though why buy a magazine when you can just come here?

Instead of Eating to Diet, They’re Eating to Enjoy
The New York Times on people who eat for nutrition, enjoyment, and are "shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates." Makes perfect sense. There's no need to go crazy trying to lose weight if you maintain balance in your diet.

Eat your water
Culinate.com cites a study in the journal Nutrition that indicates eating foods with a high water content will help you lose more weight than just drinking a lot of water.


October 1 is world vegetarian day

In celebration, eat a vegetarian! Just don't make it about speed because they're usually pretty nimble. Instead, use your meat-fueled endurance. If you stalk them patiently, they'll eventually tire and you can make your move.

The North American Vegetarian Society has dubbed October 1 World Vegetarian Day to celebrate the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month, a time to be aware of all vegetarians. Especially in traffic. But don't think the day opens some kind of hunting season. As disappointing as that may be to us omnivores, October is a time to ponder our diets, increase vegetable and fruit intake and eliminate meat, even if it's for just day.

Unless I take part in some kind of slaughter (something I must do one day, seriously), and decide on the spot to eliminate meat, I imagine beef, pork and fish will remain part of my diet forever. It's all far too delicious to do without. However, I am making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of meat I eat each week, especially after seeing Mark Bittman's TED talk and gaining a better understanding of the meat industry's environmental impact. So tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can make it one whole day without eating meat. I've got a batch of lentils already cooked up and plenty of fruits and vegetables in the crisper. If I get really hungry, though, vegetarians better watch out.

What can I do?
Take a day. Do without. And check WorldVegetarianDay.org for more ideas. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself and be healthier for it.

thanks to Slashfood.com


Lovely conversation with Alice Waters

From NYT:

Why do you think involving children in growing food and preparing it can make such a big difference for kids?

My solution is not to try to feed children in the same way that fast food nation does — which is to figure out a gimmick to get them to eat something. It’s to bring them into a whole relationship with food that’s connected to nature and our culture.
No other country thinks about food as just fueling up. It’s always connected to the seasons, to nature, to what’s growing, to celebrations with family and friends. It’s a kind of moment in the day when you collect your thoughts and stop to sit down and to eat. Food is considered precious and vital, and farmers are treasured. We’ve allowed ourselves to be completely indoctrinated into another way of thinking about food in this country.

Spicy Cajun sausage with kale and maple bacon polenta

Cajun-style sausage with kale greens and maple bacon polenta

Several days ago I bought some Cajun sausage. I wasn't thinking about it. In fact, I planned to get a pork tenderloin for roasting, but the sausage was there, all fatty and delicious, and I suffered some kind of pork fugue. I snapped back to reality, sausage in my cart, blinking in the produce section's harsh flourescent lights. I brought the sausage home, stashed it in the back of the fridge, and promptly forgot about it. I never did get that pork tenderloin.

After a stressful week, I was desperate to cook this weekend. Just me, The Walkmen, and my stove. As I sorted through the fridge, I found the sausage. When I checked the date, I knew I'd have to use it for something. It wasn't going to last much longer. I checked with the family and learned my wife and daugther don't much care for red beans and rice or gumbo or jambalaya. What else do you make with Cajun sausage?. I was kind of stuck. I portioned up some of the sausage and used it for my own personal red beans and rice (delicious, thanks), and then set about to cook the remaining links. Pretty standard: place the links in a skillet with enough water to cover them half-way, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Drain off the water, toss the links back in the pan, bring the heat up to medium-high and cook an additional 5 minutes, turning often. Once that's done, I wrapped the sausages in foil to keep them warm.

Thinking about flavors is the part of cooking I love most. There I was, cooked sausage links on hand wondering what to do with them. The meat wasn't really andouelle, but it did have some nice spice to it. I looked for balancing flavors, found the bitter kale in the crisper, the salty bacon in the cheese drawer, and the sweet maple syrup in the pantry. Real maple syrup, not that garbage that's made by adding maple flavoring to high fructose corn syrup. Also in the pantry I found polenta, which I quickly dubbed grits and was happy.

Southern-style sausage with kale and maple bacon polenta

Ingredients (for two)

  • 2 strips of high-quality bacon (there's a difference)
  • 2 large handfuls of kale or other greens
  • 2 sausage links (prepared as above)
  • Polenta (approx. 2/3 cups, total) You can use grits--they're nearly the same
  • Polenta is made with yellow corn, grits with white
  • Equal parts milk and water (approx. 2 cups, total)
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

1. Start by rendering the bacon fat. To do so, set the bacon strips in a nice-sized skillet (one with a lid or other cover) and turn the burner on medium. Leave the bacon alone and let it come up to heat with the pan.

2. While the bacon heats, start in on the polenta. Mix the water and milk in a medium sauce pan. Add the butter and a good-sized dash of salt. Turn the burner up to medium-high and wait.

3. Check on that bacon. If it's beginning to sizzle, go ahead and flip it. Let it sit almost two minutes on that side, then flip it back over; let it sizzle away about another minute, then bring it off the heat and allow it to drain on some paper towels.

4. Toss the handfuls of kale into the bacon pan. The greens will sizzle and pop, and that's ok. Go ahead and give them a stir in the bacon fat, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet.

5. Back over at your sauce pan, your milk and water mixture will probably be coming to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and begin whisking in your polenta. It should begin to come together pretty quickly. If it seems too runny after a couple minutes of stirring, whisk in some more polenta. If it seems too thick, add some water, milk or even a little cream. You'll want a texture smooth enough to spread on a plate but thick enough to hold its shape. When you get that consistency, reduce to low heat and cover. You'll let this sit about 8 minutes.

6. Stir your kale. When it's just wilted, remove it from the heat, but don't take it out of the pan. It can sit and steam all on its own.

7. Now, crumble the bacon and stir it into the polenta. Give it a taste, add necessary seasoning, then slowly add the maple syrup. You'll be surprised how flavorful the real stuff is, so add a few drops at a time and taste, taste, taste! When you have a good mix of salty and sweet, you're all set.

To plate, spread the polenta first, add the kale, and then nestle the sausage link right on top. To add a fragrant garnish, place a whispy sprig of rosemary on top of everything.

Each bite of the spicy sausage in this rustic, hearty dish blends with the grassy, slightly bitter kale and the wonderfully silky, salty, sweet polenta to delight all tastebuds.


Friday fundamentals: meat rest

Cooked meat has been through a lot. Exposure to heat excites cells, alters secondary and tertiary peptide bonds (science!) and denatures proteins. Makes them contract. It can be messy business and is why a freshly cooked, cut steak spills so much juice on your cutting board. To make sure that juice ends up where it's supposed to--your stomach--let cooked meat rest.

By cooked I mean seared, grilled or roasted. By meat I mean beef, pork or whole-roasted poultry. By rest I mean leaving it alone. When you pull the meat out from under the broiler, off the grill or out of the pan, just let it sit for a while. A pan seared flat-iron steak does best with about five to ten minutes of resting. A whole roasted turkey will benefit most from a thirty minute break. She needs her space; she's probably been through a lot.

If you're baking a sad, skinless chicken breast then don't even bother with the resting. It's bland food and won't benefit. Just wrap it in a pita and take it to your punishment corner.

What does resting do?
Resting enables the meat's juices to redistribute into the cells. Cooked meat suffers trauma. The heat denatures proteins in the cells and fundamentally changes the secondary and tertiary bonds between protein molecules. The most common, immediate change is tightening. The bonds tighten, the molecules contract, and the juice is squeezed out around the newly formed protein core. Once the protein molecules begin to cool however, they let some of those juices back in. Also, as the temperature throughout the meat begins to reach equilibrium, the juices are redistributed through most cells.

