I was on the Today Show this morning (the first of three days in a row) demonstrating vegetable cooking techniques from my new book, How to Cook Everything: The Basics. For me, the easiest way to think about it is to group vegetables into three categories: greens, tender vegetables, and hard vegetables. You can cook the vegetables within each category pretty much the same way, so once you learn a few basic techniques, you’ll be able to cook any vegetable you can think of. Check out the video (above) and a simple recipe from each category here, and stay tuned for techniques for cooking meat (tomorrow), and desserts (Thursday).
By Alaina Sullivan
This week I made Mark’s Beef Stew from How to Cook Everything, with a modest addition in honor of St. Patrick’s day: Guinness. Ireland’s famous black stout – “thinned” slightly with beef stock – makes the broth robust and dark, its mysteriously roasted flavor rippling throughout. All of the ingredients take to the Guinness in their own way – the meat gets deeply flavorful and tender, the carrots become malty and sweet, and the potatoes soak it up like sponges. You’ll be pouring your perfect pints right into the pot.
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 1 ½ to 2 hours, largely unattended
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, lightly crushed, plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 to 2 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck or round, trimmed of surface fat and cut into 1- to 1 ½-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large or 3 medium onions, cut into eighths
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, water, wine, or a combination, or more as needed*
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 medium to large waxy or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
1. Heat a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes; add the oil and the crushed garlic clove; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then remove and discard the garlic. Add the meat to the skillet a few minutes at a time, turning to brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Do not crowd or the cubes will not brown properly; cook in batches if necessary. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper as it cooks.
2. When the meat is brown, remove it with a slotted spoon. Pour or spoon off most of the fat and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions. Cook, stirring until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme, and meat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot; the mixture should be wet (if not, add a little more liquid). Add the potatoes and carrots, turn the heat up for a minute or so to bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat and cover again. Cook for 30 to 60 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (At this point, you may remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and refrigerate them and the stock separately. Skim the fat from the stock before combining it with the meat and vegetables, reheating, and proceeding with the recipe from this point.)
4. Add the minced garlic and the peas; if you’re pleased with the stew’s consistency, continue to cook, covered, over low heat. If it’s too soupy, remve the cover and raise the heat to high. In either case, cook for an additional 5 minutes or so, until the peas have heated through and the garlic has flavored the stew. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Beef and Guinness Stew. In Step 2, omit the flour. Use 2 cups Guinness and 1- to 1 ½-cups beef broth for the liquid (add more beer, broth or water as needed during the cooking process).
By Meghan Gourley
Like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread is worthy of more than its annual day on the plate. There are plenty of recipes, but my favorite is from James Beard who spent several weeks in Ireland and recreated the famous bread as he experienced it there. Unlike most recipes, his calls for whole wheat flour and baking powder, but no eggs.
The trick to a good Irish soda bread is the right amount of moisture in the dough—too much buttermilk and the top will burn before the inside cooks; not enough and the bread will turn out dry. Control the texture of the dough by adding the buttermilk one splash at a time—you want it to come together in one very sticky ball.
You should wind up with bread that is smooth, slightly dense, and perfectly salty. It’s great with a slab of butter or slice of cheddar. You can use it as sandwich bread, like James Beard, or cut it thinly and toast it. I like it griddled—the way I had it in Ireland.
Ireland’s Famous Bread from Beard on Food
Time: About 45 minutes
Makes: One round loaf
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 “very level” teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Butter for greasing
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- Heat the oven to 375 dgF.
- Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but sticky. (I used the entire 2 cups.)
- Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough for a minute or two.
- Shape the dough into a round ball and place it on a buttered baking sheet; cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or store for up to a few days.
Until a couple of years ago I believed that the primary reasons to eat less meat were environment- and health-related, and there’s no question that those are valid reasons. But animal welfare has since become a large part of my thinking as well. And I say this as someone not known to his friends as an animal-lover.
If we want a not-too-damaged planet to live on, and we want to live here in a way that’s also not too damaged, we’re better off eating less meat. But if we also want a not-too-damaged psyche, we have to look at how we treat animals and begin to change it.
