Eating in Istanbul

By Tyler Cowen

(Tyler Cowen blogs – mostly about the economy and related issues – at Marginal Revolution. But he also knows more about food than any economist I know, and I thought his insights into food in Istanbul worth posting here. -mb)

My favorite sight has been the mother-daughter pair I saw on the Bosporous ferry.  They were hugging each other on the bench and had virtually the same profile features, yet the mother carried full traditional dress and the daughter wore a mini-skirt and was otherwise dressed comparably.  They loved each other dearly.

How you interpret these women is central to how you view Istanbul.  One intuition is that they are quite alike, another is that they are quite different. Continue reading

Posted in Travel

The School Lunch Project

By Mrs. Q

[Mrs. Q. is a teacher in the Midwest – she (we assume; I don’t actully know) remains anonymous – who is eating school lunch every day in 2010 and blogging about it at Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Her goal is to raise awareness about what many kids eat every day in school, and she’s doing a good job of it.]

I love how enthusiastic little kids are about school. When they line up for school lunch for the first time, kindergarteners get so excited to be eating in the cafeteria just like the “big kids.” There is a line leader, the student (or two) from each classroom appointed for the week to keep order when they are walking throughout the school. At lunchtime the line leader struggles to maintain any kind of formation with kids jumping all around. The kids are hungry, but they also chat with their friends and look around with anticipation. Fumbling with their bulky plastic trays, they grip their lunch tickets firmly and smile from ear to ear.

I don’t know if disappointment would be how they feel when they receive their first meal from the school cafeteria. It’s more like shock. Shock over the strange plastic and paper packaging, shock about how little time they get to eat (20 minutes including lining up and cleaning up), and shock over the spork in plastic wrapping with a small straw and paper napkin. Eating school lunch in the cafeteria is a rite of passage, but it shouldn’t be similar to getting prison food.

Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

What’s Organic About Organic?


By Paula Crossfield

The film What’s Organic About Organic? explores how the organic label has evolved, how organic farmers view their work, and the tension between maintaining high environmental standards and rapid market expansion. I recently spoke with the film’s director, Shelley Rogers, about the real meaning of organic, the barriers to going mainstream – and the meaning of good dirt.

PC: Your film presents both the large organic and small organic story. Is one truer to the original meaning of organic than the other?

SR: That is a tough question. The film has an element of a cautionary tale about what can happen when the vagaries of regulation are exploited, which really drives home one of the core principles of democracy—that whole Jeffersonian idea that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The good news is that as citizens we have a voice to shape the way the organic standards are maintained and upheld.

Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

I Made Chorizo!


By Barbara Walton

I tasted my first dry-cured sausage in France, purchased on impulse in Beaune’s Saturday open-air market. My husband and I brought them back to our rental house, where we ate them in the walled garden paired with a bottle of Burgundy. I remembered those sausages a few years later when I purchased Ruhlman’s and Polcyn’s book “Charcuterie” and there it was – a whole chapter on dry-cured sausage.

It was daunting. If the sections on identifying good-versus-bad mold or avoiding trichinosis aren’t scary enough, check out the half page dedicated to the dangers of botulism. But given the state of food lately, with salmonella in eggs and E-coli in hamburger and lettuce, how much scarier could it be? I had to try it. Continue reading

Posted in Spanish

A Business-Class Trifle


By Edward Schneider

On a recent transatlantic trip, Jackie and I spent some long-earned British Airways frequent flier miles on a ride in business class. There was good wine, friendly, attentive service (with the women among the cabin crew wearing smart retro hats!) and, on this 32-passenger flight to London City Airport, surprisingly wide, long and comfortable flat beds: we could hardly have asked for much more. On the way to the UK, we slept and so didn’t have to think about airplane food; on the way back, we didn’t want to think about airplane food and before going to the airport had a fine quick lunch of potted shrimps, a sort of smoked haddock Welsh rarebit and fried monkfish cheeks here.

We still took a look at the menu, however, and some of the options would have been tempting if we hadn’t already eaten, though I can’t vouch for how they tasted. But there was one thing we couldn’t resist: sherry trifle. Layers of fruit and/or fruit gelatin, sherry-soaked lady fingers or cake, thick custard and whipped cream, maybe with some nuts for crunch: trifle really is the perfect dessert, touching all the cream/fruit bases and pushing all the booze/cake buttons – or nearly all: there’s no caramel and only incidental salt. But I’d trade a gallon of butterscotch praline ice cream for a bowl of good trifle any day. (Well, maybe not any day.)  Continue reading

Posted in Travel

Politics of the Plate


By Barry Estabrook

Monsanto’s Last Roundup

In 2003, after losing nearly $2 billion the previous year, Monsanto bet its corporate life on a genetically modified future, much of which would be built on GM seeds for corn, soybeans, cotton, and other crops that could survive being sprayed with the company’s brand-name herbicide Roundup. It was a good bet. Between 2003 and the end of 2007, shares soared by more than 1000 percent by the end of 2007.

