Posts Tagged ‘food media


When Kitchen Express and Cooks Illustrated collide

Turns out there was nothing wrong with the seal on my pressure cooker, but the pressure indicator inexplicably won’t stay up. This doesn’t affect the function (all of the beans still cooked quickly and nothing exploded), but it does make deciding when it’s safe to open the thing rather exciting.

I celebrated the lack of explosions and steam burns by using some of the white beans I cooked up to make white bean toasts, a fall recipe from Kitchen Express that works just as well in winter:

white bean toasts and cucumber soup

Mark Bittman’s recipe uses lemon juice and olive oil in place of the cream in the Joy of Cooking’s white bean paste. I left off the dried tomatoes that he suggests, since I only have smoke-dried ones, and I didn’t think that would coordinate too well with the rest of the flavors. I couldn’t be bothered to get out the food processor, so my potato-masher puree is more rustic than his, but my bread is more urbane. Why would I use a “peasant bread” when I love Noe Valley Bakery’s sour baguettes so?

But wait. What is that in the background? A totally unseasonal and unsuited to the weather chilled cucumber soup! Knowing my dedication to the joys of seasonal eating, you may well ask where that came from. I’ll tell you.

Yesterday I tested an unpublished Cooks Illustrated recipe for the first time. Even though I get their emails regularly, I’ve resisted until now because their editorial calendar keeps their test recipes so out of step with the seasons. I fell for this one because I figured the dressing on their cucumber salad would give me a good basis for trying to recreate this wonderful cabbage, cucumber, mint, jalapeño, and lime salad that Burma Superstar serves. I was right about the dressing, and I’m eager to try it with a cabbage I’ll pick up at the farmers’ market tomorrow. Meanwhile, the cucumber salad was just fine, though I was worried because the cucumbers I picked up at Whole Foods were big, seedy, and bitter.

The recipe served four, so I couldn’t finish it. Into the fridge with the leftovers! And tonight, out comes—cucumber salad in a lot of liquid:

That used to be a salad.

Immersion blender to the rescue!

Now it's a soup!

It was possibly better as a soup than as a salad. I can also see potential for it as a smoothie, or a granita, or a mixer. Come summer and small, sweet cucumbers, that is.


efficiency in farming

California seems to be affecting me–I flaked out on the book club meeting on Sunday. The cookie party started late, it was raining fiercely, and the party was still in full swing when I should have been leaving…

One thing that stuck with me from Righteous Porkchop is the connection that Hahn Niman never quite makes between two arguments in her chapter “Answering Obstacles to Reform.” The first is that factory farms have only one area of greater efficiency over traditional farms in producing animal products: labor. It takes fewer people to raise more animals in a CAFO than it takes to raise fewer animals on a traditional farm. Every other advantage that factory farms have is about power: the power to dictate the terms of their contracts with smaller farmers, the power to make the pollution from their vast concentrations of manure a public problem, rather than one that they have to pay to deal with, the power to have impunity in contaminating our food supply with antibiotic-resistant microbes that they have helped create. And, given their efficiency in labor, their claims to create lots of jobs are pure bunk.

The second argument is that hunger is a distribution problem, not a supply problem. Producing more food over the world’s current surplus will not feed one single person more who doesn’t already have the money to buy that surplus food. And many of the people who don’t have the money are people who have been pushed off their land by the market and political power of industrialized agricultural producers. These people, who used to grow food for themselves and make a living by selling their surplus to others, end up migrating to cities to become the urban poor, the favela-dwellers, the colonia-dwellers.

The connection that Hahn Niman doesn’t make is that from there, especially if they’re in Central America or Mexico, they migrate to the United States, many of them to work our fields with disease-causing chemicals or in our slaughterhouses, where the risk of injury is astronomical. Our dominant method of producing food has devalued the work so much, both there and here, that this seems to make sense. We’ve devalued the work of producing food so much that it sounds plausible to say that no one (who matters) wants to be a farmer anymore, even though there are plenty of people who do–as long as the job involves the traditional benefits of caring for plants and animals and spending time outdoors, rather than monitoring spreadsheets in metal warehouses full of miserable meat-producing machines. And most of the people would like to do traditional farm work would prefer not to have to migrate to do it, but our food production system is one of the things that compels their migration.

