Herbs: Think of Them as Teeny Vegetables

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Before pesto reached the shores of America, every “fancy” dish in this country carried a sprig of parsley, and for all but a very few of us, that was the extent of our acquaintance with herbs. It was Paula Peck, author of the once-invaluable and now-quaint “The Art of Good Cooking,” who brought to my attention the notion that parsley could play a better, more varied role in cooking if you used it by the handful.

Several years later, pesto filed its immigration papers, gardening became a little more popular and cooking evolved to a more interesting state. But herbs remain underrated. We add some thyme to stews, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as too much basil, parsley is recognized for its flavor and all but the genetically twisted appreciate cilantro. (A joke; some of my best friends think it tastes like soap.) But for the most part we are rather restrained in our use of the potent green things.

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Posted in Produce

So the F.T.C. calls me up, and they’re like. . .

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A couple of representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, evidently stung by my column last week (in which I called the agency “spineless”), scheduled a phone call to remind me that the F.T.C. doesn’t have the ability to pass legislation that determines how Big Food markets to children.

I knew that. But that doesn’t mean the F.T.C. needs to praise the industry for its ridiculously transparent self-regulation scheme. Here’s Jon Leibowitz, agency chairman, quoted in The Times: “The industry’s uniform standards are a significant advance and exactly the type of initiative the commission had in mind when we started pushing for self-regulation more than five years ago.”

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Posted in Behind The Scenes, Food Politics

Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas

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By Freya Bellin

These fajitas are like the sweet, spicy, crunchy distant cousin of the fajita you know now. The recipe breathes some fresh air into the standard fajita by adding crunchy jicama and carrots, plus the sweetness of pineapple. The flavors are unexpected, but they work together beautifully. Make sure to do your chopping ahead of time as things move pretty fast once you start cooking. I like putting each ingredient in its own separate bowl, ready to be dropped into the pan. You’ll only need one large skillet for cooking everything, which means easy cleanup too. Serve with plenty of cilantro and guacamole or salsa. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Mexican, Recipes

Blueberry Cobbler

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Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 1 hour

My friend John Willoughby found this recipe in a southern boardinghouse nearly 20 years ago. It’s become my go-to cobbler recipe, because it’s essentially perfect. I love this with blueberries, but you can make it with any fruit you like.

Cobbler dough is somewhere between a biscuit and a cookie: fluffy, a bit flaky, buttery, and at least slightly sweet. The key is not overmixing the dough; get it so that it’s just combined, barely holding together, then drop it onto the filling in mounds, leaving space for steam to escape from the cooking fruit. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

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Posted in American, Baking

Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance

Life would be so much easier if we could only set our own guidelines. You could define the average weight as 10 pounds higher than your own and, voilà, no more obesity! You could raise the speed limit to 90 miles per hour and never worry about a ticket. You could call a cholesterol level of 250 “normal” and celebrate with a bag of fried pork rinds. (You could even claim that cutting government spending would increase employment, but that might be going too far.) You could certainly turn junk food into something “healthy.”

That’s what the food industry is doing.

(Read the rest of this article here.)

Posted in Food Politics

Frozen Chocolate Bananas

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By Freya Bellin

In light of the recent heat wave in New York, I’ve been avoiding the oven at all costs. Instead, I’ve found an excellent way to cool down: frozen chocolate covered bananas. Frozen banana becomes very creamy, just like ice cream, and the bittersweet chocolate mixture is a perfect complement. Add the texture of chopped nuts, and you have a well-balanced, simple dessert.

When preparing the banana skewers for this recipe, make sure the bananas are frozen completely before you try to dip them in chocolate. Once frozen, they are dense enough to remain on the stick in one piece, but until they’re totally solid they fall apart when picked up. In order to thoroughly coat the banana with chocolate (which, believe me, you’ll want to do), you may need to spoon the chocolate onto the banana, rather than dipping. And you can get creative with the add-ons. As mentioned below, coconut, crushed cookies, or any nut make great toppings. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Stir-Fried Tofu with Scallions

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Makes: 4 servings

Time: 20 minutes

The most basic stir-fry you can make and one you can build on indefinitely. Master this and you master the world, at least the world of stir-frying tofu, which is not insignificant.  Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds firm to extra-firm tofu, blotted dry

3 tablespoons peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger (optional)

2 dried chiles (optional)

1 or 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated (about 2 cups total)

1/3 cup vegetable stock or water

2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)

1. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch or slightly larger cubes. Put the oil in a large skillet or wok, preferably nonstick, over high heat. When hot, add the garlic and the ginger and chiles if you’re using them and cook, stirring, for about 10 seconds. Add the tofu and the white parts of the scallions; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu begins to brown, a couple of minutes. Add the stock and cook, stirring, until about half of it evaporates; add the green parts of the scallions and stir for about 30 seconds.

2. Add the soy sauce, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish if you like, and serve.

 

Posted in Recipes, Vegan

DIY Clambake

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A clambake is one of those absurdly demanding culinary tasks that can still be performed by normal people — that is, nonchefs. And your first clambake can go well: the hardest part is finding the right beach, preferably one with an abundance of seaweed, big rocks and dry wood. It’s still not an intuitive process; at my first clambake, I wound up scraped, burned and sore, and the food I produced was undercooked and sandy. Part of this was drinking too much, too early, and part of it was that I was making it up as I went along.

I’ve worked through all of that. And if you follow my “recipe” (which includes phrases I don’t often employ, like “find about 30 rocks, each 6 by 4 inches”), you should have a memorable experience. Few meals are more beautiful than a well-executed clambake. And because demanding culinary tasks are in vogue, at least for a certain hard-working segment of the sustainable-food set, it seems like the right moment for a clambake revival.

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Posted in American, Seafood

Irradiation and the ‘Ick Factor’

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After the E. coli outbreak in Europe last month — which sickened more than 3000 people and killed at least 50 — it was impossible not to think about irradiation. “What if,” I asked myself, “those little fenugreek seeds had been irradiated?” Might there have been fewer deaths, fewer cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (essentially, kidney failure; there were 900), fewer tragic stories?

The answer is “yes.” But it’s not the only question.

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Posted in Food Politics