How Should We Eat?

The recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a nutrition panel that helps update and revise federal dietary guidelines,were announced last week and are easy to parse: The panel, a collection of 14 health experts with dozens of specialists in support, emphasizes things that just about everyone agrees upon: that we need a diet more oriented toward plants, that we should reduce calorie consumption in general, and that less sugar would be a good thing. Not much new there, or surprising.

But on some levels the report is disappointing: For one thing, it’s 571 pages (not surprisingly, it stumbles over itself). And it focuses on individual nutrients at the expense of sending simpler messages. No one wants to think about “eating” (or, even worse, “consuming”) cholesterol or saturated fat or sodium or “sweeteners.” We want to think about eating food.

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Let’s Address the State of Food

The state of the union, food-wise, is not good. The best evidence is that more than 46.5 million Americans are receiving SNAP benefits — formerly food stamps — a number that has not changed much since 2013, when it reached its highest level ever.

Even if you allow for fraud, which barely exists (imagine being so desperate that you’d risk imprisonment for $130 a month; I doubt you can), the number would be far higher if everyone who was eligible knew it, if pride and stigma were not issues and if it were easier to enroll. Still, 15 percent of the nation is bad enough; it’s roughly equivalent to the population of Spain.

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Simple Stocks for Soup on the Fly

Herb Stock

For years, I’ve written about the merits of homemade stock (or at least stock made by a real person), even insisting that if it’s a choice between canned or boxed stocks and water, you’re better off with water. At their best, the canned and boxed versions taste like salt; at their worst, like chemicals.

But here’s the problem with homemade stock: It’s so good that it doesn’t last long. What’s needed is something you can produce more or less on the spot. Although water is a suitable proxy in small quantities, when it comes to making the bubbling, chest-warming soups that we rely on this time of year, water needs some help.

Fortunately, there are almost certainly flavorful ingredients sitting in your fridge or pantry that can transform water into a good stock in a matter of minutes. The process may be as simple as simmering in water fresh herbs, mushrooms or even tea, or browning aromatics to create richness, or adding staples like crushed tomatoes or coconut milk. To further maximize flavor in minimal time, it pays to reach for ingredients that pack a punch, like miso, anchovies, chipotles, Parmesan rinds, sometimes even leftovers.

Read the rest of this column herePhotos by Sam Kaplan.

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Let Them Eat Foie Gras

The lifting of the California ban against selling foie gras (the hyperfattened liver of geese or ducks, brought about by overfeeding the live animals) is pretty much a nonissue, except to point out that as a nation we have little perspective on animal welfare. To single out the tiniest fraction of meat production and label it “cruel” is to miss the big picture, and the big picture is this: Almost all meat production in the United States is cruel.

The sale and production of foie gras was prohibited in California in 2012. Though the ban was widely ignored — foie gras was served for free in many restaurants and sold illegally in others — it’s now legal to serve it. (Production remains banned.)

But so what? Foie gras is among the most overrated of luxury ingredients, ranking right up there with caviar and truffles. Done right, all three are delicious, but we can call them rich people’s food, and as such they’re not that important except to chefs who want to impress rich people or rich people who want to be impressed.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Hens, Unbound

The most significant animal welfare law in recent history — California’s Prop 2 — takes effect today. The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.

The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.

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An Atheist’s Christmas Dream

I’ve spent much of my life trying to ignore Christmas. As a secular Jew, an atheist and a progressive, my reasons are common. It’s a commercial, obnoxious, even dreaded holiday. But it’s not changing anytime soon and we should make the best of it. (Hanukkah, I might note, is no better, although it gives us an excuse to eat latkes.)

Nothing is as simple, though, as it seems when you’re young, when my dislike of Christmas was more intense. In fact this is a good week. The winter solstice, by definition the gloomiest day of the year, represents optimism: The days do nothing but get longer and brighter from now on. Sweet-smelling trees can turn a cramped apartment into something exotic.

And then there’s the dream of peace.

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Celebrate the Holidays with HTCE (plus a giveaway)!

HTCE app

Just in time for holiday cooking and gifting, I’ve got some fun news about the suite of How to Cook Everything apps. First: all three—HTCE, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and How to Cook Everything The Basics—are on sale in the iTunes App Store from now until January 1. This weekend only, you can load up on them for $4.99 each.

And for those of you with Windows, HTCE is now available for all Windows 8.1 devices, from phones to tablets to computers. Find that here.

To celebrate HTCE’s newest format, I’ve got an unlocked Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows phone (the one that takes terrific food shots) to give away. Consider it my gift to you, or feel free to re-gift it to someone on your list. For a chance to win, tweet this post along with #HTCEWin81 and/or email me with “HTCE for Windows 8.1” in the subject line. (Hint: doing both enters you twice.) A winner will be picked on December 24th by random drawing and notified either by Twitter DM or email. (Note that you must be following me on Twitter for me to be able to DM you if you win.)
UPDATE: The giveaway is closed. Congrats to the winner!

Merry cooking!

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You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

What’s more depressing, gutting progressive moves in school nutrition or gutting progressive moves in restaurant meal labeling?

Neither. What’s truly depressing is the “cromnibus,” the continuing resolution just passed to fund the government — which contains a wide variety of sometimes obscure and often corrupt riders, and signals the start of plundering just about every good piece of legislation you can think of, including school nutrition.

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Is It Bad Enough Yet?

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.

Read the rest of this article here.


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Time to Make the Doughnuts

NYT Doughnuts

Here’s something I’ve never quite understood. Places that serve fried food — French fries, fried chicken, tempura, you name it — either serve it straight from the fryer, at its peak, or they find some way, often a heat lamp, to keep it as crisp as possible. So why don’t doughnuts get the same love? Most are so far removed from that bubbling bath of oil by the time you eat them that they’ve almost entirely lost their fresh-fried luster.

That’s why, I’m sorry to say, if you want a truly great, hot, crisp doughnut, chances are you’re going to have to make it yourself. Like anything involving deep-frying, D.I.Y. doughnuts are a bit of a project, but they’re less work than you might think. And once you’ve mastered the basic recipe — this one is for fluffy yeasted doughnuts, as opposed to the denser cake variety — you can geek out to your heart’s content on the glazes, toppings and fillings.

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