But it looks like the ride may be over. Last week, the gigantic seed and agricultural chemical company announced dramatically lower-than-predicted profit expectations, laying much of the blame on sluggish sales of Roundup. Its once high-flying shares are now down 40 percent from last year’s levels. Monsanto told Reuters that it would “drastically narrow” its Roundup portfolio, which alone brought in nearly $2 billion in profit in 2009. Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Asparagus, And Then Some


Picked up a nice bunch of asparagus yesterday from a not-quite local but nearby source. And, because I could, I decided to roast it.

Roasting asparagus is pretty simple, and you can turn it into an awesome gratin by just topping it with bread crumbs, or blue cheese or Parmesan, or whatever else you like. (There’s a discussion of this here and, as it’s asparagus season, you might also want to look at this Mini, if you haven’t already.)

But I happened upon the tiniest piece of guanciale in my freezer. When I say “tiny” I mean, less than two ounces; maybe one. So I took the easy way out. Peeled the asparagus (they were fat), and put them in a cast iron skillet with the diced guanciale, salt, pepper, and – because there was so little guanciale – a little bit of olive oil.

I roasted that for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan after 10 and 15. And talk about impact: it tasted like a meat dish. Made me wonder what other treasures are lying around in my freezer…

Posted in American

Can Real Asian Food be Mainstreamed?


By Andrea Nguyen

[Andrea Nguyen, a food writer and teacher who lives in Santa Cruz, is the author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Asian Dumplings. She’ll become a regular contributor to while maintaining the invaluable – mb]

Most sophisticated eaters don’t equate mall food and good food. And, despite my teenage love of Orange Julius and hot dogs on a stick, I’m in that crowd. But this spring, my curiosity drew me to the Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles — not just once but twice — to sample the fare at RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. It’s not a food court counter, but a new 7,500-square-foot, 250-seat restaurant – opened by the Cheesecake Factory, of all things.

On both occasions, I chatted with Executive Chef Mohan Ismail, an affable and talented Singaporean who has worked at Tabla, Blue Hill, and Spice Market. Ismail is working on how to deliver honest Asian flavors, mostly Southeast Asian and Indian, on a mass level. What he has accomplished thus far turned my head.

Continue reading

Posted in American, Thai, Vietnamese

Sunday Supper: Memorial Day Crab Cakes

If the ribs piece – my latest post on Kitchen Daily – doesn’t turn you on, and you’re not in the mood for burgers, or indeed for grilling at all, you might think about crab cakes as a special Memorial Day treat. These are my favorites, made with as much crab and as little binder as I can manage. They are very crabby. (Buy “lump” or “claw” crabmeat, fresh if possible, though frozen is a good second choice; pasteurized or canned are not as good, but still worth eating.)

Crab Cakes, Curried or Plain

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 15 minutes, plus time to chill

Adapted from: How to Cook Everything

I expect crab cakes to be mostly crab, don’t you? That’s why just about every addition here is for flavor or is optional—there’s not a lot of bread.

Other seafood you can use: lobster.

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage

1 egg

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (optional)

1/2 cup chopped scallion (optional)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons bread crumbs, preferably fresh), or cracker crumbs, or as needed

About 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging

Curry powder

2 tablespoons peanut, extra virgin olive, or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter or more oil

Lemon wedges

1. Mix together the crabmeat, egg, bell pepper, scallion, mayonnaise, mustard, and some salt and pepper. Add enough bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes; start with 2 tablespoons and use more if you need it.

2. Refrigerate the mixture until you’re ready to cook (it will be easier to shape if you refrigerate it for 30 minutes or more, but it’s ready to go when you finish mixing.

3. Season the flour with salt and pepper and add some curry powder if you like. Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the oil and butter and heat until the butter foam subsides. Shape the crabmeat mixture into 1-inch-thick cakes, dredge each in the flour, and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and turning once (very gently), until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Posted in American, Recipes, Seafood

Semi-Traditional Tacos, Straight Out of the Garden


By Kerri Conan

No one drives a taco truck yet in my neck of Kansas, but since the craze is contagious and we do have access to good local corn tortillas, I too have become an aspiring tacologist.

In this new science, those behind the wheel of the taco truck trend provide both our inspiration and some ground rules: All of our experiments will be delicious. We will be respectful of—but not hamstrung by—authenticity. And the toppings should be crunchy, colorful, maybe creamy, and more interesting than iceberg lettuce and Jack cheese.  Continue reading

Posted in Mexican