We can start by owning up to the fact that our system is industrialized. And as horrible as that word — “industrialized” — seems when applied to what was once called animal husbandry, it is precisely the correct term. Those who haven’t seen this, or believe it to be a myth perpetrated by PETA, might consider reading “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” recently published by Timothy Pachirat. (This isn’t a review, but the book is superbly written, especially given the grimness of the subject.)
You might think that “every 12 seconds” refers to the frequency with which we kill animals, but in a moment you’ll realize that that’s impossible: we process more than nine billion animals each year — hundreds per second. No, 12 seconds is the frequency with which the Omaha slaughterhouse where Pachirat worked for five months killed cattle, a total of around 2,500 per day.
Read the rest of this column here.
By Kerri Conan
There’s a reason they call them pot lucks: You take your chances at these shindigs. But last weekend I went to the best bring-your-own-food party ever, where the mandate was soup.
It started a couple weeks ago, when 30 or so folks were summoned to the old William Burroughs—yes, that William Burroughs—residence in Lawrence, Kansas. My friend Tom King, a chef-now-writer from California who has been taking good care of the place and its guests for the last few years, had gotten the idea for a soup potluck from his pal Heather Hall’s family Christmas tradition. Immediately after Tom sent out the sign-up email, the soups started pouring in: Muligatawny; Potato, Kale, Bacon; Chicken Tortilla with Lime; Gypsy Soup (a hearty mix of chickpeas, vegetables, and sweet potatoes); Hot Chili Soup (with several kinds of fresh and dried chiles); Cannellini; Chuck Wagon Beef Yee Haw; Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Spinach; Creamy Potato Leek; Mushroom-Beef with Oat Groats; Chicken Soup with Black-Eyed Peas and Turnip Greens; and Thai Chicken with Lemongrass and Chiles. Twelve in all, each more delicious than the last (I can say with confidence having tried eleven).
The set-up was simple: On the sunny porch, a large table was set with Tom’s seedling starters (that’s where they live so why move them?) a power strip for the slow cookers, and a bread spread. Desserts, slurping vessels, and utensils were handy on a side table. In the kitchen, four pots of soup simmered on the stove, a counter was transformed into a cheese board, and one stray Crock Pot found a free outlet, its garnish of crisp tortillas in a bowl nearby. Beer and wine in the fridge and a fire burning out back ensured the flow between soups was constant and convivial. Afterwards, Tom provided containers for everyone to take home the leftovers. What a perfect way to transition from winter to spring.
IT is pretty well established that animals are capable of suffering; we’ve come a long way since Descartes famously compared them to nonfeeling machines put on earth to serve man. (Rousseau later countered this, saying that animals shared “some measure” of human nature and should partake of “natural right.”) No matter where you stand on this spectrum, you probably agree that it’s a noble goal to reduce the level of the suffering of animals raised for meat in industrial conditions.
There are four ways to move toward fixing this. One, we can improve the animals’ living conditions; two (this is distasteful but would shock no one), we might see producers reduce or even eliminate animals’ consciousness, say, by removing the cerebral cortex, in effect converting them to a kind of vegetable (see Margaret Atwood’s horrifying description in her prescient “Oryx and Crake”); three, we can consume fewer industrially raised animals, concentrating on those raised more humanely.
Or four, we can reduce consumption, period. That is perhaps difficult when people eat an average of a half-pound of meat daily. But as better fake plant-based “meat” products are created, that option becomes more palatable. My personal approval of fake meat, for what it’s worth, has been long in coming. I like traditional meat substitutes, like tofu, bean burgers, vegetable cutlets and so on, but have been mostly repelled by unconvincing nuggets and hot dogs, which lack bite, chew, juiciness and flavor. I’m also annoyed by the cost: why pay more for fake meat than real meat, especially since the production process is faster, easier and involves no butchering? And, I have felt, if you want to eat less meat, why not just eat more of other real things?
Read the rest of this column (and watch the video) here.
By Alaina Sullivan
Asian and Italian cuisines aren’t often combined, but here’s a recipe that brings them together. Take the concept of Italian cannelloni – large, round tubes or squares of noodle, stuffed and baked (typically with cheese and a sauce). Instead of using fresh pasta (which most of us don’t usually have the time to make), swap in an Asian equivalent: the wonton wrapper. Commonly associated with the crispy exterior of dumplings or egg rolls (which are made from a larger version), the paper-thin noodle can just as easily be repurposed for stuffed pasta (think: ravioli, tortellini, cannelloni, etc.) Boiled or baked, wonton wrappers function much the same way as their Italian counterpart.
