Archive for January 2007

Thomas Keller uses frozen Sysco french fries at Bouchon. WIth all my travel last week, I missed this story from Grub Street. Scandalous, but I'm not a fry snob who turns my nose at frozen. If they taste good, I'll eat them.

Some experts say that probiotics have the potential to be this decade’s oat bran. Probiotics are foods that have beneficial bacteria that many claim aid digestion and ward off illness. Yogurt with live cultures is a probiotic, but now bacteria are being added to non-dairy products.

A growing movement of health-conscious consumers say that unpasteurized milk -- as long as it's from grass-fed cows -- is capable of reversing chronic diseases from asthma to irritable bowel syndrome. Slate Salon takes a fairly positive look at the raw milk debate and the safety and health claims on both sides.

Mini SalamiThese miniature salami are so cute! Even if you no longer have a dollhouse, or never did, it seems like there's something you can do with it. The site sells all kinds of mini food items.

Alligator ChoppersFor lazy prep cooks, or those looking to create perfect julienne or dice without perfect knife skills, these Crate & Barrel Alligator Choppers will do the job for you. "With one quick press, hinged plastic cutters slice food into 'sticks' with a razor-sharp grid of stainless blades. Turn 'sticks,' then press again for 'cubes.'" See, you don't even need to know culinary terms to use it! $19.95 - $26.95, depending upon the size.

CHOW's put together a ten-point cheat sheet designed to help you sound informed when the topic of molecular gastronomy arises. Most important point: "2. Don’t call it molecular gastronomy." Sound a little Fight Club for my taste. [via Grub Street]

Nine pages on Grant Achatz may only appeal to the die hard Alinea fan but it's got everything you'd want to know about cooking, going back to Carême and the Enlightenment. Just remember, don't call it molecular gastronomy. (Here's part II.) [via Serious Eats]

At what point does hiring someone to achieve a certain look or style in a restaurant turn into racism? Should a server at a high-end French restaurant like Daniel be French, or is it okay if he's Korean or she's Indian? Is the restaurateur crafting an experience or descriminating?

Flickr user Rakka's awesome Nintendo DS cake.

Milk ChocolateEnd the tyranny of dark chocolate! Gourmet tests 25 milk chocolates and lists their preferences. I'm not a huge chocolate fan (though I used to be) but when I have it, I prefer milk chocolate, so I was happy to see this list.

Buy a greenwashed product and you’re buying a specific set of healthy environmental and socially correct values. "Greenwashing...can also describe a pervasive genre of food packaging designed to make sure that manufacturers grab their slice of the $25 billion that American shoppers spend each year on natural or organic food." Includes a list of identifiers so you're aware the next time you're shopping for "Natural Cheetos." I imagine those must be picked fresh from the Cheeto tree, right?

I want people to walk out of the restaurant not feeling heavy and full, but vibrant and restored, says new Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony. Grub Street reports butter and animal fat use to be used sparingly, "Vongerichten-like combinations of juices and herbs" will appear in their stead. What's he think he's operating, a Jamba Juice?

How natural is natural food?

Kate at Accidental Hedonist reports that Capri Sun will be removing the "All Natural" label from their juice products after a lawsuit by consumers. The suit claimed the label was misleading and deceptive because Capri Sun contains high fructose corn syrup, a man-made product. But corn syrup is produced from corn starch, a natural product of corn, by an enzymatic reaction. Enzymes are natural, a scientist didn't invent enzymes one day in the lab. So in a weird way, Capri Sun is natural. I don't think that's really the issue here.

People infer some kind of healthiness when they read the label "All Natural", but plenty of natural product will kill you, eating the wrong wild mushroom, for example. The real issue is processed food, and how much manipulation we want of our food before it reaches the table. Corn syrup (and the high fructose variant) do not exist in nature without human intervention. People looking for all natural food are looking for food in its original state, I suppose, but how often does that exist? And where do we draw the line? Is maple syrup all natural? You need to boil maple sap to produce the syrup. Is flour all natural? You need to grind the wheat to produce it. You could be a "naturalist" by eating only fruits and vegetables and foods that haven't been transformed, kind of like folks in the raw food movement.

For a while now, my eating style has been whole foods as much as possible. I don't buy processed or prepared foods. I make pretty much everything from scratch, and try to eat things as close to their natural state as possible. This way I can avoid additives and preservatives, and chemicals. Mostly I do this because I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy how these unmanipulated foods taste. Tomato sauce from scratch tastes better to me than sauce from a jar. Homemade soup is better than canned. When I go to the market, I don't look for an "All Natural" label, I look at the ingredients. It's pretty easy to tell from that what's really gone into the product.

japanese tea
Japanese tea photo from Flickr user Yoppy

I usually have on hand several different kinds of rice, each with a different use. A look at a variety of rice in the pantry and its uses. I'm not much of a rice eater at home, but when I have it out, I always enjoy it.

Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. "Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called 'urban foraging' or 'dumpster diving'." That expired bread out behind the market? That's dinner for a freegan. [Thanks Cory]

Attacking Annie's Shells and Cheddar

Annie'sAnnie tested the direction of popular culture and felt the gentle wind of organics blowing, and she created her famous purple box of mac 'n' cheese. And now Salon's Anastacia Marx de Salcedo takes her, and everyone who whips up a box of it, to task in her article comparing Annie's to Kraft. While I agree that the label "all-natural" on Annie's doesn't really mean anything in any official government-approved way, you can take a look at the ingredients in a box of Annie's and it sure seems "natural" compared to Kraft's.

Annie's Homegrown Original Shells & Cheddar ingredients:

Durum Semolina Pasta, White Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Salt, Cheese Cultures, Enzymes), Whey, Sweetcream Buttermilk.

Kraft Original Elbow Macaroni & Cheese ingredients:

Enriched Macaroni Product (Durum Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Cheese Sauce Mix (Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Fat, Milk Protein Concentrate, Salt, Sodium Tripoly-Phosphate, Citric Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Calcium Phosphate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Enzymes, Cheese Culture).

The author points out that from a nutritional perspective, Kraft and Annie's are about equal (in terms of calories, sodium, protein, fat, etc.) but that misses the point. It's not that Annie's is "healthy," it's that it's less processed. It has less chemical additives. Why feed yourself or your children Yellow 5 or Milk Protein Concentrate when you can just give them cheese? It's hard enough for people to get decent food on the table these days, and while I agree it's nice to have a home-cooked meal, sometimes there isn't time for that. When I'm choosing between two instant mac 'n' cheeses, I'll take the one without Sodium Tripoly-Phosphate any day.

As for the author's assertion that "making pasta with cheese from scratch is just as easy as mixing up a pot of Annie's" (with a proper Béchamel sauce!) I say no way! She lists the steps side by side in her article, but if you actually look at the time associated with each step, it's clear Annie's is less commitment. With box mac 'n' cheese, you boil water and cook pasta. Neither task requires your attention in the kitchen, so you're free to do whatever else needs doing. (I suggest making a quick green salad to accompany your boxed delight, but let's stay on target.) When the pasta's done, you simply drain, add butter, cheese powder, milk, and stir. Total active time: less than a minute. Now think about making the same from scratch. While the pasta's boiling, you need to make your Béchamel. That requires whisking and attention. You also need to grate cheese, mix cheese in white sauce, etc. Total active time: more than one minute.

All said, I don't eat Annie's products very often, so I'm not defending them because I'm a fan. It's because this article seems dishonest to me, making false comparisons to support the author's belief. And it strikes me as a thinly-veiled critique of a certain lifestyle in the guise of nutritional analysis: the holier-than-thou-homemade crowd vs. the well-to-do Whole Foods yuppies with kids. It's a rant directed at people who actually do care what they're feeding their kids, and who are trying to do the right thing. In my opinion, that's the wrong target.

First Lenny Kravitz gets fooled into thinking L'As du Falafel makes the best falafel in Paris, and now to my dismay I see that Mark Bittman of the New York Times not only thinks L'As is the best in Paris but says "this is the falafel destination in Paris, indeed in Europe." But Bittman and Kravitz are wrong! Right across the street from L'As du Falafel is mi-va-mi, which I believe makes a superior falafel, and easily the best one I've ever had. And trust me, I've had it many times because I lived in the neighborhood for a month back in 2002. Perhaps the problem is that both places offer such superior falafels to anything anywhere else that upon eating one, you conclude there simply cannot be a better falafel and you've found the best spot. Regardless, mi-va-mi is my place, and it has a take-out window and nice indoor seating. And every time I return to Paris, I head over there for a delicious sandwich and swear it's all I'll eat for the rest of my visit.

U.S. and Japanese scientists reported on Sunday that they had used genetic engineering to produce cattle that resist mad cow disease. Great! So instead of a simple solution to stopping mad cow like don't feed cattle (who are vegetarians) animal parts from sheep and other cows, let's complicate the whole thing by genetically engineering animals to "lack the nervous system prions, a type of protein, that cause BSE and other related diseases." Yum, now we can go back to feeding our cattle spinal cords from sick, old cows!

Asking whether cloned meat and milk are safe is not even the right question. The right question is, why clone at all? "Cloning isn’t just a matter for the F.D.A. to decide. It is up to us as a society to decide as well."

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