Mobile Farm or Vending Machine?

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By Suzanne Lenzer

It seems like a good thing: Lay’s–the potato chip people–have a mobile farm set up in Times Square to help educate people about where their food comes from. It’s cute. There’s the “mobile farm” itself, with live plants and nice baskets of vegetables next to each one to help identify what’s actually growing; there’s a section where you can have your picture taken with a farmer (or at least someone wearing a straw hat); and there are a couple of very nice people handing out plastic cups with basil seeds inside so you can grow your own fresh herbs at  
home.

Sadly I was alone at the basil handout table, and the mobile farm wasn’t exactly packed either. The crowd was swarming a guy under a sign that read “Proudly supporting America’s potato farmers” who was handing out bags of Lays chips. The best of intentions I suppose, but if they really wanted to get people into planting basil they probably should have left the free chips back at the farm.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

The Milk Chronicles: In Search of Vegan Cappuccino

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by Natascha Hildebrandt

[Natascha and I sometimes run together, and she and a few other running buddies decided to have a vegan July (no, I did not join them). They all have had interesting experiences, but Natascha was focused, oddly enough, on her daily coffee. When I heard she was trying every non-dairy milk she could find, I asked her to write up her experiences. Voila - mb] 

Inspired by some vegan ultra athletes, I decided to go on a vegan adventure for the month of July.  Looking at what I ate it seemed like the hardest things to give up would be butter, the milk in my cappuccino, and butter. I have since found that it’s easy to live without butter.  (Where you would use a tablespoon, you now substitute half an avocado.  Clearly I won’t be shedding any pounds during this experiment.) The two percent milk cappuccino is a bit more of a challenge. 

My initial reaction to all of the milk substitutes was pretty much “ick.” But it’s amazing: you can get used to anything. The second is better than the first; by the third, well, you can live with it. Generally, you will probably be happier if your palate is a little on the sweet side. (Mine is not—I’m happier in the land of the tart and bitter.) Though I chose unsweetened and unflavored “milks” to compare, they are all definitely sweeter than their dairy sister. They are all perfectly good in pancakes or cooking, and, amazingly, they all make acceptable foam for cappuccino. 

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Posted in Vegan

Tasting with the Greats

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by Bernard Sun 

[Bernie is an engaging and experienced sommelier in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s group of New York restaurants. After he’d turned me on to great bargains at Matsugen, ABC Kitchen, and Jean-Georges, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to blog about. Turned out he was leaving town for a couple of events … and here’s his report. - mb] 

The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen sees several thousand attendees descend onto the tiny (and tony) town (altitude, 8,000 ft.) to hobnob with a legion of familiar names and faces from worlds of food and wine. There are 30-plus seminars on cooking over the course of four days, and no fewer than 26 different seminars about wine, beer, and spirits, including a few “reserved” tastings.  

Some of the best events, however, were not on the official program listing.  I was invited to – actually I stumbled upon – one of these, simply by being at the right place at the right time (this happened to be 2 a.m., while I was still adjusting not only to the drinking but to the altitude).  This was an impromptu brown bag blind tasting challenge in the basement with about a dozen people including my friends Aldo Sohm, Paul Greco, Brett Zimmerman, Paolo Domeneghetti, Brad Groper, Allison Domeneghetti, and Jose Andres, who had just finished carving a leg of Iberico ham for the crowd.  This is a pretty serious group of tasters in broad daylight, but how good are you long after midnight after working all day and drinking for hours? 

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Posted in Travel

A Simple Supper: Artichokes and Potatoes

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by Edward Schneider

Am I wrong to think that only a handful of farmers who come to Manhattan Greenmarkets grow artichokes? I’ve seen them only at Maxwell’s stand, but surely there must be other growers too, no? 

Whatever the case, that’s where Jackie bought some lovely little ones last week, along with a bag of nice dense new-season potatoes, a bunch of thyme and some juicy onions. Her shopping bag contained our entire dinner, apart from the salt, pepper, olive oil and smoked prosciutto (speck). With the oven pre-heating to 375 degrees, we first cut off the tops of the artichokes, stripped them down to the pale, tender inner leaves and pared the stems (dipping them and holding them in lemon-juiced water as we worked). Then we par-steamed the potatoes – just for four or five minutes to give them a head start – sliced some speck and cut an onion into wedges. All of this, we tossed with olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper in a baking dish and roasted until the artichoke hearts and potatoes were tender and lightly browned. 

Apart from the adventure of trimming the artichokes (see this: though ours were far smaller, the idea is the same), this was hardly cooking at all, and it made a hell of a dinner. Although the focus was on the vegetables, I have to say that the crisp roasted speck was irresistible; we’ll use twice as much next time. Maybe three times as much.

Posted in American, Recipes

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Pop a Cork, Save a Forest

We had a dinner party last night for a group of friends who enjoy their wine. I’m glad to report that we more than did our bit to save the forests of Portugal, Spain, Italy, and northern Africa. The vintages we selected all came in bottles sealed with cork, which is made from the bark of a species of oak.