What about fish?
Most fish shouldn't be rested. After meat is cooked, it retains residual heat, which will continue warming the meat's center mass. This warming is, in essence, a continuation of the cooking process, and if you've ever had overcooked fish, you know you don't want to risk it. Pan to plate to stomach. Fast as possible.

Resting meat is one of those small tricks they never used to tell us but one that is absolutely essential to enjoying an excellent meal. Now you know why.


Mark Bittman: what's wrong with the food we eat

A sobering talk from 2007:

It makes me wonder how long a single cow could feed my family and whether or not that option is even open to me. I bet the answers are a long time and no.

Thanks to Cooking up a Story

Food photography lessons from Vegan Yum-Yum

A commenter asked me to a do a food photography tutorial. I'm honored by the request and still plan to put together a short film detailing some of my techniques. Until then, I'd like to direct you to a comprehensive food photography tutorial courtesy of Vegan Yum-Yum. An excerpt:

Plan Ahead

Do as much as you possibly can ahead of time.  Food should be photographed as soon as possible after preparing, which means you’ll need a space for photographing ready to go, an uncluttered kitchen, etc.  Here’s what I do before I start cooking:

  1. Clean up, do all the dishes, clear countertops
  2. Pick out dishes
  3. Set camera up on tripod, pick out background
  4. Clear your photography space
  5. Think about the dish: do you need a garnish? Special utensils? Placemat?

Mise en Place


Prepping all your ingredients neatly will keep your kitchen more organized, cut down on cooking time, and allow you to focus on the task at hand.  And mise en place photographs make for killer filler photos, as well!

There are a few key take-aways from Lolo's post. First, do a little prep work. Being organized and having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish will do much for your photography. Also, use natural light if you can get it.

I have neither time, resources, nor the inclination to purchase a lot of festive dishes. I have white plates and some dark plates and those mostly suit my needs. The one thing I might recommend, if you're really pressed and want to take one step towards a prop closet is a rustic, earthy bowl. I'm thinking of purchasing one--wide and shallow--for soup photos this coming winter.


Let kids farm

Beautiful sentiment from Honest Meat:

I think it is dangerous for kids to live in sterilized worlds thinking that food comes from Safeway. I say, let kids ride pigs, let them jump up and down on hay trailers, let them gingerly collect warm eggs right out from under the hens rump, let them know how our food is produced and where it comes from. Let them know the people who produce the food, let them understand the cycles of life from birth to death of plants and animals. Let them swell with self-confidence as they explain to their friends how to gently collect eggs, how to plant seeds, or why compost simply happens.

I couldn't agree more. When I was young, I spent many summers at my grandparents' farm in Kansas. While much of the culture didn't agree with me, I am only now beginning to realize how valuable it was to see my grandmother's garden, to understand that cattle raised were going to end up as food, to catch catfish, to run through hay fields. To see seasons change and the land crack with drought. All those things combined to form the beginnings of my food understanding, and as I've gotten older, they've stayed with me, informed my recent decisions, and enabled me to be more conscientious of my surroundings and even, I'd argue, a better parent and person.

Genetically modified meat a-ok according to FDA

From Gourmet's Politics of the Plate:

There’s a chance that Aqua Bounty’s genetically modified (GM) fish will arrive at a supermarket near you within the next year—without a label indicating that you are about to serve your family GM seafood.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration took a giant step toward allowing the meat of GM animals into the nation’s food supply when it released a draft of regulations for producers of GM livestock and lab animals. The draft is open for a 60-day comment period.

If you care to tell the FDA what you think, follow this handy link provided by the Center for Food Safety.

This is scary business. I'm not a critic of genetically modified foods, but I'm not their biggest advocate. I understand modifications are necessary and it could be argued that any type of cross-breeding leads to genetic modification. However, cross breeding seems a far cry from gene splicing, and I strongly believe consumers should be empowered to make their own decisions in the market, both economic and grocery.

And if you're not already a regular reader of Gourmet's Food Politics, you totally should be.


Pairing wine with vegetables

Roasted cauliflower soup

In last week's Kitchen Window on NPR, Natalie MacLean provided advice for those who are looking to increase their vegetable intake while still enjoying wine with dinner.

White wines generally pair better with vegetables than reds, as they often have complementary herbal, grassy aromas. My favorite white for veggies is sauvignon blanc, especially from New Zealand. Its aromas of asparagus, canned peas and citrus dance with greens.

Asparagus, interestingly enough, is one of the hardest vegetables to pair, according to MacLean. Along with artichokes.

MacLean provides solid advice on a wide range of dishes, from sauteed greens to spinach lasagna, recommending diverse whites and medium-bodied reds, which would also work for the dishes McLean forgot: broccoli smothered in cheddar cheese and creamy vegetable soups, one of my greatest autumn joys.

special thanks to Slashfood


Documentary film, Food, Inc., examines modern food production

Via Serious Eats:

The buzz at the Toronto Film Festival this month was all about food. The new documentary, "Food Inc.," premiered at the festival to rave reviews. Entertainment Weekly called it "an important movie, one that nourishes your knowledge of how the world works," the Los Angeles Times labeled it "a riveting cautionary tale," and Variety says it's "a civilized horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious and the hungry."

From the film's Web site:

Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of e coli--the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation"), Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joe Salatin, FOOD, INC. reveals surprising -- and often shocking truths -- about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

I might first argue the pork chops we have are far from perfect. They tend to be dry as farmers have bred increasingly lean pigs to combat the growing paranoia about animal fat. The upshot? Unsatisfying pork chops often drenched in high-calorie sauces or pan seared in butter (delicious, I agree, but it should be an unnecessary step when cooking pork). Worse is some kind of ultra-light Frankenstein monster of processed vegetable oil emulsified via partial hydrogenation. Sounds good for you, doesn't it?

We face increasing challenges in our food supply. The oceans are ravaged, agribusiness provides vegetable crops tainted with untested poisons, and meat comes from factories. However, we can ease these challenges by making good food more easily accessible.

Here in Gainesville, I'd have to drive to three different places on at least two separate days to collect food for the week. It's a sacrifice, and I feel appropriately guilty confessing this, I'm not yet willing to make. Can't make, in some respects, as the closest farmer's market is on Wednesday evenings when I'm scheduled to teach, and the Alachua County Farmer's market seems to have been supplanted by the new market far west of town. So yes, I could wake early on Saturday mornings and walk the stands at Haile Plantation, browse for zucchini amid stalls of homemade candles and dreamcatchers, but I really don't want to.

I may need to, however. Eating well isn't easy. I know this and understand it. And as evidence mounts towards the detrimental effects of food either processed or farmed on a large scale, the choice of going to the local supermarket might be one I can no longer conscionably give myself.


Honey lime fish fillets with peppers and plantains

Ginger Lime Fillets with peppers and plantains
This post originally appeared in the September issue of Satellite Magazine

Summer ends this month. It's official. We're back in Florida, exotic locations forgotten, summer travels fading like so many old photographs. But being back in Florida doesn't mean an end to wonderful food. Florida has rich, diverse culinary traditions that range from Old South and West African traditions that migrated down the coast from Charleston as well as incredible Hispanic and island influences that migrated north from the Caribbean and west from Spain. And many farmers throughout the state grow an abundance of diverse ingredients, all Floridian.

