Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cold Storage

Most people use cold water in the fridge to keep herbs and bundles of greens crisp, but did you know it works for keeping vegetables fresh, too? Radishes and beets, fennel, potatoes... you name it. If you think it's going to be a few days before you can get to a vegetable, and that it might go limp and soft, store it in a jar or a bowl of cold water in the fridge. You will be amazed at how long they stay crisp!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cattle Complex

I'm a big meat eater, and also a big hand-wringer about global-warming issues. So being reminded that my burgers and bacon are a major part of the problem is never fun.

Here are some freaky facts from an article Mark Bittman wrote in yesterday's Times, "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler":

- In the last five months alone, the Brazilian government says, 1,250 square miles were lost [to make room for crop and grazing land].

- If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.

- “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production.

- Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Diet Doomsday

Okay so the low-carb thing is not for me.

I should have taken a picture of my dinner -- linguine alle vongole --- tonight. It looked so pretty: the (white flour) linguine, the parsley and lemon zest, the little cockle-clams, the amazing (white flour) french bread with a parsley-garlic-butter mash melted on it. Blue plate, green parsley, yellow zest, white carbs. It was so pretty and would have made a great photo for the blog, but I was too busy digging in to that great fat-salt-carb mix to stop and grab my camera.

I still think there is something really inherently bad about refined carbs -- and, like, why can I eat a seemingly endless amount of them? Why do you never get full when eating white flour coated in salty fat? Has it ever happened to anyone?

As my sister's girlfriend said once on a camping trip while they were digging into a giant vat of my sister's pesto pasta, which was supposed to last the weekend, "Is there an alarm bell that's going to go off and tell me to stop? Because I'm not getting any other cues."

Same thing when I worked in the food dept of a women's magazine, where the test kitchen used to make our lunch. This one lady made a lemony pesto pasta that I could eat an entire pound of, if I didn't have to share. The days when most of the staff was out on a photo shoot were dangerous.

Same thing when I first discovered Pasta Puttanesca. I was living in Italy, and I was in college, and there wasn't a lot of beer around, so maybe I was just compensating for the missing carbs, but by the time we left, my roommate and I could not only make a mean, fiery puttanesca, we could pack away an entire pound of it between the two of us.

Same thing tonight. But, as my eight-year son would say: "whatever". I was skinny and energetic on a no-dairy diet, and I'm sure I'd be skinny and energetic and no-white-flour diet. But, euw. Who wants to live that way? I'm not a model, I can eat bread and pasta and cheese. Yippee!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Low-Fat Trials

Gary Taubes' book is totally freaking me out, about how terrible refined carbs are. I completely believe it, and as much as I think of myself as more of a salt-and-fat kind of a gal, the truth is, I love sugar and starches, too. And pasta. And bread. And cake and pie. All of it.

So I'm just trying to be 'aware', and what I've become aware of, mostly, is how often invitations for refined carbs tend to pop up in my path, and how happy I am to accept them. Like, there is this sweet little cafe called Parco near my daughter's preschool, which makes the most unbelievable almond croissants. And okay I don't walk right by it, but it's only a block in the wrong direction, and having become aware of refined carbs for a couple days, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Luckily, they have chocolate croissants, too, which I unfortunately introduced my children to one time when we went to France, thinking it was a cultural thing. Good thinking: they were both totally okay with paying a little visit to Parco.

And I had sashimi for lunch the other day (which included tuna, so good thing my mercury levels are nice and high now) and they accidentally brought me a bowl of white rice, which I wasn't going to eat, but come on. Six little pieces of fish for lunch? It's not enough.

I don't know if this is going to work for me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Satellite Salads

This dish doesn't really need a recipe. It's a Mediterranean-style grain salad with lots of room for improv: Take some big random thug of a grain -- like wheat berries (which I used here), black barley (hard to get, but apparently the most unprocessed grain and worth the long-arse cooking time), wild rice, bulgur, or even delicate little quinoa. (If wheat berries are the thugs of the grain world, quinoa is probably a wee ballet dancer with a black belt in karate -- it's delicate, but it can hold its own).

Then you surround the grain with whatever seems delicious to you. Imagine a tabouli with cucumbers, feta, parsley and tomatoes, and take it from there. Pumpkin seeds, black oil-cured olives and sun-dried tomatoes; dried cranberries and smoked turkey; shrimp and feta, chicken and asparagus, mint and lots of parsley... The list is endless. Before serving, toss the grain in olive oil and lemon juice. Then lay out the spread on the table, and let everyone take what they like.

The thing about this meal, and actually all the mothership meals, is that we're trying to sell the food to our kids. They can't deal with the whole she-bang, so we're offering the dish in installments. Today, they can nibble on the walnuts and the olives and the chicken. Next time maybe they'll be tired and only want carrots coins and cherry tomatoes. Eventually they will be so used to seeing their parents eat beets or feta or shrimp or pecans, never mind those thuggish awesome whole grains, and they will be hungry for something different, and it will all come together.

I really believe that when kids' bodies need some particular nutrient, and if that nutrient is available in the food on the table, that at some point the connection will be made. Both my kids have shocked me with sudden attacks of weird appetites for up-til-then off-limits food. There are nights they suddenly can't get enough of something like broccoli, kale, clams, cashews, brown rice, beans, or whatever. But the food has to be truly available to them, not be "grown up food", separate from the "kid food".

PS This salad is especially delicious with something sweet and tangy like dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Coq au Vin

When I was growing up, French food was not for comfort. It was fancy, like: scary waiters and morsels of brains and other ground-up innards, and wines that you had to be French to like.

Luckily, now we know French people like comfort too, so we can drink spicy jammy wines and make things like Coq au Vin, one of the greatest comfort foods I know. But, here's what I've learned about coq au vin: it has to be made with a real farm chicken.

This is how I learned this: My friend Meg set up this thing at my son's school, where a farmer brings his van by every couple of weeks. If you were on the ball and placed an order the weekend before, you go and pick your kid in the cafeteria and then you go around the corner and pick up your food. I usually get (when I am on the ball): a whole chicken, a dozen brown eggs (you can get white, too, which are probably great, but I am sentimental about brown eggs), a couple pounds of the farmer's crazy-good chicken sausage and maybe some of his spare ribs. In the warmer months he hooks up with other producers and offers baked things, produce, honey, and even raw milk. But this time of year it's just meat. Have you heard about how Michael Pollan says you should know the name of the person who produces your meat? My guy's name is Jay.

When I am on the ball, that is. Which I am not always. So I often forget to place an order, and actually sometimes Jay is not on the ball and his schedule is erratic and not helpful. It is the absolute antithesis of the Walmart experience, for better and worse. Almost entirely for the better, but they do run out of things or give you not exactly what you ordered. Like, they forgot your brownies, or you get whole wheat bread instead of multi-grain or your produce is a little mushed up.

Whatever. It's fine by me, especially because the meat is really really fucking good. It's so fucking good it actually merits an expletive, even from prim New Englander me. So last week I made coq au vin. I've made coq au vin -- which is basically chicken-wine stew -- lots of times, but not recently. It killed us this time. It was so fucking good. We were all eating it, kids, grownups, everyone. Our pets were going insane because they could smell it and it was driving them crazy. We were putting this cultured butter from Vermont Butter on French bread and dipping it in the sauce. Even the kids were doing this. It was like a medieval feast. We couldn't believe how fucking goddamn good it was.

And it got better, as coq au vin is known to do, the next day. The next night, after work (I get home late 2 nights a week, after kids are in bed), I heated up the last little piece of chicken in the last little bit of sauce and ate it with some leftover couscous, and it was like the most luscious, silky, salty, smoky, delicious dish I could imagine. It was pure comfort. "You should make that all the time," Chris said. (Chris is a skinny guy who forgets to eat lunch sometimes and tends to eat things like aloe vera and cacao beans, so when he is moved by the taste of something luscious, it is really saying something.)

So I did. Only I missed the farm order, so I went to this new ultra fancy market in my neighborhood, Union Market, which is like the porno-fantasy of grocery stores. It is everything you ever wanted in a grocery store. It is a grocery store dressed up in silks and spandex with cleavage and cool platinum hipster jewelry. It's like Whole Foods boiled down to its most elitist delicious essence.

So I figured, Why not go there? I bought a Murray's chicken, a couple onions, and, uh, a few other things, not to be mentioned here. Then I bought a cheap bottle of Bordeaux on my way home and got to work, making the coq au vin.

Here's what I did different from the first time: used fennel instead of celery. Used a $10 Bordeaux instead of a $10 Syrah. Used an industrially-raised chicken from Murray's instead of a farm-raised chicken from Dines Farms. That's it.

