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

On Eating Alone

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By Suzanne Lenzer (Photo by Evan Sung)

I distinctly remember a meal that I shared with Virginia Woolf at an Italian restaurant in London in 1989. I had just graduated college and gone to London in hopes of working in a kitchen (typically, I ended up working as a waitress). In retrospect it seems quite daring to have left California with no job prospects, family, or friends nearby, but I wasn’t anxious about being on my own in a foreign country. What I was anxious about was eating out––alone.

Eating alone at home is one thing: You cook, then sit at the table and eat. Maybe you read or watch TV at the same time. But at twenty-one, eating alone in a restaurant was new to me. Growing up I’d always gone out to eat with my family, and in college, with friends. The idea of going to a proper restaurant and eating a meal by myself had never really occurred to me.

But suddenly, in a brand new city with nothing but time on my hands, I wanted to be out. But  the bravery that got me on an airplane with little more than a duffle bag and a couple of books abandoned me when it came to walking into a nice restaurant, asking for a table, and proceeding to eat dinner by myself. Hunger is a powerful force though, and it won out in the end.

Continue reading

Posted in Travel

Pranzo Siciliano

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By Peter Confalone

[I've been friends with Peter Confalone since, oh, 1973. Or so. Back then he managed the 4000 member Cambridge Food Co-op, then worked the meat counter at the famous Savenor’s (Julia Child shopped there). Since then he's done almost everything, including theater and film, and most recently he's been "Behind Bars in Miami" -which happens to be the working title of a book he's writing. – mb]

Things move very slowly here on Miami Beach but with the renovations finally done on my kitchen, I have been using my new flattop stove and convection oven, cooking for friends at a much higher frequency. In doing so I have nearly exhausted my culinary repertoire, which consists mostly of Italian dishes taught to me by my father and stepmother. Both were of Sicilian decent but the recipes they passed on are really Italian-American. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love that food. A soup from them I call Minestra della Matrigna – made of escarole, Savoy cabbage, pork neck bones, tomatoes and pepperoni – is fabulous. But since being exposed to true “continental” cuisine I’ve been searching for more authentic recipes.  Continue reading

Posted in Slow Food

Quadrupeds Haven’t Changed, Processing Has

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By Adam Tiberio

[Adam Tiberio is the head meatcutter at Dickson's Farmstand Meats in New York City. He and the team at Dickson's are entirely responsible for converting me from a minimal meat eater into a full-fledged carnivore. Their artisanal meats – humanely-raised, sourced from small-scale sustainable farms, and really good – did the trick. His writings on meat have been published in Edible Boston and on GQ.com. -Suzanne Lenzer]

A cow, pig, lamb, and goat may not all be cut in the same fashion, but that doesn’t mean they differ anatomically. Quadrupeds all have floating scapulas, a pelvis containing one ball-and-socket joint for each femur, and the same muscular configuration; thus, identical primal and subprimal cuts can be extracted from any quadrupedal animal. Pork tri-tip?  It’s there, right below the hog’s patella as it would be found on a steer. Lamb top round?  Yup, lambs have those, too.  

How about a person? We may be bipedal, but a doctor shopping at Dickson’s a couple weeks ago watched me bone an arm of beef and rattled off the scientific name of each separate muscle I laid before him – triceps brachii (clod heart), teres major (shoulder tender), supraspinatus (chuck tender), and infraspinatus (top blade). To be sure, we, too, have tenderloins (the psoas major, perched atop the pelvis and extending down the inside of your vertebrae) and strip steaks (the longissimus dorsi; feel the muscles that run along your lower spine.)  Meatcutters call the pelvis the “aitch bone” as a phonetic way to spell the letter H, which is what an un-split aitch bone resembles. 

I’ve been told that surgeons call it the “Honda symbol.” Continue reading

Posted in Farming

Laid-back Risotto

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I don’t know. I look at this story about how hard it is to make risotto, and I think, “Well, either Felicity Cloake – whom I don’t know – is making way too big a deal out of a simple dish, or I have no clue how to make risotto.”

Because as I detail below, risotto is a no-brainer. It’s true that the difference between bad risotto and pretty good risotto is technique, but the technique is not a big deal.

But the two biggest differences between pretty good risotto and great risotto are not technique-y at all. To make great risotto you need really good stock, and a lot of butter.

I’ve made risotto like this hundreds of times – the pix are of one I threw together last week – and I’ve rarely had it as good in restaurants.

Please. Do not let risotto scare you. Continue reading

Posted in Italian

A Tough Week for the Sea

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By Casson Trenor

[Casson Trenor is Greenpeace's point man on getting supermarkets and restaurants to behave themselves when it comes to buying fish. He's also a whale-saver, a recent recipient of TIME Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment” award, the author of Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time, and a blogger: check out www.sustainablesushi.net. Needless to say, I'm happy he's writing for us. - mb]

It’s a bad time to be an ocean-dweller.

First, we have the overfishing crisis, which continues virtually unabated.  Every day, we yank hundreds of thousands of pounds of life out of the sea, often in strikingly inefficient and destructive ways – bottom trawls rake the floor of the ocean, pulverizing corals and flattening any animals that lack the locomotive capacity to evade them, while pelagic longlines indiscriminately slaughter curious seabirds, turtles, and sharks as collateral damage in our unrelenting quest for seafood.

To make matters worse, President Obama, who was elected in part by an engaged and hopeful environmentalist demographic, has completely turned his back on the oceans and their largest denizens – whales.  His 2008 promise to strengthen the international moratorium on commercial whaling has been completely subsumed by  an insidious new agenda that seeks to dismantle the moratorium, legalize whaling in the Southern Ocean (including Japan’s ongoing hunt for endangered fin, sei, and humpback whales), and create an unspoken tolerance among the world’s governments for this intolerable activity. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics, Seafood