When people think of Florida, it makes sense to think of seafood. After all, we're nearly surrounded by water. So this month I bring you a fairly straight-forward seafood dish made with whiting, a native fish you can catch yourself (if you're so inclined), bell peppers you could grow yourself, and plantains, which I assume you could harvest yourself.

Note: If you don't catch your fish yourself and buy fresh, whole fish, make sure the fish has clear eyes and firm skin. If the eyes are cloudy or the skin seems oily or fragile, forget about it. The fish should also smell fresh and clean like the sea, not overly fishy or tainted in any way.

One of the great things about whiting is that it's a fish that normally has very low mercury levels. As healthy as eating fish is supposed to be, many species contain high levels of mercury. Whiting, however, being low on the food chain, doesn't concentrate mercury like many other fish do, such as orange roughy or tuna. That being said, if you wanted to use a firmer fish for this recipe, you could go with amberjack or grouper.

Honey-lime fillets with peppers and plantains (serves 4)


  • Four whiting filets
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper (feel free to use green peppers, there's no difference in taste, just appearance)
  • 2 ripe plantains
  • Long grain rice (enough for 4 portions)

For the glaze

  • 8 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • Two cloves minced garlic (more or less, to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • A couple dashes of salt (to taste)
  • Feel free to add some red pepper flakes for a little heat or some finely chopped cilantro for a little freshness

Begin by mixing the ingredients for the glaze together in a small bowl. To help deal with the honey, you might want to heat it a little bit first. This will make it easier to poor and mix. Once you have mixed the glaze, it's probably a good idea to start the rice (just follow the directions on the bag). This is a dish that comes together very fast, and the fish doesn't hold up very well to sitting around. Once the rice is cooking, it's time to start on the plantains.

Heat about a eighth-inch to a half-inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, peel the plantains and cut them into pieces about an inch thick. When the oil's heated, place the plantain pieces in the skillet on-end. Let them fry for about a minute to a minute and a half, turn them over and repeat. When they're done on the second side, move them to a plate covered with paper towels. After they're cooled, mash them into discs between your palms and fry them again, about 45 seconds on each side. When they're good and golden brown, move them off to a cooling rack and sprinkle with a dash of kosher salt. Dump the oil from the pan and set the pan back on the stove. You should still have a thin coat of oil in the bottom.

Now it's time to move on to the fish and peppers.

Start by cutting the fillets in half on an angle for presentation, and slather one side with the glaze. Let these sit while you slice the peppers in thin strips. Place the sliced peppers in the pan and sautee for about two minutes, then empty them into a bowl. Once the pan comes back up to temperature, it's time to sear the fish fillets. Have your glaze ready, because there's not a lot of time to futz around here. Sear the fish fillets glaze-side down for about 90 seconds. While they're searing, spread glaze over the other side and then flip. Sear another 90 seconds. Use a spatula to bring the fillets out of the pan (using tongs could tear the fish), add a 1/4 cup of water and the remaining glaze to the pan, heat through, and reserve for a sauce. To plate, use the rice as a base, add peppers, and place the fish fillets on top. Place the plaintains on the side, and drizzle everything with a little of the sauce from the pan. Dinner is served!

I would encourage everyone to seek out fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. Buying and cooking local (even if it's as far away as the coast) connects us with the land and our community. It also just might open your eyes to the rich, wonderful diversity Florida has to offer in terms of culture and cuisine.


Truly perfect oatmeal

Truly perfect oatmeal

Starbucks recently updated their breakfast menu. According to news sources, the new menu features items with fewer calories and more protein than their previous breakfast items, coffee cake and Rice Krispies' treats. The new menu contains the Chewy Fruit & Nut Bar, a Multigrain Roll, an Apple Bran Muffin and Perfect Oatmeal. The oatmeal is "finished with your choice of dried fruit, nut medley or brown sugar." And it costs $2.45.

Why anyone would need Starbucks to furnish his oatmeal is beyond me, especially when oatmeal that's equally perfect can be had for pennies. And before you go off saying you can't read directions on the box or that your oatmeal always ends up too runny or cements itself into a gelatinous clump, I'll let you in on a little secret: you can achieve perfect oatmeal by sticking to a 1:2 ratio, oatmeal to water.

Ingredients for one giant serving:

  • 3/4 cups oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • sweetener to taste
    • (I'm fond of maple syrup, about a tablespoon, but I could also go for a tablespoon of honey or 2 level teaspoons of light brown sugar.)
  • A couple pinches of salt.
    • (You don't want enough to make the oatmeal salty, just enough to liven the flavors of all the ingredients and get them playing together)
  • 1.5 cups hot water, if you're measuring at home

Here's my routine:
I begin by browning the walnuts with butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toss the butter in, wait for it melt, then toss in the walnuts and let them sit a moment.

Note: The heat excites the oils and the caramelization gives the walnuts a deeper, rich, slightly smoky flavor. The walnuts cant be browned in larger batches and then stored in the fridge.

While the walnuts brown, I chop the dates.

When I have all my ingredients ready, I put the oatmeal, dates, raisins, walnuts, salt and syrup in a travel bowl and head off to work (with my own coffee). Once at work, I use the hot water on the coffee machine to top off my oatmeal. I don't measure, I just eyeball it. If my oatmeal's a little clumpy, I'll add some more water. By the time I'm at my desk and the computer's finished booting up, I have a hot, delicious bowl of oatmeal that's truly perfect, and I didn't have to choose between fruit, nuts or brown sugar.

It's oatmeal, people. Making it at home provides with you more choices and better ingredients, and you can make it in about the same amount of time you'd spend in line at Starbucks hammering away on your blackberry. You don't need some earth-toned, modern-day yuppie bar to give you good food. And you certainly don't need them charging you $2.45 for it. Put down the Blackberry, shut the laptop and grab a knife. You've got dried fruit to dice.

thanks to Serious Eats and Slashfood


Be mindful and plan your menu

give thanks?

A brief, lovely post at The Kitchn offers the following:

Speaking on a panel about the philosophy of Slow Food, [Carlo] Petrini, the movement's founder, exhorted us to "try every day to consume a little bit less." Hand in hand with over-consumption is waste, and we can start to tackle the problem by examining the contents of our own refrigerators. Dig out the "Jurassic Park rabbit" and stash of old parsley (if there's a rotten leaf, just cut that part off), he urged. Cook it, eat it, and share the leftovers with the homeless. Regardless of one's opinion on Petrini and the Slow Food movement, I think waste is something that many of us can pay closer attention to.

Every weekend, I clean out the refrigerator. And every few months I take a look in the pantry to see what's spoiling back there. I'm guilty of over-buying groceries and am guilty of tossing things that look slightly off, or worse, are perfectly good but have passed some kind of internal expiration date in my head.

I'm vowing now to stop. Or try to be better about it.

Teaching myself to cook has involved reading a lot, and a lot of that reading has focused on professional chefs. A well-run restaurant wastes little. A whole chicken might be used for some kind of leg-and-thigh dish (bistro style), a fettuccine alfredo with blackened chicken breast, the wings appetizer, chicken tacos for family meal, and the carcass used for stock (Lifehacker.com provided an excellent link to The Simple Dollar's article detailing just such a process--I'd go with my wife's favorite chicken recipe, however, which involves lemons and garlic in the cavity and an oven roasting to get the skin nice and crispy).

