August 30, 2007

Scraping Up the Bits, Organic Milk, Peaches & Beer Style

Alleged "organic" milk producer nailed by the Feds, finally! The folks at the Cornucopia Institute deserve huge kudos for going after Aurora Organics, which produces organic milk for lots of big box and grocery chains that isn't even "organic" by the letter of the law, but that has been getting away with it for a long time. Until now, that is! (h/t Orange Clouds at DailyKos).

The Environmental Working Group calls for the Senate to make serious reforms in its version of the Farm Bill…

Another good reason for reforming the Farm Bill: Not a single state saw a decline in obesity rates in 2006, while 31 had increases.

One week after buying some new olive oil at one of my favorite Italian food shops -- in our old stomping grounds of Bethesda, Md. -- I find that it’s made by the same company that is infamous for occasionally engaging in olive oil fraud!

Forget the Mackinaw peaches, Jerry! Bring on the peaches from Chambersburg, Pa. But are those “Chambersburg peaches” I’ve been getting from our CSA really from Chambersburg, or just somewhere in the vicinity? Hmmm. I’ll have to ask them. No worries, though. They have been tremendous.

Finally, last night I had my first-ever Oaked Arrogant Bastard, from those brewing geniuses at Stone Brewing Co. in sunny San Diego. It seemed a tad darker in color than a "traditional" Arrogant Bastard, and with a slightly more intense bitterness. Was it “oakey”? I can’t say that. But at 7.2% alcohol, it was a welcome nightcap.

August 29, 2007

Green and Garlicky

While in Los Angeles for work in April, I was fortunate enough to nab a stool at the pizza bar at Mario Batali’s fabulously popular joint pizza venture, Pizzeria Mozza. [“Fortunate” being the operative word, considering there are reportedly hour-long waits at the minimum to get a seat for more than two people here on most evenings. As a single diner -- who paid a ridiculous cab fare to get to the restaurant – I got a seat within 1 minute of arriving.]

Prior to downing what was an excellent pizza topped with, as I recall, some salami, red onion, and dried chili, I had as my appetizer some brick-oven flamed fava beans topped with grated parmesan and speck, a prosciutto-like cured meat that I need to have again, soon.

Since then, I’ve been hoping to duplicate that appetizer. Fava beans, it turns out, are hard to find, as is speck. For the last month or so, however, our illustrious CSA has had these remarkably long, hardy green beans called Kentucky Wonder Beans. So, no fava beans or speck, but I had Kentucky Wonder Beans and prosciutto, and that was good enough for me.

I also had a packed container of baby arugula – from, I readily admit, the grocery store (double gasp!) – that was coming up on its expiration date. And being the pesto freak that I am, arugula pesto seemed like a no-brainer.

Thus was born last Saturday’s dinner, a delightful, reflux-inducing feast. Admittedly, there are enough similarities in the ingredients used in the entrée and the side that they might not make the ideal pairing. The beans would probably go better with a grilled New York strip or a bold piece of fish, and the shrimp would go very well with a light tomato salad.

Nevertheless, we really enjoyed them together.

Grilled Shrimp on an Arugula Pesto Bed and Grilled Kentucky Wonder Beans al Forno with Prosciutto


  • 2 cups of well-washed arugula [Note: baby arugula, in my experience, is far more mild than its large-leaved brethren. So if using the latter, just be aware it may be quite strong.]
  • 1 cup of basil leaves
  • Half cup of freshly grated parmesan
  • 3-4 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts [Walnuts or hazelnuts would be great, if not preferable]
  • 1 large clove of garlic, roughly chopped
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup of high-quality olive oil


  • 12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Swirl of olive oil
  • Shake or two of crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • (Some lemon zest would be good, too)

Green beans

  • ¾ to 1 lb of green beans
  • 2 tbs of olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan
  • ¼ pound of prosciutto, roughly cut
To make the pesto... Combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a large food processor. Turn on food processor and slowly add the olive oil in a stream until the mixture starts to look almost creamy, approximately 20-30 seconds.

Turn the grill on to medium-high heat

For the shrimp... Combine the shrimp with the olive oil, red pepper, salt, and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Put shrimp on 2 or 3 skewers.

For the green beans... Combine green beans, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic in a bowl and mix well. Place foil on half of grill and spread beans out so they are evenly layered. Cook until you start to see a little char on some of the beans, but they still have a nice crunch. About 10 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with a little parmesan and the prosciutto.

About 5 minutes into grilling the beans, put the shrimp on the other half of the grill. Cook until one side is just turning pink, then turn and cook until entirely pink. Approximately 4-5 minutes maximum.

Spread about 2-3 tablespoons of the pesto on a plate, top with 6 shrimp and place a hefty portion of beans on the side.

