The Heart of the Jack-o’-Lantern

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You’re carving your jack-o’-lanterns now; soon you’ll buy canned pumpkin for pie. Join the club. Almost no one in this country cooks fresh pumpkin.

Yet the pumpkin — or those squashes whose non-English names translate as “pumpkin” — is a staple the world over, turned into substantial dishes celebrated for their sweetness and density. So-called sugar pumpkins, which are smaller and more flavorful than anything you might carve, are the best for cooking and available even in supermarkets. But you can tackle the big boys too.

All four of the recipes are global classics, and all use cubes of pumpkin flesh; admittedly, getting at the good stuff is the tricky part. And of course you can use any orange-fleshed squash in any pumpkin recipe. But given the season, let’s assume you’re working with a pumpkin. Start just as if you were carving a jack-o’-lantern: cut a circle around the stem, then pull up on the stem and discard it. Using the cavity as a handle, peel the pumpkin with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Yes, it will take a while. To read the entire article click here.

Posted in American, Produce

Buying the Vote on G.M.O.’s

Supporters of ingredients derived from “genetically modified foods,” which hereafter I’ll call G.M.O.’s — genetically modified organisms — are mostly the chemical companies who make them or other people who make money from them. They assert that a) there’s no proof that G.M.O.’s are harmful to humans, and b) studies demonstrating that they might be are largely flawed [1]. Point B might even be true, although since the chemical companies largely control the research, it’s hard to tell.

But even if there were a way to guarantee that food produced with G.M.O. ingredients is not directly bad for you, it remains clear that such food is in general bad for all of us, based on the collateral damage from producing it.

What most genetically engineered crops have in common is that they’re bred to be super-resistant to chemical herbicides, chemicals that will kill pretty much everything except the specified crop. And as the weeds that those chemicals are meant to kill adapt and grow bigger and stronger, more and stronger chemicals are needed to try to deal with them.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

An Unpredictable Adventure in Group Cooking

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There is the potluck, but there is also collective cooking. And given a willing helper or two, it can turn a fairly standard weeknight meal into a rocking party. The pace is not necessarily relaxed, but it’s fun.

I had such an experience last week, on the East Side. Two new friends (really complete strangers — I was doing this as a charity auction prize) and I met at 4:30 at the 86th Street Fairway, with barely a plan; we just knew we were supposed to feed seven people at 7:30. I had some ideas, like buy all the vegetables that look good and figure out how to cook them later, and the others had some food preferences: one person didn’t eat meat and another didn’t eat fish. So we decided meat and fish and vegetables and dessert. Starters, I’ll confess, were olives and bread. But hey, you can’t cook everything.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Bacon 25 Ways

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To cook bacon, you usually toss some strips in a pan, fry them and eat. If you start with good pork, there are (for omnivores, at least) few things better. But the uses of strip bacon beyond ‘‘plain’’ are legion. Strips are ideal for swaddling fish, chicken, fruit (anything, really). And there is always the B.L.T.

 

Once you get into slab bacon, though, things become interesting. Slab bacon offers not only more flexibility but also better quality. And it’s far easier to cook to the optimum level of doneness for any given recipe.

 

All bacon — slabs, strips, chunks or bits — can be made any way you like: low to medium heat on the stove; roasted or broiled in the oven; grilled; even microwaved. Keep the heat low, and you have more control; use olive oil in the pan, and you’re less likely to burn the outside.

 

In these recipes, don’t forget salt (less if the bacon is salty) and pepper. And remember that when it comes to bacon, people tend to eat a lot.

See all 25 recips here.

Posted in American

My Dream Food Label

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What would an ideal food label look like? By “ideal,” I mean from the perspective of consumers, not marketers.

Right now, the labels required on food give us loads of information, much of it useful. What they don’t do is tell us whether something is really beneficial, in every sense of the word. With a different set of criteria and some clear graphics, food packages could tell us much more.

Even the simplest information — a red, yellow or green “traffic light,” for example — would encourage consumers to make healthier choices. That might help counter obesity, a problem all but the most cynical agree is closely related to the consumption of junk food.

Of course, labeling changes like this would bring cries of hysteria from the food producers who argue that all foods are fine, although some should be eaten in moderation. To them, a red traffic-light symbol on chips and soda might as well be a skull and crossbones. But traffic lights could work: indeed, in one study, sales of red-lighted soda fell by 16.5 percent in three months.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Everyone Eats There

California’s Central Valley is our greatest food resource. Why are we treating it so badly? 

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I left Los Angeles at 4 in the morning, long before first light, and made it to Bakersfield — the land of oil derricks, lowriders and truck stops with Punjabi food — by 6. Ten minutes later, I was in the land of carrots. 

 You know that huge pile of cello-wrapped carrots in your supermarket? Now imagine that the pile filled the entire supermarket. That’s how many carrots I saw upon my arrival at Bolthouse Farms. Something like 50 industrial trucks were filled to the top with carrots, all ready for processing. Bolthouse, along with another large producer, supplies an estimated 85 percent of the carrots eaten by Americans. There are many ways to put this in perspective, and they’re all pretty mind-blowing: Bolthouse processes six million pounds of carrots a day. If you took its yield from one week and stacked each carrot from end to end, you could circle the earth. If you took all the carrots the company grows in a year, they would double the weight of the Empire State Building. 

At Bolthouse’s complex, carrots whirl around on conveyor belts at up to 50 miles an hour en route to their future as juliennes, coins and stubs, or baby carrots, which the company popularized and which aren’t babies. Other carrots become freezer fare, concentrate, salad dressings and beverages. Fiber is separated for tomato sauce and hot dogs. Whatever’s left becomes cattle feed. For the entire article click here.

Posted in Farming, Travel

The Domino Theory, Redux

Imagine you had a multibillion-dollar industry that was (a) enormously profitable and (b) under frequent attack from public health researchers because (c) it’s demonstrably bad for the health of your customers.

This was, of course, the story of the tobacco industry, and it is – right now – the story of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry.[1] Like the cigarette makers, the peddlers of soda cannot do much about any of this: they owe it to their shareholders to maintain those profits, and the products they sell evidently cannot, no matter how hard they try, be tinkered with to change factors (b) and (c). [2]

Even if the beverage industry were composed of the nicest people in the world, it will not stop marketing to children unless it’s made to; indeed, these marketing efforts are within the rules of the game, however deadly they may be. The outcome of those rules and the marketing they allow is pandemic obesity and all the costs associated with it, which have been detailed enough elsewhere to pass over here.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Fruit Crisp

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                                                                                                                                                  Photograph by Kristin Gladney

By Meghan Gourley

Anyone who has opted to make crisp instead of pie is aware of its virtues: no mixing and perfecting dough, latticing strips of it, or fumbling around with pie weights. Instead, a loose mixture of butter, brown sugar, oats and flour—clumps of it—becomes the stuff that turns ordinary apples into autumn on a plate. Any and all types of apples will do; I used Cortland and McIntosh picked in upstate New York. (Is there a better way to get rid of a mound of apples?)

For added texture, leave the skin on about half the apples and cut them into same-size slices to avoid uneven cooking and burning. If using a tart variety (like McIntosh or Granny Smith) add an extra spoonful or two of brown sugar. Dust real vanilla beans or a pinch of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg over the apples before adding the topping for rich flavor. The crumble is done when it begins to brown on top—and when the sweet smell becomes too much to resist. If you like, add a dollop of whipped cream or a splash of real cream. Watch it disappear.

Apple (or Other Fruit) Crisp

Time: About 1 hour

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

5 tablespoons cold butter, plus more for greasing the pan

6 cups pitted, sliced apples (2 to 3 pounds)

Juice of ½ lemon

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

½ cup rolled oats (not instant oats)

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup chopped nuts, optional

1 cup vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400 dgF. Cut the 5 tablespoons butter into ¼-inch bits and put in the fridge or freezer. Lightly butter a square baking pan. Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl, and spread them out in the prepared pan.

2. Combine the chilled pieces of butter with the remaining brown sugar, the oats, the flour, the salt and the nuts if you’re using them in a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few seconds more, until everything is combined but not too finely ground. (To mix this by hand, mas the mixture together between your fingers.)

3. Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the peaches are tender and bubbling. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with ice cream if you like.

Posted in American, Baking

Pears: The Other White Fruit

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Pears, for some reason, are always second to apples. Nobody ever goes pear picking. Yet there’s nothing you can do with an apple that you can’t do with a pear. In fact pears are more versatile, because they’re not only good when they’re underripe and crisp; they’re also fantastic when they’re perfectly ripe and creamy. I know that with endless varieties of both apples and pears piled high at the market, you’re most likely going to buy more apples. That’s just the way it is. But I’m here to persuade you to reconsider the pear.

To make my case, I offer you 10 saladsthat can be used with any variety of pear. You’ll most commonly find green (and, increasingly, red) Anjou, yellowy green Bartlett and brownish Boscs; of the common ones, these last are best. But all are sweet and will soften with time, and without special treatment. Just be patient. When the “shoulders” soften, they’re ripe. Read the rest of this article here.

 

Posted in Produce

That Flawed Stanford Study

I tried to ignore the month-old “Stanford study.” I really did. It made so little sense that I thought it would have little impact.

That was dumb of me, and I’m sorry.

The study, which suggested — incredibly — that there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” caused as great an uproar as anything that has happened, food-wise, this year. (By comparison, the Alzheimer’s/diabetes link I wrote about last week was ignored.)

That’s because headlines (and, of course, tweets) matter. The Stanford study was not only an exercise in misdirection, it was a headline generator. By providing “useful” and “counterintuitive” information about organic food, it played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.

If I may play with metaphor for a moment, the study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries. It was the equivalent of comparing milk and Elmer’s glue on the basis of whiteness. It did, in short, miss the point. Even Crystal Smith-Spangler, a Stanford co-author, perfectly captured the narrowness of the study when she said: “some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.” That’s because they didn’t look — or even worse, they ignored.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics