Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Cheesey Commercial


Velveeta is one of the most toxic substances on earth, a cheese-like product of unknown provenance.

That said, I have to hand it to Kraft. This commercial is brilliant. I love how it tries to make Velveeta sound like a healthy alternative to fast food. Diabolical in its deception. Whoever did this should make commercials for the Republican party. And who would have thought cheese substitute could be sensual? They're going to move a lot of Velveeta.

Marketing goooooooooold!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Holy Latke Batman!

About a week ago, I faced a dilemma: I needed a starch for dinner, but I had just two potatoes, not enough for mashed or baked potatoes. It was also not enough for a rather complicated big potato pancake recipe I've been making for a number of years.

Time to think fast. Why not try traditional potato pancakes, aka Latkes? I'd never made them before.  I consulted a couple of cookbooks, and they looked amazingly easy and quick. Just shred some potatoes and onion, add breadcrumbs, an egg and salt and pepper and fry in a pan with thin sheen of oil.

It was as easy and quick as it sounded. In about 20 to 25 minutes, I had golden brown potato pancakes on the plate. They were heavenly, better than the big potato Frisbee that I've been laboring to make for years. I especially love the crunch and caramelization from a good roasting on each side. Very, very tasty.

Like so many great dishes, simple and delicious.

I've made them several times since, each time adjusting and each time they come out a little tastier. Here's my recipe:

Heat a large pan to medium high (I put it to 7 on electric range) with a thin film of oil (I use canola).

Shred two to three russet potatoes with a box grater (you can use a food processor, but it's nearly as fast and there's less cleanup with a box grater). Put the shredded potato in a colander and press, squeezing out as much liquid as possible.

Put the shredded potato in a large bowl and shred a onion. We prefer less onion, so I use a small or half a medium. Make this to taste.

Add about 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, preferably homemade, an egg and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly.

 Check oil with a piece of potato. If it sizzles, the pan is ready. Collect half a cup of the mixture (you can make them any size) and drop into the hot pan, pressing down to flatten somewhat. Cook about six to 10 minutes on each side, rotating if necessary to assure even cooking and lowering temperature if they cook too fast.

As they finish, put on paper towels to drain. The pancakes stay hot for a good period of time, so I recommend against covering.

Latkes are traditionally eaten with applesauce. I have not tried it, but I can see how a little sweetness would enhance the flavor.

So the next time you need a quick starch. try potato pancakes. Tasty, delicious and rather fun to make.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Cheap" Fast Food and Other Myths


Mark Bittman today eviscerates the myth of "cheap" fast food. In fact, a simple meal at home is cheaper than a McDonald's pig out, he reports.

Why do Americans believe otherwise? The answer is simple: $4.6 billion a year spent by the food industry each year on marketing. 

Some say it's "nannyism" to try to do anything about this. But that ignores the power of modern marketing to manipulate consumer attitudes and undermine fact. Marketers have succeeded in planting all manner of untruths into the American mind: cooking is too hard and too time consuming; hyper-processed products are healthy if they contain a small amount of fiber; it's cheaper to eat out than to cook.

As criticism grows, the food industry is trying to adjust. I see them hawking more and more products used to cook instead of pure, stick-it-in-the-microwave processed foods.  Take this commercial for Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cooking "Creme" (I love the French touch). Honestly, have you ever seen anything so disgusting?

I love the ending with happy, homey family tucking into their otherwise healthy ingredients coated in cooking goo. 

As Bittman writes, cooking a decent meal is cheap and easy. Buy a chicken, not the fancy floorwalker for tree-huggers, but the standard Purdue bird, roast it, mash some potatoes and steam some vegies.

Re-teaching Americans these basic skills will be a struggle. The powers that be will fight back tooth and nail. Soon, they will be telling Americans that there are dangerous levels of bacteria in unprocessed food and to avoid it. Can't you just hear that rolling off Michele Bachman's tongue?

Cook at home? What are you -- a socialist?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hitting it Past the Ted Williams Chair

It's been five years since Mark Bittman published his no-knead bread recipe. It intrigued me the moment I read it. Imagine being able to bake artisan quality bread without the specialized oven? Sounds like heaven.

Why I never tried it, I can't say. I'm at a loss to explain my passive resistance. It's not for lack of proof. A friend of mine tried the recipe and raved. I have the key piece of equipment, a Le Creuset dutch oven. Was it foolish pride in all that kneading and rising and measuring and shaping? Maybe.

One reason was that no one in the family much liked rustic bread except me. That, however, has changed in the last few months. My daughter, the bread-o-phobe, has recently acquired a taste for Italian bread. She's actually eating sandwiches, which I thought I'd see the day that Rick Perry admitted global warming real and agreed to march in a gay pride parade.

For whatever reason, I finally tried the recipe today. The result: Wow. Amazing. Incredible. Some of the best bread I've ever had. And so easy.

I made a few minor rookie mistakes. My loaf came out a bit lopsided (my wife is away at a writing conference and has the camera, so I can't take a picture), and my baking time was just a little short, leaving the loaf a tad moist in the middle. Otherwise, not just a home run, but a grand slam 500 footer past the Ted Williams chair in Fenway Park (it marks the longest homer ever hit to right field).

All I can say is, try it. I'm already thinking of different recipes and shapes. The scales have fallen from eyes. It's a whole new world.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sandwich King Rules


My wife, daughter and I are devoted viewers of the "Next Food Network Star." Yes, one wonders how much is staged and whether the contestants have signed away their lives and future earnings. But we enjoy it nonethless.

None of the winners of recent years have done much. I've actually seen some of the competitors who didn't win end up with their own shows.

That may be about to change. I needed a break this morning from cleaning up the yard after Irene, so my wife suggested we watch this year's winner, Jeff Mauro, on his new show Sandwich King. It was excellent. He held my attention and I wanted to make the fish and chips that he made, which is saying something because I don't really like fish and chips. The recipe was appealing and easy, and I was especially interested in the cabbage and fennel slaw that he made as a side dish, as well as the homemade tartar sauce. Unfortunately, neither recipe is posted yet.

Jeff was entertaining, interesting and likable. My one criticism was that at times he got too goofy. The faux British accent didn't work and was a borderline painful to watch. I half expected him to turn into a foodie Dick Van Dyke and start singing a bad, over-the-top rendition of chim-chimney-chim-chim-cher-re. Drop it next time, dude.

That said, this guy might just become a big deal. I'd certainly tune again, something I can't say for Arti Party by last year's winner Arti Sequeria, although I liked her very much.

Will all hail the king? Let's see.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Azorean Delight

The family took a much-needed, too-short vacation last month to Rockport on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It was beautiful, so beautiful that we realized half way through watching "The Proposal" that the town's main drag stood in for the movie's too-cute-too-live Alaskan village.

What would Sarah Palin say?

That part of Massachusetts has a large Portuguese community most of which hails from the Azores, a group of islands about half way between Portugal proper and North America. Azoreans have been coming to southern New England since the whaling period and to this day dominate the area's commercial's fishing industry (what's left of it).

The first night in Rockport, we ventured to a place called the Azorean Restaurant & Bar in nearby Glouester (of "The Perfect Storm" fame). It was outstanding. We had a plate of tapas that included octopus, chorizo sausage, Azorean cheeses, sardines and beef. The only thing missing was the classic Portuguese kale soup.

We keep talking about going to the Azores for a vacation and even bought one of the few guidebooks available on the islands. Tony Bourdain did a great show there a few years ago.

Some day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Aussie Eats

This Aussie and his buddies went around the world in 44 days. Here's what he ate condensed into a one-minute video called "Eat" (if it's slow, turn off the HD). Brilliant.

Check out the other two videos, "Move" and "Learn." Lots of food in Learn as well.

When I see something like this, it restores my faith in humanity.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pickled Logic

The New York Times op-ed page had a wonderful piece this week about the history of pickles in America. Reformers and nativists once viewed them as a demon's dinner, unhealthy and dangerous. How, one might ask? Their spicy and sharp flavors made people agitated and emotional, rendering them unfit for democratic society, or so the pickled logic went.

According to the op-ed, food busybodies expressed horror that immigrant mothers fed such an infernal food to their children and even infants. In response, settlement houses, the social services of their day, sought to wean families from their native foods and get them to consume calming dishes like chowder.

Thank God they failed. I love pickles. They are one of my -- indeed America's -- favorite foods. I'm reminded of a classic "All in the Family" episode where Archie nixes the idea of Chinese food at Meatheat and Gloria's wedding, saying he wants something "American, like spaghetti."

A number of years ago, we took a culinary tour of the Lower East Side of Manhattan (throughout the tour, the guide kept saying, "Pretend all these Asian people aren't here and imagine the streets full of Italians, Jews, etc.)" We stopped at a legendary pickle place, one of the last remnants of the Jewish Lower East Side. They had easily a dozen varieties in big plastic barrels. The pickles were sublime, each variety a variation of crisp, brine, dill and garlic. A treat and half.

This story shows how America has changed and stayed the same. We remain hysterical at times about newcomers "failing" to become Americans, but food is no longer a focus. In fact, eating habits are one of the few ethnic characteristics that we encourage and celebrate.

So I guess at least we can be grateful that there's no campaign to ban baba ghanoush and hummus. Progress of a sort.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A SAD Story

Food writer Mark Bittman has a reasoned, fact-based and intelligent proposal for fighting obesity and diabetes in today's New York Times. He excoriates Big Food for peddling junk to Americans, especially children, dubbing American eating habits they created though marketing and government subsidies of corn and soybeans SAD, the "Standard American Diet."

Because Bittman's proposal is reasoned, fact based and intelligent, it has little to no chance of success.

Bittman's conclusion, which he backs up with copious data, is that soda and processed food are responsible for much if not most of the obesity epidemic. These trends in turn are inflating medical costs that are at the heart of the budget deficit and many of our economic problems, he points out.

His solution: Tax these food items to discourage consumption and use the proceeds to encourage better eating habits and subsidize the production of healthier foods. Sure the processed food industry and the Tea Partyers will scream, but the federal government exists to assure the common good. Reason and common sense will prevail, he writes.

If only it were so. We have a government and a political system so dysfunctional that one political party is about to purposely crash our economy to destroy its political opponents. The GOP has adopted an ideology as rigid and unrealistic as communism, the fantasy in the face of overwhelming countervailing evidence that markets solve all problems, budget reductions create jobs and tax cuts increase tax receipts.

The GOP's descent into un-reason and fairy tale reminds me of the late Soviet Union. Like the Soviets, the GOP is increasingly trapped by a failed ideology. Faced with failure, many Republicans, like the rotting Soviet hierarchy of the early 1980s, insist the solution is more of the same.

I give Bittman credit for trying. But until this fever of un-reason breaks his common sense ideas will go nowhere, and America will keep getting fatter and sicker.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Opening the Barn Door

No more do I write a post saying that what's most interesting about Connecticut is often hidden than the Hartford Courant runs a piece about preserving historic barns in the state. I've lived her all my life, grew up in a rural town with many old barns, but had no idea Connecticut had such a rich, diverse and historic inventory of barns.

This is a fascinating article that illustrates the depth and diversity of Connecticut's agricultural heritage. Here's a link to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation's historic barn project referenced in the article.

While the piece laments the loss of barns and farming, I am cautiously optimistic. I see a revival in micro-farming that is producing outstanding local vegetables and fruits, beef, eggs and poultry.

And there's another hidden Connecticut treasure. We have an increasing number of outstanding food producers.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gripes, Grapes and Hidden Connecticut

The lead on today's front page New York Times utterly miss-characterizes my native state:

"Think of Connecticut, and what comes to mind are the swells of Greenwich, the exurban good life of Litchfield County, the land of New England steady habits."
Volvos and Ralph Lauren, that's all we are. (sigh). The irony of this story is that the picture accompanying it undermines the lead. It's of the governor standing with mayors of three of the state's biggest cities, which are most certainly not bastions of high end Swedish cars and polo ponies.

This is the second time in less than week that I've been smacked in the face with false Connecticut stereotypes. Over the weekend, I attended a talk by the author Lisa See, and she told the audience how the first time she was going to come to Connecticut, she felt compelled to shop for an clothes specifically for her visit. The clear implication was that she needed to appear in a some sort of yachting outfit.

The joke fell flat.

Yes, parts of Connecticut do fit the image of mansions and bond traders. But much, if not most of the state is very blue collar and ethnic. Cities like New Haven, where I work, look more like Brooklyn than Brookfield. New Haven's schools, for example, enroll immigrants from more than 60 nations. Sorry, no polo ponies where I live. Just a lot of guys who speak fluent Fugitaboutit.

