The CookCamp un-conference will focus on food and health, bringing together people to share, create, and learn from one another over the course of a day. It's happening February 24 in San Francisco, and is free and open. Sounds like it could be interesting.

A step-by-step guide to how Alinea's “Short rib—beets, cranberry, Campari” is prepared over at CHOW. The picture above shows a cook slicing a sheet of beet juice-Campari gel. Anyone who's worked in a kitchen of any calibre knows that restaurant dishes are never as simple as they appear. And that's even more true at a place like Alinea.

Fish from Uncle Ernie's

I'm back from vacation and somehow managed to eat lots of yummy things but failed to take any pictures. I'm just not a photofoodblogger. But this picture shows one of my favorite meals on Anguilla: fresh local fish for lunch at Uncle Ernie's, a little beach restaurant right on Shoal Bay East. I ate this three times for lunch while we were there, always accompanied by a Ting, a Jamaican grapefruit soda made with real sugar. Mmm...

What I don't have any pictures of are the many Anguillan crayfish and lobster tails I ate, split in half and grilled, served with a side of butter. Nothing fancy, but simple and delicious. I ate fish nearly every meal, except one evening when I had ribs. I guess technically I had seafood enchiladas (at a great Mexican place, Picante) one night, so maybe that doesn't count as fish. Anyway, it was a great vacation but it's nice to be back and sleeping in my own bed. Though I miss having that fish for lunch!

Cows can't eat grass because "they need vitamins and minerals and stuff," according to one butcher. [via Jason]

Link sources for you while I'm gone

I'm heading on vacation tomorrow so you're going to have to do your own food blogging for the week. To help you get your fill of food tidbits and news, I recommend checking the following sites:

There's a little widget on my sidebar now for Serious Eats that helps you keep track of the conversation over there. It updates whenever there's a new comment in the Talk area. If you'd like to add this widget to your website, here are some instructions to do so.

Buzzfeed, my favorite site you're probably not reading, has a category for food: New Food Buzz. Not a ton of updates yet, but check it out. There are lots of food trends afoot!

Cooking & Food tips from Daytipper, a new site that allows people to submit tips on various topics. The food ones could be useful.

Food & Drink questions at Ask Metafilter. An easy way to share your knowledge and learn from the community.

I'm sure I've missed some others, so I'm going to try an experiment here: I'm going to open comments and let you share links with each other while I'm gone. Basically you guys can do the blogging on Megnut for the week right here. I look forward to checking out what you've uncovered when I return on February 12th. Happy blogging!

Add the Serious Eats widget

If you like the looks of the Serious Eats widget on the right-hand side of the page, feel free to add it to your own site. Just paste this line of code <script src=""
type="text/javascript" language="javascript"></script>
on your page wherever you want the widget to appear. It's 160 pixels wide, and it will automatically update whenever there's a new comment posted in the Talk section.

Google Culinary Team Kitchen Food Standards
Flickr user Peterme's picture from the Google Cafeteria

Valleywag had a version as well back in Novermber, 2006.

Searching for the essence of cuisines

From a reader, here's an interesting question I think you readers might be able to answer:

Been reading your site for a longtime and love your food focus. I've been reading 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' and near the end Pollan talks about all cultures being omnivorous but picking a selection of the available foods (forming their cuisine) and about all cultures having rules of eating (whether they're codified concretely or not). This got me wondering if anyone has collected in one place the essence of different cuisines (what are the things that make Japanese food Japanese and what are the tricks, like soy fermentation in this example, that they have used to provide adequate nutrition). I mean cookbooks contain this wealth but you'd need to comb an awful lot of cookbooks to glean many cultures (especially since the marketplace of books covers only a limited set of the world). And also, this got me wondering if anyone has collected the cultural rules of eating (for example not talking during meals in some cultures while lengthy conversations are expected in others).

I'm guessing you've read a lot of books on food. Do you have anything you can recommend along these lines?

Annie's Homegrown CEO John Foraker joins the Annie's discussion. He responds to the Salon article from yesterday and shares a letter he sent to the magazine.

