Past Perfect: Memories of Home, and a Huge Thanksgiving Latke

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 12.54.36 PMAfter living in what must have seemed like every neighborhood in three boroughs — Coney Island, the South Bronx, East Flatbush, Spanish Harlem (as it was then called), the Lower East Side — my mother’s parents, in their oldish age, settled in Astoria, which is where I spent almost all the Thanksgivings of my childhood.

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Posted in Recipes

Thanksgiving Pastrami From Danny Bowien

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year, so Danny Bowien proposed doing a Thanksgiving Pastrami. He demonstrates the simple meat dish for me.

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Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized

Chinatown Surprise

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 4.05.19 PMOn the advice of two friends, I wandered one day into Spicy Village, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a restaurant that politeness prevents me from describing as anything other than “modest.” I stopped by a couple of years ago to have the not-at-all-bad $2 pork sandwich, a pile of sloppy-Joe-ish pork served on light, crisp bread baked by the proprietors — Wendy Lian and her husband, Ren Fu Li — but I rarely thought of it again.

This time, however, I ordered, as I’d been instructed by my friends, the No. 7, the Spicy Big Tray Chicken. It arrived on an aluminum tray (you eat it on a foam plate with a plastic fork or chopsticks), a mound of chicken nearly afloat in a bath of dark, spicy sauce that contained star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, chile, garlic, cilantro, a few mystery ingredients and . . . potatoes. This was like no other “Chinese” dish I’d had before.

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Posted in Chinese

On Becoming China’s Farm Team

Look at the $4.7 billion purchase in September of the pork producer Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. — the Chinese firm that counts Goldman Sachs among its backers — from the standpoint of the Chinese. As this century’s economic titan, they had to “take a position” in United States pork. China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion is not only growing rapidly but growing wealthier rapidly, and flattering us by emulating our consumption patterns (for better or worse) while having trouble replicating some our production systems.

China has notorious problems with food safety; urban Chinese consumers distrust the quality and safety of their own food system, and express clear preference for imported food when it is available. What to do when you are the largest pork supplier in China, you have production and quality problems, must meet the ravenous demand for more meat from hundreds of millions of paying consumers, and the international supply is abundant? You buy the world’s largest pork producer and processor, together with that firm’s vaunted supply chain, quality controls, brand value and consumer appeal.

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Posted in Food Politics

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