But with the increasing popularity of screw caps and plastic “corks,” the real cork industry is threatened, and along with it, more than four million acres of forest. In addition to providing some 100,000 jobs, cork forests combat global warming and provide habitat for wildlife. Portugal’s Montada Forest is home to hundreds of species of birds and also habitat for the Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered animals. Apcor, the Portuguese Cork Association says that cork is compostable and produces 24 times less carbon than the aluminum in screw caps—if you need another reason to pop a cork and raise a glass.

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Posted in Food Politics

Sunday Supper: Crawfish or Shrimp Boil

Over on Kitchen Daily I’m talking lobster, but here’s another shellfish recipe that just screams Summer. Adapted from How to Cook Everything.

Crawfish or Shrimp Boil, Louisiana Style

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 30 minutes, plus time to cool

It’s traditional to serve the seafood (and vegetables; see the variation) in the center of a newspaper-covered table with some French bread and a bowl of the cooking water—which will taste pretty good after having all this cooked in it—handy for dipping.

About 6 quarts water, fish stock, or shrimp stock

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme or several sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

3 cloves

4 small dried hot red chiles

Salt

4 pounds whole crawfish or shrimp

Tabasco or other hot red pepper sauce for serving

Lemon wedges for serving

Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic mayonnaise, or tartar sauce for dipping, optional

1. Bring the liquid to a boil in a medium to large saucepan and add the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, coriander, cloves, chiles, and plenty of salt. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Add the crawfish or shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the seafood cool down for a few minutes in the liquid.

3. Remove the crawfish or shrimp with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with more salt, and serve, passing hot sauce, lemon wedges, black pepper, and sauce at the table.

Crawfish or Shrimp Boil with Vegetables. More of a meal: In Step 1, add 11/2pounds waxy potatoes and 1 pound onions (all cut into large chunks if they’re big- ger than eggs). Boil with the seasonings until just beginning to get tender, about 10 minutes. When you add the seafood in Step 2, add 4 to 6 ears of shucked corn (cut in half if you like). Proceed with the recipe.

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Quick Pickles, the Wrong Way

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by Kerri Conan 

Or call them skillet pickles. Whatever: They’re the perfect antidote to full-on canning or refrigerator-cured vegetables, since there’s no work involved and you don’t need a bushel of produce. 

Start with trimmed whole or sliced vegetables (in this case green beans but I later made a batch with beets) and a hot skillet filmed with olive oil. Add some aromatics (the first garlic from the garden for the first; the other got a mixture of sesame and grape seed oils with scallions). When the seasoning just starts to sputter, toss in the veg. Move them around in the pan a bit so the color brightens evenly, then stir in a splash each of water and vinegar (I used sherry v. for the beans and rice v. for the beets, but your call). If you’re worried about ratios, figure 1 part each of oil, water, vinegar. But you only need enough to douse the vegetables, not submerge them.  

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

On Finding and Shucking Oysters

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by Cathy Erway

It was something I would have normally found awe-inspiring: a platter of freshly shucked oysters, placed ceremoniously on a chrome stand. The opened half shells dotted the perimeter of the dish, sunken into a bed of crushed ice. In the center lay lemon wedges and small cups of cocktail sauce, horseradish and vinaigrette, with spoons dug provocatively down in. In their pools of clear brine, the silver flesh of the oysters seemed to quiver gently even seconds after being set down, and their juices threatened to drip into the ice. These were served up at a well-heeled restaurant with much recent hype, no less, at a table that was the envy of every person waiting patiently outside. It was, by all standards, a real foodie’s dream. But it just wasn’t the same for me.  

You see, the day before, I had foraged for oysters on a calm and sandy beach. I wasn’t expecting to find them, nor the quahogs, hermit crabs and miniature shellfish that lay half-hidden at my feet. But I recognized the teardrop shape and craggy surface of the first oyster from afar, and spent the next hour or so peeling the beach for more. Once home, I shucked them open one by one, to enjoy with friends. I’d collected ten oysters in total, and they ranged wildly in stature: the smallest being the size of a baby’s ear and the largest one, a round and deep-bowled object that held a mouthful-sized mollusk. Some had translucent green strands of seaweed clinging to its shells, which I could never get off. One had another oyster shell impossibly stuck against it like a Siamese twin. Slipped into the mouth, some oysters gave with a subtle crunch, like a softened piece of cartilage, while others went down as a smooth, cold lobe of blubber. All of them were very easy to shuck. Perhaps it was this particular species, but the way the tiny crevice between the pointed ends of both shells – the sweet spot – gave so easily with the shove of a shucker made it seem as if they had been waiting to be opened, too.  

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Posted in Farming, Seafood

Early Birds Abroad

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By Edward Schneider

A perennial problem for visitors to Spain is the dining timetable. Many Spaniards have their main meal at lunchtime, eventually going back to work and staying there until well into the evening. Only then do they start to think about going out for a stroll, a drink, another stroll and something more to eat. But if my wife and I were to have a full-blown sit-down lunch, we’d be useless for the rest of the afternoon and would miss a precious half day of sightseeing. So going native is not for us.

Before a brief trip to Córdoba, our first, we asked friends for dining ideas that were a little off the beaten track – that might take us out of the ancient center of the city into neighborhoods that most tourists don’t see. The one that particularly struck our fancy was about a twenty-minute walk east of our hotel (the dreamy Palacio del Bailío, which for a September stay, for example, can be booked on hotels.com for $233 a night). Continue reading

Posted in Travel