Coke Blinks

Once again, Coke has blinked. It famously did so in 1985, when it introduced “new” Coke, replacing its original formula with one it thought would have greater appeal with its audience. It was wrong then.

This time it might be right, but it isn’t going to do the world’s best-known brand any good. It’s hurting from decreased domestic sales and smarting from the piles of evidence that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are not only our biggest source of calories, but also among our most harmful. So it has struck back with a two-minute video whose ostensible message is that too many calories will make you fat (true), that those in Coke are no worse than any others (false), and that we’re all in this together (ridiculous).

The video is brilliantly executed. Its honeyed, heart-rending voice-over and stirring images — as American as a Chevy commercial — nearly caused me to go out and buy a case myself, as I recalled those innocent days of the ’50s and ’60s when Coke and cigarettes and Our Country and I were all (it seemed) young together, happy and happening and eating burgers and fries like there was no tomorrow. It took me back to when Coke was the real thing, it was “it,” we were teaching the world to sing together, and even Mean Joe Greene was just a cutie. There’s always been Coca-Cola.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Every ‘Which Way

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For something that has almost unlimited potential, the sandwich has become staid and unimaginative. In part this is because we don’t have as many leftovers as we once did (we don’t cook as much), so a meatloaf sandwich is nowhere near as common as it once was. But it’s mostly because we’ve allowed sandwich-making to become something that is either done by someone else or a task to be squeezed in between breakfast and taking the kids to the bus.

But now and then, for a brunch or a party or a laugh, it’s worth showcasing a variety of unusual ingredients and allowing individuals to throw them together, producing post-Dagwood creations that are beyond the ability of others to imagine. Given the same array of options, you and I would surely come up with radically different creations.

It all starts with good bread, a commodity that’s easy enough to find. It continues with spreads, which need not be that out of the ordinary but should be seasoned assertively enough to not disappear. The “body” of the sandwich — which may be open-faced or not — is the key, of course, and it’s here that it pays to open the vault: not just tuna but anchovies, not just ham but prosciutto, not hamburger but beef tartar and so on.

Toppings can make a huge difference, and if you don’t have time to crisp-fry some onions or mushrooms, you can grate some radish or chop some chives or even some olives. Making sandwiches, after all, isn’t so much about cooking as assembling.

Read the rest of this article here.

Posted in American

Conjuring Warmth in Winter’s Kitchen

This sauce/side dish — a simple combination of fennel, tomatoes and olives — is magical. Not because it’s the best thing you ever ate, but because it’s transportive: you eat it and you’re in the Mediterranean. This is even true with winter tomatoes (though of course it’s better with those of summer, and see my suggestion below), because the dominant flavors are fennel and olives.

The fennel is cooked until almost jammy. It will never become as tender as onion, but it gets close. The heat barely diminishes its distinctive anise flavor and gives the final compote a lovely texture. Garlic, thyme and capers are all supporting cast members.

The olives are really the stars. If you use good olive oil, so much the better, but the oil that comes out of plump, juicy and unpitted olives is really sensational, and yes, I honestly believe that the pits contribute a flavor that isn’t there otherwise.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in Recipes

Yukon Gold Standard

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There are the up-and-coming root vegetables with near-celebrity status — celeriac, parsnips, beets — and then there is the potato. Simultaneously beloved and despised, the potato is our most-grown and most-eaten vegetable and the one that is sometimes seen as a leading villain in the obesity pandemic.

O.K., but chips and fries are not the only ways to eat potatoes. A good potato can be incredibly delicious sautéed in a little garlicky olive oil, simmered in stock, boiled and drizzled with the tiniest amount of butter and a sprinkle of mint or mashed with greens. No one is going to convince me that these preparations are going to make us fat.

And those are just the start. In the something like 10,000 years since the potato was cultivated (it has been in the hands of Europeans and their descendants for only 500), there have been something like 10,000 different ways of cooking it. Here are a mere 12, but at least a few of them are bound to be new to you. All of these recipes are based on about two pounds of potatoes, roughly four medium to large spuds.

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

Posted in Recipes

Giving Lamb Legs

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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.

It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.

Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.

Read the rest of the column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Not long ago few doctors – not even pediatricians – concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

“I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago,” David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. “Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we’re seeing are Type 2.”

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay (“Viewpoint”) in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity.”

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it’s merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Eggs, Chicken Livers, and a Secret Ingredient

When I asked Frank DeCarlo — the chef at Peasant, on Elizabeth Street, and a friend — to show me a big-flavored, funky, simple dish that he loved, he suggested a chicken liver frittata.

My mouth watered. Liver and eggs isn’t a common combination, but it’s one I’ve known and have been fond of; I especially remember a breakfast in Turkey of nothing but those two ingredients a few years ago.

Frank’s version is more complicated than that — though it takes only 10 or so minutes — and even contains what he calls a “secret ingredient.”

Read the rest of this article and watch the video here.

Posted in Slow Food

Dietary Seat Belts

Here’s some good news: Seat belts save lives[1] . So do vaccinations. The world’s population is living longer. The childhood obesity rate has declined[2] in parts of the United States.

That’s miraculous, because the policies for food, energy, climate change and health care are, effectively, “let’s help big producers make as much money as they can regardless of the consequences.”

Except for just after the most visible tragedies, public health and welfare are barely part of the daily conversation. When New York is flooded, climate change dominates TV news — for a week. When innocents are slaughtered with weapons designed for combat, gun control is a critical topic — for a week. When 33 people die violent, painful deaths from eating cantaloupe, food safety is in the headlines — for a week. When nearly 70,000 people die a year, from mostly preventable diabetes, most media ignore it.

Forget the fiscal cliff: we’ve long since fallen off the public health cliff. We need consistent policies that benefit a majority of our citizens, even if it costs corporations money.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Feast in a Day

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Last month, Sam Sifton and I took up the job of cooking for 15 people at a friend’s home in Brooklyn. The idea was to feed and impress friends, family members and colleagues without driving ourselves nuts. It’s possible. And to do so, we decided not to spend more than eight hours obsessing over, shopping for and preparing the meal. We endeavored to buy all our ingredients in the morning and then cook through the afternoon. Dinner was called for 6 p.m.

There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast. You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu. We wanted a high-low meal: a beautiful yet manageable dinner bookended by an impressive starter and an eye-popping dessert. In order to pull this off, we first had to decide on a main course, a meat dish. After rejecting pork (too obvious), beef and lamb (too expensive), we settled on chicken. We were near Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, so Sam resolved that the chickens would be roasted with preserved lemons. Golden and crusty, with a zing from the salty, acidic taste of the lemons, they would be a perfect bridge from our opulent appetizer into our decadent dessert. For sides, we settled on pilaf, a salad and roasted root vegetables, which are as seasonal as it gets this time of year.

Read the rest of this article, see the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

A Winter’s Cornucopia in Wales

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THE predicament I found myself in was also an opportunity, and not unlike the puzzle that faces C.S.A. participants each week: I had a pile of vegetables and I had to figure out what to do with it. (A C.S.A. — for community supported agriculture — is a scheme in which participants share in a farmer’s risk and bounty, putting money down upfront and getting a periodic share of the crop in

I was in western Wales at Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm owned by Peter Segger and Anne Evans, friends of my friend Patrick. The couple began growing food organically nearly 40 years ago, and work 15 acres in vegetables plus an astonishing acre of greenhouses. I’d offered to cook dinner, not knowing exactly what that meant. And in the shed that housed the little honor-system shop on the farm (on Dec. 1, mind you), I was overwhelmed by all those greenhouses produced. All I needed to do was choose and cook.

As usual, I began with no idea of what would eventually wind up on the table. But I did have my standard plan: I’d choose what seemed most appealing and figure out what to do with it when we got to the kitchen.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Produce, Recipes