The problem usually isn't with proteins, though. We (my family) use those up (broiled flank steak day one, steak sandwiches with grilled onions on day two). The major problem is vegetables. Our local supermarket chain tends to wrap vegetables in plastic and styrofoam and packages them in portions for...six? Eight? They urge customers to ask for smaller portions, but let's be serious for a second: Who's going to track down the produce guy to ask him for half the packaged asparagus? And he'll just use more packing material re-wrapping the unsold portion.

So I suppose the solution must be two-fold.

First, let's ask for unwrapped vegetables. Supermarkets often claim the wrapped vegetables stay fresher longer as they're not exposed to the open air. This may be the case, but after seeing some of the carrots I've unwrapped, I know they also wrap vegetables to disguise their age. So no more plastic where it's not necessary. If if the only parsnips available are in the little plastic bag? I guess I'm going without.

Second, let's be more mindful in our cooking. The ingredients unused today may (and should) be used tomorrow. This moment, for example, we have green beans, asparagus (yes, the whole package), and zucchini jammed in the crisper. The green beans are being used tonight as a side item for the roasted chicken. The asparagus? The zucchini? I'm not sure. But if I take a moment to plan, to think about the week unfolding before me, I can see the asparagus tossed with pasta on Thursday, the zucchini sauteed and served with steak on Friday, and the remainders of each coupled with ham and eggs in a big, brilliant frittata Saturday morning.

So yes, buy less. Consume less. But also be mindful. Use a menu plan. Part of cooking is figuring out what to do with all the things you think don't belong or what you think you can't use. I might even argue that singular trait is the mark of the best cooks--the most conscientious, the most deserving of our praise.


The cupcake's reign must come to an end

trader joe's cupcake: vanilla
photo credit: jek in the box

While boozing recently in celebration of a friend's birthday party, the birthday girl reveled there would be cupcakes later.  As I'm sometimes wont to do, I tiraded on the cupcake's criminality for about five, maybe ten minutes before a well-tuned waiter asked whether or not I needed another heffeweissen.  "Yes, please," the party said in unison.  

I can get pretty riled up.

However, in this case I think it's with good reason.  The cupcake assumes much of what's wrong with urban America.  At its heart it's a selfish food, a sad food.  The cupcake is lonely.

When we're kids, the cupcake is wonderful.  For Timmy's second-grade birthday party, cupcakes are the perfect solution.  Each child has something uniquely his own.  Little Suzy can grab one, rush off to some dirty corner and return, eyes glazed and wild, lips stained blue-violet from the plume of sugar icing.  And the teacher doesn't have to spend 20 minutes fighting the tide of seven-year-olds as they ebb and flow impatiently, waiting for him to parse pieces of a larger cake.  But at some point we must grow up and engage the world around us.

The cupcake is a lonely food, its single-serving size just the thing for someone on her way home from work. His way home from the gym.  It's designed to reward, to comfort the singular human.  But doesn't it then serve as a reminder of loneliness to the person it's comforting?  The individually sized dome of icing and cake, whether it is simple chocolate or some strawberry-banana-walnut-kiwi monstrosity, stands by itself, separated from the rest of its batter, sheltered in that little paper container.  Each cupcake consumed on a park bench serves as a hat-tip to the isolation we experience even when surrounded by eight million people.

The cupcake is also a selfish food.  It eliminates the need for compromise and communication.  You get your chocolate, I get my vanilla, and the woman behind us gets her cherry-mango-coconut swirl-top kittycake with an extra helping of "You go, girl!" Each of us is happy, but for what reason?  Because we get what we want?  Getting what you want isn't always the best thing, and it doesn't serve as a way to think about the world around you.  First it's the cupcake, then it's the Escalade.  At some point we have to ask whether or not orange-raspberry-mocha right now is the best thing we can do for ourselves and each other.

I'm not saying cupcakes should be eliminated.  I'm not saying they're inherently bad (though I'm kind of saying they're inherently bad).  I am saying they tell us a lot about ourselves, as all food does--imagine a bakery creating amazing cakes portioned for three people--and that we should pay attention to that kind of thing.  And next time you're with a group of friends, see if you can make a cake.  Together.  And if you're alone and headed home from work, make a friend.  Then split something.  Breaking bread is wonderful, even when that bread is sweet and topped with icing.


Corn Refiners Association tells us "Hey, it's ok in moderation."

The Corn Refiners Association, "the national trade association representing the corn refining (wet milling) industry of the United States," has come out with a series of ads and a website aimed at reducing American's growing mistrust towards high fructose corn syrup:

The commercials maintain a couple things. First, that Americans don't really know the effects high fructose corn syrup (HFC) can have on a body, and second, that HFC is the same as sugar or other sweeteners when consumed in moderation. On their site they link to various articles and scientific studies through 2007 to help back their claims.

However, more recent data suggest that HFC does contribute to specific obesity types that put more strain on the body, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the real HFC problem facing Americans is that it's in everything. Perhaps not the ribs you're eating this Sunday, but the bar-be-cue sauce you're going to slather on them. Perhaps not in the ice cubes you're going to use to keep yourself cool, but certainly the soda you're going to pour over them. Not the sensible salad you're going to have on Monday to assuage the guilt from weekend binge eating, but certainly in the raspberry vinaigrette that's just so good.

I would urge everyone to perform a simple refrigerator survey and see how many items contain high fructose corn syrup. From the bagel you ate this morning to the bread you eat at lunch to the pizza rolls you'll scarf at dinner, high fructose corn syrup is in all kinds of different things.

Is the Corn Refiners Association misleading us? I doubt it. HFC, like most foods, is probably just fine in moderation. It's being able to make the choice to consume it moderation that has become so difficult.


Wednesday news bites for September 3, 2008

There's nothing quite like school lunch....
Photo credit: Bookgrl

Farm to school programs improving quality of school lunch program
Nutritiondata.com reports on a University of Minnesota effort to bring better foods to the nation's children by "introducing fresh local produce into school cafeterias..." It's a banner idea and one I think should be implemented everywhere. If Alice Waters can make it happen in Berkeley, then why not where you live?

Slaughterhouse Series: Part One
Rebecca Thistlewaite, "a farmer, non-profit consultant, and mother of one entertaining three-year-old," begins to examine some of the problems inherent in the United States' current meat production and packing system. It's pretty grim and needs saving.

America's Most Endangered Foods
Forbes.com details Gary Paul Nabhan's efforts to save America's endangered food species. This is a great project and a wonderful movement. Food is history. It tells us where we come from. Food is also inherently practical. By using forgotten recipes we'll begin to learn forgotten techniques. Techniques previous generations had to use to get the most from their food. We're a nation of wastrels. By appealing to our sense of history, perhaps Mr. Nabhan can move us to greater efforts of care and conservation.

How to Cook and Use Every Part of Whole Chicken
Speaking of conservation....
From Lifehacker.com

Is Locavorism Practical Where You Live? Freaknomics States the Obvious
A "no duh" moment from the fine folks at Seriouseats.com (thanks for the stickers!). If eating local isn't practical where you live, don't expect yourself to be able to do it all the time. The secret? Do it when you can. Make solid choices. Be mindful. It really is that easy.


A new take on egg salad makes for a delicious, nutritious breakfast

Simply delicious- a new take on egg salad

I love traditional breakfast foods. They're fantastic--fatty, sweet and so, so bad for you. One of life's fantastic thrills is breakfast for dinner. Who doesn't love it? Waffles with the nightly news. Eggs and bacon on an evening patio.

