November 30, 2009

Muppet Relief

I still love the Muppets...

November 18, 2009

A Scrapin' Addendum... An Important One

Two things that should have made it into the previous "digest" posting. Both somewhat sciencey. The latter probably more pressing than the former. The latter has also convinced me to stop eating bluefin tuna.

First, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute perform a cool animal model study -- that is, they did some experiments in rats -- and showed that their brains responded to a steady diet of junk food much the same way that heroin addicts' brains respond to heroin.

Pleasure centers in the brains of rats addicted to high-fat, high-calorie diets became less responsive as the binging wore on, making the rats consume more and more food. The results, presented October 20 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, may help explain the changes in the brain that lead people to overeat.

“This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings,” says study coauthor Paul Johnson of the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Fla.

Are humans rats? No, but we're not that different.

Second is, to me at least, more disturbing because experts have been warning about this for some time. This sentence sort of says it all.

A recent analysis of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna population by the WWF shows that the breeding population of the species will disappear by 2012 if the fisheries continue with business as usual...

What I find most disturbing about this are the parallels with global warming. I don't claim to understand the science behind global warming. I do understand the basic concept and that the vast majority of scientists who study the subject agree that the earth is warming and that humans are a big reason for that.

And it seems to me that at some time there will be a tipping point, much like there is with tuna now, when the potentially catastrophic consequences of the collective unwillingness to act -- because of politics or greed -- will become clear. And at that point, much like with the bluefin tuna, there won't be much to do about it.

November 17, 2009

Patience Pays Off w/... Lasagna

So yet again I am vowing to make more of what we eat from scratch, beginning with pasta. To this point, I had only done a single experiment with our pasta maker, a consequence of laziness and reticence, the latter owing to the trouble I encountered the first time making an acceptable dough.

So, in the return adventure to fresh pasta, lasagna noodles were to be the output. Should I use the "well" method favored by Mario Batali -- seen demonstrating it here with Martha "Sell the stock, sell the motherf@#$in' stock!!" Stewart -- or the method upon which Jamie Oliver relies in the video below?

For my initial go-round with fresh pasta I tried both. I failed miserably with the MM's more traditional method, so turned to Jamie O. and his food processor approach (struggling, of course, to figure out what 100 grams is in good ol' American! -- Pure snark, I assure you). And with that I achieved a decent dough.

This time around, I started with the food processor and failed. My proportion of flour to egg was definitely off and I was not convinced it could be repaired.

So, after only a single failure, I turned to the well method. I looked at several different recipes for fresh pasta, and the egg to dough ratio was different for each. I ended up going with the recipe from one of our favorite cookbooks, Savoring Italy, which, despite being from Williams Sonoma, is truly an incredible cookbook for classic Italian food. It called for 4 eggs per 3 cups of flour.

The first well was not big or deep enough, and as I dropped the fourth egg into the well, one of its compatriots was quickly jettisoned over the edge like lava. I managed to get a lot of the egg incorporated back into the flour and, remarkably, got a decent looking, if not perfect, dough. I decided to try again (consulting with my wife about the size and depth of the well) and this time it went much better. In both cases I'm sure that I did not knead the dough for nearly long enough (which was really just a few minutes), but we had things to do. So I wrapped them in plastic wrap and let them sit for a few hours while we ran out to do some errands.

When we returned, I set up the pasta machine, got my 4-year-old diva into her lady bug apron, and we got cranking. Despite her stick-like arms, little miss thang was quite adept at cranking. At some point, however, my wife, despite still recovering from the piggy virus, assumed the cranking duties, while I guided the pasta through the machine and oversaw the flouring of the pasta and the thickness setting.

And from this effort were produced a lot of silky pasta sheets. Lightly floured them, wrapped in plastic wrap, and back into the fridge until it was time to start making the lasagna.

