A Return to Sweeter Times

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By Suzanne Lenzer

[Following up on her popular On Eating Alone, Suzanne suggests the opposite: inviting someone over, for an old-fashioned coffee cake. - mb]

Remember how in old television shows neighbors visited each other in the middle of the day for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake? Ethel and Lucy would hatch plans over coffee, and long before Samantha made Darrin his evening martini, Esmerelda would have been around for a cup of Sanka and a touch of bewitching mayhem.

Back then everyone seemed to have time to sit and talk over coffee and cake, with no one checking their blackberry in the midst of a chat. And in those days, an afternoon coffee wasn’t just a jolt of caffeine, but an excuse for a real break. The cake was a further reason to linger an extra half hour or so. Now it seems a nostalgic reminder of the days before Atkins, personal trainers, and Pilates. Continue reading

Posted in American, Baking

Blogs With Bite

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[Mike is one of my oldest friends; we started hanging out together in, oh, 1966 or so, though we knew each other before that. Nowadays, he lives in DC, blogs at NotionsCapital, and will contribute frequently to mb.com, with a monthly Blogs with Bite (the most unusual food sites you'll ever find) and more. - mb]

Blogs with Bite is an occasional omnivorous sampling of food blogs and sites we find particularly tasty. Follow the trail of bread crumbs back to earlier editions, starting here.

Here’s a fresh serving of Blogs with Bite:

Asian Dumpling Tips —  Few people know more about gyōza, wonton, lumpia, momo, bao, har gow, siu mai, and samosa than Andrea Nguyen, and none of them write as well.

McDonald’s History – “Travel through time using our Interactive Timeline! See the birth of McDonald’s, the launch of your favorite menu item, McDonald’s characters, or advertising jingles!” Continue reading

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Pasta in brodo

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I’ve written a little over at the Times about my recent illness and comfort food. 

But one thing I didn’t mention was what must be among the most soothing dishes ever: pasta in brodo.

There’s some history here. In case you were wondering, I’m not – at least to my knowledge – Italian. (My family tree looks like a 3-month old shrub, so no one really knows.) Yet when I was young, my mother made me pastina – which is essentially couscous without the cachet – when I was sick. Pastina and butter. God, I can taste it now. Continue reading

Posted in American, Italian

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

[Barry’s weekly roundup of food news.]

Know Your Senator

Three prominent Republican United States senators sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently condemning the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, introduced last fall to help strengthen local food systems.

John McCain (R-AZ), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) wrote that they had “serious misgivings” about Know Your Farmer. They asserted that the program is aimed at “small and organic producers” whose customers generally consist of “affluent patrons of urban farmers markets.” Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Sunday Supper: Coq au Vin

[Simple: we’re going to post a solid Sunday recipe every weekend, in hopes of helping you plan a fine meal. Soon, there’ll be photos too, but for now, the basic, classic recipes will have to hold you. For another Sunday chicken option, check this out at Kitchen Daily. Happy eating! – mb]

Coq au Vin

Makes 4 servings

Time: About 40 minutes

[Adapted from How to Cook Everything]

The French standard, very home-style, dark, rich, and lovely. If you use a typical chicken, it’s actually a pretty quick recipe to prepare; traditionally, the bird would be old and tough (if you’ve come across such a bird, cook it this way, but for a while longer). Use a decent but not necessarily expensive red wine.

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 pound good slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice

20 pearl onions, peeled, or 1 large onion, sliced

1/2 pound white mushrooms, trimmed and roughly chopped

1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat and cut up, with legs cut in 2; or use any combination of parts

6 cloves garlic, peeled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

2 cups Burgundy (pinot noir) or other fruity red wine

2 bay leaves

Several sprigs of thyme

Several sprigs of parsley

2 tablespoons butter

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in hot water to cover while you proceed with the recipe. Put the bacon in a large, deep skillet that can accommodate the chicken and later be covered; turn the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon gives up its fat and becomes brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Add the onions, button mushrooms, and chicken, skin-side down, and brown the chicken well, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary; the process will take about 10 minutes. About halfway through this period, add the garlic and sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.

2. Pour or spoon off any excess fat and add the stock and the wine, along with the herbs. Adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles gently but steadily, and cover. Cook about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through; the bird is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155dgF to 165dgF. (If you like, you can remove the breast pieces, which will finish cooking first, and keep them warm, while the leg pieces remain.) Remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm.

3. Drain the porcini, add them, and turn the heat to high (if you like, strain the mushroom soaking liquid and add that, too). Boil until the mixture is reduced by about three-fourths and becomes fairly thick and saucy. Lower the heat, stir in the butter, and return the chicken to the pan, just to reheat a bit and coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then garnish and serve.

Posted in Recipes

A Mixed Grill for Herbivores

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By Kerri Conan

[Kerri launches the grilling season with creative treatments of a few different vegetables. Those of us who don't live in her neighborhood are jealous. - mb]

After working in the garden all day Sunday I had cellulose on the brain. So I emptied out the produce bins in the fridge and headed to the grill. The plan was to serve everything room temperature over softened rice sticks, splashed with a lively nuoc cham-style sauce.

