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141 posts categorized "Food and Drink"

November 21, 2009

The Big Fat Undertaking: Blogger to cook through Blumenthal's "Fat Duck" cookbook

Hats off to a blogger in the Netherlands who is cooking his way through Heston Blumenthal's bible of molecular gastronomy, the Fat Duck Cookbook. He's documenting his culinary odyssey at The Big Fat Undertaking.

One of the early recipes he tried was grapefruit and crisp candied beets lollipops in edible transparent wrappers. He did very well, especially considering he didn't have the refractometer that Blumenthal recommends for making the candy.

September 14, 2009

Remembering the godfather of Green Revolution

Joe Pastry, one of my favorite food bloggers, remembers Norman Borlaug, a plant scientist and Nobel Laureate whose work on crop yields saved untold numbers of people from starvation. He died this weekend at the ripe old age of 95:

This weekend the world, very quietly, lost its greatest humanitarian. And I mean that literally. Superlatives like "greatest humanitarian" come cheap nowadays. Heck someone probably used the term on the podium at the MTV Awards last night. However I'm pretty sure no one in attendance there had really saved more lives than any human being in the history of the world. That was Norman Borlaug.

Who was Norman Borlaug? Well may you ask, since virtually no one recognizes his name anymore. Norman Borlaug was a poor Iowa farm boy who grew up during the depression. He spent his entire life finding ways to feed the world's poorest peoples. It's thanks to him that true famines don't exist on Earth anymore. Or at least not naturally-occurring famines. There are still plenty of politically-manufactured famines on Earth (Ethiopia, Durfur), but those are a topic for another day.

Borlaug is famous for developing semi-dwarf strains of wheat and rice, which increased yields six-fold. The head of the UN World Food Program remembered him as one of the great champions in the fight against hunger.

August 31, 2009

Michael Pollan: Farmers trump healthcare reform

Foodie guru Michael Pollan says he won't join the boycott of Whole Foods markets, even though he disapproves of CEO John Mackey's attempts to kill healthcare reform. Because the self-proclaimed "ethicurean" can't bear to forgo golden raspberries?

Not exactly. In a post on the conservative New Majority blog, Pollan argues that Whole Foods' support for farmer trumps the CEO's views on health care. On a personal level, Pollan says he hopes that health care reform will be a force for reform in the food system because when health insurers have to cover everyone, they will be motivated to push for prevention: If insurers had to cover everyone with type 2 diabetes, they'll want to make sure the food supply isn't creating more type 2 diabetics.

Yet, he's not bothered by the fact that Mackey is crusading to let insurers pick and choose which conditions to cover:

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying. [WSJ]

If you're an insurer, it's way cheaper, and more reliable, to refuse to cover type 2 diabetes than it is to lobby for fresh, local, sustainable food. 

Pollan accepts the premise that consumers should use their buying power to push for social change, he just assigns a lower priority to healthcare reform than he does to farmers' markets. This is dismaying because justice for workers is supposed to be a core component of his vision for a new food policy.

Lack of access to affordable healthcare is the single biggest issue of distributive justice facing America today. Insurers rake in billions by charging more and more to cover less and less. Ever-rising healthcare costs are cutting into workers' standards of living.

The profit-driven insurance industry is screwing management as well as labor. Our employer-based health insurance system is a drag on the entire economy. American companies are less competitive because employers foot the bill for insurance instead of the government.

Mackey and Pollan are being astonishingly short-sighted. Ultimately, the gastro-industrial complex persists because it delivers cheap food. If we got real reform, more consumers could afford a healthier and more sustainable diet (perhaps even from Whole Foods).

Correction: In an earlier version of this post I mistakenly wrote "farmer's markets" instead of "farmers."

January 22, 2009

D.C. Food Blogging

I've been in DC for a little over two weeks and I've been exploring some of the restaurants in my neighborhood.

Great Wall Szechuan, 1527 14th St NW (at Church St.)

Ezra really likes Great Wall Szechuan, but I was disappointed.

I ordered off the special numbingly hot menu, as directed. I ordered the mapo tofu without meat and the spicy cold noodle appetizer. The sheer amount of Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil they were willing to put in these dishes commanded my respect. Great Wall doesn't pander. Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy the food that much because the flavors were unbalanced. Good mapo tofu is supposed to have a certain amount of tang and a slight sweetness to offset the chili, but this tofu was just soft and white and greasy with a few wilted green onions floating on top. The sauce should coat the tofu. This bean curd was just sitting in the oil, quivering.

The tofu came with a brick-like carton of steamed rice.

I knew I wasn't going to like the second dish as soon as I saw that the noodles were industrial yellow. The noodles were slightly thinner than udon with a slight wave to them, as I expected they were pretty tasteless. They were dressed with ample bright red oil, Sichuan pepper, red pepper flakes, black vinegar, and very fresh beansprouts. There might have been soy in there too. There was some overwhelmingly salty ingredient, but I couldn't determine what, and so many chili flakes that the noodles were unappealingly gritty.