But in one sense this misconception is typical of the Nutmeg state. I've found over the years that most of what makes Connecticut interesting and unique is hidden or not widely known outside of its immediate area.

This is a food blog, so I'll cite as an example New Haven pizza or "apizza" as its locally called. The city has some of the best, oldest and most storied pizza restaurants in America. Ever hear of them? Probably not. It's always New York or Chicago that get all the ink.

The New Haven Register had another example earlier this week. It published an article about the a new book on the history of winemaking in Connecticut. Before Prohibition, there was a significant wine industry the state, which has revived in recent years. Some excellent wines are now produced in the state. Not a total surprise given that grapes are on the state flag.

Vineyards in Connecticut? Who would have thunk?

So the next time you think Connecticut is just people who curl their pinky when they drink tea, think again. If only we could get the Times to listen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gochujang: The Yeti of Asian Condiments

Being a fan of Mark Bittman, I had to try several of his recipes in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago.

The Beef Bolgogi was stupendous, tangy and flavorful. I pretty much followed the recipe, although I was a little short of scallions. A thunderstorm forced me to stir fry instead of a grill, but it was still excellent.

The recommended dipping sauce, gochujang, turned out to be as elusive as a live Elvis. Indeed, I can't help wondering if Bittman wasn't playing a joke on readers, like an old salt sending greenhorns in search of a left-handed monkey wrench. I scoured Asian food markets high and low without success, eventually going to one that specialized in Korean food. Even they looked at me like I had two heads.

Ah, gochujang, the Yeti of Asian condiments. It lives, so they say, but no confirmed sightings yet.

I also tried the Korean potato salad. Not successful. After blanching, the shredded potatoes and carrots were dead tasteless. It was like eating string. The dressing made the dish edible, but I wouldn't make it again.

In fairness, I may have overcooked the potatoes and carrots, but I'm skeptical of this one. Maybe the secret travels with the legendary gochujang.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Leftover Strawberry Sauce

It's strawberry season in Connecticut and the eating is stupendous. There's nothing like in season local strawberries: sweet, succulent and intensely flavorful. They put those tasteless rubber balls from Florida and California to shame.

Eating in season reminds you what makes a particular fruit or vegetable special. Corporate farming has provided us with year-round strawberries, but their taste is faint echo of the real thing. Yes, I buy them sometimes, but less and less. I'd rather wait for the real thing and savor it while it lasts.

With the season lasting three, four, at most five weeks, we gorge ourselves with strawberries this time of year. I hate to waste even a berry.

I was faced with that very prospect this weekend. I had a half basket left over from the previous week. They were on the verge, a little squishy, their favor fading. The solution: make a sauce-jam out of them.

I cleaned the berries, yielding a little under two cups, put them in a pot and crushed them lightly with fork. I added about an eighth of a cup of sugar and about a teaspoon of lemon, and put the heat on medium high. Once the berries released their juices, I turned to low for about 20 minutes.

The result was a not-to-sweet sauce with powerful strawberry flavor. My daughter and wife used most of it on the Norwegian pancakes they made for Sunday breakfast. My daughter finished the last few spoonfuls this morning at breakfast.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Better Bon Appetit

My new Bon Appetit magazine arrived in the mail the other day. I'm one of those Gourmet readers who got stuck with Bon Appetite when Gourmet closed a few years ago. The recipes were never as interesting or as good. I missed the lush photography and gauzy prose that made you want to jump in a car or hop on a plane to whatever food destination was profiled that month.

But two issues ago, the magazine suddenly got a lot better. In fact, it became more like Gourmet only more down to earth and less dreamy. The latest is especially good with some fantastic recipes I tried over the weekend.

I strongly recommend this one for a cucumber and tomato salad. A new farm I discovered had cucumbers and another farm I visit was selling pretty good Maine hothouse tomatoes. I topped it off with Greek Feta that I bought from the local Italian food shop. Bellissimo! The dressing actually came out well, which I find is rare.

I tried this pasta recipe from last month's issue. Again, very, very good. The cherry tomatoes were not the best, but they still had great flavor. I love the tip about using pasta water in the sauce. I skimped a little on the cheese, which I recommend against. The cheese is key.

What an irony. They kill off Gourmet and then a year or two later begin turning Bon Appetite into Gourmet. Another example of corporate brilliance.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Apocalypse Now Dinner

It was the Ride of the Valkyrie earlier this week, you know, the music they played when Col. Kilgore destroyed the village in "Apocalypse Now."

I had 30 minutes to prepare dinner and nothing defrosted. I did have chicken breasts that I'd poached the day before. I've made a recipe with poached chicken breasts, but didn't have most of the ingredients.

It was time to innovate. I felt like a contestant on Food Network's "Chopped."

I put on some rice (21 minutes) and cut broccoli crowns. I set the broccoli to steam for four minutes, about half our usual cooking time (my wife and daughter like broccoli very soft). I then julienned carrots and a red pepper. As I did so, I heated about two tablespoons of canola oil in my big, all-purpose pan.

As the pan heated, I measured about about a quarter cup of chicken broth, a tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine (dry sherry works as well) and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. I then sliced the chicken breasts into thin, approximate one inch squares.

When the pan was very hot, I dumped in all the vegetables. I stir-fried for about four minutes. The broccoli soften too much and started shedding its tops, so I couldn't stir-fry long enough to get a deep char on the vegies.

Once the vegies were soft and a little blackened, I dumped in the liquids, brought to a boil and added the chicken. I stir-fried about a minute, added salt and pepper and served.

Not the best or worst dish I've ever made. All in all, pretty good.

If I did it again, I'd steam the broccoli for a shorter period, maybe two minutes, so I could get vegetables blacker and perhaps add some sliced or minced garlic to the vegetables.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Requiem for a Friend

I found out about a week ago that Rick Lewis, the man who taught me more about wine than anyone I've known, died in March.

Rick was an amiable South African chemist who ran the Madison Wine Shop in Madison, Ct. Every Saturday, he held court at the back of his store, a huge grin across his face and as many as a dozen bottles of wine open before him ready for tasting. His one rule, an indeed a good one, was that you had to try everything.

What I loved about Rick was his lack of pretension. He firmly believed that a good wine could be had for $15 or less. He wasn't your stereotypical wine snob, looking down his nose at those who lacked his knowledge and expertise. He was the opposite, always eager to educate, always joyful to mint a new oenophile.

My wife and I loved his Rick's Picks newsletter, which was chock-o-blocked with unusual and interesting varieties. He introduced us to Argentine Malbecs, New Zealand whites, French Roses and Austrian dessert wines.

Here is one of the first wines we sampled at a Rick's tasting and still love:

And it's only $7.99, a steal. A little fizzy, it goes great with spicy food. I recall Rick recounting how he drank it for the first time with a spicy meal in Portuguese East Africa, today Mozambique, in about 1946. The label had not changed since, he said.

I will miss Rick tremendously. Here's to you Rick. If there's an afterlife, I hope you get to spend it tasting wine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Upton Sinclair, Eco-Terrorist

I'll never forget the putrid filth portrayed in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." Even 30-plus years after reading the book, I recall the description of a digit (or was it a limb?) going into the meat grinder and coming out as sausage.

Thank God this is all in the past, I thought when I read the book in high school in the 1970s.

Or not. The Jungle is making a comeback. Eggs that make you sick, hamburger made of pink slime, chicken unfit for human consumption, we read about it every day. If some state legislators have their way, we won't read about it any more. And anyone who exposes those conditions will be arrested and branded a criminal.

The New York Times today reports in an editorial that lawmakers in several agricultural states want to outlaw undercover video of abusive and unsanitary farm practices. Some have even gone so far as to call those who make such videos "eco-terrorists."

So if we know the truth about factory farming, the terrorists win.

I mean really. Is this what we've come to? Do we want to eviscerate the First Amendment to protect agribusinesses' right to poison us? As the editorial rightly points out, the only purpose of these bills is hide production of putrid and unwholesome food.

I guess Upton Sinclair had it all wrong. He was really just an eco-terrorist. Creation of FDA, laws prohibiting adulterated food, government inspections of meat packing plants, all bad ideas.

I'm not sure what to say. Is this really what where we want to go? Make ourselves sick to enrich a tiny group of agribusiness executives?

Sometimes I think we've gone insane.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wealthy Memories

My parents came for dinner last weekend, and the discussion turned to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I have blogged about this hugely important book before. I find the book especially interesting because my mother is from the part of Iowa Pollan profiles in the first section. She grew up during the 1930s and 1940s on a small, mostly subsistence farm (My grandfather was plumber who owned about 5 acres and periodically farmed another 80 or so he rented).

Pollan contrasted today's monoculture of corn and soybeans with the diversity of my mother's era when Iowa farms grew all sorts of fruits and vegetables and kept a menagerie of farm animals. After describing Pollan's book, I quizzed my mother on what the fruit our family grew when she was a child.

Four varieties of apples, she said. The only type she could remember were Wealthy, which she called a good eating apple. The Internet tells me that Wealthy apples were bred in the 19th century by the famous apple breeder Peter Gideon to survive Minnesota's harsh climate. I'm very curious if they still widely available in Iowa and Minnesota, but came up empty which leads me to suspect they rare today.

Then there were strawberries, huckleberries and currants. My mother didn't much care for the huckleberries, which I have never eaten. All this on five acres where they also grew corn, beans and had a cow, geese, chickens and pigs.

Today, it's all gone. Iowa farms are industrial operations that grow corn, soybeans and hogs for agribusiness. In the space of my mother's lifetime, our agricultural system has been transformed beyond recognition.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Champagne Puttanesca

I was making a puttanesca sauce last week when I suddenly realized I had no white wine, a key ingredient. The wine adds tang, balancing out the bite and saltiness of anchovies.

Crisis. What can I replace it with? I looked at my various vinegars (we're adding "acid" as they love to say on Food Network), but they were all too powerful.

I opened the fridge and perused. My eyes fell on a bottle of cheap Champagne that had been in there since God knows when. If it's not too sweet, it'll work, I thought. I took out the bottle, opened it and tasted: nice and dry.

I dumped it into the cooked-down onions, anchovies and garlic, brought to a boil and added the hand-crushed tomatoes. It worked brilliantly, even adding an extra tang to the sauce.

Not something I'd recommend doing with Moet, but it worked.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Salty Tale

"Lightly Salted" said the package of Roll Gold pretzels. Great. Always a good idea to cut down on salt, even though it's not a problem for me. So I tried them, and they did indeed taste less salty.

A few weeks later, the store was out of those pretzels. I began reading labels to find a replacement and discovered that Synder's Old Tyme had almost half the salt per serving as the "Lightly Salted" Roll Golds, 5 versus 9 percent of the daily recommendation.

What's up with that?

A few weeks later, the "Lightly Salted" Roll Golds were back in the store so I compared labels. The Roll Gold "Lightly Salted" have 9 percent of the daily recommended salt intake per 28 grams and the Synder's Old Tyme 5 percent per 30 grams. So the "regular" Old Tyme pretzels have about half the sodium per serving as the "lightly salted" Roll Gold.

Once again, your federal government working hand in glove with Big Food to fool you.

From now on, I'll be reading food labels with more than a grain of salt.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

23 Percent

That's how much the average American's calorie intake has increased since 1970, according to this fascinating graphic. No wonder we're blowing up like zeppelins. Let's hope we don't all end up like the Graf Zeppelin and blow up over New Jersey.

You can play with a moving bar on the graphic showing what parts of the American diet have increased and decreased over time. The biggest increases: sugar and fat. No surprise there.

I saw a photo not along ago from the early 1950s of a housewife surrounded by the groceries she purchased in a year. What a contrast if we did that today. Instead of eggs, flour, sugar, vegies and meat, she would be encased in fast food, pizzas, frozen dinners, and all manner of processed snacks, desserts, you name it.

A revolution brought to you by Big Food.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Onion Soup Revealed

I've never been a big fan of French onion soup. The layer of cheese was always too viscous and the onion pieces too thick and the taste too raw oniony.

A few weeks ago, friends served us a homemade version. Wow. What a revelation. The onions were beautifully rendered so that they were sweet but retained a subtle onion flavor. Instead of a brick of cheese, they topped the soup with toasted bread with a thin layer of Swiss cheese. The toast was placed in the bowl and soup ladled onto it, melting the cheese. A spectacular dish.

We asked for the recipe and for the third Sunday in a row, I'm making it for lunch.

Here is the recipe with some tweaks by me.

6 to 8 onions sliced thin

3 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil (the original called for 4 tablespoons of butter. I'm trying steadily less butter to see how much difference it makes).

