The Magic of Masa

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If you’re interested in a serious project, you can make the best tortillas you’ve ever had by soaking and washing dried hominy — corn that has been treated with slaked lime — then grinding it to produce masa, or “dough.” Then you press out small discs and griddle them. Do that, and you’ll have my admiration.

Or you can do what so many people do: Start with masa harina, or “masa flour,” which you mix with water and a little fat. The dough takes five minutes to make (it’s better, but not essential, to let it rest for a while), and the pressing and griddling is simple and fun. If you buy a handy tortilla press, you can skip rolling or hand-pressing, but you don’t need one. (You can also buy freshly made masa, sold at many Latino supermarkets, which will also save you a step, and whose quality is usually quite high.)

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

Posted in Mexican

The Unhip, Unexpected Joys of Cruising

I have an embarrassing admission to make: I like cruises.

This is, of course, among the least hip things one can say. My friends look at me with incredulity. I feel the glare of the late David Foster Wallace, who in his 1996 Harper’s essay “Shipping Out,” later retitled “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” exposed cruises for the torturous, un-fun things they can be. So be it.

There is a qualification here: I have worked on cruises, as part of the “entertainment staff.” (Though I’m not very entertaining, I may actually be funnier than the so-called comedian.) This comes with the very real benefit of not paying, although there is the downside of having to work, and being bossed around a bit. So I may miss a few hours of time to myself in order to give a lecture or prep ingredients or demonstrate recipes. Or even get cornered by curious fellow passengers, asking things like “Oh, you’re the celebrity chef?” (Which I’m not, but close enough.) In short, I’m less busy than the servers, but more obligated than the average passenger.

Read the rest of this essay here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Exploiting California’s Drought

The San Joaquin Valley in California can be stunningly beautiful: On a visit two weeks ago, I saw billions of pink almond blossoms peaking, with the Sierra Nevada towering over all. It can also be a hideous place, the air choked with microparticles of unpleasant origins (dried cow dung, sprayed chemicals, blowing over-fertilized soil), its cities like Fresno and Bakersfield sprawling incoherently and its small towns suffering from poverty, populated by immigrants from places as near as Baja, Mexico, and as far as Punjab, India.

This year, much of its land is a dull, dusty brown rather than the bright green that’s “normal” here, even if “normal” is more desire than reality. With water, this is the best agricultural land in the world. Without it, not so much.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Food News You Need to Know

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The government’s new nutrition labels — the first in 20 years — will let families know whether their food has added sugars for the first time, and reflect more realistic portion sizes.

Related: New W.H.O. guidelines recommend that sugar make up only 5 percent of your daily calories. That’s 100 calories, which at four calories a gram would be 25 grams of sugar.

This is why we’re unhealthy, Buzzfeed explains in a video. For instance: The average person consumes 19 tablespoons of sugar a day, the maximum recommended amount recommended by the American Heart Association is 6 to 9 teaspoons.

Get the rest of the links here.

Posted in Food Politics

Rethinking Our “Rights” to Dangerous Behaviors

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Hearty Stews, Heavy on the Vegetables

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There is an extreme version of just about every stew you can name — beef stew, Irish stew, curry, cassoulet, bouillabaisse — in which vegetables are used, if at all, as “aromatics.” You may start by sweating a little bit of onion, carrot, celery, maybe garlic, with a bay leaf and a thyme sprig, and then you proceed to brown your main ingredient, usually chunks of meat, and add some liquid.

It’s difficult to believe that this tradition goes back much before the ’50s, because so few people had access to the two pounds or more of meat that it takes to make a stew containing little else. From Henry IV to Herbert Hoover, the promise was made that every Sunday, there would be a chicken “in every pot.” No one ever said “a half-pound of meat per person per day,” which is about what we eat.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

A Busman’s Honeymoon

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I had been cooking avidly for six years when, in the fall of 1976, thinking it was important to learn about “French” and “Northern Italian,” I flew to Rome with my new wife to begin what we called a “sort of honeymoon.”

At the time, “sophisticated” meant “complicated” and conjured visions of high-hatted chefs spending hours creating sauces you could never hope to duplicate. Instead, we were eating eggplant Parmesan — sautéed eggplant slices with a light tomato sauce and a grating of Parmesan — at a steam-table restaurant near the Pyramid of Cestius and rigatoni con la pajata, with the intestines of baby lamb, at a dive in the Testaccio.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Show-Stealing Vegetables

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Imagine this: Your dinner guests are seated around the table, waiting for you to parade out the main course. You triumphantly carry it in on a platter. Oohs and ahs ensue.

What did you picture on that platter? A bronzed turkey, perhaps? A hulking roast? Lobster à l’Américaine? It probably wasn’t vegetables, which have long been entrenched in side-dish territory. But the wow factor isn’t restricted to animal flesh. I’d argue that elevating vegetables to star status is a better display of your culinary chops — and a more unconventional and surprising one — than showcasing a piece of meat.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Eating in London’s West End

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It takes time to eat in a great restaurant, and time is precious pre- or post-theater. You’re either eating early and in a hurry to make the curtain, or you’re up late and half-ready for bed. In either case, a two-hour blowout is unlikely.

This could explain why traditionally the best restaurants are not usually clustered in theater districts, and why the restaurants you do find in those areas tend to prize efficiency over anything else. But in London, at least, that’s no longer the case. In the last decade, a dozen really interesting restaurants have opened in the heart of — or just a few blocks from — the West End. Some have come and gone, and I’ve written about others (most notably Quo Vadis, which remains a standby). But there’s now enough of a critical mass that the area deserves a survey of its offerings.

Read the rest of this article here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fish Stews (with a Little Meat)

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I don’t subscribe to the belief that everything is better with bacon, but small amounts of meat do often improve many dishes — even those with fish. While there are plenty of classic fish stews that don’t use meat for flavoring, including bouillabaisse, there are also many that do. (Clam chowder, anyone?) Think about it: When you’re making stew, everything is fair game.

Generally speaking, fish stews are easy to make and quicker than their meat-based brethren. Even making your own fish stock won’t slow you down, because few fish take more than several minutes to cook.

Read the rest of this article an get the recipes here.

Posted in Uncategorized