But breakfast at breakfast time? Forget it. If it's a weekday, I have to go to work. And on the weekends I have other things to do. I like to get a good start on the day, get things done, and then luxuriate later, knowing I have nothing pressing in my mind's forgotten corners. Thus, a simple egg salad has become my weekend breakfast of choice. Easy, simple, and utterly delicious:

  • Heat 1/2 tablespoon of high-quality olive oil to medium, medium high in a skillet with sloping sides
  • While the pan is heating, set an egg on the counter where it won't roll away. Like other proteins, it helps if the egg is allowed to warm some after coming out of the fridge before going into the pan.
  • Also, get a bowl, some greens, and something to cut the oil. I use capers and a bit of their brine, which I love, but you could use anything that will provide a little bite. Seriously, though, a teaspoon of capers with brine works so, so well, I would question whether or not to use anything else.
  • Put the greens in the bowl, then fry the egg, about two minutes on each side.
    • Note: the time you fry the egg will depend on preference. I like my yolk gelled, not firm, but not too runny. It allows some yolk to mix with the olive and brine and act as emulsifier, bringing the dressing together.
  • When the egg is done, just slide it from the pan on top of the greens, letting the olive oil drain into the bowl also. Top with capers and brine and a little chopped parsley.
  • Dig. In.

I really like this for breakfast because I can make it while the coffee brews, and the flavor combination of rich egg and olive oil combined with the fresh and bitter taste of the greens and the wonderful saltiness and brightness of the capers is amazing. Try it yourself next Saturday.


Stuffed Peppers - delicious, rustic fare in about 30 minutes

Stuffed Peppers with Chorizo and Frijoles Negros

Over two years ago I started paying more attention to cooking. Not recipes, but cooking. The way ingredients go together. The way flavors combine. Techniques for controlling heat and moisture. It's been an excellent ride, and here is where many might expect me to say that it's a ride now over.

Not so.

I often think about the value of cooking. What it's brought into my life and how the knowledge and experience have benefitted my family and me. Right now the greatest value is fast, simple meals that are delicious and a lot healthier than grabbing some McDonald's value meals or nuking a Lean Cuisine. None of that crap belongs in our bodies, but we often justify eating it for the sake of convenience. "I just don't have time!"

Bull shit. Check it out:

  • Avail yourself of some chorizo (the dish will work as well with ground beef), a green pepper, some black beans, an onion, queso fresco (or some other cheese you really like), salt and pepper.
  • Heat a pan to medium-high.
  • Poke a hole in the casing and squeeze out the chorizo in chunks into the pan.
  • Dice half that onion and toss it with the chorizo.
  • Brown it, crumble it (the chorizo, not the onion. Crumble, I mean. The onion will brown, too).
  • While it's heating, slice the green pepper in half and scoop out the seeds and stuff.
  • Preheat that oven to 300 degrees.
  • It's going to take some time for the oven to heat, so why not add the beans to your sausage mix and give it a stir.
  • Let it heat through.
  • Put the pepper halves on a baking sheet, spoon the chorizo mix into the halves and bake in that oven for about 20 minutes.
  • When it comes out, sprinkle with queso fresco and a little hot sauce.

The whole process takes about 30 minutes, provides a reasonably healthy lunch, and you get to listen to your own music the entire time. What's not to like?


Wednesday news bites for August 27, 2008

Photo credit: ewanr

To Eat Local, Kill Local
The case of eating local meat often runs up against NIMBY syndrome (not in my back yard). If you want to do it right, however, you have to make some tough choices. Chris Cosentino and others speak out in an article in San Francisco Magazine.

FDA: Irradiating Spinach, Lettuce OK to Kill Germs
Cool. No, seriously. What else will it kill? You know, eventually.

Thinking Globally, but Growing Locally
If you're eating local, you're eating seasonally, too. And it should go without saying that you're eating...er...locally, too. So, no bananas in New York State, no apples in Florida. Got it?

Sour Grapes
I don't often cover the restaurant business here, but this one has to do with ethics: Wine Spectator has given an award to a non-existent restaurant. Looks like one of the worst cases of advertorializing I've ever seen. Nick Fox provides a brief write-up.

Rock 'n' Roll: How to start composting
It's a good habit to get into, and doesn't take a lot of space as long as you have the right equipment.

Weekend Project: Sharpen your Knives!
This is something I definitely need to do. People seem to worry a lot about sharp knives, but most kitchen knife accidents are caused by dull knives.

Cheap vs. Expensive Food: Is 'value added' really the way to go?
Are we willing to pay food's real worth?


Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Chicken

My monthly food column as it appeared in the August issue of Satellite Magazine

When people think of national cuisines, they traditionally think of French, Italian or Chinese. These are mother nations, and many of the ingredients and techniques pioneered there spread throughout various regions and across the world's oceans. But India has some of the world's richest culinary traditions and is rapidly becoming a major player on the culinary world stage. And it's the last stop in our summer travels.

Most people associate curry with Indian cuisine, but curry merely indicates a heavy mix of spices. Indian curries usually include turmeric, coriander and cumin. But Indian cuisine is as varied as its regions, ranging from hearty, rich foods in the north to light seafood dishes along the coast to hot, spicy dishes in the south. It's the northern cuisines that we usually think of when we think of Indian food--heavily sauced foods and stews from the Punjab region in Northern India, and it is this region we travel to this month via tandoori chicken.

Tandoori recipes are named for the clay oven, called a tandoor, in which they're traditionally prepared. If you don't have one of these ovens sitting in your back yard, you're probably not alone. Your oven, set at a very high temperature, will do just fine. You can also use your backyard grill. They key to many Indian dishes is the balance of flavors and massive ingredient list. Tandoori chicken is no different. Once everything is mixed, however, the preparation is a snap.


  • Six chicken thighs (approximately 2.5 pounds. You can use chicken breasts, but they won't be as flavorful. To get the most flavor, make sure the bones are in and the skin on--delicious!)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 a small onion
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (or any acid--you could try lime juice or various types of vinegar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon (cinnamon will impart some sweetness to the dish. You can add more if you like, but be careful. Cinnamon is one of those spices that can easily overwhelm the taste of your food.)
  • Salt (to taste, though you should add at least one hefty pinch)
  • Ground pepper to taste


  • Cayenne pepper or red chili
  • Cloves


  • Roasting pan and wire rack

Note: Some recipes will call for red or yellow food coloring to help boost the dish's visual appeal. I don't like to go that route as it seems most unnatural.

Start with a large, non-reactive bowl (preferably glass) with plenty of room for the chicken thighs (but small enough to fit in your refrigerator). Finely chop the onion, shallot and garlic, and fold them together in the bowl with the yogurt. Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, and then add the paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and pepper (also add the cayenne or red chili flakes if you've chosen to use them). In addition, you can add a pinch of ground cloves to your mix, if you want to add some of that smoky, anise flavor they impart. You can also add turmeric to liven the dish and give an additional color pop. Stir everything together and then place the chicken thighs in the bowl. Rub the mixture over the chicken thighs so they're liberally coated, then stash the chicken in your fridge and let it marinade at least two hours. Twelve is better, twenty-four is best.

When you're ready to cook, get the roasting pan and place the wire rack inside it. Put the pan and rack in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. When the oven is heated, place the chicken on the rack and bake the chicken for approximately 30 minutes (if you stick a skewer into the middle of the chicken thigh, juices should run clear). Remove the chicken from the oven and serve it hot with rice. Some people will sprinkle chopped chives or cilantro as a final garnish.

Thus ends our summer culinary journey. Like all summer trips, the end is a bit melancholy, the return home just a bit too soon. Your own food journey doesn't have to stop, though. Keep exploring. Create! Seek out those cuisines and cultures that interest you and bring a piece of them into your home through food. It's not quite the same as being there, but it just might push you to make the trip.