On the upside the "appetizer" portion of the noodles was entree-sized and the tofu portion was equally generous. So, it was enough for three or four meals for 15 bucks, and they delivered promptly.

I'd give this place another chance.

Oohhs and Ahhs Soul Food, 1005 U St NW (At 10th St. NW)

Not the cleanest restaurant in the world and the atmosphere is kind of dismal, but the food is delicious. Actually, Oohhs and Aahhs is more of a lunch counter or a takeout joint than a restaurant, though there is seating upstairs. They automatically pack the components of your meal into separate styro-foam containers. I had a really good boneless fried chicken breast served with two sides. I chose the baked macaroni and cheese. The noodles were soft and buttery with a mildly tangy curds of cheddar cheese. The pureed yams were bright orange, heavily spiced, and too sweet even for dessert. I couldn't eat them. Sixteen dollars is on the pricey side for that kind of fare, but the portions are generous enough to feed two adults and the individual containers make it convenient to take the food home to share.

The food was good, but the service was unfriendly and the guy screwed up my order and tried to tell me I hadn't ordered it properly. I probably wouldn't go back.

Marvin, 2007 14th St NW (At U St. NW)

I went for brunch at this Belgian/Soul Food restaurant and left feeling wistful and ripped off. According to the menu in the window, they were about eight dollars on the brunch menu. When I sat down, they showed me a different menu where the grits were about five dollars more expensive. I was already committed to this venture, so I chose to order them anyway.

I have to say, they were hands down the best shrimp and grits I've ever eaten, or probably ever will eat. There were about five small, sweet seared shrimp with their tails on arranged on top of a little mound of dense coarsely ground white cheese grits. That was it, though. No garnish, no sides, no juice, no coffee, no nothing. Maybe it's a New York thing, but I'm used to brunch being a package deal. I'm not a big eater, but I left Marvin feeling hungry.

If I could afford to, I would go back, but that's not happening unless I quit my job and become a lobbyist.

Dahlak, 1771 U St NW (Btwn Florida Ave & 17th St NW)

This Eritrean restaurant was a great find. I ordered the hamili dinish, which is a dry spinach and potato and carrot stew. It's served on a metal platter on top of big flat injera bread. Injera like a giant spongy blini. You tear off pieces of the bread to scoop up the veggies, and the delicious little side salad. The side salad was shredded romaine, fresh tomato cubes, red onions, and fresh jalepenos. The dressing tasted like bottled Italian, but for whatever reason, bottled Italian dressing goes amazingly well with jalepeno. All this, and a second tortilla-sized injera on the side for $7.85. I left with enough leftovers for at least one more meal.

I will definitely go back.

January 16, 2009

What's in your Room 101?

The contents of my Room 101 could be summed up in three words: "live maggot cheese."

December 23, 2008

The physical chemistry of making fudge

Chocolate Fudge Cubed, originally uploaded by ZakVTA.

A little science to enhance your holiday confections: The Physical Chemistry of Making Fudge.

December 10, 2008

Favorite cookbooks

Ezra compiled a list of his favorite cookbooks, just in time for holiday shopping.

Here are my favorites from my embarrassingly large collection. These are real workhorses that I use all the time. I tend to prefer cookbooks with extended discussions of ingredients and techniques.

The Joy of Cooking, 1997. It know, it's fashionable for foodies to dis the later editions of Joy--because they've eliminated the recipes for whale and squirrel and because they have only 3/5ths as many recipes for scalloped potatoes as previous editions.

The Joy's basic flaky pie crust recipe is still unsurpassed when you make it by hand with lard. Great pancakes, great baking powder biscuits, and foolproof advice for cooking live crustaceans.

Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. The enchilada and ceviche recipes are outstanding.

Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sahni. Highlights: Chickpeas with tamarind, chickpeas with tomato and onion gravy.

The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. The turkey stuffing recipe is the best I've ever tasted. I never even liked stuffing before I tried this version. Try the butternut squash soup and the pad thai recipes.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Yoshiki Tsuji. Worth buying for the discussions of bonito and seaweed based broths alone. Sounds weird, but trust me. Your Japanese dishes will start tasting a lot more Japanese. Good recipes for ponzu sauce, fish baked in salt, and other delicacies.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Favorite recipes: Pink shrimp sauce with cream, tomato sauce with carrots, onions, and celery in olive oil, and simple tomato sauce with onion and butter.

Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer. Contains quite simply the best pizza dough recipe I've ever tried. Good advice on techniques for replicating artisan bakery style breads with a home oven and instant yeast.

Like Ezra, I can't say enough good things about Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. The ma bo tofu is a standout.

November 18, 2008

Tips for cooking turkey

Ezra's talking turkey on his new food blog, The Internet Food Association.

I gather from Facebook and listerv chatter that many of my peers are going to be cooking their first turkeys this Thanksgiving. Here's what I've learned so far.

1. Always brine your turkey.  Let it defrost in the refrigerator for a couple days first, though. Don't try to brine a Butterball turkey.