This, it turned out, was not a good decision. At least I think the refrigeration was the problem. When I removed the pasta from the fridge, it was stuck together and gummy (comments from any of LBoN's legions of readers - snicker, snicker -- about whether this was the problem are welcome). I was ready to toss the whole lot in the garbage, so frustrated I was. Ah, but the wife had a cooler head. She suggested rolling it all through the pasta maker again.

And it worked. Beautifully. Once again, and fairly quickly, we had perfectly thin sheets of pasta. In the interim we had also made a very simple sauce: half an onion (diced) and one clove of garlic, diced, cooked in olive oil until soft. Added one 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes, plus a little of the "juice" from the can, salt, pepper, cooked over medium heat until thickened a bit. Then a teaspoon or so of sugar and, just because I really like it, some freshly grated nutmeg.

Also in the interim, Sarah had made the ricotta filling, taken from Savoring Italy, which called for 3 cups of ricotta, an egg, a handful of flat-leaf parsley, salt, pepper.

The pasta noodles went into salted, boiling water and, a minute or two later, were drained. Then we started compiling the lasagna: a little sauce at the bottom of the dish, a layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, coating of freshly grated Parmesan, dots of fresh mozzarella, rinse and repeat twice, then finally the noodles, sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella.

Into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

The result was quite fantastic. Light, delicate noodles. Light, flavorful ricotta. Perfectly balanced sauce. (My apologies for the photography.)

Bonus: We had enough leftover rolled out sheets to be cut into tagliatelle for a first course or side dish. It's in the freezer, for use hopefully in the near future.

And some time in the next few weeks it will be fresh pasta round 2: Ravioli.

November 16, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits - Bollito di Manzo style

Gina DePalma's posts on Serious Eats are invaluable. Best known as the pastry chef at Molto Mario's world-famous Babbo, DePalma is in Italy doing research for a cookbook and writing up the occasional delicious recipe.

I printed out this Bollito di Manzo recipe some time ago. Now, with fall in full swing, some perfect grass-fed beef cuts for it in our freezer (short ribs), and most of the appropriate veg from the final week's take from our CSA, it was time to finally make it.

The result: good, but not great. The meat itself was really good: extremely tender with a real depth of flavor. You could tell it was grass-fed. The broth, on the other hand, was a little too tame. Not surprisingly, I did not have any veal bones. Next time (and there will be a next time) I'll add one more rack of short ribs, a few more all spice berries and peppercorns, and I may remove the short ribs when they are tender, strip off the beef and put the bones back in to cook in the pot for just another hour or so before turning off the heat and letting it cool.

In the meantime, I have a good bit of of the broth from this first batch in the freezer. When I go to use that, I think I'll bring it to a simmer for about 30 minutes with a parmesan rind in it, maybe even use it to make some risotto. I'm thinking mushrooms.

I'll admit that I'm slightly torn on this one: whether raw oysters harvested during warm months along the Gulf Coast should be banned. I enjoy raw oysters. I eat them selectively, though, from places that I feel are dedicated to getting the freshest product possible. In these parts, that likely means the northeast coast.

Yet I know that when I eat them I am taking a risk. A small one, but a risk nonetheless that I may get sick. Apparently in the Gulf Coast region about 15 people die each year from eating raw oysters. They apparently have a higher risk of being infected with a nasty bacteria when they are harvested during warm months. And the FDA had proposed a ban on them.

After getting push back from legislators in the region and the oyster industry, that ban has been indefinitely delayed.

The agency said it would conduct a study of the issue. “It is clear from our discussions to date that there is a need to further examine both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities,” the agency said in a statement.

There are, reportedly, ways of dealing with the bacteria.

The anti-bacterial process treats oysters with a method similar to pasteurization, using mild heat, freezing temperatures, high pressure and low-dose gamma radiation.

But doing so "kills the taste, the texture," [said Mark DeFelice, head chef at Pascal's Manale Restaurant in New Orleans]. "For our local connoisseurs, people who've grown up eating oysters all their lives, there's no comparison" between salty raw oysters and the treated kind.

For now, the non-anti-bacterially treated Gulf Coast oyster is alive and well.