Wednesday news bites for August 20, 2008

Feed kids real food, not drugs
Culinate.com tackles doctors' latest recommendations that kids get drugs to help them lower cholesterol. Culinate's shocking recommendation? Stop feeding kids chemicals and candy and give them some real food.

Food for thought
The American Conservative magazine suggests food culture is no longer just the concern of hippy liberals and their dirty farmer's markets. Sustainability, local food and eating together are now the province of the conservative movement. How do they take our best ideas and claim them as their own?

Weather Watch
Agriculture savant Frederick Kirschenmann assesses the potential effects of climate change on farming in the United States and ways to ensure adequate food supplies in the future.
via Ruhlman

Poverty brings out the best in consumers...and cuisine!
Slashfood.com on the economic necessity for inventive food preparation.


Wednesday news bites for August 13, 2008

Fast Food Nation
Photo credit: una cierta mirada

Obesity on the Kids' Menus at Top Chains
What does it do to a kids 1,200-calorie-a-day diet when lunch weighs in at 1,020? The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a study that finds 93 percent of the top chains' kid's meals are over 430 calories, the recommended 1/3 of daily caloric intake for kids aged four through eight.

Monsanto plots growth hormone exit
Based on increasing negative public opinion of Recombinant bovine somatotropin, Monsanto seeks to sell its inventory of Posilc, their branded hormone. Already illegal in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the EU, Slashfood wonders who will buy the stuff?

Dark Meat
Shmuel Herzfeld writes about an immigration sting that revealed poor working conditions, abusive practices, and teen agers working 17-hour days. Shocking and deplorable enough, but it could also mean the meat produced as kosher isn't kosher at all.

Niche Farming Offers Way Back to the Land
Niche farming provides extra income for many small and family-owned farms. Perhaps with the growing local food movement we'll see more people returning to the land.


Where the hell have you been?

Where the hell have you been?

We’ve all heard the question, slinking in late at night, breath stinking of cigarettes and booze. That tender lump about the size and shape of a large class ring just peaking on the forehead. Or maybe hickeys blooming across your neck like rude, exotic flowers.

Okay, some of us have heard it.

Fine. I’ve heard it.

It’s a question that doesn’t necessarily expect an answer, dripping as it is with obvious disappointment. But it’s one I’ll try to answer here, since I’ve all but abandoned this blog after returning from the Wildacres Writer’s Workshop in North Carolina.

I’ve been busy.

I’ve been working on a novel for several years now and have just completed what I hope is the final round of major revisions. I’m excited. Now I’m cleaning up a few loose ends and adding a line or two of explanation here and there throughout the piece. Then it’s agent time (I hope).

I’m still thinking about food, still cooking, still doing my best to make meals for my family and myself. Meals that are simple, delicious, and make the most of every ingredient. I just haven’t had the time to photograph and write about it. But I will. I love it too much to stay away for very long.

Wednesday news bites for July 30, 2008

Florida sunshine
Photo credit: bored-now

Sense of Place: The Food of Florida
The Kitchn provides recipes and thoughts on the foods of my home state, Florida.

Making the most of your produce
The Seattle Times provides tips and tricks to preserving your summer produce.

Newspaper backlash
Good food is so yesterday

Culinate.com reports on the snarky tone food reporting has taken of late.

Mississippi is the fattest state for 3rd straight year
Colorado still leanest, D.C. loses weight

CalorieLab parses U.S. obesity. Seems poverty and sedintary lives are leading causes.

Does Fructose Make You Fatter?
The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope brings us more bad news about fructose.


A Taste Trip to Thailand (Pad Thai Noodles)

pad thai-3

My July food column as it appeared in Satellite Magazine

This month we journey across the Pacific, leaving Peru and landing in Thailand to enjoy what is arguably the country’s most popular dish in the west, Pad Thai noodles. Pad Thai noodles is a traditional, single-pot dish with as many variations as there are people cooking it (one variant I found even called for ketchup). The secret is all in the sauce, so take some time and adapt it to your tastes. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment! You’ll probably want to go to one of the many local Asian markets in town for the tamarind sauce, but the rest of the ingredients should be available at the supermarket.

One other thing to remember: Asian cooking is often cooked fast and hot. The secret to being successful lies in the prep work. Once you get started, there’s rarely any downtime, so you can’t chop the scallions you forgot and you certainly can’t pop out to the store to pick up a last ingredient.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 Package of wide rice noodles (might be labeled as pad Thai noodles)
  • ½ block of extra-firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil (or other low-flavor, high-heat-point oil)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (approximately three scallions, chopped on a bias—save a couple more from the bunch for garnish and crunch)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (reserve some extra for garnish)
  • ½ cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 red chile, minced (you can substitute red pepper flakes)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Soy sauce

To begin, set the noodles in a large bowl and cover them with hot (not boiling) water. Allow them to soak for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking. While they soak, chop the peanuts (I like using the chef’s knife, but you could easily chop them using a clean coffee grinder or place them in a zip-top bag and smack them with a wooden spoon or mallet). You’ll also want to combine the fish sauce, tamarind sauce and sugar, chop the scallions, and prepare the tofu in pieces about the size of French fries. Heat a wok--if you don’t have a wok, you should. If you still don’t have a wok, you can certainly get away with using a skillet. One with slightly sloping sides will work best for Asian cooking. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil to your wok and place it over high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer in the pan (it’ll look like it’s skimming across the metal if you move the wok), add the tofu and several dashes of the soy sauce. Sear the tofu for about 30 seconds on each side, or just stir fry for about four minutes total. Searing will give the tofu a nice texture, however, so I would recommend letting it sit in the pan for at least a little bit. When the tofu is done, take it off the heat, drain it, and set it aside.

When the noodles have finished soaking, drain them and take a moment to get ready. The ingredients will come together very quickly, so you’ll need to work fast. Dinner will be ready about five minutes after the noodles go in. Heat the wok back up to high, add some additional oil if needed, and toss in the garlic and scallions. Let them cook about a minute, then add the egg.

Allow the egg to cook for about 10 seconds and scramble it. Then add the noodles and combined sauce. Toss everything together until all the noodles are colored with the sauce and ass the peanuts and bean sprouts. Keep the wok moving! Let these heat through for about 30 seconds to a minute. Finally, add the tofu, let everything heat through again, and transfer the whole lot to a giant serving dish. Garnish with the extra chopped scallions and bean sprouts, and serve with lime wedges and the minced chile.

Thailand has a rich culinary history, and its cuisine is marked by distinct regional differences. However, Thai food is united by a blend of flavors--savory, sweet, salty, and sour--wrapped in varying levels of heat. The important thing is balance and taste, so feel free to add ingredients as you see fit. Pad Thai noodles are well suited for shrimp, chicken or pork. Just remember to taste, taste, taste!

Wednesday news bites for July 23, 2008

Who Owns a River? Everyone Does
Rumination on the Kings River.

How to be a snob: drinking alcohol
GOOD: "I taste a hint of blackberry."
BAD: "The tang of Fruit Roll-Ups."

As Price of Grain Rises, Catfish Farms Dry Up
The New York Times looks at catfish farmers as an indicator of hardship for other food industries.

Food Econ 101
Paul Roberts discusses the economics of food production and why it's no longer working.

Sense of Place: The Flavors of Florida
A quick rundown of native Florida ingredients.


