August 28, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Good Weed Style

A beneficial weed? It's called kudzu...

The study found that a kudzu root extract had beneficial effects lab rats used as a model for research on the metabolic syndrome. After two months of taking the extract, the rats had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels that a control group not given the extract. Kudzu root "may provide a dietary supplement that significantly decreases the risk and severity of stroke and cardiovascular disease in at-risk individuals," the article notes.

A double take from the PG. First, a great profile on a small farm in Carrick.

She talks about why each plant is placed in the garden: Nasturtiums nestle among squash, providing an edible flower for her customers, bringing in beneficial insects and providing ground cover. For similar reasons, Brussels sprouts share space with radicchio; thai, cinnamon and lemon basil are neighbors to tomatoes.

Radicchio? That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

And next from the PG is this nerve-wracking little bit: Pennsylvania's Secretary of Agriculture, Dennis Wolff, is resigning, effective early next month. You remember Dennis Wolff, don't you, of milk-labeling fame?

The trend these days is to provide more information on food labels: "no trans fat" "free-range" "no preservatives." Mr. Wolff concluded in this case, however, that by stating what was not in the milk, these dairies were misleading consumers into believing their products were safer or healthier, something he dubbed "absence labeling."

But Mr. Wolff provided no evidence to support these claims. No public hearings were held or scientifically valid surveys conducted to assess consumers' feelings about the labels. A Food Labeling Advisory Committee reportedly held a single meeting to discuss the matter, but who was on that committee, or what they discussed, has not been revealed.

We try to limit our use of plastic bags for our kids lunches, relying very heavily on little Tupper Ware or Glad containers for fruit, applesauce, pretzels, etc. And when we do use plastic bags, we do our best to reuse them. Looks like these Lunch Skins will make things a whole lot easier...

And, finally
, Kevin Sousa -- the talented chef who is getting all sorts of praise for those fancy tacos at Yo Rita on Pittsburgh's South Side -- has had it up to his taste buds with food bloggers.

The more "foodie" blogs i read the more frustrated i get. These simple sons (and daughters) of bitches and their self righteous "reviews" of restaurants that are nothing more than yet another form of hipsterism that is spreading like shoulder pads all over my fair city. These jagoffs just want to be noticed...and have their meals comped in exchange for a good "review" as if the skinny leather tie and vest with no shirt weren't enough to make people say "hey, did you notice that dipshit with the w.a.s.p. painter's cap?"

I'm not sure if I qualify as a foodie or if my blog is considered a foodie blog. I'd like to think that my tens of adoring readers come to good 'ol Lusty Bit for more than just my adaptations of others recipes! I'd like to think that LBoN is a little bit... deeper ... than that. Heck, I'm writing about weeds and milk labels and all kinds of mixed up, crazy stuff, no?

And I've never gotten comped a freakin' thing, that's for sure. Guess you need more than tens of readers for that to happen. That said, I did eat recently -- finally -- at Yo Rita. And here is my review:

Yo Rita has good food. Yo Rita also has good drinks. Our mussels ceviche was, hmmm, all right. It had this foam on top of it that didn't really do much for the dish. The mussels seemed to be very fresh. But, overall, I was a little disappointed. IM(unpaid)O, they needed a little heat or just more depth of flavor. Perhaps the idea was to let the mussels' flavor shine through. But I tend to think that mussels do best when they are paired with bold flavors, e.g., white wine with garlic and herbs, curry and coconut milk.

My watermelon margarita was good, as was my wife's pineapple margarita. Could have slugged down a few of those in the time it took to put that foam on our mussels. My classic margarita was better. It was exactly what a margarita should be, you get the tequila, but you also get the tang of the lime and a little sweet from the liqueur.

We had four tacos. The chorizo was excellent, and, man, that chorizo was truly kickin' the heat. The duck taco, also very good. The braised pork, enjoyable, but, to be honest, the pork, which was shredded, was a tad dry. My favorite: the black-eyed pea. The peas combined with some exceptionally creamy goat cheese was a perfect combination.

I'll definitely try to make it back to Yo Rita. And hopefully nobody will confuse me for a foodie.

August 27, 2009

Pesto, Potatoes, Green Beans

An Italian classic: spaghetti with pesto, green beans, and thinly sliced potatoes.

Whenever we have this dish, I always think of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Night. A woman has ordered risotto...

Woman: I just don't see anything that looks like a shrimp or a scallop, but I get a side order of spaghetti with this, right?

Secondo: Well, no.

Husband: I thought all main courses come with spaghetti.

Secondo: Well, some, yes. But you see, risotto is rice, so it is a starch and it doesn't go, really, with pasta.

Woman: But I don't...

Husband: Honey, honey, order a side of spaghetti, that's all. And I'll eat your meatballs.

Woman: Yeah, he'll have the meatballs.

Secondo: Well, the spaghetti comes without meatballs.

Woman: There are no meatballs with the spaghetti?

Secondo: No. Sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone.

Secondo goes to the kitchen

Primo: Why?

Secondo: She likes starch. I don't know. Come on.

Primo: How can she want... maybe I should make mashed potatoes for on the other side.

Secondo: Primo, look, don't, okay, because they are the first customer to come in two hours.

Primo: No. She's a criminal. I want to talk to her.

You would think that the potatoes would just lead to starch overload in this dish. But they don't. They add a nice layer of texture, and when you get a bite with pasta, green bean, and potato, there's really not much better.

And the great thing about this dish was that the basil came from our garden (which, after some much needed maintenance, has recovered somewhat), the potatoes from Farmers @ Firehouse, and the green beans from the farm.

August 20, 2009

One can dream

Seriously, this is the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

August 19, 2009

Some Music

I only listened to the new album once and I kept hoping for some more upbeat tunes. Nevertheless, Neko can belt it.

August 12, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... "Mad Men" style

The third season of Mad Men returns to AMC this Sunday. Admittedly, season 2 was not as good as season 1, and season 3 almost never happened, so hopefully there was no rush to crank out less- than-stellar material. This show has gotten raves for its quality of course, its influence on fashion, and, now, its devotion to getting its cocktails right...

Liquor is not only an integral part of many plotlines (last season, it played a pivotal role in a car crash, a divorce, a rape and two career implosions), but often a telling sign of character. When it comes to choosing a character’s poison, Ms. Perello said, many people have input, starting with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner: “Matt will say, ‘I want them to have a brown liquor.’ And I’ll go, ‘Let’s do a nonblended Scotch, because this is a person who would appreciate that.’ ”

The cocktail historian David Wondrich, 48, thinks an old-fashioned is a conservative choice for the young Draper, but considers his preference for Canadian Club “exactly right. We’d had years of destruction of the American whiskey industry up until then. So the Canadian stuff was viewed as being pretty good.”

Another month, another recall of hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef. I'm a little late to writing about this, but it certainly did not get the coverage previous recalls have. Guess people are just so used to it by now...

I'm more than happy to put in my fair share of time for delicious food, but several hours of serious prep time and two days in total just is beyond my limits, even for something as delicious sounding (and looking) as Sicilian style square pizza.

Finally, and happily, there is a chance that beer might once again be brewed in the hallowed tanks of the Penn Brewery. Tom Pastorius apparently did not like what was being done to the business, and the beer, he worked so hard to make a success.

Tom Pastorius, who founded the brewery in 1986 and sold most of it to Birchmere Capital in 2003, is working with a group of investors who have negotiated to buy back Birchmere's stock. They've applied for a $300,000 Urban Redevelopment Authority loan for working capital as part of a plan to fix up and return brewing to the building.

The obesity rescue berry?

Maybe you've heard of miraculin. I haven't. It's this little berry, resembles a cranberry apparently. You chew it up, get all of the pulp and seeds out, swirl around in your mouth, and dispense. Now put a lemon in your mouth. It will taste sweet. Miraculin makes anything acidic taste sweet. It's used for "flavor tripping parties" in the Big Apple and elsewhere.

Mr. Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket. ... He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf PatrĂ³n.

But could it be used to combat obesity? Hmmm....

But with miraculin, would anyone be able to tell the difference between tofu pudding and creme brulee? Since it's nearly impossible to change someone's taste, perhaps what's needed to get Americans to eat better is literally to change their perception of taste.

Could miraculin really do that? Perhaps?

At the very least, some folks see a business opportunity.

Some companies have been attempting to create flavor-modulating compounds that mimic what miraculin does naturally. Two of those are Senomyx and RedPoint Bio, which are also developing bitterness blockers and exploring the pathways that translate to salty.

Both have partnered with or are in talks with food companies who are trying to reduce calories in their products by adding taste enhancers instead of sugars or sweeteners.

If these products reach a wider market, more and more patients might be eating foods with the same taste but just a fraction of the calories -- and they likely won't be able to tell the difference.

As this blog post points out, perhaps it could lead people to eat lower-calorie foods, but would it fill them up, or just lead to them still taking in as many calories as before by consuming more?

Paint me intrigued, but extremely skeptical.

August 6, 2009

The Angry Robin Cometh

We have an Angry Robin in our backyard.

I don't know why it is angry. But it expresses its anger by dive bombing those who go near the garden. Well, everybody except my 7-year-old son. When he goes out to the garden, the Angry Robin remains esconced in our unruly apple tree, spouting disgruntled chirps. My theory is that it's the two missing front teeth. Heck, I'm scared of that mouth these days...

The Angry Robin may be the female robin that has reared at least two batches of babies in a nest under our deck this summer. Perhaps she is exacting revenge for all of the times we made her evacuate the nest by daring to walk past the nest down to said garden.

Conversley, it could be her mate. Maybe it's a new beau who is trying to show up the other male robins in the vicinity. "This is how you treat humans, you losers. Grow a pair!"

Not sure why our garden is even very attractive to the Angry Robin. It has tanked big time. The zucchini plant is already tapped out. The few cucumbers we got were scrawny and curled. The lettuces did all right until the rains came. As did the tomato plants, which have also succumbed to the nibbling of bunnies -- amazingly, our first ever problems with animals. The jalapenos are doing well. And I'm hoping the poblanos and red chiles recover. And the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.

I think our garden problem is multi-fold. We planted too much in too little space. We failed to keep the tomato plants under control. And, of course, the copious amounts of rain.

In any case, if there is another run in with the Angry Robin, it will no longer be met with girly screams and scampers back up the deck stairs. From this point forward, it will be met with awe-inducing force. A suburbia WMD, if you will.

This secret weapon?

The garden hose. On the "shower" setting, of course. I promised my daughter I wouldn't really hurt it.

August 5, 2009

Grass-finished beef here! Get your grass-finished beef!

China Millman, the Post-Gazette's resident restaurant critic (I'm not sure what the heck to call that "Munch" guy), dishes on some options for local grass-finished beef. Grass-fed, I presume, should be reserved for cow's that truly do eat nothing but grass their entire lives. Grass-finished are those that aren't sent to CAFOs to be "finished" for the last part of their lives on grain-based feed (and to get all hopped up on antibiotics and growth hormones -- partaaaay at the CAFO!).

In addition to helping consumers find local options for grass-fed/finished beef, there is something else I found particularly welcome about this article: the reserved way she describes the potential health benefits of grass-fed/finished beef.

Preliminary research suggests that grass-finished beef may be more healthful than grain-finished beef. It's leaner and lower in calories. It also contains higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid, which health professionals believe may have cancer-fighting properties.

August 3, 2009

A taxing situation

Sooooo... you've got this fairly disturbing report showing that obesity-related health care costs run about $147 billion annually.

"These results reveal that obesity continues to impose an economic burden on both public and private payers," writes Dr. Eric Finkelstein, director of the Public Health Economics Program at the North Carolina-based RTI International, which produced the national study.

"The connection between rising obesity rates and rising medical spending is undeniable."

Part of the solution to the obesity problem, it's been argued, is to slap a tax on junk food. Make it more expensive to eat bag after bag of potato chips and drink 24 oz. Mountain Dews, and you produce an easy incentive to alter people's behaviors. On its face, it seems like a no-brainer (h/t Serious Eats):

About one-third of Americans are obese, up from 15% in 1980. Fat people are more prone to heart disease, diabetes, bone disorders and cancer. An obese person’s annual medical costs are more than $700 greater than those of a comparable thin person. The total medical costs of obesity surpass $200 billion a year in America, which is higher than the bill for smoking.

Of course, the folks who make some of these products don't like this idea one darn bit. Perhaps you've seen the ads from Americans Against Food Taxes? You know, the one which argues that, during these tough economic times, those meanies in Congress should not be adding to the cost of "the simple pleasures that we all enjoy, like juice drinks and soda" by slapping a big 'ol fat tax (no pun intended) on them.

[On a side note, does anybody actually believe that "Americans Against Food Taxes" is actually a grassroots organization, and not an astroturf campaign funded by the American Beverage Association?]

As others have pointed out, I think it would be difficult to define just what should and should not be taxed. What about the juice drinks we buy, made by the folks at Honest Tea (which is partially owned by Coke, I know, I know), that are organic, have just a little (real) sugar and only have 40 calories? I would hardly say that qualifies as a fattening food.

But generally I think it's a good idea. The revenue could be used to pay for health care reform and, as has been shown with cigarettes, may actually help ween people off of the stuff. At the same time, it's a regressive tax, because it would hit lower-income people (who are at increased risk for becoming obese) harder, since they often live in neighborhoods that lack grocery stores and decent restaurants and, as a result, buy more food items at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants (which are in abundance in many low-income areas) meaning their diets are replete with the fattening foods that would become more expensive.

To be workable, in my view, taxing junk food has to be coupled with a serious effort to make healthier foods more affordable, by taking away those billions in corn subsidies and using them instead to help more farmers return to growing a diverse array of crops, and to promote a more regionalized food system, so those said farmers can't more easily get their products to willing customers.

In the end, I doubt either will occur. But stranger things have happened.

Fritto Misto

One of the first shots from my new camera with its "food" setting -- obviously there are way too many food bloggers out there!

We typically follow the Mario Batali recipe from Simple Italian Food for this recipe: a batter composed of flour, salt, baking soda, water, and olive oil. Dip the veg in the batter and fry. We used canola oil, maintained at about 350 degrees.

For this go-round, we had green beans, cauliflower, and zucchini, topped with some fried sage leaves. On the side, some cheese (from grass-fed cows) that friends of ours picked up at a farm in upstate New York. Remarkably fantastic combination of flavors, particularly when washed down with a grenache.

The frying knocks down the health quotient a bit, but man is this a fantastic way to enjoy summer vegetables.