April 23, 2009

"You Ought to Make Pizza at Home"

So sayeth Sam Sifton in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. He is correct. You should.

Michael Ruhlman agrees. Where Sam Sifton says you need a pizza peel and a pizza stone, Ruhlman says you can do it in a baking sheet or even on the bottom of an inverted cast iron pan.

I have seen others still recommend cooking them on a grill on a piece of unglazed quarry tile. I have meant to try this.

Our regular pizza lineup includes:

- Margherita
- carmelized onions, fresh mozz, arugula, prosciutto
- House special, aka, red sauce, Moroccan olives, grated parmesan (see picture)

Most recently we made what will now be added to the regular line up:

- Grilled radicchio and onion with fontina and toasted walnuts (an adaptation of a Dinette pie)

The recipe in Sifton's column called for a mix of bread flour and all-purpose flour, and to put it in the mixer for a short period of time. My wife, the pizza dough maven in our household, uses only double zero flour, which I believe is an all-purpose flour, and does not use a mixer. If she does, I have been blissfully ignorant of this activity.

Speaking of grilling pizzas, taking a cue from Mark Bittman, several times my wife has made a few extra doughs on pizza night and we freeze it. At some later point, I:

- defrost the dough
- roll out the dough
- get the grill very hot
- brush the dough with olive oil
- top the dough with plenty of salt and pepper and some chopped rosemary
- put the dough on the grill

About 4-5 minutes later, we have a wonderfully crisp and chewy flatbread to eat with a salad or meatballs.

The point being: You Ought to Make Pizza at Home.

On a grill or in an oven. On a pizza stone or a quarry tile.

Use the Google or go to Food & Wine or Epicurious and find a recipe.

It is likely to taste better than any pizza you order.

It is likely to be much healthier than any pizza you order.

And, particularly with some red wine, it is fun to make and drink.

April 21, 2009

"Patchwork" Might be Kind

One thing that kept sticking in my craw -- if, as a soccer-loving, arugula-eating, martini-drinking (Bluecoat, please, on the rocks, 3 olives, if you don't mind) western Pennsylvanian, I can say that, which I probably cannot and should not -- after reading the LTE from the Penn State Ag professor in response to my PG op-ed last year about beef safety, was the insinuation that I was being alarmist and overstating the issue.

While it's not focused on beef per se, this article from the New York Times about food safety in general seems to support my general contention that the food safety net in this country is desperately lacking.

Congress and the Obama administration have said that more inspections and new food production rules are needed to prevent food-related diseases, but far less attention has been paid to fixing the fractured system by which officials detect and stop ongoing outbreaks. Right now, uncovering which foods have been contaminated is left to a patchwork of more than 3,000 federal, state and local health departments that are, for the most part, poorly financed, poorly trained and disconnected, officials said.

Minnesota, unlike many other states, the Times' Gardiner Harris reports, has a top-notch surveillance system for investigating food safety-related illnesses. And the rest of the country is very fortunate that's the case.

In these and other cases, epidemiologists from Minnesota pinpointed the causes of food scares while officials in other states were barely aware that their residents were getting sick. From 1990 to 2006, Minnesota health officials uncovered 548 food-related illness outbreaks, while those in Kentucky found 18, according to an analysis of health records.

Which brings me back to this line from the aforementioned LTE:

The incidence of E. coli-related illnesses has remained at a very low level according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Don't get me wrong. I have great respect for the CDC. I think they do a great job. But when, as the Times article details, you've got such an uneven, patchwork approach to food safety, combined with what I think anecdotal evidence would suggest is a significant amount of underreporting of food-related illnesses, there are serious limitations on what you can take from CDC data in this area.

I guess I could be accused of being alarmist. That will be until more than just a few people die from things like Salmonella-laced peanuts.

April 19, 2009

Local Mustard: Mmm, mmm good

Several times over the past few days I have spent 10 minutes or so dipping chunks of pretzel into Miller's Mustard.

Now, it's nothing like your traditional mustard, whether that be Gulden's, French's, Dijon, Hebrew National deli mustard, or what have you.

That said, it's quite good. Spicy, tangy, with just enough traditional mustard taste to rightfully call itself a mustard.

And it's made in Gibsonia. You can find it at Save on Beer in Cranberry and McGinnis Sisters in Seven Fields.

Hard to make homemade pasta...

... if you can't get the dough right!

Tried twice, failed twice. Followed the Mario Batali recipe, illustrated nicely here.

Used 4 eggs the first time, didn't come close to getting something resembling a nice rounded ball of dough.

Second time, with 5 eggs, was on the verge of something I could take for a maiden voyage on my pasta maker, but then all it went to heck.

I'll try again, soon.

April 17, 2009

The most evil company in the world

Wal-Mart? Close. Well, not really. I mean, don't get me wrong. I really don't like Wal-Mart and think it's generally a very sleazy company. But the good ol' Walton family enterprise is nothing compared to Monsanto.

And I'm not even talking about that old milk-labeling thing (shameless self promotion alert). And I'm not even talking about the thing where they hire people to go around harassing family farmers in middle America, falsely accusing them of using their genetically modified seeds without paying for them, with nothing more as their motive than putting out of business all farms that don't use Monsanto's genetically modified seeds.

I'm talking about the 1,500 dead farmers in India. They all committed suicide. You'd think that, even with all of the other messed things going on in the world, that might make a blip on the big broadcast and cable networks.

The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels.

"The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago," Shatrughan Sahu, a villager in one of the districts, told Down To Earth magazine

"Most of the farmers here are indebted and only God can save the ones who do not have a bore well."

Mr Sahu lives in a district that recorded 206 farmer suicides last year. Police records for the district add that many deaths occur due to debt and economic distress.

Ah, but see, if you just read this, or some of the other articles about all of these dead farmers, you'd think it was just about water -- which in and of itself is a huge issue in many developing countries, if not the biggest one -- and dirt-poor farmers. But it's also about that really motherf@#$ing evil company, don't ya' know...

Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years' earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out. ...

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts - and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

Read the whole story. Really, it's disgusting beyond belief. You'll learn that these farmers were, in the end, nearly forced to use the genetically modified seeds instead of traditional seeds. That the GM seeds require twice as much water. And that while they've been genetically modified to resist certain pests, the few crops they produced were devastated by others. And that the 1,500 farmers are just a pebble in a barren cropfield of 125,000 dead in what has been dubbed India's "suicide belt."

Two other important things to note here. One I hope to look into further. One needs no further investigation, and that is this: genetically modified crops don't have superior yields to traditional crop varieties. Shocking, I know.

[Union of Concerned Scientists'] Doug Gurian-Sherman searched the scientific literature for side-by-side comparisons of conventional and genetically engineered lines of corn and soybeans. He found that in almost all cases, genetically engineered crops did not produce larger harvests. The one exception was insect-resistant Bt corn, which produced higher yields only when neighboring plots of conventional corn suffered infestations of a worm called the European corn borer. Crop yields have increased significantly over the past decade, he says, but almost all of that increase was due to traditional plant breeding or other agricultural practices.

Pssst. Don't tell many of the ag researchers at our state's premier land grant university, Penn State. They love them their bioengineered food stuffs.

There's also this little nugget that, on its face, sounds all well and good:

In London after the G-20 summit yesterday, President Barack Obama called for Congress to double U.S. agricultural aid to developing countries in 2010 to $1 billion. ...

Some U.S. senators are already moving in this direction. This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill called S. 384 that would increase the authorized funding levels for U.S. foreign aid to $750 million in 2010, reaching $2.5 billion in 2014. Authorizations for university partnerships and international agricultural research centers would also rise.

It's that last little bit that makes my little tinfoil ears get all buzzy.

So then I go to the bill itself, S. 384. And right at the very top, what do we see?

Section 103A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a-1) is amended in the first sentence--

(1) by striking `, and (3) make' and inserting `, (3) make'; and

(2) by striking the period at the end and inserting `, and (4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.'.

Monsanto didn't double it's federal lobbying outlay from 2007 to 2008 (from ~$4 million to ~$8 million) for nothing, ya' know.