Wednesday news bites for July 16, 2008

HFCS is now 'natural'
New labeling reveals corn lobby's power.

As food costs soar, it's back to basics for meal planners
From growing their own to soups and stews, Americans battle the rising cost of food.

Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms
Skipping grocery stores and markets, consumers are going straight to the source.

Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, Cookbook of the Day
Tools, tips and techniques for the home cook, from "meez" to mirepoix.

The shocking truth about many "healthy" diets
Just because it's labeled organic doesn't mean it's good for you.


FoodGawker vs. Tastespotting

Screen grab from FoodGawker.com

When Tastespotting closed its doors, food bloggers everywhere gasped a singular question: "Where will we get our food porn?" Many also wondered how they could attract new readers. The Internet being what it is, however, several Tastespotting clones sprang up to take its place.

Now the big guns hve gotten into the mix. SeriousEats has introduced Photograzing. Given SeriousEats' traffic, Photograzing will no doubt generate a lot of interest as users scroll through page after page of immaculately photographed food. Just pay no attention to the obtrusive ad stuck right in the middle of the page. Pay no attention that it's from Wal-Mart. Just move on about your day and everything will be fine (as long as you buy steaks from Wal-Mart).

I think it's a colossal fuck up mistake. But if they're willing to give that one piece of real estate back to users, they've got a good product on their hands.

That said, I think there's no better replacement than FoodGawker (and it's not just because they've seen fit to post my photos). FoodGawker seems to have a better food mix (TS seems dominated by baked goods, which are the subject of a forthcoming rant as soon as I can corral my blinding rage into some kind of coherent, pithy post), and their new look is plain elegance. So, while I think it's great that Tastespotting is back, I think FoodGawker is where I'm going to be spending most of my time.


Wednesday news bites for July 2, 2008

Massive food news this week. These headlines are seriously just the tip of the ice berg.

The Magic of Old World Wine
An excellent article on the wonders of European wine, growers and the benefit of people fussy about microclimates.

Record corn prices raise other food costs
The economy, like the environment, is all interconnected. Get used to it.

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating
Well, probably aren't eating.

Weekend Meditation: The Comfort Zone
Wake up, get out of your normal routine.

New Green Milk Jug Designs Cuts Costs But Is Difficult to Pour
We're all adults here, and we can't pour milk? This shouldn't be a concern after spill #1. Pay attention, and don't spill the next time.

Fishing with Rick Moonen: The chef and author talks about sustainable seafood

Perfect wines for sipping on the back porch
There's a big difference between food wines and drinking wines. Enjoy these wines all by themselves.

Harriet's list
Better than a personal shopper

Hydration and health
Drink until you're no longer thirsty

Happy chickens?
Another label for humanely raised animal products




If you're like me, you get tired of the same breakfasts all the time. If you're like me you also avoid fast-food breakfasts like the plague (though they are way, way more delicious than the plague. Especially the Burger King Croissanwich). This weekend I decided to break out of my weekday doldrums of a bagel and a banana and use some of the oatmeal that's sitting on top of the fridge, promising heart health and low cholesterol.


  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • wheat germ (optional, to be added later)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil (or other low flavor oil. You can reduce this by half if you're worried about calories)
  • 1/2 cup honey (or more, to taste)
  • 6 oz. dried fruit
  • A pinch of kosher salt


  • Cookie sheet
  • Large mixing bowl (glass or ceramic is best--try to avoid plastic as you'll be working with hot ingredients)

Begin by spreading the nuts and oat meal out on a cookie sheet. Bake at 300°F for about 20 minutes, mixing twice during the baking process (I went with 8 minute intervals). Remove from the oven and combine in a large mixing bowl with the oil, honey, a dash of the salt and a generous sprinkling of the wheat germ.

Note: Wheat germ toasts very easily. You can control your granola's flavor profile by adding the wheat germ at different times. If you add it too early, however, it might burn. I would suggest baking the wheat germ no more than five minutes. However, if you want a rich, deep flavor with just a hint of smokiness and caramelization, then you might want to add the wheat germ during the second mixing, about 16 minutes during the first baking.

When the ingredients are well mixed, transfer them back to the cookie sheet and bake your mix an additional five minutes. Remove from the oven, go back to the mixing bowl and add your fruit. Taste. If it needs sweetening (it probably doesn't, especially if you brought dried fruit, to which manufacturers almost always add sugar), add a little more honey or a teaspoon of brown sugar. Let the mix cool, and you've got yourself some excellent granola with few additives, no HFC, and it works out to about fifty cents per serving.


Wednesday news bites for June 25, 2008

Teach your kids healthy eating habits with online games

Does food need a story?
It certainly helps

Geenpeace's fish tails: supermarket no-nos
A confusing report with a singular conclusion: our oceans are being over fished.

Text your food queries
Find out which fish are healthy to eat by texting the name of the fish to The Blue Ocean Institute (just don't ask Green Peace).

a good trick for saving summer herbs for future use

Tomato probe cites 2 sources
Mexico and....Florida. Great

Tastespotting.com looks to be coming back

The Today Show reports on America's wasted food
(from Slashfood)

Drought turns the whiskey stills dry
Weeks of sunshine create water shortages


Pan seared tilapia with shallots and bacon

Pan-seared tilapia with bacon and shallots

For a long time I thought tilapia was some kind of garbage fish. People talked about it with derision most often reserved for the Fillet-O-Fish or other generic whitefish battered and deep fried. But tilapia might be one of the better values currently in your local market's sea food section. It's cheap, low on the food chain, and farm raised, which makes it affordable, low in mercury and sustainable. And as long as you buy from farms with good regulation and safety practices, you can be assured of getting good, firm fillets that will stand up to a nice pan sear. Bonus? It provides some of the same omega 3 fatty acids as its oilier, mercury filled cousins.

This past weekend I picked up a couple tilapia fillets and brought them home. With some shallots and bacon I was able to throw together a simple, easy fish course (with bacon) in about 30 minutes, including prep. And it was delicious.


  • 8 strips of bacon
  • 4 shallots
  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 1/2 cup water or fish stock
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar (or more, to taste)
  • 2 tsp honey (or more, to taste)
  • kosher salt

Begin by heating a pan over medium heat. While the pan heats, coarsely chop the bacon and slice the shallots into discs about a quarter-inch thick. When the pan is heated, add the bacon, stir briefly and then let it sit for six minutes (or as directed on your bacon's packaging). Flip the pieces, and gently stir in the shallots. Let the mix cook an additional four minutes. Turn up the heat just a bit, and remove the bacon and shallots with a slotted spoon.

By the time you've got the bacon and shallots out of the pan, it should be hot enough for the fillets. Place them gently in the pan and sear on one side about two minutes. Flip, and sear on the other side an additional two minutes. Don't move them or mess with them or anything. You want constant, prolonged contact with the pan to get good caramelization.

Remove the fillets to plates, then add the stock to the pan to deglaze it. Add the honey and vinegar to bring some sweetness and acid to the sauce and reduce the hit to low for several minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Drizzle the sauce on the fillets, then top with a smattering of the bacon and shallots. Enjoy!

What to pair it with?
I'm a big fan of contrasting food with wine--With hot, salty food, I like a cold, sweet wine. With this dish, the fat from the bacon provides a wonderful, unctuous texture that's just begging to be cut by a crisp white wine, like a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.