That connection, as much as anything that Hahn Niman said directly in her book, has me thinking hard about my food choices again.


a large vocabulary for corn

There’s a paragraph in the November/December Cooks Illustrated that delighted me and confused me at the same time:

Masa and masa harina are both made from hominy, which is dried corn that has been soaked or cooked in an alkaline solution of water and calcium hydroxide [sic] to remove the germ and hull. This process, called nixtamalization, imparts a distinctive flavor that differentiates masa-based products from other forms of dried corn like polenta and cornmeal.

There’s nothing wrong with the way that’s worded. Why was it reading so funny to me? I realized that it was because I could think so many other ways to word it, and I was thinking of them all at more or less the same time.

  • masa aka dough
  • masa harina aka maseca (a genericized brand name)
  • hominy aka nixtamal
  • corn aka maize
  • soaked or cooked in an alkaline solution… aka nixtamalized, slaked, limed
  • calcium hydroxide aka quick lime, cal, calcium oxide (all these synonyms name the substance before it is mixed with water)
  • nixtamalization aka slaking, liming

This sort of linguistic interference makes playing Scrabble very interesting sometimes, as I try to sort out whether a word is or is not part of the English vocabulary.


18 Reasons Food Lit Club

Rainbow cheesemonger Gordonzola turned me on to the 18 Reasons Food Lit Club today, so I’ll be attending three meetings between now and the end of the year. In October, we’ll discuss The Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Niman, with the author and her husband in attendance. In November, it’s Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg (a hard look at the effects of world fish consumption on cod, salmon, sea bass, and tuna). And in December, it’s Gordon Edgar’s own Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, with Gordon in attendance.

If you’re free from 4-6 on Sundays October 24, November 21, and December 19, you can also join in! Tickets available for $30 (without books) or $70 (books included, pick up at Omnivore at Church and Cesar Chavez).

18 Reasons is a non-profit engaging the community through food and art. They offer a year-round calendar of wine tastings, art shows, community dinners, food classes, interactive workshops, and more in an intimate community space.


Cooks Illustrated: American Classics

Or, the Cooks Illustrated Gets Fussy issue. Yes, I know–Cooks Illustrated is always a little fussy. It’s their thing, and I love them for it. But this is serious.

Page 49 is devoted to making the perfect pitcher of iced tea. Page 17 agonizes over the difficulties of the grilled cheese sandwich. I am pleased that quesadillas find a place as an American classic, on page 16. Appropriately, that faces the grilled cheese sandwiches; I made my share of both as a child, and since. Classic beef fajitas, a slightly more complicated preparation, gets two pages. But really, are these things that hard to make?

Maybe they are. The quesadillas article notes that “Some cookbooks suggest passing the tortillas over the flame of a gas burner to lightly char and soften them. This idea worked, but it … demanded close attention to keep the tortillas from going up in flames.” Of course it demands close attention! It takes about 10 seconds–I certainly hope your attention doesn’t wander in that amount of time. And, traditionally, you don’t “pass” them over the flame-you set each one on the burner, turning it with your fingers. Easy. You can turn the flame off while you flip, if you have soft skin–but that pushes the bounds of authenticity.

I also noted that while the quesadillas and beef fajitas write-ups both insist that good flour tortillas are key to the recipe, they say nothing about how to prepare your own.


Momo’s chicken soup

PJ’s “small and beautiful”* celery soup from a couple of weeks ago made me want my grandmother’s similarly delicate and unassuming chicken soup.

Yields about 3 quarts

Phase 1

  • 1/2 pound chicken scraps (backs, necks, wingtips, whatever)
  • water to cover
  • salt to taste

Put the chicken scraps in a stockpot with water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

Phase 2

  • 1 medium potato, chopped large
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped large
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, quartered
  • 3 small stalks celery, chopped large
  • 1 medium jalapeño (seeded and deveined if that’s your thing; I don’t), chopped large**
  • 1/2 pound bone-in, proper cuts of chicken (I prefer legs and thighs); remove skins and excess fat (there’s already plenty in there)***
  • juice of half a medium lime
  • more salt
  • a generous dash ground cumin
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper
  • about 3 cups more water


While Phase 1 is simmering, prepare the ingredients for Phase 2. Skim the gunk off the top, then add everything on the list above. Return to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the freshly added chicken is done (another 20-30 minutes).