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup of all purpose flour

4 cups homemade or low sodium chicken broth

4 cups homemade or low sodium beef broth

Rustic bread such as ciabatta

Slices of Swiss cheese

Melt the butter and heat the olive oil in a large pot over a low-medium heat. Once hot, add the sliced onions. It looks like a lot, but hold the phone. They will reduce by three-quarters or more.

Cover and saute the onions over a low-medium heat (I did a little over 3 on my electric stove. Keep in mind every stove and very pot is different) for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not allow to brown or burn.

Remove the cover, stir in salt and sugar and set temperature to low (A little over 1 on my stove). Saute without the lid for 90 minutes to 2 hours. As you near the end of the saute time, heat the broths in a separate pot.

When the 90 minutes to 2 hours are up, add 1/4 cup flour and stir continuously for 5 minutes. Then add the broths and simmer 45 minutes.

Toast bread, top with a slice of Swiss cheese, place in a bowl and pour in soup.

A fantastic dish and easy, easy, easy to make. It's just as good the second and third days, and it's a great use for old, good quality bread. This is a superb example of making something really fantastic with very simple ingedients.

A huge winner.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kicking Butz

Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's secretary of Agriculture, more than any one individual sparked creation of our current corporate-dominated food system.

Food prices spiked in the early 1970s, making them a political issue. I still remember the meat boycott of the early 1970s. Someone organized a nationwide meatless week to protest soaring prices. I remember my family eagerly signing up -- until we actually had to forgo meat for a week. We stuck to it, but it was a pretty bland and joyless week of eating.

In response, Butz introduced policies encouraging farmers to "get big or get out," undermining the family farm and encouraging the planting of commodity crops like corn fence row to fence row. That created the artificial corn and soybean surpluses which fed the explosion of agribusiness and processed food that in turn degraded our diet and jump-started our obesity epidemic.

All in day's work.

That said, like Dr. Frankenstein, Butz probably thought he was doing the right thing only to see his creation turn into a monster.

Fixing what Earl messed up is the goal of young Oregon farmers profiled in a fascinating New York Times article today. There's so much here to unpack. I will try:

YOUNG IDEALISTIC FARMERS: These young people are looking to farm the old fashioned way in rebellion against Butz's Get Huge-commodity crop philosophy, which at least theoretically ought to be the future. Our agricultural system has become so big farm-orientated, they can't find the equipment. They have to buy antique tractors because new ones are too large.

Can we really go back to this? Probably not completely. But any movement in this direction, anything that fights processed food and agribusiness is a good thing.

Even better, here are young people defining success and personal satisfaction in terms other material goods or money. That is a great thing.

LOST KNOWLEDGE: The article talks about how older farmers have forgotten basic skills and techniques. The youngsters have to search out and revive farming methods and knowledge plowed under by agribusiness.

You see the same thing in cooking. Families have forgotten how to cook basic things like mashed potatoes, cookies and pies.

I hate to be cynical, but whether Big Food did it on purpose or not, this serves their interests. If farmers don't know to farm, they are more dependent on agribusiness. If people don't how to cook, they buy mashed potatoes in a bag.

THE GRANGE: This group of young farmers has breathed new life into the local Grange as part of their effort to re-energize and reform farming.

The Grange was founded in the 19th century by small farmers fighting railroad and other monopolists who were threatening their way of life. It was key cog in the Populist Movement that helped lead the fight against moneyed power during the first Gilded Age.

How appropriate that these farmers are reviving the Grange as we try to fight our way of the second Gilded Age.

CORVALIS, OREGON: The farmers are near this town. I've never been there, but one of my friends when I lived in Reno almost 30 years ago had gone to college there and never tired of talking about what a special place it was. I'm happy to see it still is.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hot Toddy in the Old Town

What is a hot toddy anyway? The words conjure up southern gentlemen in seersucker sipping drinks on a veranda with Spanish moss-bedecked trees in the background. Or an elderly tippler assuring all that her ample intake is "strictly for medicinal purposes."

That medicinal purposes, it turns out, isn't bunk after all. My wife is suffering through a cold and having entered the coughing stage needed cough medicine. She sent me into the night for something with honey. I returned Robitussin. No good she said. Plus, I read the label. Your standard corporate witch's brew.

On the advice of Facebook friends, she decided try a home remedy, the fabled hot toddy. I returned the Robitussin and bought the key ingredient, honey. After reading several online recipes, she settled on on this one:

Heat 1 cup hot water and mix in 1 shot (she used brandy) with 1 tablespoon honey. Cut a slice of lemon and squeeze the rest into the mixture. Drop the lemon slice into the liquid. Cool a little, but be sure to drink hot.

It worked. She barely coughed all night. And I must say, having taken a nip, it was mighty tasty as well.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Apple of My Eye

I love apples. They've been one of my favorite foods since I was a kid. I used to eat an apple-cut-up-and-peeled each night before going to sleep. Part of my ritual was to drop the plastic bowl on the floor, producing a loud bang. With that, my parents knew I was going to sleep.

But apples -- like so much in our society -- have been commodified down to a few varieties chosen not for taste, but storage life and ease of production and transportation. As a result, one of the most diverse foods on earth has been reduced to only a dozen or fewer commonly available varieties.

The taste of even those has deteriorated over time. I remember the Red Delicious from the 1970s. They were outstanding, sweet and tasty. Over time, their appearance became ever more uniform and appealing -- bright red skin, perfectly proportioned shape -- but their taste all but vanished. Today, I find them inedible. They are a metaphor for so much in America today: Looks beautiful, but lacks substance and integrity.

So it was with immense interest and pleasure that I read an article in yesterday's New York Times about Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. who has dedicated his life to saving and reviving antique apple varieties. It's fascinating and I strongly recommend apple lovers read it.

I recently read a book my father gave me called "Cornered" about the stealth monopolization of most of our economy by a few big corporations. The author questions the fetish of "efficiency," arguing that the most "efficient" approach often leads to job destruction, dangerous over- dependence on one or two sources and loss of variety and choice.

Apples are an excellent example of the perils of "efficiency.". According to the Times article, there were 16,000 varieties of apples in the late 19th century in the United States. Today, there are 3,000 only a handful of which are widely available. Are we better off?

Obviously, we're not going back to 1895, nor would we want to. And de-centralizing apple production would mean higher costs. But it would also mean more variety, better taste and more jobs, especially the type that have real meaning and worth for those doing them and society at large.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mouthwashing our Taste Buds

A great column today on a new study linking diet soda to an increased risk of stroke.

