Americans Cooking More Than We Thought

By Daniel Meyer

Read enough articles about the inequities of the American food system and you are likely to come across something like this: “Lacking sufficient access to real, healthy foods, low- and middle-income Americans rely on inexpensive fast food to feed their families.” (My paraphrase.) It’s a common conjecture that’s neither entirely true nor entirely false, but a survey released yesterday by the anti-childhood hunger organization Share Our Strength gives us reason to believe that low- and middle-income Americans are cooking more than many of us thought.

 

The survey, commissioned by Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, and conducted by APCO Insight, is called “It’s Dinnertime: A Report on Low-Income Families’ Efforts to Plan, Shop for and Cook Healthy Meals. It polled 1,500 low- and middle-income families from across the United States (low-income was defined as less than 185 percent of the poverty line, or less than $42,000 combined income a year based on family size, and middle-income was defined as between 185 and 250 percent of the poverty line, less than $60,000). Thirty-one percent of the respondent families received SNAP benefits, and a high rate of food insecurity was reported among those surveyed.

The survey clearly wasn’t focused on the poorest Americans, and families at or below the poverty line are likely to follow different patterns, but that doesn’t make the results less encouraging:

Read the rest of this post here.

Posted in Food Politics

The Rise and Fall of Twinkies

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By Daniel Meyer

The third-to-last of the nearly 40 ingredients that make up a Twinkie is listed on the package as “sorbic acid (to retain freshness).” It’s the only ingredient that comes with an explanation of its purpose, as if it’s essential for us to understand that this Twinkie is as good as it was when it was made.

While Twinkies themselves may not degrade much over time, their cultural weight certainly has. They’re no longer a lunchbox staple or an American icon, and as of last week (as Mark writes here) the Hostess company (maker of Twinkies) has filed for bankruptcy protection yet again.

 

James Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, invented Twinkies in 1930. He noticed that the machines and pans used to make the company’s cream-filled strawberry shortcake were only employed during strawberry season, so he conceived of a shortcake filled with banana cream that could be made and marketed year-round. So Twinkies were born out of the hard-and-fast limitations of seasonality.

Continental switched from banana cream — originally made with real bananas and real cream — to vanilla cream during World War II, when bananas were rationed. While the “original” version is occasionally reintroduced, vanilla “cream” Twinkies are the ones that charmed their way into the heart of American culture and diet.

In the ‘50s we watched Buffalo Bob Smith “make” Twinkies on “Howdy Doody,” clumsily combining the pasty white ingredients in a pan, and “alakazam presto” emerging with a pristine plastic package of “golden sponge cake with creamy filling.” In the ‘70s we let “Twinkie the Kid” lasso our children all the way to Twinkie Town, and in the ‘80s we learned that Twinkies were not only wholesome, but slightly sexy.

Read the rest of this piece here.

Posted in American, Food Politics

Duck Fried Rice

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By Daniel Meyer

Yesterday, in my capacity as occasional co-tester of Mark’s recipes, I wound up with a duck. My responsiblities to this bird were fairly light: scribble down the easiest way to cut it up, roast the carcass with some vegetables, and make stock. Easy enough.

After stashing the legs and a breast in the freezer, straining the stock, and nibbling on the vegetables (soft and slick with duck fat) for lunch, I was left with a single boneless breast and a roasted/simmered carcass. I picked the meat from the carcass, scored and salted the breast, and put it in the fridge (right next to the container of day-old white rice.) Fate sealed. Duck fried rice for dinner.

I started with the breast, skin-side down, in a cold skillet over medium-low heat (the modest and gradual heat gently renders out the fat without burning it.) It took about eight minutes to crisp the skin, then three or four on the other side to cook the meat to a rosy pink.

With the breast resting under foil on the cutting board, I added some of the meat pulled from the carcass and cooked it in the rendered fat until chewy and crisp (essentially duck carnitas, a dish worthy in its own right.) After the crisping it all went very quickly: I added sliced carrots and celery and cooked them until just pliant, then the rice until barely browned, minced garlic and ginger until fragrant, and finally a beaten egg until scrambled (salting everything to taste along the way.) I sliced the duck breast over the top of the rice and that was it.

All in all, this was one of the more indulgent and satisfying dishes I’ve made in a while. There are probably a million things to do with duck that’s now in the freezer, but my best guess is that I’ll just wind up making this again.

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Recipes

Charred, Soy-Marinated Mackerel

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By Daniel Meyer

A good treatment for mackerel: dunk a few fillets in soy sauce, mirin (optional) and a little sesame or peanut oil (some garlic and ginger would be good, too.) Let the mackerel marinate while you heat a grill or broiler, the hotter the better. (For concentrated heat, I’ve started grilling directly over a chimney starter.) Grill or broil the fillets until nicely charred on both the flesh and skin side, and just cooked through, 2 or 3 minutes per side if your heat is really cranked up. Serve over rice with scallions and sesame seeds (kimchi and and an egg yolk are a treat, but by no means necessary.)

