March 30, 2011

Braised Meats and Tater Tots

Two items that revolve around actual cooking -- for a change -- caught my eye.

First, an article in the New York Times by John Willoughby about braising meats and whether searing said meats prior to adding liquid and other bit and pieces to the braising pot is a must for producing "rich flavor."

This searing step, particularly if you're braising a lot of meat, can be time consuming and messy, and I have to admit that often I give that process short shrift or fail to pay attention to certain details that end up short-changing the searing process (as I did recently with my first attempt at osso buco, which was still good, but could have been better).

Mr. Willoughby provides some recipes for exceptions to the sear-before-braising rule. The pork recipe sounds particularly fantastic -- I have had some success with carmelized pork before -- and I will be hoping that I can get a nice pork shoulder at the Farmer's at Firehouse market in the Strip on Saturday morning.

Second is a foray into the production of tater tots. Yes, tater tots. I eat them maybe twice a year, and they are always fan-freakin-tastic. Now, in this case, I am not willing to go as far as Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and actually go through what seems like a fairly arduous and prone-to-failure process of making them myself, but I have to give J. Kenji some due for going through the effort and establishing that Ore-Ida is not the only one that can make a decent tot!

March 25, 2011

Scrapin' Up the Bits...

Lots to discuss, read, ingest (intellectually, that is).

No photos, please... or we'll send you to jail. Seriously.

Angered by repeated releases of secretly filmed videos claiming to show the mistreatment of farm animals, Iowa’s agriculture industry is pushing legislation that would make it illegal for animal rights activists to produce and distribute such images.

Agriculture committees in the Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill that would prohibit such recordings and punish people who take agriculture jobs only to gain access to animals to record their treatment. Proposed penalties include fines of up to $7,500 and up to five years in prison. Votes by the full House and Senate have not yet been set.

Baby carrots. Ubiquitous. Kid friendly. Cute. Also a very big business. Read the whole thing.

Unlike me, Mark Bittman can find a few good food/agriculture-related issues to blog about.

I have this strange thing. I write for a living. I enjoy reading, although I don't get to as much as I would like. And I really like wine.

But I don't like reading about wine. And that's because the writing (and writers, who are often deeply entrenched in the wine culture and world) is too often insular, snooty, over-the-top, self-concerned... In other words, it makes me wish I didn't like wine so much. Just thought I'd get that out there.

Finally, the Post-Gazette's food critic has nice things to say about a restaurant with particularly high culinary ambitions that, inexplicably, opened in the city's northern suburbs -- not a place known for such restaurants (or, for that matter, people who are interested in such restaurants).

March 14, 2011

Best. Cocktail. Evah!

Finally made it to Toast Kitchen & Wine Bar this weekend. An enjoyable meal.

The shrimp & grits lived up its billing. My wife's rib eye (really just 3 slices of one) was quite fantastic. Maybe a five-spice based rub? My tempura wild-striped bass was good. Kind of an odd dish, paired with creamed greens, a dilled orzo, and some (delectable) horseradish infused tomato thing I'd liken to a chutney, I guess. The tomato component made the dish. I always tried to get a little bit of everything in every bite. The horseradish tied everything together, although not necessarily neatly. Overall, I'd say the dish needs to be revisited.

The bread pudding also lived up to its billing, as did the wine selection. I had seen complaints about the cost of the wine, but because you get a little carafe, you almost get 1.5 glasses for the price, which made my $9 Primitivo a downright bargain.

But for me, the star of the evening was our pre-dinner cocktail at Round Corner Cantina: the "Red Pepper, Red Pepper." I'd had it at our previous trip to Round Corner last year. If possible, it was even better this time.

And the title of this post is no exaggeration. It is the best cocktail I've ever had.

  • Tequila
  • chartreuse
  • Elderflower liquer
  • lemon
  • basil
  • pepper

With a dried chile floating on top. Wish I had taken a picture of it. Beyond the taste -- which lingers in your mouth, the heat, the herbs, the fresh -- it's a beautiful drink: greenish yellow, flecks of basil relaxing below the coarse red dried chile.

I dislike the term "mixologist," but those two tall lasses at Round Corner do understand how to mix a superb drink. Bravo, ladies.

March 12, 2011

Bring It On, Fatheads!

My phone camera doesn't do it justice.

Roasted pork tenderloin, mozzarella, arugula, roasted red pepper mayo, on ciabatta. Seriously good sandwich and one of the best use of leftovers I've ever come up with.

March 11, 2011

Drugs in the Farm Animals, Collapsing Bees, and a Sad Arrest

Short and sweet, but very important items to highlight here.

First, a writer who is doing amazing work at the moment is Maryn McKenna, whose book Superbug I hope to read fairly soon. McKenna has a great post on Wired about the link between antibiotic use in farm animals meant for human consumption and antibiotic resistance in humans. It's about a study showing that....

Chickens, chicken meat and humans in the Netherlands are carrying identical, highly drug-resistant E. coli — resistance that is apparently moving from poultry raised with antibiotics, to humans, via food.

At least one member of Congress is taking the issue seriously, microbiologist and House representative from Connecticut, Louise Slaughter, who reintroduced legislation that would ban the practice of giving healthy farm animals antibiotics.

In related news, Smithfield, #1 pork purveyor and factory farm trend setter, has apparently produced a series of videos aimed at countering the intense criticism the company has come under from some quarters. The videos are, to nobody's surprise (and certainly not to BNET's Melanie Warner), full of s@#$...

Do go read. And here's a picture to whet your... well, I guess that's not the best phrase to use here...

And an issue that sort of fell off the public radar but is still as dangerous as ever, honey bee colony collapse.

The authors, who include some of the world's leading honey-bee experts, issue a stark warning about the disappearance of bees, which are increasingly important as crop pollinators around the globe.