The author makes the larger point that consumers, doctors and diet gurus avoid the core problem: We are addicted to sweetened drinks. Instead of suggesting that overweight people drink water or unsweetened beverages like tea, they tell them to switch to diet soda, an unholy concoction of chemicals and artificial coloring.

The author writes:

"The proliferation of diet soda cuts to the core of what's wrong with the Western diet. The Western approach is to remove the most obvious dangers from an unhealthy habit — in this case, removing the 12 teaspoons of sugar per can of fizzy water laced with acids, colors and flavors of uncertain origin — so that we can continue that habit in denial of other dangers.

"The underlying problem is that we are addicted to sugar; beverages without a sweetener now seem bland. For the first million years or so of pre-human and human existence, water was adequate to quench our thirst. But apparently no longer."

Let me be clear: I am not anti-sugar or even anti-sugary drinks, although I confine my consumption to stuff made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. I love Foxon Park Soda, which still uses sugar and is ironically much less sweet than big brand sodas. But everything in moderation. All you drink doesn't have to be sweet.

Yet another example of how Big Food has mouthwashed our taste buds. Fight the power. Drink unsweetened beverages!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Boil an Egg

Sounds easy. It's actually pretty tricky. I've been perfecting my technique for years.

My wife loves egg salad so I hard-boil a lot of eggs. She's often had problems shelling my hard-boiled eggs: the shards stick to the white.

So I checked some cookbooks and found a tip. Don't put the eggs in water and boil. Instead, bring the water to a simmer and lower the eggs into the water. The first time I tried it I made the mistake of dropping the ovals into the water. Bombs away! You guessed it. They cracked, bleeding white and clouding the water with rubbery wisps.

I tried again, this time using a small soup ladle to lower the eggs into the simmering water. This worked perfectly. After about 13 minutes (my wife likes her eggs pretty hard), they were perfect. And the shell no longer stuck.

I was egg-static.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"It's Our Secret"

Mmmm! Doesn't that look good!

Lewis Black was in a rare form a few nights ago on the Taco Bell meat lawsuit. As he says, when an old Italian lady tells you what's in her homemade marinara is a secret, that's okay. But when a billion dollar food conglomerate says the contents of of its "beef" are classified, that's a problem.

Watch the whole thing. Hilarious.

That said, I'm somewhat skeptical of this lawsuit because it was brought by class action lawyers. Those are the guys who send you occasional post cards telling you riches await if you just sign on as a plaintiff to their lawsuit. When ka-ching time comes, they get tens of millions, and you get a check for 50 cents.

Still, what these lawyers allege -- just 36 percent of the "meat" in a Taco Bell taco is meat -- is disturbing. Disturbing, but not surprising. I mean, let's get real guys. It's Taco Hell. What do you expect?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Food Manifesto

I was deeply disappointed to read Mark Bittman's farewell "Minimalist" column last week, but consoled that he would begin a new column focused on government food policy, agricultural subsidies, agribusiness, obesity and the politics of food -- the high cost of cheap food, if you will.

His inaugural column in today's Times hit it out of the park. In 600 or 700 words, he sums up the problems with our food system and offers common sense solutions.

Only one problem. This system has made certain companies -- ConAgra, Cargill, ADM -- fabulously wealthy and powerful. And they will fight a Stalingrad-like, scorched earth battle to defend government policies and subsidies that have made them richer than Midas.

I found it ironic that today's Times also had a story about the FDA denying approval for a anti-obesity drug, prompting some experts to warn "that the action could further discourage, or even kill, efforts by pharmaceutical companies to develop medicines for obesity, one of the nation’s largest health problems."

Let me get this straight. First, federal policies encourage agribusiness to flood America with cheap, unhealthy, fattening processed food, helping create an obesity epidemic. The solution to this crisis isn't to change the policies that created it -- heavens no. The solution is to have a second set of corporations create drugs to "treat" obesity. So pharmaceutical companies get to make a fortune "curing" the obesity crisis that the food industry created -- all at government expense (Medicare and Medicaid would be huge buyers of such drugs). Everybody wins -- except you and me.

This is capitalism? Sounds more like corporate socialism to me. When the tea partiers start to complain about stuff like this, I'll believe they are a genuine movement instead of a bunch of shills and dupes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baking Fool

Yet another snow day today, so I spent the morning baking. I started with the potato rosemary bread above. The potato imparts a silky smooth texture, while the rosemary gives a cool kick, just right for a midwinter's day.

Here's the recipe:

2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup mashed potato
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or to taste
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 cups warm water.

Mix the dry ingredients, add mashed potato, water and olive oil and form into a ball. Kneed for about 10 minutes adjusting flour so the dough is tacky, but not sticky. Once the dough is elastic and smooth, form into a ball, put into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, an hour to 90 minutes.

Next, remove the dough onto a lightly floured counter and punch down. Shape dough as best you can into a rectangle and using the back of your hand press it out to about half inch thickness retaining the rectangular shape as much as possible. Then roll the dough into a loaf and put in an oiled pan. Let rise until the dough crests or nearly crests over the top of the pan, an hour to 90 minutes.

Just before baking, paint about a tablespoon of olive oil on the top. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a preheated 400 degree F oven.

As the bread rose, I made spice muffins. Not too sweet, but exploding with flavor. It's like a spice party in your mouth. And good for you. My wife eats them for breakfast:

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything."

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup of sugar or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup raisins (organic if possible. Makes a difference) or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds (toasted or raw) or to taste
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground clove
1 cup of 1 percent milk or full milk if you prefer
1 egg
3 tablespoons of canola oil or other fat. If using meltedbutter, cool before adding so as not to cook egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients. Add canola oil and egg to milk and whisk until well combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in liquid. Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the liquid, rotating bowl as you go. Do not over mix. You want it lumpy and just hydrated.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin and dollop in about 1/4 cup of dough into each cup handling the mixture as little as possible. Put in oven for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

After the muffins came out, I figured what the heck, let's keep going. I need bagels too. Chewy, dense and flavorful. The raisins suffuse the roundels with a sweetness that compliments the cinnamon kick. I eat one every morning for breakfast:

Here's a link to my recipe for cinnamon raisin bagels.

For all you Zappa fans, you guessed right. This was my inspiration for this post's title.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Citrus Pies

We are in a deep freeze up here in Connecticut. The temperature has barely peaked above freezing since New Year's, and we've been inundated with snow. More than a foot fell about two weeks ago, and it's still here, plus another three or four inches. They're predicting six to 10 more today.

For all you global warming deniers, sadly no (FYI, this newspaper is the most conservative in Britain). In fact, colder, snowier winters in places like New England and the UK are in line with global warming scenarios.

So how to liven the spirits in the midst of whiteout? How about a blast of citrus! Lemons and key limes evoke swaying palm trees, balmy temperatures, sunglasses and bikinis on the beach.

With this in mind, I made a key lime and a lemon meringue pie in the last week. A bag of key limes was just $1.99 in the supermarket. It took the entire bag to get the required 1/3rd of a cup of juice. I had to resqueeze the entire lot coaxing out every last drop.

The result was excellent, although I over-whipped the meringue. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture.

Pictured above is my attempt at lemon meringue pie, the first I've ever made. Not as good. I used a regular pie crust and in spite of weighing it down with beans, it lifted off the pie plate during the pre-bake. The crust was okay, but turned stale quickly. I'd do a graham cracker next time.

Both recipes were from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," but formulas for both pies are pretty standard and any good food website will have them.

For both pies, I was confounded as to what qualifies as "stiff" or "nearly stiff" egg whites. Both times I went too far.

This video answered my questions. Should have watched before I whipped. Duh!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rise, Rise, Rise, Let it Rise

This is what I should have titled this post.

For all you other children of the 1970s, here is the inspiration. Bachman-Turner Overdrive throwing it into fifth.

A Grain of Salt

Wal-Mart is announcing today that over the next five years it will reduce sodium and transfat in foods it sells as well as lower prices for healthier foods and open more stores in low income areas.

I take it all with a grain of salt. These are at best baby steps, and five years is a long time.

The New York Times article correctly points out that reducing sodium is the biggest challenge because it alters taste. I can personally attest to that. Over the last year, we have significantly reduced our salt intake. For example, I now buy low salt crackers and unsalted peanuts. At first, they seemed tasteless. But over time, I found that one's taste buds adjust and you start to actually taste what you are eating. The wheat flavor of the crackers and the natural taste of peanuts were a revelation. If I eat a regular cracker now, all I taste is salt.

Which is why Big Food uses mountains of the stuff. Dump in enough sodium and asphalt will taste good.

I'm glad Wal-Mart has agreed to make its food healthier, but we are still just eating at the corners of the problem. The best way to reduce sodium and transfat is to cook at home so you control what goes into what you eat. It's also cheaper. I'm skeptical whether Con-Agra or Wal-Mart's business models, which depend on selling value-added, highly processed food, can be part of that solution.

But Rome wasn't built in a day. As incremental as this is, it's still a step forward. Let's hope this is only the start.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let it Rise

I've been tinkering with my bagel recipe. My basic formula works, but I've grown increasingly dissatisfied with the flavor and texture.

So I decided to let my dough rise before forming into bagels. I figured two hours, but after about 90 minutes the mass had doubled in size and threatened to rip the plastic wrap from the bowl. I punched it down, cut it into pieces and formed bagels. I was going to make them then and there except that a TV show I wanted to watch was about to start. So I spritzed the tops with spray oil, covered with plastic wrap and stuck the rounds into the fridge.

As I've written before, I'm not crazy about the overnight retard (or should I say, developmental disable) in many bagel recipes. It makes the bagels too airy for my taste. But an hour or two? I figured that might produce a less dense but still chewy interior and more taste.

After about two hours, I took the bagels out of the fridge, did a boil and shoved them in the oven. I also put a pan of water on a rack at the top of the oven to encourage a crispier crust.

Oddly, the bagels took longer to bake, perhaps because they were cold when they went into the boil, about 25 to 30 minutes instead of the usual 20.

The result was superior. The bagels had a hard crust as opposed to relatively soft outside from my earlier recipe. They had better flavor and a lighter, but still chewy inside.

In sum: Let the dough rise until it doubles and then retard in the fridge for about two hours. I suspect a slightly longer retard -- say three hours -- might produce and an even better bagel. The key, at least to my taste, is producing more flavor while not allowing the insides to get too fluffy.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sandwich Innovation

My daughter, confronting a somewhat empty fridge, decided last week to make herself a sandwich. Sounds like no big deal, except that she doesn't eat sandwiches. With a few exceptions -- garlic bread, very good French bread, crispy pizza crust -- she's not a bread eater.

Rummaging around the kitchen, she found Italian bread and buttered and toasted it. She then mixed leftover roast chicken with scallions, salt and pepper and spread it on the bread. Finally, she shaved Peccorino Romano cheese and layered the windowpane slices onto the chicken mixture.

She gave me a bite. It was excellent.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Julie and Julia Revisited

I loved this movie. All three of us did. So of course we watched when it was on last night. It was like ordering delicious dish you've had before. Just as tasty, although missing the delight of discovery.

On second viewing, I was struck by the stark contrasts between Julie and Julia, contrasts that illustrate how society has changed in the last 60 years. Julia's ambition is to cook and write. Her goal is to excel, to impart the knowledge she has acquired and to please those who eat her food. A $250 advance excites her. Simply holding the finished book in her hands is a moment of profound happiness and satisfaction. She laughs at the idea of being on TV.

Julie clearly has a passion for food, but her goal from the start is "success," which in today's America means fame and money. Julia Child's cookbook is a vessel into which she pours all her dreams, ambitions and anxieties. Her project is less an end in and of itself than a means for self-expression, self-fulfillment and -- I don't want to be too harsh, but let's be honest -- self-aggrandizement. In spite of her insecurities and meltdowns, she believes she's special. If her husband told her she should be on TV, she would dismiss it, but more in the manner of "Deep down, I agree, so please telling me over and over."

Her husband observes that blogging is all about her, her, her and laments how the project has come to consume and define their lives. Paul, by contrast, takes pleasure and pride in her wife's commitment to excellence -- an excellence that is a form of love he partakes of every day.

The movie glosses over these differences, wanting to portray both women on parallel journeys of self discovery. But Julia and Julie are actually on different paths. Julia's goal is to master an art. Julie's is to be famous.

