Maine Attraction

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Maine, to the outsider’s view, seems as food-conscious right now as California. (The Winter/Spring issue of Maine Policy Review, devoted to food and with a very cool cover, is 250 pages, some of which are even worth reading.) Of course it’s all whom you talk to, but it sure was easy enough to meet people who wanted to talk food. (And that, as we know, is happening everywhere, increasingly. Good.)

I was encouraged to come up by Ingrid Bengis-Palei, who’s been supplying top chefs in New York and elsewhere with Maine scallops, lobsters, sea urchins and more, for more than 20 years. (She has kept FedEx profitable.) I first encountered her name when Eberhard Müller was chef at Le Bernardin; that, I think, was in 1988. (Eberhard and I went scalloping that winter on Nantucket, not because we were afraid of Maine but because we were after bay scallops, not the huge sea scallops for which Maine is justifiably known.)

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Posted in Farming, Travel

New Farmers in an Unlikely Place

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North Haven, Me.

When Brenna Chase was farming in Connecticut a few years back, new farmers weren’t always welcome by oldsters. The pie, she says, just wasn’t big enough. “But now,” she said to me here, where she now farms, “the feeling is that the pie is getting bigger and that the more people that get into this the better it will be for everyone.”

By “this,” she means sustainable farming (here I use the term interchangeably with “organic” because many ethical farmers can’t afford organic certification), and the poised 33-year-old, who began farming in high school, is representative of young people I’ve met all over the country. These are people whose concern for the environment led to a desire to grow — and eat — better food. And although chefs still get more attention, the new farmers deserve recognition for their bold and often creative directions.

(Read the rest of this article here.)

Posted in Farming, Travel

Zucchini Risotto

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By Freya Bellin

I had always assumed that risotto was difficult to make—and that by some magical gift only chefs were able to turn measly rice into something rich and creamy. Yet it turns out that risotto, aside from needing a lot of attention, is actually pretty easy to prepare. This one is untraditional in that it uses a short grain brown rather than the standard Arborio, but I hardly noticed the flavor difference at all. It was still starchy and creamy but also delicate, thanks to the grated zucchini that truly just melts into the rice. The flavors are bright and summery: while the lemon is quite strong, it’s very well balanced by the fresh basil. You may try using a bit less than a lemon’s worth of juice and adding more to taste. I say to go for the cheese, butter, and basil. They all complement each other nicely and add a little richness. As for the egg variation? Definitely a success. Most savory dishes can benefit from a runny yolk, and this was no exception. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

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Makes: 2 to 4 servings

Time: About 30 minutes

These no-cook rolls are made with wonderfully pliable rice paper. If you have leftover shrimp (or chicken or pork), you can make them in no time flat, especially once you’ve practiced on a batch or two. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

1 small fresh chile, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon rice or other mild vinegar

1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce) or soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

8 medium to large shrimp, cooked, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise, or an equivalent amount of cooked pork, beef, or chicken

1 cup grated, shredded, or julienned carrot

1 cup bean sprouts

2 scallions, cut into lengthwise slivers

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons roughly chopped peanuts (salted are okay)

4 sheets rice paper, 8 to 10 inches in diameter

1. Combine the first six ingredients and set aside as a dipping sauce.

2. Prepare the other ingredients and set them out on your work surface. Set out a bowl of hot water (110–120°F) and a clean kitchen towel.

3. Put a sheet of rice paper into the water for about 10 seconds, just until soft (don’t let it become too soft; it will continue to soften as you work). Lay it on the towel.

4. In the middle of the rice paper, lay 4 shrimp pieces and about a quarter each of the carrot, bean sprouts, scallions, mint, cilantro, and peanuts. Roll up the rice paper, keeping it fairly tight and folding in the ends to seal. Repeat this process until all the ingredients are used up. Serve, with the dipping sauce.

 

Posted in Recipes, Vietnamese

Herbs: Think of Them as Teeny Vegetables

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Before pesto reached the shores of America, every “fancy” dish in this country carried a sprig of parsley, and for all but a very few of us, that was the extent of our acquaintance with herbs. It was Paula Peck, author of the once-invaluable and now-quaint “The Art of Good Cooking,” who brought to my attention the notion that parsley could play a better, more varied role in cooking if you used it by the handful.

Several years later, pesto filed its immigration papers, gardening became a little more popular and cooking evolved to a more interesting state. But herbs remain underrated. We add some thyme to stews, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as too much basil, parsley is recognized for its flavor and all but the genetically twisted appreciate cilantro. (A joke; some of my best friends think it tastes like soap.) But for the most part we are rather restrained in our use of the potent green things.

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Posted in Produce

So the F.T.C. calls me up, and they’re like. . .

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A couple of representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, evidently stung by my column last week (in which I called the agency “spineless”), scheduled a phone call to remind me that the F.T.C. doesn’t have the ability to pass legislation that determines how Big Food markets to children.

I knew that. But that doesn’t mean the F.T.C. needs to praise the industry for its ridiculously transparent self-regulation scheme. Here’s Jon Leibowitz, agency chairman, quoted in The Times: “The industry’s uniform standards are a significant advance and exactly the type of initiative the commission had in mind when we started pushing for self-regulation more than five years ago.”

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Posted in Behind The Scenes, Food Politics

Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas

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By Freya Bellin

These fajitas are like the sweet, spicy, crunchy distant cousin of the fajita you know now. The recipe breathes some fresh air into the standard fajita by adding crunchy jicama and carrots, plus the sweetness of pineapple. The flavors are unexpected, but they work together beautifully. Make sure to do your chopping ahead of time as things move pretty fast once you start cooking. I like putting each ingredient in its own separate bowl, ready to be dropped into the pan. You’ll only need one large skillet for cooking everything, which means easy cleanup too. Serve with plenty of cilantro and guacamole or salsa. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Mexican, Recipes

Blueberry Cobbler

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Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 1 hour

My friend John Willoughby found this recipe in a southern boardinghouse nearly 20 years ago. It’s become my go-to cobbler recipe, because it’s essentially perfect. I love this with blueberries, but you can make it with any fruit you like.

Cobbler dough is somewhere between a biscuit and a cookie: fluffy, a bit flaky, buttery, and at least slightly sweet. The key is not overmixing the dough; get it so that it’s just combined, barely holding together, then drop it onto the filling in mounds, leaving space for steam to escape from the cooking fruit. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

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Posted in American, Baking

Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance

Life would be so much easier if we could only set our own guidelines. You could define the average weight as 10 pounds higher than your own and, voilà, no more obesity! You could raise the speed limit to 90 miles per hour and never worry about a ticket. You could call a cholesterol level of 250 “normal” and celebrate with a bag of fried pork rinds. (You could even claim that cutting government spending would increase employment, but that might be going too far.) You could certainly turn junk food into something “healthy.”

That’s what the food industry is doing.

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Posted in Food Politics