In short, honey bees = major pollinators. No honey bees, crops don't grow = no food.

Finally, for fans of (the best show ever) The Wire, this is sad news. Seems that old habits are hard to break.

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, 30, is among 64 people charged in a joint state-federal prosecution of a large east Baltimore drug gang. She is charged in state court with conspiring with two men to distribute heroin and aiding and abetting.

Pearson also played "Snoop" in The Wire, serving as a right-hand man... er, woman... for a drug kingpin. I believe she was one of several recurring characters on the show who, in the real world, had lived the life they was portraying on screen. Sad.

March 9, 2011

Costco Hearts Fish, the Oceans

Well, that might be overstepping things a bit, but good to see Costco taking positive steps on what is really an extremely important issue, one that most people know little about: the depleting ocean stocks of a growing number of fish.

Under pressure from environmentalists, the retail giant Costco has said it would immediately halt the sale of a dozen fish species widely considered to be threatened by overharvesting.

Among the fish being pulled from display cases are Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, grouper, monkfish, redfish, swordfish and bluefin tuna. Sales of these and other at-risk species will not resume until a sustainable source can be identified, the company said in a statement.

This is a significant event. Costco is a big purveyor, and while they are still only one big fish in a much, much  larger retail ocean -- excuse the stale literary device -- this is as big win. Greenpeace and Casson Trenor had a lot to do with it, so they deserve major props as well.

Which brings me back to something almost two months old at this point: Wal-Mart's announcement that it's going to reduce levels of salt, sugar, unhealthy fat in the processed foods it sells and lower prices on  fruits and vegetables, and try to open stores in so-called food desserts (places, typically poor urban areas, where there aren't any real grocery stores).

Now, I'm as big a Wal-Mart hater as they come. And I'm skeptical of any announcement by a big corporation that would seem to put the public good ahead of profits. But the response to this announcement by those from the sustainable ag world seemed to me, at least, to be particularly jaded.

A representative example? I give you the esteemed Marion Nestle:

Whether these initiatives will do anything for health remains to be seen.  They will certainly put pressure on other suppliers and stores to tweak their products. I don’t think that’s good enough.

Yes, we'll have to wait and see exactly what transpires moving forward. How much of this is PR and how much is bona fide good will.

And it wasn't the doubt that this is anything more than a PR stunt that struck me. It was the pervasive "it's not good enough" response. Really? Not good enough? Wal-Mart could do absolutely nothing, and just continue on in its evil ways, or it could do something that just might make fresh fruits and veg more affordable and make processed foods a little healthier.

There is every right to be skeptical, but to me, in this instance, the consistency of the incredulous responses seemed to be misguided. Perhaps I'm being too naive. But it would be nice, and perhaps even help to ensure it is more than just a PR stunt, if the response was: "This is a really good start. We'll hold your feet to the fire to make sure your actions back up your words, but we welcome you to the table."

A Return, With Eggs... and More!

Yes, another mini-siesta from food blogging comes to an end. Life, it's busy, you know. And I'm actually trying to finish an actual fiction book, which is no small feat these days!

In any case, to the (partial) subject of the post: Eggs. In  particular, eggs for dinner, which is a weekly occurrence in our house. While occasionally it's an omelet, or in the spring and summer often a frittata, for the last 6 months or so, it usually involves a poached or fried egg, the delectable runny yolk providing some serious richness to pasta with brown butter or an arugula salad with a sherry vinaigrette.

Last night it was eggs cooked in tomato sauce, adapted from this recipe from Marco Canora. I followed it fairly closely, but did deviate somewhat, adding a half-cup of onion with the garlic, putting a touch of grated nutmeg in the tomatoes (I used most of a 28 oz. can) just before adding the eggs, and topping it with flat-leaf parsley instead of oregano, since I had some in the fridge.

Here it is in the pan...

And here is the finished product...

What makes these egg-centric dinners so much more enjoyable is the true free-range eggs, purchased at McGinnis Sisters, from Miller's Farm in New Wilmington. They're more expensive than conventional eggs, but if you're talking about something that is the centerpiece of your meal, and the difference of a buck or two, I don't see the economic case against it.

The color alone of a true free-range egg yolk (from chickens that get to cavort in the grass, eat bugs out of poop, etc., not the ones which simply have "access" to a tiny caged, mostly dirt yard adjacent to the jam-packed confines of a factory farm chicken barn) tells a story: bright orange, almost glowing. Then when you taste the egg, the tale is complete.

Now, to be fair, I can understand, particularly for those on a limited budget (and in the current economic environment, that's many more people these days -- and if the impasse over the federal budget isn't resolved, could very soon include me), not being able to pay more for sustainably produced meat. The price differential in that case can be quite significant. But the difference in the price of conventional vs. truly free-range eggs, around $2, for many people could easily be accounted for by skipping that case of soda or going without that bag of chips. That is, to my mind, no sacrifice at all.

McGinnis Sisters deserves accolades for its commitment to sourcing sustainably produced eggs and, increasingly, meat from local farms.When the location in Seven Fields first opened a few years ago, it carried meat from Ron Gargasz's farm in Volant (probably not far from Miller's farm!), which just happens to be the source of the beef for Franktuary's locavore dog.

But it put the meat in a crowded freezer, cordoned off from the conventional meat sold at the large meat counter. It wasn't promoted or even labeled in any special way, quickly developed a freezer film on it, and soon enough the freezer and beef were gone.

Now it has returned, with buffalo from Wooden Nickel Buffalo Farm in Erie, and other sustainably produced  meat. It's still cordoned off in its own freezer, but that must be, at least to some extent, because it's frozen. But the beef's availability still isn't promoted in any special way. It's just there, below the Bell & Evans chicken products. That's something that should, and easily could, change.