Phase 3

  • 1 ear corn, hacked into rounds that will just fit on a soup spoon to be nibbled at****
  • 1 double handful cilantro*****
  • maybe some more salt, pepper, cumin and/or lime juice, to taste


Fish the chicken out of the soup and put in the ingredients listed above, returning to a covered simmer for while you shred the proper chicken parts. Discard the bones and the chicken scraps from Phase 1. Return the shredded chicken to the pot for 5 minutes or so, and you’re done.


* Small and beautiful, as opposed to aiming for the TV chef goal of “bigass flavor.”

** My grandmother has ulcers and has been told not to eat spicy foods, but at least one chile always makes it in. When I asked her to describe what she put in this soup, the jalapeño was an afterthought. “Oh, and a pepper.” For flavor, of course.

*** I used boneless this time and relearned the important lesson that it cooks too fast and gets rubbery. Bone-in is the way to go. Can’t get it falling-off-the-bone tender without a bone to fall off of.

**** I may help my diners by shredding the chicken before serving (my grandmother certainly doesn’t), but the rounds of corn are non-negotiable. Nibbling them is half the fun. (For a non-summer version of this soup, just leave the corn out.)

***** Every time I rake a fork through a handful of parsley or cilantro to get the leaves off the stalks, I think of John Kraemer, who taught me that quick and easy technique.


attitudes toward diversity in food

Thanks to Joan for pointing out the differences in tone and language between these New York Times articles, one about Bulgarian-British star chef Silvena Rowe, the other about Tomas Lee and the increasing availability of Korean tacos.

Rowe can indulge, without reproach, an “Orientalist vision” in her “sexy,” “hedonistic” “signature dishes.” (Perhaps she gets a pass because she caters to “the pomegranate craze” in a “Britain avid for new cuisines.”) Her food is the product of great thought and creativity: she “reinvents” herself, “finds” herself, “locks herself in her room” until she gets her variation on someone else’s recipe right. She “preserves” recipes through her innovation, and looks to the past (that outdated Orientalist vision again).

Meanwhile, Tomas Lee and the other Korean taco chefs profiled in the second article (note that they are many; Rowe is one) are “making up a cuisine as they go along.” They hardly think about what they’re doing, much less lock themselves away for research. Inevitable product of the interaction between Korean shopowners and their Mexican employees, Korean tacos were “just lunch” for all these “entrepreneurs” (not chefs, note) who are now trying to “mainstream” Korean food in America. Dave, though, pointed out my favorite line: “The tortilla and the toppings are a way to tell our customers that this food is O.K., that this food is American.” Even so, the article sounds rather concerned that there are so many “trend-conscious restaurateurs with few apparent ties to Korea” who are getting in on the act. (Compare to how Rowe’s tenuous ties, as a Bulgarian-born, Russian-educated British citizen, to the Middle East go unremarked in the previous article.)

Meanwhile, in Arizona, SB 1070 (otherwise known as the Your-Papers-Please Law) with go into effect tomorrow. Andrew Leonard of Salon’s “How the World Works” noted an uptick in Google searches for Pei Wei, the casual pan-Asian spin-off of Scottsdale-based P.F. Chang’s. Were people searching for information on the Pei Wei franchise in Chandler, Arizona, that fired 12 employees for taking May 29 off (unauthorized) to protest SB 1070? Nope, the buzz was all about the cut-rate entrees the chain is offering to celebrate its tenth anniversary. This leads Leonard to a wonderful rant:

What really gets me riled are the ridiculous contradictions baked into the ersatz globalization symbolized by a chain of faux-Asian eateries in a state like Arizona.

