Would David Cameron Back a U.K. “Fat Tax?”

Some months ago, when someone smarter than I (I can’t even remember who it was!) suggested that the Fat Tax, the subject of my column today, could get backing from the Right as well as the Left, I scoffed. Now we have the potential of David Cameron, Britain’s decidedly Tory P.M., backing a significant national fat tax in the U.K., according to the Daily Mail. He’ll be attacked for nanny-state-ism by his own members, of course, but Britain’s highest-in-Europe obesity rate (third in the world, after the U.S. and Mexico) and the dangers to the National Health system – the oldest single-payer system in the world and perhaps the largest (depends how you measure) — could make this interesting.

(Originally posted here.)

Posted in Food Politics

U.S. Take Notice: Denmark’s “Fat Tax” Begins

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Well lookee here: the inevitable move toward taxing unhealthful foods to raise income and discourage damaging diets has begun. Last month, Hungary, almost unnoticed, began taxing foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar. And earlier this week, with just a little more fanfare, Denmark instituted an excise tax on foods high in saturated fat.

By our standards, the Danes aren’t even that fat: their obesity rate is about nine percent (it could be all that bike-riding), well below the European average of 15 percent and less than a third the rate of Americans. More startling, perhaps, is that the tax was introduced by a center-right government that was simply looking for new revenues. Although it met resistance, its passage was never really in doubt, because it was supported by both the right and the left. The tax was approved in a vote that ran about 90 percent in favor, and instituted at a rate of 16 Kroner (just under $3) per kilo, which will mean a half-pound of butter will rise in cost by about 15 cents.

(Read the full column here.)

Posted in Food Politics

Last Week in Food

From the “With friends like these, who needs…etc.” department: Here’s a look inside the American Dietetic Association’s nutrition conference/expo, where you’ll hear all about how processed foods are an important source of nutrients. Argh. And: In an attempt to undermine the FDA’s current efforts to rationalize front-of-package labeling, industry groups have devised a new campaign: change “Nutrition Keys” to “Facts Up Front.” And: Julia Moskin on the newly-formed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a well-funded Big-Ag group that is – incredibly – trying to position itself as an underdog in the current food climate. (Apparently they don’t like the term “Big-Ag,” but when you have $11 million to spend on public relations, and your members include the American Egg Board, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Pork Board, that’s what you are.)

 A 30-year side-by-side study of conventional and organic agriculture concludes that organic is better by every measure. Granted, the study is from the Rodale Institute, which has a vested interest in organic coming out on top, but the numbers are believable.

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Posted in Food Politics

Sweet Potato Chips & Tomatillo Pico

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By Freya Bellin

The farmers’ markets are overflowing with produce lately, bridging the gap between summer and fall. Last weekend there were still some rogue peaches, plenty of sweet tomatoes, peppers galore, and the first sightings of pumpkin. 

This recipe reflects that transition perfectly. In an ode to the peppers and bright herbs of summer, this pico de gallo is fresh, spicy, and bright. The tomatillos add a sweet-tart, crunchy element. I couldn’t resist chopping up a couple of small golden tomatoes to throw into the mix. The sweetness was a welcome addition, if you have some extra lying around. Meanwhile, the cumin dusted sweet potato chips are a preview of fall’s warm, sweet flavors. The thinner you can slice them, the better (I got some help from my food processor), but if they’re on the thick side, just make sure to cook them longer. You really want to see some browning and warping before you take them out of the oven; otherwise, they won’t crisp up when they cool. These are perfect for a crowd, and way better than your average old chips and salsa. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Mexican, Produce

So-Called Marcona Almonds

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No doubt Marcona almonds have their own appellation, and no doubt they’re special in some wonderfully subtle way. But what makes these babies notoriously delicious – irresistible even – is not that they’re from some unique place but that they’re usually FRIED and then liberally salted. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you didn’t realize you could make them yourself. I didn’t, until I thought about it. And then I found myself, after some baking project or other, with a bunch of skinned (that is, blanched) almonds, and in need of a snack for company, and everything fell into place. I used peanut oil, a couple of inches, and heated it to around 350DF. (You don’t need a thermometer for this. Drop an almond into the oil: when it sinks a bit, then floats right back to the top and starts sizzling, it’s hot enough.) Add a few at a time (I did a couple of batches of about a cup each), and cook just until they color a bit, three minutes or a little longer. Drain on paper towels, salt, cool, serve.

Re-use the oil in stir-fries, or spoon a little over cooked vegetables, or the like. It tastes pretty good. As do the almonds.

Posted in Recipes

The Minimalist: Pasta with Cauliflower

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(Watch the video here.)