I had grilled tofu, asparagus, and onion before, but the rest of the stuff on the tray was novel territory. So I set up a two-tier fire with lump charcoal: hot one side, nothing on the other. Everything was started on the cool side and cooked covered for a few minutes—to ensure tenderness and smokiness—then seared. Or vice versa. And because there was too much for one grill load, I paused to add coals midway through, which gave me time to make the sauce. Brushed everything with grapeseed oil and sprinkled with a little salt. That’s it. Let’s work around the assortment in the photo clockwise; for more how-to shots of the process, flip through the slide show.

  • Red onion halves: don’t turn them too much or they’ll separate into rings.
  • Peeled blood oranges: they were too dry to eat raw but became chewy little rubies after grilling.
  • Parsnips: I thought it would be easiest to handle them on skewers, but a couple broke off; super yummy though.
  • Napa cabbage leaves: each contained a full spectrum of textures ranging from silky to papery; I cut them into wide ribbons for serving.
  • Tofu steaks: I cut them a little over ½-inch thick so they were crisp and charred on the outside, with a custardy interior
  • Asparagus: as big around as your thumb and grown nearby; I didn’t bother to peel the ends but I arranged them on the grill so the ends were toward the hottest part of the fire.
  • Thinly sliced jicama: wrap a delicious layer of carbonic flavor around their usual crunch and that’s what you get.
  • Celery heart: the big surprise, smoky and grassy and silky all at the same time.

The sauce was based on spearmint and chives from the garden, a dusting of last year’s ground chiles, some minced garlic, fish sauce, simple syrup, water, and lots of both lemon and lime juice. Fortunately there are lots of leftovers.

Posted in Produce

This #$!% Has Got to Stop: Part One

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This is a periodic column about ridiculous foods, and ridiculous events around food. No doubt it will inspire you. Send me your ideas: mark@markbittman dot com.  

Not that Shaw’s is worse than most supermarkets; it just happens to be near where my father-in-law lives, in Vermont. So I go there, maybe four or six or ten times a year. An excellent place to buy paper towels.

But look at picture number one: Here’s our local baker, practically Mrs. Shaw herself, telling us that “cookies taste only as good as the ingredients put into them.” We hear about “finest wholesome ingredients” and “real homemade goodness.” None of this is new.

Neither is the information on picture number two. Rolled oats: great start. Then we get into margarine – the curse of the 20th century – sugar, flour, raisins, more sugar, etc. etc., and artificial flavoring.

Now that’s real homemade goodness.

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Win a Copy of Food Matters

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We’re giving away three copies of Food Matters. (Want to read a review? Here.) Not quite randomly, however: Post your comments about your experience with less-meatarianism (and cutting back on junk and processed food) – we’ll read through them and pick our three faves. (Then we’ll post ‘em, and ask you to e-mail us, and mail you books. Really.) Only comments posted before midnight tonight (May 7) will be eligible.

Posted in Mark Bittman Books

Retire Ronald!

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By Raj Patel

[Raj Patel - an activist, academic and author of "Stuffed and Starved" and the international bestseller "The Value of Nothing" - exposes Ronald McDonald as an exploitative fraud. His site: www.rajpatel.org - mb]

Apparently, it’s my fault. I’ve got a very young son who will, by the time he comes of age, may well have seen 18 million advertisements. Those ads will shape and mould him into a consumer. Despite my best efforts, love, attention, and presenting of alternatives, the odds are high that he’ll still find, as older foodies than I have found with their children - to their chagrin – that a solitary bucket of KFC is more desirable than a healthy meal shared with friends.

But it’ll be my fault because, apparently, it’s lax parents who are to blame for epidemic levels of diabetes, not the food industry’s marketing billions. That, at least, is what the fast food industry would like to pretend. But it wasn’t always thus. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

Twenty Years

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By Clotilde Hryshko

[Clotilde runs a farm near my father-in-law’s house in central Vermont. I drive over and buy whatever she has when I'm there, and it's always amazing. (I'm still using garlic and potatoes she sold me in December.) She works the farm with her husband Jim and two daughters. (And those kids work!) When she's not farming, parenting, or cooking, she teaches at Vermont Technical College. And we're lucky enough to have her as a weekly contributor here at mb.com. - mb]

In less than a month, Jim and I will have lived in the same place for 20 years. At the time, the field was plowed to the road, the backyard a semi-circle that protected some rhubarb and the leach field. That Memorial Day Weekend, Jim built a stone wall off our front porch that sits twenty feet from a state highway. I spent the weekend putting in our vegetable garden and  the start of a flower garden. When we when back to our day jobs on the Tuesday, we were naievely satisfied with our progress.

Summer commenced and we continued to work outside: That’s why we bought the place. We’d walked the land many times, examining the soil, checking the quality of the sugar maples, verifying that we could have a swimming hole – and digesting our first impressions. The land was our interest; the 15 minutes we’d spent walking through the house was enough to know that we weren’t buying it for the interior luxuries.

Continue reading

Posted in Farming