Remembering Marcella

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Marcella Hazan, who died Sept. 29 at the age of 89, never intended to bring real Italian cooking to America. But no matter how accidental her impact, it can hardly be overstated. What Alice Waters did for restaurants, Hazan did for home cooks, demonstrating that the simple treatment of decent ingredients leads to wonderful dishes.

In a way, Hazan was the anti-Julia Child, and Child had a sense of that. In a conversation shortly before her own death, Child said to me: “I don’t get the whole thing with Italian cooking. They put some herbs on things, they put them in the oven and they take them out again.” Exactly.

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Posted in Uncategorized

What We’re Reading Now

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.01.45 AMWith cuts to SNAP, 76 million meals will be off the table for the poorest families in New York City alone. Related: A sobering piece by Ian Frazier in the New Yorker about homelessness in New York, which is higher than it’s been in decades.

Here is Andy Borowitz’s take on the Republicans’ flimsy alternative to Obama’s signature legislation. Meanwhile: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, apologized for the failures of the Affordable Care Act website, and Obama has vowed to fix it. Of course, if certain right-leaning states hadn’t refused to set up their own exchanges, fewer people would have had to rely on the federal site.

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Posted in Food Politics

Now This Is Natural Food

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A few weeks ago at the annual Prairie Festival in Salina, Kan. — a celebration, essentially, of true sustainability — I sat down with Wes Jackson to drink rich beer and eat delicious, chewy bread made from the perennial grain Kernza. The Kernza we ate was cultivated at the Land Institute, the festival’s sponsor and the organization Jackson founded here 37 years ago.

At 77, Jackson is a big man with big ideas. Clearly he was back then as well, when he became determined to change the face of agriculture from being dependent upon annual monoculture (that is, planting a new crop of a single plant each year) to one that includes perennial polyculture, with fields containing varieties of mutually complementary species, planted once, harvested seasonally but remaining in place for years.

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Posted in Farming

Do Not Fear a Beet Without Goat Cheese

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 9.31.46 AMGive a cook a beet, and he’ll probably do one of two things with it: Reject it for fear of turning the kitchen into a juicy red crime scene, or roast it and serve it with goat cheese. Ever since its ascendance, the beet-and-goat-cheese salad has been as ubiquitous a combination as tomato and mozzarella. I can take this marriage or leave it, but even if you love it, you must admit that it only scratches the surface of what beets have to offer.

There are some roasted-beet recipes here — sans goat cheese — but the rest treat the root in less familiar ways. More than half the time that I prepare beets, I begin by shredding them in a food processor. After that, you can serve them raw with a simple dressing, or you can stir-fry them in a skillet to brown them slightly, which brings out their sweetness like nothing else.

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Posted in Recipes

Deep Fried and Good for You

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 9.05.03 AMFried food is probably not on anyone’s lists of healthy eats, but you have to start with this: Fat is good for you.

The long-lived people of Crete might not drink a glass of olive oil a day, but they consume three times as much as we do, and that’s probably more desirable than our misguided notion that the less fat you eat, the better.

There are differences among fats, of course, but with trans-fats in full retreat and lard and butter making comebacks, the whole fat-eating thing is starting to make some sense. Of course, the key word is moderation. You can eat fat as long as it’s high quality and you don’t eat it to the exclusion of plants.

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Posted in Recipes

More on Chicken

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 3.45.55 PMIn the wake of the salmonella Heidelberg outbreak in chicken, which I wrote about on Wednesday, here are some updates:

Food safety advocates are demanding to know why there has been no recall of Foster Farms chicken. The U.S.D.A.’s Assistant Administrator for F.S.I.S. Field Operations, Daniel Engeljohn, talks about the current state of the inquiry.

Consumer groups are calling on the U.S.D.A. to strengthen its inspection program to prevent contaminated poultry products from being sold to consumers.

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Posted in Food Politics

Should You Eat Chicken?

I tell this friend about the latest salmonella outbreak, and she asks me, “Should I stop eating chicken?”

It’s a good question. In recent weeks, salmonella on chicken has officially sickened more than 300 people (the Centers for Disease Control says there are 25 illnesses for every one reported, so maybe 7,500) and hospitalized more than 40 percent of them, in part because antibiotics aren’t working. Industry’s reaction has been predictably disappointing: the chicken from the processors in question — Foster Farms — is still being shipped into the market. Regulators’ responses have been limited: the same chicken in question is still being sold.

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Posted in Food Politics

How to Feed the World

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 7.52.48 PMIt’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet on the eve of World Food Day, Oct. 16, the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage. Yet there are other, better options.

Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population.

“Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one. But if it worked that way, surely the rate of hunger in the United States would not be the highest percentage of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than of Britain.

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Posted in Food Politics

What We’re Reading Now

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Nicholas Kristof brings some promising news from the developing world: Illiteracy and AIDS are receding, ancient diseases such as Guinea worm and polio are on the way out, and child mortality is dropping.

Less encouraging: One of the many troubling consequences of the federal government shutdown is the suspension of the F.D.A.’s food safety inspection program. Speaking of food safety: The Chilean farmed salmon industry uses more than 300 million grams of antibiotics a year. And this salmon gets infected with parasitic sea lice, which (as demonstrated by this photo) you don’t want in your salmon.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Stuff Yourself

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Dolmades or dolmas — better known as stuffed grape leaves — have long been a fixture of Mediterranean-style appetizer spreads. They’re one of those foods that just seem to materialize magically from supermarket cans or specialty-store containers; we eat them happily, but most of us have never endeavored to make them ourselves. Truth be told, sometimes we don’t even know what’s inside them.

Until recently, I tackled dolmas exactly once: in a forlorn upstate New York town that had some vineyards. But since then, I’ve made the project routine, because D.I.Y. dolmas are not only doable but come with a significant advantage: choice. Whether they are from regular grocery stores (not great) or Mediterranean markets (much better), dolmas are typically the same: grape leaves stuffed with soft rice, sometimes lentils or meat and whopped with lemon. Making them yourself means you cannot only play around with the flavors of the fillings, but you can also use other grains and leaves as well.

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Posted in Recipes