The health care reform bill -- you know, the one that will end democracy and freedom as we know it (that's snark, FWIW) -- passed in the House includes language that would require many restaurants, including fast food chains, to explicitly post on their menus how many calories are in each dish. It's interesting because the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just did a study (careful, this is the whole PDF!) that showed providing calorie information at the point of purchase decreased the amount of food people ate during those meals.

Oh, and finally, while as a country
we throw out like 30 percent of the food we purchase and have gazillions of acres of corn to provide feed for cows so we can have cheap burgers at Red Robin, there are a lot of people going hungry:

In its annual report on hunger, the [USDA] said that 17 million American households, or 14.6 percent of the total, “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year.” That was an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, the previous year.

For those in the Pittsburgh area, you can make a contribution to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank here.

November 13, 2009

Action Alert on Food Safety Legislation

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition...

November 12, 2009


The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will take up S. 510, the Senate version of major food safety legislation already approved by the House of Representatives, next Wednesday, November 18.

The bill would put real teeth into federal regulation of large-scale food processing corporations to better protect consumers. However, the bill as written is also a serious threat to family farm value added processing, local and regional food systems, conservation and wildlife protection, and organic farming.

We need a food safety bill that cracks down on corporate bad actors without erecting new barriers to the growing healthy food movement based on small and mid-sized family farms, sustainable and organic production methods, and more local and regional food sourcing.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition, have fashioned five common sense amendments to S 510. We need your help to make them happen! The House has already passed their Bill. This is our last best chance to affect the final legislation.

Step 1: Make a Call

Please Call Senator Casey's office at
(202) 224-6324 and ask for the aide in charge of food safety issues. Tell them you are a constituent and are calling to ask the Senator to support the amendments proposed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition to the Food Safety Modernization Act. Specifically, ask your Senator to support the following key changes to the bill:

  • The bill should direct FDA to narrow the kinds of value-added farm processing activities which are subject to FDA control and to base those regulations on sound risk analysis. (Current FDA rules assume without any scientific evidence that all farms which undertake any one of a long list of processing activities should be regulated.)

  • The bill should direct FDA to ease compliance for organic farmers by integrating the FDA standards with the organic certification rules. FDA compliance should not jeopardize a farmer's ability to be organically certified under USDA's National Organic Program.

  • The bill must provide small and mid-sized family farms that market value-added farm products with training and technical assistance in developing food safety plans for their farms.

  • The bill should insist that FDA food safety standards and guidance will not contradict federal conservation, environmental, and wildlife standards and practices, and not force the farmer to choose which federal agency to obey and which to reject.

  • Farmers who sell directly to consumers should not be required to keep records and be part of a federal "traceaback" system, and all other farms should not be required to maintain records electronically or any records beyond the first point of sale past the farmgate.

Step 2: Report Your Call

Let us know how your Senator responded by clicking here and typing in a brief report.

Step 3: Learn More

For more information on the Senate Food Safety bill, please see NSAC's Talking Points here and its Policy Brief Food Safety on the Farm here:

November 12, 2009

Fast Food Abomination of the Week

The title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer. Sure, the large version of the new Quiznos Double Cheese Cheesesteak has 1,400 calories and nearly 3000 mg of sodium -- meaning that, in a single greasy swoop, it provides nearly three-quarters of recommended daily calorie intake and 50 percent surplus of daily recommended sodium intake -- which more than qualifies for it this prestigious honor.

But what is more impressive is that Quiznos managed to match up this dietary nuclear bomb with an equally sickening commercial. You know, the one where the two guys are sitting in a bathtub, outside, with a campfire underneath the tub. Something dubbed a "hillbilly hot tub."

Now, I'm no marketing guru, but, as a corporation, do you really want to embed in your potential customers' minds the image of two hairy, slovenly men sitting in close proximity in a dirty bathtub with one of your food products? Is a "hillbilly hot tub" Quiznos' version of "where's the beef?"

Something tells me that Don Draper would not approve.