Giving Lamb Legs

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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.

It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.

Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.

Read the rest of the column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Not long ago few doctors – not even pediatricians – concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

“I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago,” David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. “Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we’re seeing are Type 2.”

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay (“Viewpoint”) in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity.”

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it’s merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Eggs, Chicken Livers, and a Secret Ingredient

When I asked Frank DeCarlo — the chef at Peasant, on Elizabeth Street, and a friend — to show me a big-flavored, funky, simple dish that he loved, he suggested a chicken liver frittata.

My mouth watered. Liver and eggs isn’t a common combination, but it’s one I’ve known and have been fond of; I especially remember a breakfast in Turkey of nothing but those two ingredients a few years ago.

Frank’s version is more complicated than that — though it takes only 10 or so minutes — and even contains what he calls a “secret ingredient.”

Read the rest of this article and watch the video here.

Posted in Slow Food

Dietary Seat Belts

Here’s some good news: Seat belts save lives[1] . So do vaccinations. The world’s population is living longer. The childhood obesity rate has declined[2] in parts of the United States.

That’s miraculous, because the policies for food, energy, climate change and health care are, effectively, “let’s help big producers make as much money as they can regardless of the consequences.”

Except for just after the most visible tragedies, public health and welfare are barely part of the daily conversation. When New York is flooded, climate change dominates TV news — for a week. When innocents are slaughtered with weapons designed for combat, gun control is a critical topic — for a week. When 33 people die violent, painful deaths from eating cantaloupe, food safety is in the headlines — for a week. When nearly 70,000 people die a year, from mostly preventable diabetes, most media ignore it.

Forget the fiscal cliff: we’ve long since fallen off the public health cliff. We need consistent policies that benefit a majority of our citizens, even if it costs corporations money.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Feast in a Day

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Last month, Sam Sifton and I took up the job of cooking for 15 people at a friend’s home in Brooklyn. The idea was to feed and impress friends, family members and colleagues without driving ourselves nuts. It’s possible. And to do so, we decided not to spend more than eight hours obsessing over, shopping for and preparing the meal. We endeavored to buy all our ingredients in the morning and then cook through the afternoon. Dinner was called for 6 p.m.

There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast. You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu. We wanted a high-low meal: a beautiful yet manageable dinner bookended by an impressive starter and an eye-popping dessert. In order to pull this off, we first had to decide on a main course, a meat dish. After rejecting pork (too obvious), beef and lamb (too expensive), we settled on chicken. We were near Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, so Sam resolved that the chickens would be roasted with preserved lemons. Golden and crusty, with a zing from the salty, acidic taste of the lemons, they would be a perfect bridge from our opulent appetizer into our decadent dessert. For sides, we settled on pilaf, a salad and roasted root vegetables, which are as seasonal as it gets this time of year.

Read the rest of this article, see the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

A Winter’s Cornucopia in Wales

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THE predicament I found myself in was also an opportunity, and not unlike the puzzle that faces C.S.A. participants each week: I had a pile of vegetables and I had to figure out what to do with it. (A C.S.A. — for community supported agriculture — is a scheme in which participants share in a farmer’s risk and bounty, putting money down upfront and getting a periodic share of the crop in

I was in western Wales at Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm owned by Peter Segger and Anne Evans, friends of my friend Patrick. The couple began growing food organically nearly 40 years ago, and work 15 acres in vegetables plus an astonishing acre of greenhouses. I’d offered to cook dinner, not knowing exactly what that meant. And in the shed that housed the little honor-system shop on the farm (on Dec. 1, mind you), I was overwhelmed by all those greenhouses produced. All I needed to do was choose and cook.

As usual, I began with no idea of what would eventually wind up on the table. But I did have my standard plan: I’d choose what seemed most appealing and figure out what to do with it when we got to the kitchen.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Produce, Recipes

Pesticides: Now More Than Ever

How quickly we forget.

After the publication of “Silent Spring,” 50 years ago, we (scientists, environmental and health advocates, birdwatchers, citizens) managed to curb the use of pesticides[1] and our exposure to them — only to see their application grow and grow to the point where American agriculture uses more of them than ever before.

And the threat is more acute than ever. While Rachel Carson[2] focused on their effect on “nature,” it’s become obvious that farmworkers need protection from direct exposure while applying chemicals to crops[3] . Less well known are the recent studies showing that routine, casual, continuing — what you might call chronic — exposure to pesticides is damaging not only to flora but to all creatures, including the one that habitually considers itself above it all: us.

As usual, there are catalysts for this column; in this case they number three.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

New York Dals

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It is not that I’ve never cooked dal, the family of Indian legume dishes that is a staple for the hundreds of millions of vegetarians of India, as well as who knows how many millions of omnivores; it’s just that I’ve never cooked it especially well. I realized this when I first visited northern India about 10 years ago and — even in a Sikh langar, a canteen where food is free for all — ate dal that was infinitely tastier than my own.

 

Part of that, probably, was the thrill of eating food where it belongs, and part of it was that many dals contain unconscionable amounts of ghee, a form of clarified butter. (Western Europe is not the only part of the world where cooks have recognized that butter makes many things taste much better.)

But part of it was some lack of feel for making dal, a kind of ignorance that I couldn’t overcome simply by experimenting or following cookbooks. As legumes have become a more important part of my cooking, I decided that my dal problem needed to be remedied. I turned to Julie Sahni.

Read the rest of this column, and get the recipes and video here.

Posted in Indian

Cold-Proof Your Salad

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WITH all due respect to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and all the other vegetables we’ve enjoyed for the last few months, the champions of the moment are beets, turnips and radishes. For gardeners and farmers in all but the coldest climates, they’re still going strong, which means that for careful shoppers, the highest-quality stuff is still easy to find.

But, aah, you say, the same is true of our semi-hardy greens, like kale, collards and chard. And certainly that’s true. But if you have turnips and radishes, you almost don’t need kale and collards (they’re all in the same family). And if you have beets, you almost don’t need chard (beets are chard are grown primarily for their roots; chard is beets grown for its greens).

Incredibly — though not surprisingly, since there are no surprises here — the beets, turnips and radishes give you greens to use in salads or for cooking, as well as roots you can eat raw or cooked. (There are other vegetables, notably kohlrabi, that meet this description too, but only gardeners are going to find them with their greens.)

Read the rest of the column here, and get the recipes here and here.

Posted in Produce, Uncategorized

Hunger in Plain Sight

There are hungry people out there, actually; they’re just largely invisible to the rest of us, or they look so much like us that it’s hard to tell. The Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, better known as SNAP and even better known as food stamps, currently has around 46 million participants, a record high. That’s one in eight Americans — 10 people in your subway car, one or two on every line at Walmart.

We wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but as it stands, the number should be higher[1]: many people are unaware that they’re eligible for SNAP, and thus the participation rate is probably around three-quarters of what it should be.

Food stamps allow you to shop more or less normally, but on an extremely tight budget, around $130 a month. It’s tough to feed a family on food stamps (and even tougher without them), and that’s where food banks — a network of nonprofit, nongovernment agencies, centrally located clearing houses for donated or purchased food that is sent to local affiliated agencies or “pantries” — come in. Food banks may cover an entire state or part of one: the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, for example, serves 53 counties and provides enough food to feed 48,000 square miles and feeds 90,000 people a week — in a state with fewer than four million people.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics