September 25, 2007

Scrapin' Up the Bits, Bolognese Style

It happens to the best of us… You make something you expect to be delicious and, eh, it just ain’t. So was the case for some bolognese I made the other evening. In the past, we’ve relied on Mario Batali’s bolognese recipe. This time, I went with one from Food & Wine.

The two are highly similar, although the round-bellied one’s has twice as much onion and garlic, 6 ounces of tomato paste compared to none (although, to be honest, I could tell it just needed something, so I added about 2-3 ounces of said ingredient), a little more white wine, and water instead of chicken broth.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, what I found most bothersome about tonight’s meal: the taste of chicken broth.

Lesson learned. Stick with Molto.

Howevah… while the bolognese was a disappointment, our Sunday dinner of tequila-honey glazed chicken, which was accompanied with some green beans and corn on the cob from the farm, was very good. Ah, the dark meat. It never disappoints.

Bill Maher has been recruited by the lefty Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine as a big name to push for changes to the Farm Bill. The PCRM, probably best known for its efforts to curtail animal use in medical research, has launched an ad campaign calling out U.S. Senators about money they have received from the companies who excessively benefit from the Farm Bill at the expense of promoting obesity.

Sadly, Maher’s letter to Senate Agricultural Committee Chair Tom Harkin is just a freakin’ form letter. C’mon, Bill. Couldn’t take a second to add some tonge-in-cheek zinger? Sen. Harkin’s from Iowa! Not even one “corn hole” joke?!

And for the five people who read about my glorious run-in with a Vietnamese sandwich, this incredibly smart – and extremely fortunate -- person has got my back.

September 18, 2007

Bad, Bad Spinach; Great, Great Salad

Seriously, this is just freakin’ ridiculous. Another bagged spinach recall because of E. coli contamination. Once our CSA season is over, I truly don’t know if I’ll be able to trust any of these bagged salads from the grocery store. I wouldn't be surprised if this contamination, as was the case last time, was due to cow poop flowing down into the spinach fields from an adjacent cattle ranch. But the most infuriating part:

A recent Associated Press investigation found that government regulators never acted on calls for stepped-up inspections of leafy greens after [the previous] outbreak, and regulations governing farms in the fertile central California region known as the nation's "Salad Bowl" remain much as they were.

Ah, your corporate-friendly government regulators at work, dutifully ignoring the public health!

On to more positive salad-related news… I usually don’t pass on a recipe I’ve only made once. But this one, adapted from the August ’07 Bon Appetit, was excellent and easy. Assuming you can get your hands on a variety of non-cow poop laden greens and are willing to dish out the funds for a head of radicchio, this is highly recommended:

Grilled Radicchio Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette


  • 1-2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  • 4-6 green onions, tops and bottoms trimmed
  • 1 small head of romaine, quartered, with a bit of core on each piece
  • 1 head of green or red-leaf lettuce, quartered, with a bit of core on each piece
  • 1 head of radicchio, quartered, with a bit of core on each piece
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Prepare the grill, medium-high heat.

Make the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, tarragon, mustard, honey, salt and pepper; whisk together, and then slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Prepare the greens: Put the salad components on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper. First put the radicchio on the grill. You want the radicchio to be on the grill for a good 10-12 minutes total, about 5-6 minutes on each side. It should be charred and the internal leaves should be a little cooked.

After the radicchio has been on for a few minutes, put on the green onions. When the radicchio is looking good (I mean that – use those tongs and inspect, baby, inspect!) and the green onions are starting to get a little charred, put the other greens on the grill. These should be on for about 30-45 seconds per “side,” if a quartered piece of leafy lettuce can really have a side.

Remove all of the greens from the grill, chop into thin slices on a cutting board, put in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette.

September 13, 2007

The Molto Seesaw and Less Meat Eating, Please

Several news outlets have been reporting that the Food Network and Mario Batali are parting ways. Well, they were saying that Mario had been sacked. Not so fast. According to the Well Fed Network, Mario and the Food Network are doin’ just fine.

One report that has been confirmed, however, is that the big MM has a new gig with PBS: A show about the food and cooking of Spain, with co-host, actress and apparent pork teetotaler, Gwyneth Paltrow. Gee, kind of like a modern Laurel & Hardy, eh?

On a more serious note, an international group of researchers has published a paper in the medical journal The Lancet arguing that humans, particularly those of us in developed countries, can reduce the rate of global warming simply by reducing amount of meat we eat.

Worldwide, agricultural activity, especially livestock production, accounts for about a fifth of total greenhouse-gas emissions, thus contributing to climate change and its adverse health consequences, including the threat to food yields in many regions.

They call for implementing an “international contraction and convergence” strategy under which the amount of meat eaten would be modestly reduced in all countries over the next several decades, with the majority of the reduction coming from a 50% cut in the amount of red meat from ruminants like cows, goats, and sheep (and “other digastric grazers,” aka, I guess, animals that are supposed to eat grass and have two stomachs).

And for those of you worried that limiting Americans to one Big Mac a week is too much to ask, these researchers have some reassuring words:

The resultant gains in health and environmental sustainability should help to offset any (initial) discomforts from restrictions on some popular foods and altered dietary customs. Replacing ruminant red meat with meat from monogastric animals or vegetarian-farmed fish would reduce methane production and lower the pressures on wild fisheries as sources of fishmeal for aquaculture.

September 12, 2007

Scrapin' up the bits, musical style

My 5- and 2-year-old are totally digging the hit single from the newest Apple iPod gal, Feist. Gotta hand it to Letterman, his act's kind of old at this point, but he still has good musical guests from time to time.

On to actual food-related items...

Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post lays out some staggering numbers about farm subsidies and begs the Senate to do something about them in its version of the Farm Bill. Only problem with Samuelson's column is his suggestion that beef, chicken, and pork producers get by just fine without subsidies, when really they are indirectly subsidized because they get cheap (subsidized) corn feed. I suspect he knows this, but admitting it would have undermined his argument. Pundits these days, unfortunately, are a lot like politicians: they don't like facts to interfere with their blanket assertions.

Speaking of the Farm Bill, I write letters about it and they get published.

And the awards for belly-bloating fast-food atrocities of the month go to (drum roll)...

  • Domino’s Pizza, for its Oreo pizza
  • Pizza Hut for its dippin’ strips pizza. Mmmm, just what I want, pizza dipped in ranch dressing. Excuse my French, but WTF??!!

If you are a big fan of microwave popcorn, you might want to think twice about eating it on anything but a very occasional basis.

Finally, not sure what your meatloaf recipe looks like, but mine is kinda tangy:

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 pound of ground pork
  • ½ cup of finely diced onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of fresh bread crumbs
  • Heaping tablespoon of diced fresh thyme
  • Good bit of salt
  • Good bit of pepper
  • 1/3 cup of ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the first 8 ingredients very well. Either put in a loaf pan or mold it into loaf shape and place it on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.

Mix together the last four ingredients.

Put the meat loaf in the oven for 30 minutes, remove, cover the top in the glaze, and put back in for another 15-20 minutes.

My preference is to make the meatloaf the night before because, darn it, it’s just better the next day.

September 11, 2007

More Banh Mi, Please

There are only a few individual meals or food items I have had that have managed to achieve “hallowed” status. There was, for instance, my wife’s cote du boeuf at Marcel’s—the single most tender and delicious steak I’ve ever tasted. The baguette with brie and bottle of red wine we slowly devoured in a tree-and-bench-lined park in Paris also qualifies.

There are probably less than a handful of others. I can now safely add to this list a sandwich I had this past Saturday. Said sandwich was consumed during the first annual meeting of “The Strip Club,” a gathering of three couples with the sole purpose of eating and drinking our way through Pittsburgh’s Strip District over the course of 8 to 10 hours.

I first read about these sandwiches, called banh mi, 3 years ago in the New York Times, and I have lusted after one ever since. When I initially saw the stand in the Strip District in the spring -- directly in front of one of what I believe are only two or three Vietnamese restaurants in the Pittsburgh area selling sub-like sandwiches, I immediately knew what it was.

To be blunt, there is no excuse to have waited this long to get one. In my defense, though, every time we venture to the Strip we typically have kids in tow, bags filled with cookies and cheese and seafood, and an unofficial but child-required appointment for a thick slice at The Little Oven. Thus, I always find myself uttering with utmost regret, “Next time.”

Well, last Saturday, with the kids safely in the care of grandparents and our only responsibility to eat as much as seemed feasible – and drink just somewhat less – my first destination, after the obligatory alcoholic appetizer at Roland’s, was that stand for that banh mi.

In many respects, this is the perfect sandwich. Let’s begin with the bread: a fresh baguette, cut in half and sliced down the middle just to within an inch or two of the tip, the perfect envelope for the contents about to be heaped onto it The baguette was excellent: A slightly crisp, pliant crust, and a fresh, cushiony interior that worked with the ingredients about to make it their home, albeit temporarily.

Next came the chicken: thigh meat, bathed in what I would guess was fish sauce, garlic, maybe some shallot, possibly some honey, and I’m sure other spices or herbs. One of the two kindly Asian women working at the stand took the chicken from a grill, where it had been cooked on two skewers, pulled off little pieces of chicken and tucked them into the awaiting baguette. Next came thin slices of red onion, cucumber, and carrot, all of which had been relaxing in some type of pickling agent.

The other woman’s role was simple: add some healthy pinches of fresh cilantro and fresh jalapenos, before returning it to the first woman for the grand finale, a modest drizzling of a sweet and spicy glaze.

The wonder of Vietnamese food is the fresh, often intense flavors, and the banh mi captures that perfectly. There is an ever-present sweetness that’s perfectly counterbalanced by the heat from the glaze and jalapenos, the cool taste of the cucumber, carrot, and cilantro, and the richness of the fish sauce.

And when you put all of that on a crispy baguette, your only option is to really chew each bite, literally forcing you to take your time and enjoy each bit of banh mi that enters your mouth.

Hallowed status, indeed.

Props also go to the Penn Avenue Fish Company for its bangin’ – as the kids say – fish tacos. Unlike the more traditional fish tacos that are popular on the West Coast, these were made with what I believe was salmon (instead of a fried or grilled white fish) and came in a hard, corn shell (instead of a flour tortilla). It was, as is traditionally done, topped with cabbage and very fresh diced tomatoes, with a spicy, creamy sauce to ratchet up the heat index. Excellent.

The Saphire Martini – with 4 olives, without even requesting it – at The Firehouse Lounge was top notch, as was the eponymous Kaya Burger, although with a little too much “secret Kaya sauce.” I like to eat my burgers, not bathe in them.

Overall, the first-ever gathering of The Strip Club was a rousing success. May there be many more.

Photo courtesy of MaosRedArmy.