Good News in Food

Certainly there is plenty wrong with our food “system,” and it’s easy to point that out week after week. Every day there’s more bad news, and when credible people say that 900 million Indians are hungry — really hungry, not “dying” for a Snickers — the tendency is to get so depressed that one overlooks progress. (Perhaps, too, New Yorkers are born to kvetch.)

But here in the United States at least, every week there’s evidence that the pendulum is swinging. One could allow pessimism to reign, but it’s my sworn duty to occasionally point out some of The Good Stuff. And there’s been plenty the last few weeks. (All tempered, of course, but we’ll try to tame the inner curmudgeon here.)

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Peppers

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By Alaina Sullivan

Aside from color, a roasted bell pepper bears little resemblance to its raw counterpart.  After a stint in the oven, the skin becomes charred and wrinkly, sagging around the flesh it once held so tautly. The molten inside easily sheds its blistered skin – emerging incomparably more succulent and sweet than the raw version. The transformation is magical and delicious, and can easily be achieved in the oven, under the broiler, or over an open flame. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Eat Less Meat. Save the World.

A few weeks ago, in “The Ethicist,” Ariel Kaminer asked readers of this paper’s Magazine to explain why it’s ethical to eat meat. The contest generated around 3,000 submissions, and as a judge I read about 30 of them. (Here are the responses from the winner and the finalists.)

A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.

The purely pragmatic reasons to eat less meat (and animal products in general) are abundant. And while I’ve addressed them before, I’ll continue until the floods come to Manhattan.

Read the rest of this colum here.

Posted in Vegan

The Puebla International Mole Festival

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Last week I was lucky enough to get to speak at the International Mole Festival in Puebla, Mexico. Why Mexico? My interview with Mexico City food writer Lesley Téllez (copied below and originally posted here) explains a bit about my relationship with Mexico and its food. Also, be sure not to miss Lesley’s recap of the first day of the festival (look at the pictures and you’ll see why I had to go).

Q: When did you first start traveling to Mexico?
A: I don’t know, 30 years ago. But seriously, really seriously, it’s been five years. In the past five years it’s become a priority.

Q: Why?
A: It should’ve been a priority all along. I saw the error of my ways. Look, you can’t go everywhere. It’s important for me to see as many things as I can see, globally. But my early loves were European and Asian cuisine, and I’d say I was first Eurocentric and then I spent a great deal of time in the late 90s/early 2000s traveling in Asia. I don’t have to apologize for this, but I mistakenly put Mexico not at the top of the list. But it’s worked out fine. It’s still here.

Q: What first captured your attention in Mexico in terms of the food?
A: It’s a really interesting question because the first couple of times I came here, I went to the Yucatán. Without being cruel, I would say that it ’s not — the way Yucatecan cuisine is presented to visitors is not the best. Yucatecan cuisine is spectacular in its soul, but it’s very hard to find that. Very hard to find it. Because Yucatecan cuisine is Mayan cuisine, and what’s sold in most restaurants in the Yucatán is not that. But I only learned that recently.

I think what really attracted me was street markets and street food in Mexico City. I have friends who’ve been kind enough to schlep me around and show me, probably starting eight or ten years ago.

And I have been nowhere. Let me say, I know more about Poblano food than about anything else, and I don’t know anything about a lot of them. So I’m totally a real beginner.

Q: Yeah, I was originally surprised to see your name on the list of speakers. I’d seen in some of your columns that you’d visited Mexico, but I didn’t know you had such an affinity that you’d actually come here to talk in Puebla.
A: Well. I’d go talk in Bhutan where I’ve never been, because an opportunity to talk to a big audience is an opportunity to talk to a big audience. You just get there early enough to not be an idiot about the food. And I have to say I’m not an idiot about Poblano food.

Q: You repeated yourself in your talk, when you mentioned innovation in Mexican food. You said twice that Mexican food does not need to be tinkered with. Why?
A: Because it’s really good. I mean that’s an easy answer. How are you going to make this food better? By adding soy sauce? By adding more cheese? By what? By turning it into pizza? If someone’s going to tell me I’m having a mole poblano pizza, that’s nice, but let’s not have that be a symbol of Puebla. What’s going to make it better? GMO corn and mass-produced masa is not going to make it better.