In this recipe, ricotta – a classic pasta filling – is mixed with fresh sage, Parmesan, salt and pepper. You can easily swap in any herb you like, but sage is particularly nice. Tomato sauce makes a classic accompaniment, but you can also enjoy it as I did – drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of fresh black pepper (plus more grated Parm). Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Heat the oven to 400 F. In a bowl, mix together a cup of ricotta cheese, a tablespoon of chopped sage, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Put about a teaspoonful of this mixture in a wonton wrapper; roll into a tube, and put on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush or spray with olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the wontons are crisp. If you don’t have tomato sauce to warm up, serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with lots of black pepper.
By Alaina Sullivan
The combination of quick-fried tofu, sautéed greens and Thai-inspired peanut sauce brings a ton of texture and flavor to the plate. For the greens I used baby bok choy, though Chinese broccoli, tatsoi, or Napa cabbage, alone or in combination, would work just as well. The tofu (which you want to be as dry as possible) is pan-fried, which browns its exterior while the inside stays warm and soft. The peanut sauce is thick and rich, with tangy notes of soy sauce and lime. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Crisp Tofu and Asian Greens with Peanut Sauce
Slice firm tofu into strips or cubes and pat dry; roughly chop a bunch of the greens. Pan-fry the tofu in some vegetable oil until it browns on all sides, about four minutes; remove tofu from pan and pour off all but a little of the oil. Add the greens and pinch or two of red chile flakes, and continue cooking until the vegetables turn dark green, about three minutes. Mix together a half cup of peanut butter, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, and fresh lime juice to taste; add a bit of water if necessary to get a nice consistency. Add the sauce to the pan along with the reserved tofu and toss to coat. (You may not need to use all of the sauce, depending on how much greens/tofu you have). Garnish with crushed peanuts and serve.
When Ronda Storms, a Republican state senator in Florida, is accused of nanny-state-ism for her efforts on behalf of a sane diet, it’s worth noting. When she introduced a bill to prevent people in Florida from spending food stamps on unhealthy items like candy, chips and soda, she broke ranks: few of her party have taken on Big Food. And as someone who has called for the defunding of an educational Planned Parenthood program and banning library book displays supporting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, she is hardly in her party’s left wing. Not surprisingly, she’s faced criticism from every corner: Democrats think she’s attacking poor people, and Republicans seeMichelle Obama. Soon after Storms proposed the bill, she told me, “Coca-Cola and Kraft were in my office” hating it.
Yet she makes sense. “It’s just bad public policy to allow unfettered access to all kinds of food,” she told me over the phone. “Why should we cut all of these programs and continue to pay for people to use food stamps to buy potato chips, Oreos and Mountain Dew? The goal is to feed good food to hungry people.”
Read the rest of this column here.
Last week, Procter & Gamble sold its Pringles brand to Kellogg, for $2.7 billion.
In the scheme of things, this is not big news: a famous brand goes from one corporation to another. Happens all the time. Affects us barely, if at all; you’ll still never be more than a hundred yards from the all-too-familiar red Pringles canister, which, it’s said, made its designer so proud that he had his ashes packed into one after his death.
But the sale inspired some observations about the nature of “food.” Let’s start with a fantasy: suppose P.&G., in a fit of charity, decided that Pringles was, as we all know to be true, a brand that everyone in the world — with the possible exception of P.&G. shareholders and a few employees — would be better off without. I mean, I like Pringles as much as the next guy, but they’re not really “food,” or — to be more accurate — they’re not “real” “food” and I certainly know that I’d be better off without them.
Here’s a short list of other things that $2.7 billion could buy . For that money, you could feed 75 million children for a year, or fund Unicef’s child-assistance operations for two years. You could pay cash for NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover mission ($2.5 billion), and have still be able to foot half the cost of the president’s proposed strengthening of oversight of offshore oil and gas operations, which would save money in the long run. Or you could hire more than 60,000 teachers. Stuff like that.
Read the rest of this column here.