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Taste, Adding More Chorizo if Necessary

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By Daniel Meyer

I recently moved to the stretch of 5th avenue in Brooklyn where Mexican food is king. Leaning out my front door I can see crates of chiles and cactus, giant plastic tubs of watermelon juice, and can smell gorditas deep-frying in corn oil (off-putting, strangely enough.) Brussels sprouts don’t exist here, (I checked) but tomatillos literally spill out on to the supermarket floor. Chorizo, like Entenmann’s or Little Debbie, sometimes gets its own display at the end of the aisle. It’s very comforting to see a community tailored so perfectly to the needs of its own home cooks.

Back to that chorizo, the fresh Mexican kind. I’ve eaten it only sparingly since I moved here; in a way, it’s so easy to get that I’ve stopped wanting it. I made it once, (pork shoulder ground in the food processor, mixed with plenty of paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander, and garlic, and fried until crisp) but that was about it.

This week I needed some to test a recipe: chipotle-spiked sweet potato mac and cheese with crunchy chorizo crumbs. It made me remember how I like fresh chorizo best: as a garnish. Literally. Peel away the casings and fry the meat, breaking it up into little bits with a wooden spoon, until crisp. Use it to top gratins where you might otherwise use breadcrumbs, sprinkle over sliced avocados with lime juice, on eggs, on soup, toss into salads or roasted vegetables, (it’s even great on oatmeal with some cilantro and scallions.) Having a bowl of it cooked and ready to go in my fridge this week has been quite productive, though dangerous going forward: it’s as easy to find here as salt.

Posted in Mexican, Recipes

Brisket Redux

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By Daniel Meyer

Before the Rosh Hashanah brisket ever made it out of the roasting pan the cook announced that it was “dry.” It sort of was, but tasty nonetheless, especially the fattiest bits. There was a whole tupperware left over (which had less to do with dryness than with abundance.)

The next night, with dry-ish brisket in the fridge and a can of beer twinkling next to it, I did the most sensible thing I could think of: put them together. I sauteed a small chopped onion with cumin, coriander, and a little cinnamon, then added the brisket along with chopped chipotles in adobo, (languishing in the fridge) and a few glugs of beer. That bubbled away until the beer disappeared, mostly into the brisket, I think, which became very moist.

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Posted in Recipes

I CAN Believe It’s Not Butter

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By Daniel Meyer

I was going to post this picture without comment. Butter-flavored syrup (which clearly contains no traces of actual butter) is a product just ridiculous enough to not require introduction or description. Or so I thought. But then I tasted it. 

The problem with Krasdale’s “buttery” syrup is not that it’s totally repulsive, but that it’s kind of delicious (in the same way that Top Ramen with two seasoning packets is delicious). I have parted ways with many of my childhood food desires, but there must still be a portion of my tongue (if not my brain) that remains susceptible to these crunchy-salty, sugary-sweet lab experiments that all-too-often pass as “food”, especially to kids. 

I am fortunate to enough to be able to cut myself off from butter-flavored syrup after just one drop, as tasty a drop as it was, because I know that it’s horrible for me, that there’s such a thing as real maple syrup that comes from trees, and that you can make your own (much better) version of Krasdale’s product by melting a pat of real butter in real syrup. But imagine if you weren’t lucky enough to know those things. You might never see a reason to stop. And that’s even more alarming than butter-flavored syrup itself. 

Posted in Food Politics

A Comfy Bed For Lobsters

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by Daniel Meyer

[Why didn’t I think of this? – mb] 

If you can get fresh lobsters, chances are that you can also get fresh seaweed. A nice fishmonger should be able to order some for you, or an enterprising mother can just wade into the ocean and bring it home in a bucket. This is exactly the project that my mom decided take on for the 4th of July (I’m only writing about this now because I just had some pretty tasteless lobster and it reminded me how good my mom’s was). 

I got a phone call from my mom (Anne) at 8:00 on a Friday morning while I was working at the farmers’ market. She was calling from the Atlantic Ocean, wading just off the coast of Cape Cod, where she was gathering seaweed for cooking lobsters. She brought it home in a plastic trashcan, and kept it soaking in water for a few days until it was time for her to cook 4th of July dinner. 

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Posted in Seafood

Ducking Around with Carnitas

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By Daniel Meyer 

Carnitas is (are?) one of my all-time favorite foods. Pork shoulder braised, pulled, and crisped in its own fat; a pile of tortillas, a higher pile of beers. It doesn’t get much better than that.  

Last week it almost did. I used duck instead of pork; it stood to reason in my head that braising and frying a duck couldn’t possibly be a bad idea. It wasn’t.  Continue reading

Posted in Mexican

Cooking with the Kids: Parents’ Night

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by Daniel Meyer 

(More of Daniel’s weekly adventures in cooking with kids. – mb) 

On Tuesday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for ourselves. On Wednesday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for our parents. On Thursday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for our benefactors. I fear that cooking class may have just had its soft opening. 

The repetition was a chance to practice our boat carving and biscuit making, and a welcome opportunity to explain to the kids that cooking is the delicate art of messing something up until it tastes good enough to eat for dinner – or, in this case, good enough to swallow in front of your mother.

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Posted in Behind The Scenes