It's not that it sucked. It was fine. It was really, really good. But it was not sublime. It was not pure sexy luscious comfort food. It was a world apart from the coq au vin we had with one of Jay's chickens, which probably spent a longer life eating bugs, and running around and growing gamy muscles than the antibiotic-free but not much else chickens from Murrays. And you could tell. You could totally, completely tell.

If you make coq au vin -- and you should, especially when you've got a day to let it sit and mellow -- try it with a farmers market chicken. You can even ask the guy at your farmers' market if he has any older chickens. And if you're going to do that, you might as well find out his name.


1 chicken, cut into parts (save giblets, neck and carcass) (Not the liver; it clouds the stock. Chop the liver and give it to your cat, and she will really love you.)

1/3 cup pancetta, cut into matchsticks
2 onions
2 large carrots
2 ribs of celery
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbs flour
1/2 bottle red wine
a few sprigs of thyme
a few bay leaves
1/2 stick of butter
2 big handsful of baby bella mushrooms (white mushrooms are fine, too)

1. Put the carcass, giblets, neck, one onion (cut in half), and one carrot into a large pot of water. Simmer while you work on the rest.

2. Cut the chicken into parts. Salt and pepper generously.

3. Heat the pancetta and 3 tbs butter in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn. When the fat on the pancetta is mostly rendered, just as it is beginning to brown, remove and place in a large bowl. Add half the chicken pieces to the pot. The goal here is golden brown skin, so keep an eye on them and jiggle now and then to make sure they're not sticking, and don't take them off too soon. When they are ready, place in the bowl with the pancetta, and do the next batch.

4. Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery and carrot. When the chicken is gone, add the chopped vegetables to pot and let them cook until the onion is transulcent. Add the garlic.

5. Add the chicken and the pancetta to the pot. Sprinkle the flour on top. Add the herbs. Add a few ladlesful of the stock, which is now simmering away on the next burner. Add the wine, and then enough stock to cover the chicken. Simmer for about 45 minutes.

6. Wash and slice the mushroom. Saute in a big knob of butter until golden. Add to pot.

7. Remove the chicken, and let the juices cook down a little. (Not too much or you won't have enough to dip the bread into!)

7. Ideally, let sit for 24 hours. Serve with couscous, or really good bread with really good butter.

FDA Says Cloned Food Safe to Eat

How weird is this?

Didn't the FDA also tell us that transfats, aspartame, silicon implants and Vioxx were okay?

Plus, never mind the science -- euw!

Usually when something feels wrong in your gut, and you can't explain why, but it just feels so wrong -- it is wrong. It's like that little voice that your mom always told you to listen to, even when the cool kids were telling you something wasn't technically illegal... Listen to the little voice.

AND plus, what's the point? I love this, from the Times article: "When you buy a box of Cheerios in New York and one in Champaign, Illinois, you know they are going to be the same,” said Jon Fisher, president and owner of Prairie State Semen in Illinois. “By shortening the genetic pool using clones, you can do a similar thing.”

Yeah. Because I hate that, how things taste different when I travel.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Low-Fat Scam, Then the Milk Debacle

Actually, first the milk debacle: When I started this blog, I briefly thought about the Milk Issue, and then decided I'd just leave it alone. I'm not a nutritionist, after all, and I don't need to open up that pissy opinion trunk of mine. Plus, I occupy such a weird sliver of thought in the milk debate that I can sound like I'm talking about UFO's, especially among the Low-fat Milk People, who tend to be a stolid and almost evangelical crowd.

But then I heard Gary Taubes on NPR the other day, and Michael Pollan today. And I feel like doing a little evangelizing myself, because it seems the low-fat tower is finally crumbling. In both books -- Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food -- the low-fat theory is being debunked. On WNYC today, Michael Pollan said that public health officials of the last few decades might actually owe us an apology. I'll say, and I never even really totally cut out the bacon or the butter. But think of all the people who did.

Basically, they're saying that a low-fat diet has never been proven to be healthier than a full-fat diet. It does not help you lose weight. It does not prevent heart disease. At the same time, saturated fats do not lead to heart disease or make you fat. In fact, some of these guys are not even all that sure that trans fats are the real evil. Could it be the refined carbs that are always palling around with the trans fats?

I'm not ready personally to let trans fats off the hook, but what the hell do I know? But I'm more than willing to point accusatory fingers at refined carbs. And I'm beyond thrilled to hear that my good friend saturated fat has been finally released from the slammer.

So here's how it relates to my milk thing:

I'm not against milk. Yes, there was a time when I didn't eat dairy, but these days I've given into my hedonism; I eat yogurt, I put milk in my coffee; I take my kids out for ice cream once in a while. I'll even make a cream-based soup now and then.