Posted in Mexican, Travel

Remembering Ernest Callenbach

Ernest Callenbach died a few weeks ago, and I felt a tinge of sadness. I first read his semi-utopian novel “Ecotopia” just after it appeared in 1975, when I was living in Somerville, Mass., and working as a cab driver and “editor” of an erratically appearing newspaper. The early- to mid- ’70s, as frivolous and lush as they might appear in hindsight — what with “free love,” cool drugs, cheap living and all — were in some ways not much different from now. We had a pragmatic president[1], an energy crisis and a wrongheaded, meanspirited, decidedly unjust quicksand of a war from which we needed to extricate ourselves.

I had moved from college in Worcester, Mass., back to New York for my junior year in 1969, in a state of depression probably not uncommon for 19-year-olds in those days. Hope seemed impossible; progress, unattainable. During that infamous spring of 1970, “we” — the United States, that is — bombed Cambodia, which somehow seemed even more outrageous than waging an ongoing and undeclared war on Vietnam. National Guard troops shot and killed four students at Kent State and — 10 days later — state and local police killed two students and injured a dozen others at Jackson State. Government atrocities were taken for granted. (Watergate, ultimately, came as no surprise, really.) Like nearly every other student in New York — or so it seemed — I spent my days protesting one thing or another. Change was in the air.[2]

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Slow Food

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

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By Alaina Sullivan

In the time that it takes to wait for take-out, you could already be sinking your chopsticks into this savory stir-fry. Nothing more than pork and greens dressed in a garlicky soy-lime sauce, it is not only weeknight-dinner easy, but also a foundation for any number of variations (each more delicious and more fun than any take-out version). I used red chard here, but any green is fair game (bok choy, spinach, mustard greens, kale and collards are other great options).

The trademark flavors of lime juice and soy sauce create a bright, umami-rich sauce. If you want to give it extra kick, toss in a bit of lime zest and some crushed red pepper flakes. I also added a drizzle of toasted sesame oil (and sesame seeds too) for some nuttiness and extra crunch. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Chinese, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Rice Pudding in the Oven

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By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple — rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow’s milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

Wendell Berry, American Hero

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The sensibility of Wendell Berry, who is sometimes described as a modern day Thoreau but who I’d call the soul of the real food movement, leads people like me on a path to the door of the hillside house he shares with his wife, Tanya, outside of Port Royal, Ky. Everything is as the pilgrim would have it: Wendell (he’s a one-name icon, like Madonna, but probably in that respect only) is kind and welcoming, all smiles.

He quotes Pope (“Consult the genius of the place in all”), Spenser, Milton and Stegner, and answers every question patiently and articulately. He doesn’t patronize. We sit alone, uninterrupted through the morning, for two or three hours. Tanya is at church; when it’s time, he turns on the oven, as she requested before leaving. He seems positively yogic, or maybe it’s just this: How often do I sit in long, quiet conversation? Wendell has this effect.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Slow Food

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Chicken Cutlets

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By Alaina Sullivan

Baked chicken wrapped in breadcrumbs immediately conjures up memories of the dry, bland versions I used to endure as a kid. (The kind where a vat of dipping mustard was essential and you needed a glass of milk to wash down each chalky bite.) This recipe is anything but dry or bland. Part of it is because the breadcrumbs are limited to a topping – they maintain a strong textural presence without sealing the chicken in a dusty coat. Using thinner cutlets instead of full breasts ensures that the ratio of crust to meat is just right. The other part of the equation is using fresh breadcrumbs – homemade crumbs from a decent loaf of bread will take your dredge to a whole new level. Add some fresh parsley and grated Parmesan to the mix and you’ve got yourself an easy and flavorful crust that makes the store-bought version all-but useless. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Continue reading

Posted in Recipes

Cooking With Thomas Keller

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Fernand Point was not one of your gym-going, globe-trotting, Ph.D.-equipped chefs. He was a roast-chicken-for-breakfast-eating, two-bottles-of-Champagne-at-lunch-drinking, big fat (no way around it) guy, the stereotype of the mid-20th-century French chef and almost without question the most influential of his time.

His time was on either side of World War II, and his place was La Pyramide, about a half-hour south of Lyons, often considered the mecca of French cuisine. During the war itself, he fed refugees from the north and then closed for six months rather than feed the occupying forces. His lifestyle was legendary, as was his cooking. (His wine cellars, too — though they were overseen by Mme. Mado Point. They had their share of great Burgundies and Bordeaux but also brought respectability to Rhone wines, even the still-overlooked whites. Mme. Point also ran the restaurant after her husband’s death in 1955, by most reports brilliantly.) Everyone ate at La Pyramide, or wanted to. Half the great French chefs of the next generation — men like Bocuse, Chapel, Outhier and Vergé — trained under him.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Behind The Scenes