April 22, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Was out of town for 4-5 days covering a cancer research conference (doing stuff like this).

Things are slowly returning to normal. Had a really good dinner last night that is perfect for a weeknight. It's one of our standards, Thai-style chicken, to which I added a spicy-Asian slaw.

For the chicken, you can do most of the work the night before: make the marinade, toss it with the chicken, and throw it in the fridge 'til dinner time the next day. For the slaw, you can shred the cabbage, peppers, and carrots the night before if you'd like, and the slaw dressing takes all of 5 minutes.

The only deviations from the slaw recipe were that I used less garlic (which I also did for the chicken) and substituted a tablespoon or so of honey for the sugar. If you don't have Sriracha, well, get some! It's too good and too useful not to keep around.

April 15, 2010

Your Small Farmer Needs You

So, if, like me, you:

  • Love your CSA
  • Really enjoy farm markets like Farmers @ Firehouse in the Strip
  • Like your small farmers and trust them more than the huge agri-corporations that produce/control something like 95+ percent of the food in this country
  • Are a little terrified by the number of massive food recalls due to scary thingies in said food
  • Feel a need every once in a while to be proactive instead of letting things just happen

Then... you should probably go here and send a letter to your Senators to let them know that 1) you believe in food safety, but 2) the problem is not with the little sustainable/organic/family farms, it's those really big-a@#$ guys who are wreaking all of the havoc.

In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach to improving food safety standards will not work and will only serve to hurt the little guy and, in the end, potentially decrease food safety.

So perform your civic duty and then enjoy the weekend.

April 14, 2010

I Still Don't Understand Cilantrophobes

And I really don't understand this soap comparison, but it's apparently a fairly common perception of cilantro, writes the always excellent Harold McGee in the New York Times. I suppose a "soapy" smell or taste is better than a buggy one, a comparison that was apparently somewhat common at one time.

Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. I don’t hate cilantro, but it does sometimes remind me of hand lotion. Each of these associations turns out to make good chemical sense.

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

My own love of cilantro probably began with Vietnamese food, which I consumed in abundance -- somewhat reticently at first -- in the mid-90s during my first years in D.C. with my girlfriend (and eventual wife -- the one who wins giant chocolate bunnies!). I don't like to get too verbose when it comes to describing food, but cilantro really is one of those herbs that has a small that sets my taste buds a firin'. Fresh is always the word that comes to mind. Possibly flowery. And even citrusey, probably because I combine lime juice and cilantro so often.

But there are many who hate cilantro, including a good friend of mine who is an accomplished home cook and vino maker and, apparently, Julia Child, who, Mr. McGee recounts, explained that she would "throw it on the floor" if she found it in her food. So, yes, even Julia Child had her shortcomings.

The latter part of the article really caught my attention, though. Because it helped to explain how somebody like me -- who up until my 20s had a very limited diet, to say the least: no fish, little veg, overcooked meat, among other atrocities -- came to have a pretty expansive taste for food.

When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to, [explained Dr. Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist from Northwestern University]. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability.

If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs. ...

But he explained that every new experience causes the brain to update and enlarge its set of patterns, and this can lead to a shift in how we perceive a food.

Perhaps this explains how my son, who will quickly spit a green bean out on the table, or the floor, now will eat a bit of sushi, vacuumed some fairly spicy sausage recently, and loves Asian dumplings (regardless of what's inside them, even vegetables!). Perhaps the smells of the cooking going on in the kitchen -- even when he isn't going to eat what is being prepared -- are beginning to establish new patterns in his brain. I like the idea of it, that's for sure!

April 12, 2010

Pollan, Batali & Dogfish Head

Two totally unrelated things, but I don't really care.

First, if you're a Michael Pollan fan, you can find a cache of his talks and interviews here.

Second, as I tweeted just a few minutes ago: Batali, Dogfish Head, restaurants, rooftop brewery. Wow! To be more specific, though...

The first floor of the building at 200 5th Avenue will house Eataly, an epic Italian specialty foods market and multiple restaurants which pair gourmet foods with artisanal beers and wines. Additionally, there will be an 8,000 square foot rooftop brewery and restaurant operated by B&B Hospitalitys Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.

The rooftop bar and restaurant will house a copper-clad brewing system. The idea is to create an artisanal, old world Italian craft brewery that just happens to be located on a rooftop in Manhattan, says Dogfish Heads Sam Calagione. The four brewers are working together on recipes for Eatalys house beers. Those beers will feature Italian and American ingredients. The beers will be unpasteurized, unfiltered, naturally carbonated, and hand-pulled through traditional beer engines for the most authentic and pure presentation. The four individual brewers will also occasionally brew beers under their own names on site. The rooftop restaurant project will pair artisanal rustic, homemade beers with the artisanal, rustic cooking of Chef Mario Batali. Additional Italian and American regional craft beers will be served both at the rooftop bar and within the downstairs restaurants.

Can you say, "Hard to get a seat"?

April 9, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Vote for Me style!

Oh, just kidding about that voting stuff. I mean, somebody went and just posed the simple question on the Chowhound Pennsylvania board: what are the city's best food blogs?

Now, I realize that LBoN, despite its huge number of readers (tee hee), may not be the most popular Pittsburgh food blog, but I'd like to think that it's somewhat... unique. Do other Pittsburgh food blogs have:

I'll let the public decide whether LBoN is worthy of an honor such as this. 'Til then...

I've been trying to do a better job of eating fish in a more sustainable fashion. In other words, avoiding overfished fish, such as tuna, or fish whose pursuit and capture involves a whole lot of by-catch, well, like a lot of fish. But it's very hard. And it's good to know that others think so. Others like Casson Trenor, who wrote a freakin' book on the subject, and who talked with Mark Bittman about the subject recently.

“I myself can barely keep up with this stuff – it’s changing all the time, and it’s really complicated – and I look at the issue every day all day.”

So you think
you're a food-lover, eh? Not a "foodie," who I define as somebody who likes to eat good food but doesn't really seem to care about where the food came from, the impact it has on the environment, public health, etc. (which, IMO, is a pretty important factor in determining whether the food I'm eating is "good.")

Then maybe you should look into a masters degree in "food studies" at Chatham. You get to work on a farm and everything!

I don't think they have any grass-fed beef on that Chatham farm. But NPR looks at whether there is a difference between grass- and corn-fed beef. But for the taste test, she did not even season the meat. Not even some salt and pepper, for udder's sake. That seems like food reporter malpractice, no

Of course, if the feds
aren't careful, they might just put an end to the burgeoning movement for grass-fed beef, reports the Des Moines Register.

Federal regulators are proposing new meat testing requirements that small processors say would impose staggering new costs and force businesses to drop products or go out of business. ...

The proposed rules risk running afoul of the Obama administration's campaign to promote locally grown foods and small producers. Small-scale processors represent a tiny slice of total meat sales, but they see growing demand from consumers, chefs and grocers for locally produced meats and other foods."You can regulate somebody to the point that they can't operate anymore," said Phil Barber, who sells beef, pork and chicken to restaurants, country clubs and other businesses in the Des Moines area.

Here-in lays a perfect example of regulation run bad. I believe regulation is a good thing. It prevents things like, I don't know, massive bank failures and infectious diseases running rampant through the nation's blood supply.

The key is how those regulations are constructed and applied. Often, they do not take into account differences between large and small businesses. And, let's face it, often, it's the large businesses who have the political influence to get legislation passed and regulations written that, while they may govern their business and be a pain, they have a far greater impact on the little guys, which only serves to help the big guy.

Hopefully common sense will prevail and there will be exceptions and exemptions for small processors.

April 2, 2010

WSJ Wades into the Raw Milk Debate

Rarely has the WSJ graced the electronic tableau of LBoN, but, hey, despite , IMHO, the failings of the op-ed page, its reporters still produce some good stuff -- most of it is just usually behind a firewall!

The paper had an article on raw milk the other day. I have read some about this subject, but haven't written much about it here. It's an emotional issue, as a look at the comments following the article demonstrates.

I've eaten a good bit of raw milk cheese -- much of it from local sources -- and had no problems. Heck, really enjoyed most of it. Proponents of raw milk will often espouse its health benefits, but, from what I can tell, most -- if not all -- of that is based on anecdotal evidence. It would be interesting to see some hard-core studies comparing people who have drank raw milk for a number of years to those who drank pasteurized milk for a number of years and look at hard "endpoints," like incidence of certain diseases, etc. Don't know if that will ever happen.

In the meantime, the fact is that there are real risks associated with raw milk.

Between 1998 and 2008, there were 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk reported to CDC, including a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. Illnesses and deaths have also been linked to the consumption of fresh cheese made from unpasteurized milk, notably the Queso Fresco style cheeses popular in Hispanic communities.

And in the comments section, Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer who is well known in food policy circles, weighs in -- and I mean, weighs in, with a 2,700-word monster of a comment that actually is broken up into two back-to-back comments -- to lay out in more detail the risks. An example:

Kalee Prue, a 27-year-old mother of one, became infected with E. coli O157:NM in June 2008, as the result of consumption of raw milk. Her symptoms began in early July, and intensified for several days. On two occasions, Kalee sought treatment in the emergency room. On July 12, it became apparent that she was developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). She was then admitted to the hospital on July 13. Kalee’s renal failure was complete and prolonged, and she required plasmapharesis from July 13 through August 11. Severe anemia necessitated repeated transfusions with packed red blood cells as well. By the time she was released from the hospital on August 14, she had incurred over $230,000 in medical bills. Kalee has not recovered full renal function. She is at severe risk for long-term renal complications, including end stage renal disease (ESRD), dialysis, and transplant.

That said, as some commenters noted, if it's a risk some people are willing to take, I think they should be free to do so. But I'm not going to blame the FDA and other health agencies for doing their jobs in trying to protect the public health -- even if they do it unevenly, sometimes ridiculously so, at times.