2. Avoid salmonella. Keep the bird cold at all times and take care to clean up any splashed or spilled brine.

3. The fancy food magazines never warn you about this, but the first law of Thanksgiving is that refrigerator space will be at a premium. You don't want a turkey in a vat of saltwater monopolizing that real estate.

The best brining receptacle is  a large beer cooler topped off with ice. Close the lid and put it in the garage or another cool place. Replace the ice periodically if it seems to be melting.

4. Optional: After brining, pat the bird dry with paper towels and let sit in your fridge on a wire wrack, loosely draped with plastic wrap for several hours. The air-drying ensures crisp skin.

5. Don't rely on a recipe to tell you how long to cook your turkey. Every bird and every oven will be different. Older cookbooks systematically over-estimate the amount of time it takes to cook a turkey. Agribusiness has literally remodeled turkeys over the years. 

Buy a Polder probe thermometer.

Insert the probe into the thickest part of the thigh, roast to 165 degrees. Don't let the probe touch the bone because bone conducts heat, which will throw off your reading.

You can set the thermometer to beep when the turkey's done.  (It shouldn't take all day.)

6. What I'm about to say sounds heretical, but stay with me: Don't  cook the stuffing inside the turkey. Instead, fill the body cavity with a quartered raw onion, an quartered cored apple, half a lemon, and fresh herbs.

Cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish. This is partly a safety issue and partly an aesthetic consideration. Since the stuffing contains raw turkey juice, it must be cooked as thoroughly as the bird itself. But by the time your stuffing is hot enough not to poison elderly and immunosuppressed guests, your breast meat will be desiccated.

7. You may be wondering: How will the stuffing taste like turkey if I don't bake it inside the bird?

Use turkey stock as the liquid in your stuffing. When you buy your turkey, buy several pounds of detached turkey parts and make a brown stock with them. Don't salt the stock. You can complete this step in well in advance and freeze the stock until you're ready to use it.

Cook your stuffing in a chafing dish and baste regularly with turkey stock and, if desired, drippings from the bird itself as it cooks.

If you bake your Thanksgiving stuffing separately, you will have a clean carcass for making the turkey stock for Christmas dinner.

8. Having plenty of good, concentrated turkey stock on hand dramatically reduces  stress when it comes time to make gravy. Remember, gravy is just thickened brown stock. There's no law that says that all the pan juices have to come from the same bird.

A lot of the best turkey recipes call for high heat, and sometimes the pan drippings will burn. Don't worry about it.

If you have stock, swirl some of it to lightly deglaze the roasting pan, to give the gravy more color. But don't feel obliged to scrape down the real char.

Even if the pan drippings don't burn, you don't always get enough to make gravy for a crowd. Good turkey stock will stretch the drippings.

9. If you're using drippings from a brined turkey, always taste the gravy before you add more salt.

November 03, 2008

Roy Brown: I am not and have never been a vegetarian

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown indignantly denies being a vegetarian and accuses Democrats of promulgating a smear campaign against him:

"I am not and have never been a vegetarian," Brown said. "I am disgusted by the baseless allegation that I am a vegetarian and that my personal eating habits should somehow be construed as opposed to the economic interests of Montana's livestock industry."[Billings Gazette]

Brown admits that he and his family temporarily cut down on meat and dairy products 25 years ago, but only because they were caring for a dying relative who couldn't tolerate these delicacies.

October 27, 2008

Crab Cakes VECO (now with recipe)

Crabcakes VECO, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


A recipe I made to celebrate the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens on seven counts of fraud today.

VECO is the name of the oil services company that got caught bribing Stevens. The name of the dish is my way of thanking them for taking Stevens out of service.

Recipe, by popular demand.


1 16-oz can pasteurized crabmeat (don't use regular canned crab)

1 beaten egg

Shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper and black sesame seasoning mix) to taste

3-5 Tbs lightly toasted white breadcrumbs

2 small shallots, minced

2 Tbs minced chives

1 Tbs Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp salt

All purpose flour for dredging

Canola or other neutral-tasting oil for pan-frying


1) Whisk together egg, spice powder, salt, and mustard in a medium bowl.

2) Open the can of crab and drain off any excess liquid, but don't rinse it.

3) Carefully pick the crab apart with your fingertips and scatter half of it it over the egg mixture. Try to leave some large chunks for texture.

4) Scatter the chopped shallots and chives over the crab.

5) Very gently combine the ingredients with your fingers, by scooping down picking up some ingredients and letting them fall back into the bowl.

6) Add the rest of the crab. I alternate the ingredients to make sure everything gets mixed together thoroughly.

7) Start adding the breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, keep mixing. Stop adding breadcrumbs when the mixture just holds together. You may have breadcrumbs left over.

8) Divide the mixture into quarters and shape each into a hockey-puck-sized disk.

9) Place crab cakes on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

10) Dredge each crab cake in flour and pan fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the flip side. (Watch carefully, these are very approximate cooking times.)

11) Drain on paper towels.

12) Serve with capers, grainy mustard, and mayonnaise.