August 21, 2007


There are two perfectly good reasons why I tend to heavily research a restaurant before I eat there. One, I don’t care to eat food that doesn’t taste good. Two, I don’t like paying for food that doesn’t taste very good, particularly if I have to pay a lot to do it.

On our recent family vacation to the Outer Banks, we mostly prepared our meals at the beach house. But one night was set aside for each of the respective families staying in the house to go their own way for dinner.

So I spent a few hours after a long morning beach stint digging around on food blogs and message boards and finding what reviews I could for kid-friendly OBX restaurants with reportedly good food (lofty expectations, I know).

Notice that I didn’t use terms like “great food,” “exquisite dining,” or “transcendent culinary delights.” Just a mostly satisfying meal, preferably one that has, as some component, fresh seafood.

And so it was that I found a January 2007 post on Chowhound – which I consider to be a reputable source of restaurant reviews from knowledgeable eaters (it served me very well on a business trip earlier this year to L.A.) – that offered some fairly hearty praise of a “family-friendly” restaurant in the Kill Devil Hills area of the Outer Banks. Another Chowhound post on OBX dining also spoke well of this same restaurant.

I found the original post to be particularly convincing because the writer described the food she had eaten and prepared during a recent week’s vacation in OBX, and came off as somebody who understood food (which, I realize, sounds way snobby, but I’m not trying to fool anybody here: I’m a food snob).

So I decided to accept this anonymous advice, and my wife agreed to play along.

Now, a bit of important background before I tread any further. First, when last in the OBX two years ago, we had an absolutely dreadful experience for our dining-out meal, one that came with a hefty price tag and two plates on which the entrees were, well, left fairly intact. That particular excursion was carried out with no previous research, although I recall that I selected the restaurant. I actually forget how I chose it, but believe it was listed in the phone book or an OBX “entertainment” guide in the house we stayed in that year. No matter. It was wretched.

This most recent dining experience started off well. The restaurant atmosphere was funky and laid back. The dining room ceiling, for example, consisted of grayish-blue waves with the bottoms of surf boards and jelly fish and other sea creatures jutting out. There was a kiddy drink menu with goofy names involving frogs and sharks. My son’s lemon-lime soda came with a little Great White shark filled with some sugary raspberry mixture to pour into it.

We got the kids the typical kiddy menu fare (something I hope to start moving away from soon), and ordered some fruity adult drinks and an appetizer sampler for ourselves: shrimp, crab, and scallops in various fried preparations, all of which had good flavor and were mostly well executed. Our entrees, both from the specials menu, both sounded interesting and potentially “good.”

Then they arrived, and what had been an enjoyable experience to that point came to an abrupt halt. I had my suspicions about my dish when ordering it – a five-spice coated tuna on top of noodles in a peanut-sauce – but figured it was one of the specials, which in my experience are typically among the best a restaurant has to offer. My wife got a mixed grill, which included some bacon-wrapped scallops and a pork chop.

I suppose I should have paid more strict attention to the menu’s description of my entrée or asked the waiter about it, because the tuna – something I was really looking forward to after a week of heavy dinners -- was not a thick piece of Ahi seared and sliced, but instead was two thin pieces, cooked almost all of the way through. It was dry and useless. The noodles topped with peanut sauce were serviceable, but could not compensate for the desecrated fish resting upon them.

The highlight of my wife’s dish was the side of creamy mashed potatoes. The bacon around the scallops was some of the most bland bacon I’ve ever had, and the pork chop, while moist, appeared to have little to no seasoning.

So, for the second straight time, we had a lousy, somewhat expensive meal out on our vacation. And, as important, I was still craving tuna.

So, on our way out of town, I stopped at a highly-regarded seafood market, picked up an excellent looking/smelling piece of tuna (and some beautiful sea scallops) and threw it in a cooler with some ice for the ride home.

On Saturday night – exhausted and mentally unfit for most tasks after the 9-hour plus trek back the day/night before – I looked through different recipes for seared tuna.

We settled on…

...coating the tuna in olive oil, the smoked salt that I’ve been hooked on, lots of freshly ground pepper, and the zest of one lime.

I seared it, sliced it into 9-10 long pieces with a big, rosy, raw center, and laid them on some greens (organic baby romaine that I got at our local big grocery chain that were probably the best greens I’ve had from a supermarket) topped with teardrop yellow tomatoes from our garden and diced avocado.

The dressing included grated fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, cilantro, as well as some garlic, honey, lime juice, ground mustard, into which I whisked a healthy dose of canola oil.

The camera was still in a suitcase somewhere, so you’ll have to trust me that it looked incredible and tasted even better. It definitely was the meal I had been craving a few days earlier. The exception being that it was far more than just “good.”

