A Weekend in Des Moines

By Mark Bittman

Photos by Mark Bittman

I was in Des Moines this past weekend (wasn’t everyone?), in part for the Niman Ranch “farmer appreciation dinner” as, more or less, an observer. The weekend was interesting not only for that but for a number of other reasons. Continue reading

Posted in American, Behind The Scenes, Travel

Campfire Cooking: Eisenhower Steak

By Pam Hoenig

Photos by Pam Hoenig

It seems like months ago but I spent last week on vacation on Point Judith in Rhode Island. This is our fourth year renting the same lovely house with our good friends Dolores and Steve, who are always up for my culinary explorations. Last year it was grilling cheeses, this year it was Eisenhower steak.

Setting perfectly good meat right on blazing hot coals was apparently Ike’s favorite way to grill steak.

I’ve always had serious qualms about this technique. How could it possibly not end up a burnt mess? Vacation seemed like the perfect time to try. I found three gorgeous strip loin steaks, each just over a pound and a little more than one inch thick. I blotted them dry, then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For us, cooking dinner on vacation ends up being a late night affair, after lingering at the beach and enjoying cocktails in the backyard while we chat about the day and watch the sun set over the water. By the time I went out to build the fire, it was pitch black. But soon I had a blazing fire going and into the flames went the steaks. Six minutes on each side, out they came. Five-minute rest and they were perfectly medium rare, with a delicious char crust, the flavor unlike anything I had ever gotten cooking above the fire.

If you want to try this, a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Use hardwood charcoal (or hardwood burned down to coals, if you have the patience): Your food will be sitting right on the fuel.
  2. You want your steaks to lay flat on the coals, so make sure your fire is big enough to accommodate the number of steaks you are cooking.
  3. You want a hot fire. Even though you blot the steaks dry, they still contain moisture, which can tamp down the fire. If you let the fire get a little past prime or haven’t made it big enough, your steaks might take a bit longer to cook.

So why don’t the steaks just don’t catch fire? My theory is that because they’re right up against the coals, there is less airflow, which keeps the melting fat from lighting up like a firecracker.

One final warning: When you turn the steaks, pieces of charcoal tend to stick to them. Just pull them off with tongs and be sure you don’t take one into the house with you by mistake or drop one into dry grass.

And if you don’t have a chance to sit by a campfire this summer, you can always enjoy this Virtual Campfire GIF of my strip steaks sizzling away.

Posted in American, Behind The Scenes

Bait Plate

Photo by Mark Bittman

One of the things I look for in food when I’m in a place is a sense of place; you get it in those farmers’ markets that limit their vendors to actual producers. You get it in the best, most honest restaurants. (You don’t get it in dishonest restaurants, which probably comprise the majority.)

I’ve complained for years that Cape Cod restaurants don’t strut the Cape’s stuff—which, despite declining stocks of cod and other fish, is still a pretty rich place—as well as they might. (By the way, note that that link goes to a piece I wrote nine years ago, so the information in it is way out of date.) So it was with delight that I recently visited Terra Luna, whose site (I assume kiddingly) describes the restaurant’s cooking as “rustic neo-pagan,” and was served, as an appetizer, what chef-owner Tony Pasquale calls the “bait plate,” a pile of what were once considered trash fish, all (or nearly all; depends on the night) sourced locally.

Razor clams from Eastham, which have been scarce—not because they’re not there, but because no one’s bothered to forage for them—are often on that plate, as are Eastham mussels; these are also hard to find, because almost everyone is selling the vastly inferior farmed mussels from Prince Edward Island. There’s also squid caught off the pier in Provincetown (such an easy catch that even I’ve done it), and a couple of small baitfish, which might be sardines (not always local, I’m sad to say), mackerel, eel, and the awesome Cape herring.

The cooking of these fish happens to be perfect, although—not to downplay it, kudos to the kitchen—that’s the easy part. It’s making the effort to deal with local fishers and ensure the product is genuine that’s tricky. This kind of behavior has got to be applauded.

– Mark Bittman

Posted in American, Seafood

Serving Up School Lunches of Tomorrow

This is the sixth episode of “California Matters,” a series of videos about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating that I produced in collaboration with the Global Food Initiative at the University of California.

It’s no secret that, although progress has been made, school lunches need help. This is a national project, and an important one. One of the proving grounds is San Francisco, where the school district is joining with researchers from the Department of Agriculture and the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health to evaluate a project designed to increase school lunch participation, improve nutrition, reduce waste and ultimately counter tendencies toward obesity.

I took a look at a pilot project for this program by visiting Roosevelt Middle School and chatting with Zetta Reicker, who’s the director of the school system’s student nutrition services, and Kristine A. Madsen, an associate professor at the school of public health. (I also talked to a few kids, and ate lunch. Which was — for institutional food — better than O.K.)

Read the rest of this column here.

What’s the Buzz About Wild Bees?

Among all the pollinators, honeybees get the most publicity, deservedly, because of the problems around their survival. Claire Kremen’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at diverse pollinators — not just bees, but also birds, moths and many insects — and the issues affecting them as emblematic of the broader problems of the food system. Pollinators are critical to global food production and about 75 percent of crop species depend on them to produce food that is more abundant and nutritious than it would otherwise be.

Monoculture — a single crop in an open field that may measure many hundreds of acres — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) for the pollination of crops, especially in places like California. For example, the state produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, which has concentrated the need for bees way beyond the capacity of native pollinators.

Focusing on a single crop reduces the biodiversity pollinators need to survive, and the timetable they best work on. It’s also a risky endeavor to rely on one species, especially when there are diseases, management problems and the inherent risks of transportation. Yet the large single-crop farms require the large apiaries to get the job done.

Read the rest of this article here.

Looking Back: Eating Outdoors on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.

This month’s topic gave an inspirational glimpse of how many of you are enjoying your meals al fresco: at cookouts and food trucks, on picnics and in gardens, from NYC to the south of France. No- and low-cook meals seem to be the perfect food in this sweltering heat—that is, when your grills aren’t fired up for searing local produce and pizza.

Here’s just a handful of my favorite ideas from July; keep tagging your posts with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along, and check back here tomorrow for August’s topic:

Happy 4th of July! A photo posted by @lizpotasek on

 

Where—and What—You’re Eating

Alpine provisions {tarte du champsaur} + route planning near Col du Lauteret …

A photo posted by julia spiess (@dinnerswithfriends) on

“Champlain Valley, Vermont. Grilled king salmon, roasted corn, fresh tomatoes with cucumber and balsamic vinegar, baby summer squash.” –@cckinvt

“Central Park’s Great Hill; fresh fruits, homemade hummus, pretzels, pearl couscous salad, wild rice and grape salad, lemon cookies.” –@reinamaureen

“Gazpacho andaluz, made with fresh farmers market ingredients, garnished with melon and micro mustard greens!” –@lornina

“On our courtyard, watching the sunset over Santa Monica Bay, with great food, great wine and great friends!” –Ann Carley Johnson, Facebook

“My garden. Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers every possible way from around the Mediterranean. Lots of feta and lots of fruits. It’s that time of year.” –Clio Tarazi, Facebook

“Aix en Provence, South of France. Watermelon and feta salad !” –@kadee_jah

“Lobster roll on Nantucket” –@sjadad27

“Neighborhood food truck – woodfired pizza in our backyard! #ilovepittsburgh #driftwoodoven” –@leahnorthrop

“LOVE summers in Truro, eating outdoors as the grill master (usually me) finishes the last touches, Chicago-style hotdogs, several amazing summer salads and delicious local craft beer! Throw in some local seafood = Grand Perfection! Cheers, Mark Bittman!” –PiaDora PiaDora, Facebook

 

Cold Soups

Dinner #alfresco at the Lake House #bittmantopics #yyc #amazing #SummerWeather A photo posted by City Palate (@citypalate) on

Lots of interest in this genre—no surprise—during the #BittmanTopics tweetchat:

“what is your favourite summer cold soup? I love de gazpacho of course & vichychoisse.” –@riucafe

“i gotta go off-topic. just made this gazpacho: almonds, almond milk, cukes, grapes, mint, oil, lemon… sorta ugly. but really delicious. and drinking it outside so it counts.” –@bittman

“.@bittman Just had a version of this at @contigosf, but w white garlic & no mint. Very tasty. Do you blend almonds? Presoak?” –@PlantAndPlate

“.@PlantAndPlate forgot. i used a touch of garlic too. and roasted almonds. no soaking. but used almond milk.” –@bittman

@bittman I LOVE a cold cucumber soup- we make a Bulgarian version w walnuts a la Joy of Cooking” –@deb2525

“That gazpacho sounds perfect to take along. Many Bay Area picnic opportunities are in places where flames would not be good.” –@EyeEmEff

Sour cherry crisp made on the grill! 👌🍒 Great way to celebrate summer fruit

A photo posted by Civil Eats (@civileats) on

 

Low-Cook Summer Meals

Another hot topic during our tweetchat—very fun bouncing around ideas with all of you:

Discussing the shape of the chickpea. #picnicinthepark #chickpeas #garbanzobeans

A photo posted by reinamaureen (@reinamaureen) on

“.@bittman I don’t have a grill (apt dweller) – what are some ways to prepare my abundance of summer squash?” –@stephestellar

“.@stephestellar slice zucchini thin. saute in oil. toss with mint, raw egg (like 1 per 2 servings), parm. so great.” –@bittman

@bittman What is your go-to summer vinaigrette/marinade/sauce for all those salads and no/low-cook meals?” –@NeedleInHay

“.@NeedleInHay You’re all going to hate this answer. Ready? Olive oil, lemon, and salt. Maybe pepper.” –@bittman

coffee ice cubes and otherworldly rocks. go utah. #BittmanTopics

A photo posted by Rémy Robert (@remyrobert) on

Wage Justice Is on the Menu

When I first wrote in some small detail about food workers in the United States, it was thanks in part to Saru Jayaraman, a leader of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. I’ve since come to rely on her for news about labor in general and food workers in particular. At that point, three years ago, her main focus was on tipped workers, who in 43 states are still paid sub-minimum wage (as low as $2.13 per hour) under the often-flawed and completely unfair assumption that tips will routinely make up the difference. Mostly, evidence shows, they do not.

But the 11 million-odd food service workers in the United States are subject to many other injustices, as Jayaraman discusses in this video: underpayment no matter what the scheme; sexual harassment; part-time work with unpredictable hours; lack of health insurance, sick days and paid vacation, and so on. In those terms, the plight of most workers in the food industry resembles that of industrial workers in the United States 100 years ago. What changed that, at least in part, was organization and, ultimately, unionization. That is what food workers need today.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, California Matters, Food Politics