I'm being a little unfair. Both women are products of their times. I still think this is a great movie, and I admire Julie for cooking all the recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." But the film also unwittingly highlights how our society has gone from extolling mastery of a subject, skill or craft to extolling the use of such things to acquire fame and money.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lentils and Rice

Yesterday, I made the lentils and rice recipe accompanying Mark Bittman's recent New York Times op-ed. It was, at best, a modest success.

The recipe has shortcomings, beginning with the instruction to use "a large saucepan." Scratch that. You need a big pot. I started with a medium-to-large saucepan, and soon realized it was too small. The vegies and pancetta didn't brown enough because there wasn't enough cooking surface.

I thought I'd get away with the smaller saucepan until I added the lentils. They with the other contents filled the vessel more than halfway. I knew the lentils would double in size, exploding the lid off the saucepan. I had no choice but to transfer to a large pot, costing me significant flavor.

Another problem was Bittman's vague instructions on heat levels. I guessed a low boil and covered. I figured 30 minutes, adding a cup of white rice (I'm not a brown rice fan. Tastes like straw to me) after 10 minutes. A half hour passed and I tasted: a little crunchy, although most of the liquid had been absorbed. In short, the heat was too high.

I lowered the temperature, added a cup of water and cooked another 10 minutes. Still a touch hard, so I repeated. Another 10 minutes and it was done.

The result was not bad, if a little bland. I went too easy on the salt on the assumption the pancetta would provide seasoning. It didn't, although that may be because I had to transfer to another cooking vessel. I would add salt and try bacon next time.

On the upside, the yield was huge, easily seven to eight servings, it reheats well and it's filling. If you are looking for a cheap, nutritious lunch, this is your ticket.

In sum: use a larger pot, add a generous amount of salt and simmer instead of boil.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stirring the Pot

How many times has this happened to you? You have a pot. You need to stir. But you also need to chop, peel or bash. Or the cat wants in. Or the kids are fighting in the family room. What's a cook to do?

Here's your solution: the Autonomous Stirrer. Check out this video. I love the stirring music (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) more appropriate for a moon landing or a Lombardi-era Packers tribute film.

I saw this advertised on TV the other night and was a agog. Could they really be serious? Does anyone really this? Plus, the thing looks like the lunar lander, only creepier. Its rhythmic, automatic oscillation was Hal9000ish (I'm sorry Chris, but I can't let you stop stirring now. This sauce is too important for me to let you intervene).

That said, I don't make a lot of sauces, except tomato ones that require little stirring. And the reviews are actually pretty positive.

So who knows, if you make a lot of sauces, this gadget may be for you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Devilishly Delicious

Breakfast has always been a struggle for my daughter. She has to have it. We insist. But she just doesn't like traditional breakfast foods.

Over the years, I have fed her everything from baked potatoes (nuked in the microwave) to rice with soy sauce to spaghetti (one of her favorites any time of day). None of them have been a big hit.

Which brings me to Eggs in Purgatory. Sounds ominous. Are they eggs that have sinned too much to go to heaven, but not enough not to go to hell? How could an egg sin? Shattering on impact? Having a too runny or too hard a yoke?

None of the above. Eggs in Purgatory is an Italian-American dish consisting of hand-crushed canned tomatoes, onions, salt, red pepper flakes, eggs and Peccorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. This is classic Italian-American cooking: simple, cheap and delicious.

I'd never made it until Thanksgiving eve when we needed a snack. I pulled out a recipe, threw it together and gave it to my daughter. She loved it. Couldn't get enough of it. Demanded more.

I agree. It's a great dish, eggs poached in a tangy tomato sauce with a little cheese on top. If St. Peter tasted this, he'd go right to heaven.

Since then, it has become her preferred breakfast. She eats it most mornings before school, scarfing down every bite.

Here's the recipe:

A tablespoon or two of olive oil
A quarter of a medium onion chopped into small to medium pieces
About 3/4rds of a cup of hand-crushed canned tomatoes (I recommend imported Italian)
A pinch of salt and red pepper flakes
Two eggs
Peccorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a small pan on medium low to medium, depending on your stove. When hot, saute onions until soft, but not brown -- about four minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Crack eggs into the tomatoes, turn down heat slightly and cover for three and a half to four minutes depending on how soft you like your yokes. Remove from the heat, grate on cheese and serve.

200 Posts

Yesterday was my 200th post since starting this blog two years ago. Thank you to my loyal readers, few though you may be.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Yes You Can

If the average Americans spends 35 hours a week watching TV, he or she has time to cook.

That's the message of Mark Bittman's Sunday New York Times op-ed in which he dismantles the standard excuses for not cooking (no time, too expensive, too much bother). To illustrate his point, he provides three simple recipes (see links in a box on the left side of the article) that can serve as the basis for an endless variety of quickly prepared dishes.

Who tells Americans they have no time to cook? Big Food. It's a common theme in their advertising. We'll do for you! In doing so, they addict consumers to overpriced, over-salted, fatty food containing a lab's worth of unpronounceable chemicals.

Yes you can cook at home. It's cheaper, healthier and tastes better.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blackout Cardamon Bread

I read somewhere that culinary innovations often result from accidents or mistakes. I had just such an experience last week.

At about 9:30 last Sunday night, in the midst of the worst blizzard in recent memory, our power went out. With the wind gusting up to 50 miles an hour, it was clear that the electricity wasn't coming back on any time soon.

What to do with the cardamon bread that I'd lovingly mixed, kneaded, braided, allowed to rise and was about to put into the preheated oven? Lost cause, I figured, casualty of the storm.

Then it hit me. It was all of 25 degrees outside, well below freezing. Put the dough outside and see what happens. So I packaged the loaf in plastic wrap and tin foil, opened the back door and tossed the bread into the snow.

There it sat for the next 18 hours. Yes, that's how long it took to get power back. With our furnce disabled, the temperature inside the house plunged to 47 degrees. We wrapped ourselves in triple layers of clothing and fled under the blankets in a losing battle to stay warm. After multiple calls to the utility and a plea to the First Selectman's office, power was finally restored around 3 p.m.

With the house slowly reheating, I retrieved the cardamon bread, now buried in snow. Amazingly, it was not entirely frozen. I heated the oven and put in the half-thawed bread.

The result: the best loaf I've ever made. The bread was fluffier, but still pleasantly dense with a richer, deeper flavor. My guess is retarding the rise made all the difference.

Clearly, freezing or putting the dough in the fridge overnight develops greater flavor and texture. I will have to try both methods. At least the blackout was good for something.