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.