August 9, 2007

Scraping Up the Bits, Vacation Style

Thanks, Homer.

The Nation argues that the House-passed version of the Farm Bill is not as bad as many have said it is, and that there may be a way to lower subsidies for the “big 5” commodity crops via the Senate version of the bill...

Now that’s a sandwich…

And, finally, I know that Hung guy on Top Chef just put some cauliflower in his ice cream, but garlic in cookies, I don’t know…

Off to the beach for some R&R. Have a great week!

August 6, 2007

Summer Drinkin'

It’s been a hot summer. A scorcher. I mean, for Pete’s sake, we’re just getting into August and daytime temperatures in the 90s here in western Pennsylvania have become as common as NFL player arrests.

Now, I’m primarily a beer guy, and in the summer there is nothing I like better than a good wheat beer (the local Penn Hefeweizen being among the best) or a hoppy IPA (Stone IPA has been killer recently). At this exact very momentous instant, in fact, I'm drinking a limited summer release from Dogfish Head -- now officially among the top tier of U.S. breweries -- called Festina Peche. It's light, subtly tart, and, as its name implies, slightly peachy. Not as good as ApriHop, but enjoyable nonetheless.

But I digress... Again, although primarily a beer guy (and a wine guy secondarily, if we're limiting the conversation to alcoholic beverages, which we are), this summer my wife and I have been enjoying a simple mixed drink that my wife’s friend turned her onto: Vodka and soda with lemon.

Nothing too complex here. Approximately one part vodka per every three parts of club soda, plenty of ice, finely dressed with a lemon slice. We’ve been using Ketel One much of the summer, but I would guess that any decent vodka will do.

The beauty of this drink, and its potential attraction to anybody watching their girly/metrosexualish figure, is that it’s low in calories: Zero calories in club soda and 64 calories in one ounce of vodka.

In theory, at least, the typical mixed drink has one shot, or 1.5 ounces, of vodka, which means a a satisfying vodka and soda with lemon has the same amount of calories as a bottle (or worse -- if it can actually get any worse -- a can) of that tasteless, sorry waste of tap water, Miller Lite (96 calories) and nearly half the calories of the new "Cosmo" of beers, Blue Moon (174 calories).

More recently, we’ve been enjoying a twist on this drink: Absolut Pear and soda with lime. My highest recommendations to either.

August 3, 2007

I Feel Ya', Guys!

These baby barn swallows have nothing to do with fresh tomato sauce -- which is supposed to be the subject of this post -- but they are darn cute and, like me, they are perpetually waiting to eat, which is why they are so perilously perched on the edge of their nest! They are waiting for momma or poppa barn swallow to deliver some bugs to eat, a process that, according to one source, begins at dawn and continues until dusk.

The little buggers – excuse the pun – may make a mess of our front porch, and mom and dad (not to mention sisters and brothers from the first brood of the year) can get a wee-bit aggressive when they see anybody within shouting distance of the nest, but it’s still enjoyable watching them go from scrawny gray balls of fuzz to sleek black and rust flyers in a matter of weeks.

Now, back to fresh tomato sauce…

This is in line with a number of recipes I have seen for fresh tomato sauce. The batch I made last night (using tomatoes from our CSA) had excellent flavor, but, to be honest, had a bit of an acidic finish, which is a known risk of fresh tomato sauce, particularly if, like me, you do not scoop out the seeds and pulp. I’ve seen several suggested remedies, from sugar to red wine vinegar to carrots (the latter of which Mario Batali includes in his basic tomato sauce recipe).

I suppose when I reheat the sauce to eat it some time in the future, I’ll probably stir in a teaspoon of sugar and I’m fairly confident that will temper the acidity. Also, I’m not a fan of thick tomato sauces (unless it’s a Bolognese or other type of meat sauce, which is an altogether different animal in my mind), so I only cooked the sauce for a brief time.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

- 2 to 3 pounds of garden fresh tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of fresh oregano, chopped
- A hefty pinch or two of salt and some fresh pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water and some ice. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes with two or three long slices (just on the surface) and put in the boiling water for 1 minute. Drain the tomatoes and quickly immerse in the cold water. After a minute, remove the tomatoes, peel them, and chop them up.

Put a few swirls of olive oil in a pan and warm over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add onions and cook until they are soft, 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, combine well, and let cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and oregano.


First, if you’d prefer the sauce not to be chunky, or if you have kids who think chunky sauce is just plain wrong, run the sauce through a big food processor.

Second, if you like a thicker sauce, you can let it cook for 20-30 minutes, partially covered.

Third, as I mentioned earlier, to temper the acidity of the tomatoes, you might want to consider adding a teaspoon of sugar at the same time you add the tomatoes. That said, I made a whole lot of fresh sauce last year with tomatoes from our garden and it was not acidic at all. Quite the opposite: light and a little fruity. To be safe, you might consider omitting the pulp and seeds of maybe half of the tomatoes, at least the first time around.

August 1, 2007

It's the Smell!

It’s a foregone conclusion that store-bought tomatoes simply don’t have the flavor of tomatoes you get from your local farmer or your own garden. The tomatoes we’ve had already from our own garden have been excellent.

But there’s something else you don’t get from store-bought tomatoes (and even from the farm): The smell of the whole tomato plant. Sifting through the leaves and vine-like branches on the three tomato plants in our garden leaves a fantastic, supremely fresh smell on my hands.

Some of the tomatoes pictured above went into a salsa I made this evening, while a whole bunch that I picked up from our CSA yesterday will go into a fresh tomato sauce I’m hoping to make tomorrow evening. The fresh tomato sauce we made last year using tomatoes from our garden brought a smile to my face: A light, almost fruity flavor that required little in the way of help from herbs or spices. I froze some and, man, did it taste good on a cool, fall day in November.

Can’t wait to make some more.

In any case, speaking of farms, hate to see things like this. In Finland, at least, farmers aren’t very happy:

Self employment is good for productivity, except for farmers, who score badly on every measure of health and quality of life, reveals a study published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Finnish researchers used validated survey data to assess factors affecting productivity, as well as perceived health and quality of life among a random sample of 5000 adults aged between 30 and 64.


The farmers and entrepreneurs tended to be older than the salaried workers, and all the self employed who were sole traders tended to have lower levels of educational attainment and incomes than their peers with staff and salaried workers.

When productivity was assessed separately, more than a third of farmers achieved low or average scores. This compares with 16% of salaried workers and sole traders and 12% of entrepreneurs with staff.

MEANWHILE, in what you could put in the qualified good news bin, researchers from the University of Delaware report some findings on their research into the diet of chickens raised on big factory chicken farms:

Millions of chickens in Delaware--one of the nation's top poultry producers--have been on a diet to reduce their impact on the environment and improve the health of the state's waterways, and it appears to be working.

Extensive research led by William Saylor, professor of animal and food sciences at the University of Delaware, has confirmed that Delaware chickens now digest more of the phosphorus, an essential nutrient, in their feed, thanks to the addition of a natural enzyme called phytase. As a result, about 23 percent less phosphorus is output in chicken manure.

So now when poultry litter is used to fertilize a farm field, a lot less phosphorus is available to potentially leach from the soil or be carried off in storm water to a river or bay.

And that's good news for waterways like Delaware's Inland Bays, where overloads of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, have contributed to serious water-quality problems, such as massive blooms of algae and fish kills.

I refer to this as qualified good news because it really will do nothing to reduce the size of these big-a@# farms, which are a toxic nightmare…

To put it in perspective, in 2006, Delaware farmers produced over 269 million broiler chickens--1.8 billion pounds of poultry--valued at more than $739 million, according to the Delmarva Poultry Industry. Those chickens produced more than 280,000 tons of waste.

They are a toxic nightmare precisely because of the way they house and care for the chickens in these factory farms (often called CAFOs) – jammed by the thousands into these long, open-air sheds with massive fans at either end to keep the air at a manageably toxic stench, pumped full of antibiotics so they don’t get sick and infect each other and become a loss on the P&L, if that’s the proper accounting term (if so, my wife will be very proud).

Hmmm, it makes me wonder whether this will make the folks who run these farms think, “Well, gee, then maybe I can jam even MORE chickens onto these farms now…” That’s a scary, and possibly realistic, thought.

FINALLY, some more qualified good news from Elanor at the Ethicurean, which she received from the Community Food Security Coalition, about the version of the Farm Bill passed in the House:

Well, the happy news is that the House, in all its (occasional) wisdom, passed a provision allowing state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines, assuming the state’s standards "meet or exceed" the USDA’s. That’s great news for smaller meat producers who can’t get their animals into the giant USDA-inspected facilities and for those living near a state line.

In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan relays the story of Bev Eggleston, a Virginia man who established EcoFriendly Farms, part of which included going into debt to renovate an old meat processing facility so that local farmers -- that is, local to Virginia -- could have their beef cattle processed in a facility where they could get a fair price for the processing service and that would treat their cattle as humanely as cattle about to be slaughtered can be.

But the USDA was giving Bev problems because he didn’t have enough volume. They said they couldn’t justify bringing an inspector there for so little volume. That’s why this provision appears to be so important, because it helps level the playing field – a little bit, at least – for small-scale farms.

UPDATE: I have emailed Bev at EcoFriendly to see whether this problem was ever resolved. Hopefully I'll get a (positive) answer.