I’ve been making this pasta for a very long time, probably since the 1980s, since it’s derived from a Marcella Hazan recipe. It’s dead simple — one of the things that I love about it — and you can pre-cook the cauliflower a day ahead or so if you’d like. I usually do the whole thing at once: cook the cauliflower in water, scoop it out and then, later, cook the pasta in the same water. It’s already boiling, and you want the taste of the cauliflower anyway, so why not?

The cauliflower gets cooked more, in a skillet with toasted garlic, so don’t boil it to death; you do want it to be tender, though. And in the original Minimalist recipe, from 2000, I added the bread crumbs to the skillet along with the cauliflower, but since I usually add some pasta water to the skillet to keep the mixture saucy, the bread crumbs become soggy. Better, then, to stir the bread crumbs in at the very end. They should be very coarse, ideally homemade, and if they’re toasted in olive oil in a separate skillet before you toss them in, so much the better.

For a while now I’ve been cooking pasta recipes with less pasta and more sauce. That’s a very personal decision, I know, but you could easily make this dish with half a pound of pasta and two pounds of cauliflower, and it would be excellent.

(Read the recipe here.)

Posted in Italian, Recipes

Brisket Redux

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By Daniel Meyer

Before the Rosh Hashanah brisket ever made it out of the roasting pan the cook announced that it was “dry.” It sort of was, but tasty nonetheless, especially the fattiest bits. There was a whole tupperware left over (which had less to do with dryness than with abundance.)

The next night, with dry-ish brisket in the fridge and a can of beer twinkling next to it, I did the most sensible thing I could think of: put them together. I sauteed a small chopped onion with cumin, coriander, and a little cinnamon, then added the brisket along with chopped chipotles in adobo, (languishing in the fridge) and a few glugs of beer. That bubbled away until the beer disappeared, mostly into the brisket, I think, which became very moist.

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Posted in Recipes

Poached Pears with Vanilla

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Makes: 4 servings

Time: about 20 minutes, plus time to cool

Pears can be poached at any stage of ripeness, with sugar added to the cooking water making up for any lack of fully developed natural sugars. So even with an unripe pear, this becomes an impressive, light dessert. Other fruits you can use: apples, apricots, peaches, nectarines, kumquats, or pineapple. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 /2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or one 3-inch

cinnamon stick

4 pears

1. Combine the sugar and vanilla or cinnamon with 5 cups water in a medium saucepan (large enough to accommodate the pears) over high heat. Peel the pears, leaving their stems on. Core them by digging into the blossom end with a melon baller, spoon, or paring knife.

2. Lower the pears into the boiling water and adjust the heat so that it simmers gently. Cook, turning the pears every 5 minutes or so, until they meet little resistance when prodded with a thin-bladed knife, usually from 10 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.

3. Transfer the pears to serving plates. (At this point, you may cover and refrigerate the pears for up to a day; bring to room temperature before serving.) Reduce the poaching liquid to a cup or less (this can also be stored for a day), then spoon a little over each pear before serving.

Poached Pears with Asian Spices. Add 3 star anise, 5 slices fresh ginger, and 2 cloves to the poaching mix.

Pears Poached in Red Wine. Substitute 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups red wine, 3/4 cup sugar, one 3-inch cinnamon stick, and 1 lemon, sliced, for the poaching liquid.

 

Posted in Produce, Recipes

Root Vegetable Stir-Fry

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By Alaina Sullivan

Roots are the gemstones of the vegetable clan. Unearthed from the soil they appear knobby and inedible, but pare away the tough exterior and you’ll uncover valuable flesh.

Grating transforms the roots from dense to delicate and readies them for a quick skillet stir-fry. Celeriac flesh shreds easily; sweet potato takes a little more elbow grease. With the beets, I opted to thinly slice rather than shred them to change up the texture a bit. I worked in three batches so that every ingredient would have a cheek against the hot skillet. As the beets cooked to an al dente tender-crisp, the shredded potatoes and celeriac became browned and soft.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Americans See a Food System that Needs Fixing

With the Farm Bill fast approaching, and the congressional Super Committee taking a hard look at which farm programs to cut and which to preserve, this is a good moment for Americans to let their feelings on these things be known. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released a compelling comparison of two brand new polls detailing Americans’ views of our current food system. One poll was commissioned by the conservation-minded David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the other by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, (USFRA) a well-funded group intent on advancing the interests and restoring the image of big agriculture.

While each poll skews slightly in the direction that you might expect, there’s a surprising alignment. Perhaps most notable in the USFRA poll is that 42 percent of respondents said the U.S. is “on the wrong track in the way we produce food,” as opposed to 39 percent who said it’s “heading in the right direction.” Acknowledging that we’re on the wrong track is the first step (and a crucial one). Getting political decision-makers to follow suit is next, and much more difficult.

Bug your Congressperson.

(This post originally appeared here.)

Posted in Food Politics