Travel the World (one cuisine at a time)


Satellite Magazine's June food column

America has its burger and fries, Germany its schnitzel, Russia its borscht and vodka. Regions, too have their assocaited dishes. The American south has its okra, corn bread and ribs. New England has its clam chowder, and Texas and the American Southwest their Mexican-influenced cuisines. This is how we can travel--through food--and expand our horizons. Feel like crossing the Atlantic? Avail yourself of some traditional bangers and mash, French cassoulet, or Spanish paella. The Pacific? Traditional Japanese sashimi might be the way to go.

This summer, we're going to travel through food, and we'll begin our jouney with a small hop to South America. Peru, specifically, and we'll get there via ceviche.

Ceviche is considered Peru's national dish, though a traveler can find variations up and down the pacific coast of South and Central America, from the trailing tip of Chile all the way to Baja, Mexico. Each variation comes with subtle regional differences in ingredients and preparation. What I bring you this month is a fairly traditional preparation (except for the pita chips), but don't be afraid to experiment with various citrus juices, different types of fish and your favorite vegetables. Just keep in mind that ceviche should be light, bright and refreshing, so steer clear of the broccoli and cauliflower.

Ceviche with pita chips (appetizer, serves 2)


  • 10 Shrimp
  • 2 palm-sized portion of sweet white fish (halibut, tilapia, whittig or the like)
  • Juice from 6 limes or more (you need enough to cover the fish)
  • 1/2 medium red pepper, diced small
  • 1/2 medium green pepper, diced small
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion (start with this amount and adjust to suit taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher slat
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (increase for more heat)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 2 pieces of pita bread

Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces, and peel and devein the shrimp. You might want to remove the tails, but that's a personal preference. Place the fish, shrimp, salt and red pepper flakes in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with lime juice. Give it a good shake, and then let it marinate for 2 - 3 hours. When the fish has turned opaque, you’re ready to continue.

A note about cooking with acid: the process the fish goes through during the marinade (check spelling) is called denaturation. In essence, the acids in the lime juice "cook" the proteins in the firsh and shrimp It's a technique similar in many ways to pickling.

To make the pita chips, tear or cut the pita bread in half, and separate the pockets, top from bottom. Each piece of pita bread will yield four pieces of the eventual hard toast. Line the pita pieces on a baking dish, brush them with olive oil, and bake at 400 for about five minutes. You want them to be toasted and slightly crispy. Bring them out of the oven and cut them into triangles. You can also serve the ceviche on lettuce leaves or as a simple seafood salad.

Once your fish has finished soaking, stir in the the remaining ingredients and give it a taste. Add salt or red pepper as necessary to bring up the flavor or heat. If you'd like it be a little more savory, you can add a dash of cumin or garlic. Remember, however, the flavor of ceviche should be bright and refeshing, just the thing on a hot summer day in Gainesville.


Time Magazine tackles obesity

The June 23 issue of Time Magazine tackles obesity, America's number-one preventable disease. The issue examines School Cuisine, Overweight Children, and ways in which ethnicity, location and economic standing all contribute to the obesity problem:

It's no secret that the U.S. has a crippling weight problem and that our children are hardly exempt. Rising obesity threatens to condemn a significant share of the next generation to a lifetime of weight-related disease, overburdening the already struggling U.S. health-care system. Though a recent study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found that childhood-obesity levels may finally have leveled off, more than 30% of American schoolchildren are still overweight, with little indication that rates will drop anytime soon. The CDC defines as overweight those children with a body mass index (BMI)--a rough factoring of height and weight--higher than the 85th percentile of figures from the 1960s and '70s, before the obesity epidemic hit. Obesity is defined as the 95th percentile. That's far from healthy. "The childhood obesity epidemic is a tsunami," says David Ludwig, an obesity researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston and the author of Ending the Food Fight. "We can see the wave heading toward shore."

Wednesday news bites for June 18, 2008

The $100 kitchen
Do you have an indispensable tool?

Tomato trials
Latest news from the continuing salmonella tomato saga.

Putting meat back in its place
Mark Bittman provides some practical advice on reducing the amount of meat you eat.

Japan, seeking trim waists, measures millions
Waist measuring in Japan becomes a mandatory part of the annual checkup for people between the ages of 40 and 74. The target? 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women.

Tastespotting is dead. Long live Food Gawker.

The 125 healthiest supermarket foods in America
No entry for best carrot.


Wednesday news bites for June 11, 2008

Summer Reading For the Food Obsessed
I'd like to add On Food and Cooking, and Starting With Ingredients. What are some food books you all have liked?

Salmonella scare halts tomato sales
Again, the problem with singular sourcing

Sustainable on a budget? Order starts with a clean kitchen
Well, of course it does. You can't do anything if you're mired in clutter. For more on this topic, see my post, Cleanliness is next to...

Notes on the urban chicken movement
Urban farm-to-table ranching. This time with chickens.

Boosting health with local food.
Scientists earn grant to study the possible health benefits of local food.

As costs keep rising, restauranteurs find creative ways to cope
Perhaps they can be used and appropriated by the home cook.

Big Fat Lie
Carbs (namely, sugar) and genetic predisposition cause American obesity. I agree. America has figured a way to put sugar (or worse, high fructose corn syrup) in everything.

Bon Apetit Y'All
Mixing French techniques with traditional southern recipes.

Jamie Oliver's Latest Bloody Brilliant Idea
Jamie Oliver decides to pay-it-forward, on television. I like the idea of recipe's evolution--one of the hallmarks of food creation.


Recipe 'deal breakers': quit complaining and just cook

With the recent firestorm surrounding Kim Severson’s "Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 Is 'Corral Pig,'" I was ready to hate the article. I was ready to cast Severson as a lazy whiner and rail against her unwillingness to go the extra mile, but it’s not as bad as all that because at one point she describes Melissa Steineger’s realization,

[The recipes from Coyote Café cookbook] went unmade until her cooking skills improved and she had an epiphany: she could substitute.

"That freed me," she said.

As cooks--as people, one of our most valuable skills is critical thinking. It’s what enabled us to survive when we realized the old spears didn’t work against mammoths. Something must be wrong. Let me think about this and figure out what’s next. It’s what spurred the invention of the atlatl, and it’s what enables a cook to substitute bacon for pancetta. Is it going to taste exactly the same? No, probably not. Will it taste close enough for most people? Yes, I imagine it would.

This is one of the wonderful things about learning to cook. Anyone can follow a recipe to the letter. It’s one of the reasons baking is so popular. "Just tell me exactly what to do, and I’ll make it happen." Baking recipes are precise, and if you follow them, you will end up with something that has a flavor and texture just like the real things. Unless you’re trying to bake at high altitude or in very low or very high humidity. But cooking--good cooking relies on, among other things, the cook’s ability to think fast, to make changes and adapt as the need arises. Scared by "serves 18"? Divide everything by three and the recipe will serve six. Keep the leftovers for lunch. If a recipe calls for julienned carrots and you don’t have the time, inclination or skills to do a good job? Give it a go anyway. No one ever learned anything by not trying.

What really struck me as pathetic were the comments people left. Refusing to cook food you don't like doesn't mean the recipe is too difficult or "too fussy" to make. It just means you don't like certain foods or have made choices about what you'll eat. People who wrote things like, "Butter" completely missed the point (and should be kicked out of the kitchen). And "meanwhile" as a deal breaker? How does this person get anything done? While waiting for the laundry to dry, does she sit and stare at the wall? I also don’t understand people who shy away from words like, "just" or "quickly." It’s food on fire. Pay attention to it if you have to. And if it all goes to shit? Think about what went wrong and don’t do that next time. Then order a pizza.