Diversity is fine if it applies to the ability of Arizonans to eat cheaply priced cuisine that imitates Chinese or Malaysian or Thai (albeit with all the sharp edges sanded off.) The fact that producing such cuisine for such low prices requires exploiting cheap labor gets swept under the rug. The fact that actual Asians have almost nothing to do with the production of the food is also considered irrelevant. …

But god forbid society itself should become more diverse, along with the food.

The actually interesting story there, about the workers who were fired for knocking off to go to a protest, also shows a limit to the kind of “community organizing” that has been most effective in the minority- and immigrant-heavy service sectors. Not only are significant classes of these workers (domestic workers, farm laborers) not even covered by basic labor protections, but those who are covered are only protected when they’re involved in straight-up labor organizing. Fighting against “race-baiting laws” that make the whole community insecure (including workers who might otherwise organize)? Not covered.

Thanks to J-P for the Andrew Leonard tip. (He also points out that William Gibson probably feels slighted that his 1991 coinage “kimcheewawas” didn’t make the Korean tacos article.)


Helsinki fine dining: Havis

On the first night of the conference, we had a very good dinner at Havis, a high-end Finnish cuisine restaurant on the waterfront. It started with skagen, an open-face sandwich that in this case included shrimp, a dill-cream sauce, and lavaret roe. The main was a white fish (I’m not sure we were able to get a good translation as to what kind) in a creamy false morel sauce. Both delicious. Wine was chosen by the eminences of J-P’s department, who’ve made extensive (academic) study of the subject and so have my trust, and dessert was creme brulee with (possibly) lingonberry sauce. Conversation included the antiseptic and other merits of various spices–I plan to report back here later. A good night.

One hitch in the meal: a fellow diner fished something very un-morel-like out of his sauce. As he was wondering what it was, I, with my tact as ever one step behind my mouth, gave a positive id. “That’s a spider.”

And it was. It was very small, and probably well cooked. When we told the waiter, his response was terrifically deadpan. “You’re joking.” Examining plate: “That’s disgusting.” And he brought another.

We enjoyed the food regardless, making jokes about the delicacy of baked giant spider eyes. The topic of Extreme Cuisine came up, as well as the time I watched a woman inadvertently make tarantula tamales in Guatemala.

We actually had an even better meal in Helsinki (story for another post), but nothing else as dramatic. Unless you count the clerk at the second kebab shop we visited warning us away from sitting outside to eat. “Oh, it sounds good. But there are birds attacking people and stealing their food.”


My grandmother and the Food Network

Since she was released from hospitalization for a heart attack and a hernia, my grandmother has been under doctor’s orders to stay away from stress and physical effort—including cooking. Less time in front of the stove means more time in front of the TV, and she and my sister have been bonding over the Food Network.

It turns out, though, that English-language cooking shows pose some challenges for her. “Sometimes I don’t understand the ingredients they’re talking about. What’s the word he’s using for that pasta? I can see it’s noodles, but I don’t know what he’s calling them.”

They were rigatoni, and I explained to her that different shapes of pasta have different names. I left aside the issue of different uses, figuring she’d pick that up with enough watching. But I did notice that the Food Network had already taught her “pasta,” which she hadn’t known a few years ago, when her vocabulary there was limited to “noodles” and “fideos.”

She’s also having a hard time deciding what this “basil” thing is, sometimes deciding that it’s “bay leaf,” instead. But cilantro is a cinch–she was inspired enough by its television celebrity to ask me to buy her a few plants and pot them for her on her porch. And, prohibitions on cooking aside, she had a pot full of lovely poached chicken soup, with garlic, celery, potato, and cilantro, ready when I first arrived.

Another Food Network addition to her English vocabulary is “scallion,” as part of what they’re apparently calling GGS, or ginger-garlic-scallion: the Asian mirepoix. Garlic she got, no problem. Ginger, ok. (It’s familiar as a medicine, if not as a spice.) But, “What’s that last thing, mi’ja?” “Son cebollinas, Momo.” And maybe it’s time to see the eye doctor as well as the cardiologist…

In other news, this is the first Stuff White People Like entry that I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Tex-Mix's Photostream