It's more that I'm against low-fat milk. But I don't care if people fill their own fridges with a lesser version of a liquid that god made to nourish baby cows and so that things like cream of watercress soup and creme brulee could exist. As long as they don't try to get me to use their fat-free half-and-half in my coffee, I don't care what percentage of fat works for them. I really don't.

What I'm against is public policies that try to get vast groups of people to drink low-fat and no-fat milk products.

Even more, I'm against public policies that are so maniacal about getting vast groups of people to drink reduced-fat dairy products that they will add things like high-fructose corn syrup so that the reduced fat dairy products taste good, thus turning a dubiously well-intentioned effort into a truly retarded and backward scheme to keep everyone fat and sick as long as the corn and dairy industries thrive.

And this is the kind of thing that truly gets me: that it is currently part of standard public health policy to push low fat milk on children and poor people. It's on school lunch trays all across the country, for instance (with ultra-refined carb sweeteners added to it to make it palatable), and a couple of years ago the NYC health dept sent workers out into the field to try to convince people in the outer boroughs -- people on the lower end of the economic scale, in other words, who are often more susceptible to the worst of the civilization diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity and the like) -- to switch to low-fat milk.

(Forget for a second the fact that it was sketchy science -- what about the fact that the vast majority of people of Latin, African and Asian descent are lactose intolerant? Like 75% of African-Africans, 75% of Mexicans and at least 90% of Asians? Well hey, what better use of its resources could the health dept come up with than to go out to bodegas in East New York and peddle 2% milk to 10-year-old black girls?

And hey, guess who's not so lactose intolerant? White people of Northern European descent. So weird, huh?

Okay, I'll stop now. Except to wonder how long it will take for the de-bunking of the low-fat myth to make its torturous way through the labrythinths that must connect (right?) the nutritional science part of the country to the school foods part of the country, and change the policy of forcing low-fat dairy products onto the trays of millions of kids every day.

Here's the link to the Gary Taubes interview.

Recipes and calmness returning shortly, I promise!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Why Julia? Why, Julie? Why Not Me?

I just finished Julie Powell's book (like 5 minutes ago) (Well more like 50 minutes ago, but I've been obsessively stalking her old blog, website and new blog since I put the book down) (yeah, it's that kind of workday): Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. For those of you who were not inhabitants of the blogospere circa 2003, nor obsessive readers of the Times' Dining section around the same time, this is the book that came of the blog in which a secretary from Queens set out to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Not only does she get all the recipes done -- harder than you might think (taken a look at MtAoFC lately?) and without even the aid of a dishwasher, Kitchenaid mixer, good set of knives, or very intact sense of housekeeping -- but she also gets a book deal.

After my friend Elise read Eat Pray Love , she blogged about it, giving the book a more appropriate title. This is my humble version of that amazing post, because a million times more than the envy I felt while reading Eat Pray Love (yeah, yeah, I've been to Rome, and meditating at 3:30 every morning in an ashram is not my idea of a nice vacation, and sure I'd like to move to Bali and find a wise old healer friend, and then a Brazilian lover, but it didn't eat me up inside or anything) -- Julie and Julia just about killed me.

What a great idea. What an amazing Everest to climb, and without the frost bite and oxygen masks. What an awesome and far more cool trip through culinary school than an actual trip through culinary school.

I realize that Julie Powell suffered in her year. I don't know what it's like to eviscerate a live lobster, to spend a solid week making crepes, to gain 20 lbs in service to your blog, to eat liver and kidneys every day for a week not because you have some weird urge, but rather because that's what week it is, or to have to eat aspic ten different ways -- in January no less. But I'm still wildly jealous -- that she thought of it, that she did it, that she has, in fact, mastered the art of French cooking. Okay, so given the choice, I'd sort of rather master the art of Japanese cooking, but either one would be just fine with me.

Despite my crazy envy, and despite the fact that I didn't totally love the book (it's pretty, um, "bloggy", if you know what I mean; works so great as a blog, but feels grungy and discombobulated dressed up in the finery of a book cover), I also really like the author, who blithely describes finding maggots under her dish rack, decries farmers markets, mocks Alice Waters, and talks about vodka gimlets more lovingly than any of the French food she makes all year. Much as I love farmers' markets and hate vodka, I can't help but feel a fond appreciation for this kind of iconoclasm.

Is there such thing as a Mastering the Art of Japanese Cooking?