French Food Goes Down

Before my first visit to France, around 45 years ago, I was told that you couldn’t find bad food there if you tried. I was of limited experience, so even a hot dog jammed into a baguette bore witness to that “fact.”

Nevertheless, a few visits later, it seemed justifiable to buy into the program: France had countless regions, each producing superior products that were handled well and (with notable exceptions) served at reasonable prices. I wish we could go back — we’d need a time machine, of course — and verify that experience.

Read the rest of this column here.

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The VB6 Summer Produce Guide

A few months ago, I developed and sent out (to you!) a guide to winter fruits and vegetables. While I’m certainly a fan of tubers and citrus, now is the time of year when produce really starts to get good. It’s the best time of year to cook.

So whether you find yourself with an abundance of zucchini or just want to take advantage of all that’s available now, refer to the guide below. I’ve included tips on preparation and some recipes you can try from The VB6 Cookbook and VB6. (Click the chart to enlarge the text.)

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7 Sauces That Taste Better Homemade

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Two weeks ago I provided nine nonbeef burger recipes. Consider these recipes an addendum: homemade alternatives to the bottled and jarred condiments that are lined up like summer’s foot soldiers on our refrigerator doors.

Why spend time making your own condiments? A legitimate question, even for cooks who embrace the D.I.Y. mentality that yields things like homemade salad dressings, salsas and hummus, all of which could be considered “condiments” in their own right. But when it comes to ketchup and its brethren — relish, barbecue sauce and the like — most of us cave and revert to the store-bought versions.

Resist that impulse. The reasons are the same as they are for countless other foods that you can readily grab at the store: controlling and customizing flavor and avoiding worthless (or harmful) artificial ingredients. Those are enough for me.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

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The True Cost of a Burger

In 2005, the House of Representatives passed an act that forbade consumers to sue fast-food operators over weight gain. “The Cheeseburger Bill” (formally, “The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act”) attempted to legislate the message that the costs of fast food are personal, not social, and certainly not a consequence of selling harmful food at addictively low prices.

The reality is different, as we begin to understand the extent of the financial and economic costs wrought on our society from years of eating dangerously. That’s a different kind of cheeseburger bill; the butcher’s bill, if you like: The real cost.

What you pay for a cheeseburger is the price, but price isn’t cost. It isn’t the cost to the producers or the marketers and it certainly isn’t the sum of the costs to the world; those true costs are much greater than the price.

This is an attempt to describe and quantify some of those costs. (I have been working on this for nearly a year, with a student intern, David Prentice.) It’s necessarily compromised — the kinds of studies required to accurately address this question are so daunting that they haven’t been performed — but by using available sources and connecting the dots, we can gain insight.

Read the rest of this article here.

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Giving Tofu the New Look It Deserves

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It’s not likely that tofu will become anyone’s favorite food; this we know. Those who grew up in households where it was well prepared may relish it, but for the rest of us it’s a bit of a requisite, something we think we “should” eat in place of chicken or eggs whenever we can stomach it.

However. With meat substitutes and even alternative animal protein like bugs surging in popularity — or at least media attention — it’s time to re-evaluate and finally embrace the original plant-based mock meat. (There are others, of course: seitan, or wheat gluten, which in the current anti-gluten climate is difficult to talk about, and tempeh, a fermented soy and grain product that I don’t cook with much. That could change.)

Read the rest of this column here.

 

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9 Worldly Ways to Make a Burger

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Standing over a grill full of hamburgers with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other is about as American as it gets. So patriotic is this summer ritual that it’s easy to forget how far burger culture extends beyond American soil. (The hamburger is named for a German city, after all.)

Countless cuisines feature their own versions, which, in plenty of cases, are better, or at least more interesting, than our default. So, for the sake of mixing it up — and frankly, because you probably don’t need me telling you how to make a classic hamburger — here are nine burgers that move beyond beef.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’

At a dinner party the other night where people were asked to say a word about themselves, one woman said, “My name is” — whatever it was — “and I’m a foodie.” I cringed.

I’m not proud of that visceral reaction; in fact, I think it’s wrong. But I do wish there were a stronger, less demeaning-sounding word than “foodie” for someone who cares about good food, but as seems so often the case, there is not. Witness the near-meaningless-ness of “natural” and “vegetarian” and the inadequacy of “organic” and “vegan.” But proposing new words is a fool’s game; rather, let’s try to make the word “foodie” a tad more meaningful.

As it stands, many self-described foodies are new-style epicures. And there’s nothing destructive about watching competitive cooking shows, doing “anything” to get a table at the trendy restaurant, scouring the web for single-estate farro, or devoting oneself to finding the best food truck. The problem arises when it stops there.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Cherries Go Savory, Sweet and Boozy

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I suppose most of us have missed out on the best cherries, the ones that grow in the backyard. Still, when cherries are good — juicy, fleshy, even crisp — even the supermarket variety can be irresistible. So I buy them by the sack, mostly for snacks.

In June, it becomes impossible not to cook with them. Like most stone fruit, cherries are usually slated for pies, cobblers — maybe duck breasts — and not much else. To give cherries their due, here’s a whole meal made out of them — sort of. I’ve dished up four cherry-based courses, and the first is a boozy cocktail, pretty much rendering the next three enjoyable no matter what. You are certainly under no obligation to prepare them all on the same evening, but they’re different enough that it works.

Read the rest of this column here.

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The Food Industry’s Solution to Obesity

You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition.

The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.

How do we break this cycle? You can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: It’s their nature.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Add Whole Grains

Mark Bittman has always been a whole grains guy, but he really began to embrace them about 10 years ago while working on his cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. “I had no intention of becoming a vegetarian,” he recalls, “but I embraced the concept and started playing around with whole grains more. I became more intentional about eating them.” Nowadays, Bittman has no problem getting in his three-per-day minimum, and he thinks he may know why others aren’t as successful at reaching this goal. “The misconception that whole grains are hard to cook or that they take a long time probably keeps a lot of people from trying them.” Here, he debunks these myths and offers a few suggestions for making grains easy to add to your daily menu.

MARK’S TOP 5 TIPS

Learn how to cook one grain, and you know how to cook them all. “One thing that makes whole grains really easy is that they pretty much all cook the same way. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, they all get boiled until they’re tender. If you boil them in too much water and they get tender, you drain the water off; if you boil them in too little water and they’re not tender, add a little more water. There’s nothing easier.”

Read the rest of this article here.

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