Michael Pollan's nine key points

Unhappy Meals illustration by Leo JungFrom last weekend's The New York Times Magazine comes Michael Pollan's latest article about The Age of Nutritionism. I would've written about it sooner but it took me until last night to finish reading it. It's 12 pages long. While the entire thing is absolutely worth reading, he ends with a "few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb collected in the course of [his] nutritional odyssey" that bear repeating here, with my notes:

1. Eat food. Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Non-dairy creamer? You're out. You too, breakfast-cereal bars.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
Science keeps changing, so trying to follow fads won't guarantee health. You have a better chance at health by just eating a well-balanced diet.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
All those signs point to food that's been processed. More process = less nutrients and vitamins, never mind the environmental costs of producing the food.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
Buy food at farmer's markets and you can avoid the foods listed in #3 very easily.

5. Pay more, eat less.
Pay for that grass-fed beef, but reduce your over-all beef consumption and it's not an exorbitant expense. Interesting figure from the article: "Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation."

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
You don't have to turn into a bunny, but make sure you're getting greens. They pack a nutritional wallop, but science still can't tell you exactly what inside is so good.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are.
You know, that whole Mediterranean diet, "French Women Don't Get Fat" thing.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
Duh. If you cook from scratch, it's unlikely you'll add ferrous sulfate or sodium tripoly-phosphate to your dinner. See #3 above.

9. Eat like an omnivore.
Variety is important, and we've been reducing the diversity in our diets over the years. Plus "biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields."

Those tips should be given to every single citizen of the United States, as far as I'm concerned. It's hard to believe we've gotten to the point that we don't know how to eat anymore.

Also: The Kitchen has a summary of the article as well, highlighting some other facets of Pollan's argument.

Easy Boneless Buffalo Wings

Boneless Buffalo WingsLooking for something tasty and easy to serve at your Super Bowl party? Why not make homemade boneless Buffalo wings? I developed this recipe (if you can even call it that) during the wild card games a few weeks ago. It also saw me through the AFC championship, faring better than my beloved Pats. And now I pass it along to you.

1. Buy a package of frozen chicken nuggets. I like Bell & Evans (sold at Whole Foods) because it's all white happy chicken breast meat, and about as healthy as you can get when you're buying a fried chicken nugget.

2. Pre-heat oven according to directions on box.

3. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small sauce pan on the stove. Add between 2 and 4 tablespoons Tabasco sauce, depending on how spicy you want your "wings."

4. When nuggets are about half-way through cooking, remove from oven and, using a brush, coat both sides with spicy butter sauce. Return to oven and continue to bake according to directions on box.

5. Remove from oven, plate, and serve with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.

They're really good! Correction: they're really good if you like boneless Buffalo wings, and they're probably my new favorite thing to make for a day of football watching.

Thank God Top Chef is over. I haven't watched it, haven't been interested in watching it, and was very tired of hearing about it on every single damn food site. Please don't tell me there's a season two in store.

Update: Clearly I don't pay attention to Top Chef, because apparently what ended last night was season two! So the hope for no season three seems dim.

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.

Are you into food and the web? Are you good with web design, familiar with blogs, and an able coder? Serious Eats, a start-up that is focused on sharing food enthusiasm through blogs and online community, is hiring. You'd be working with a team of passionate food lovers, including the site's founder (food maven, and New York Times author) Ed Levine, food bloggers Alaina Browne and Adam Kuban, and me! See the job description for all the details.

I just ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich on soft white bread. The bread on the honey side developed a kind of rough texture. Why does this happen? Various folks try to answer over at Metafilter.

New York's growing wave of parents obsessed with all things culinary are indoctrinating their children to the ways of gastronomy. From dining out at three and four-star restaurants to taking cooking lessons on Saturday mornings, “[f]ood is the next frontier in terms of the precious raising of children.” Normally this is something I'd cheer, but somehow the article made it seem so snooty.

Photo by the New York TimesSan Francisco now has one of the best French-style bakeries...Tartine Bakery. I was in San Francisco last week and had breakfast there and I concur with Mark Bittman: Tartine is fabulous. I especially enjoyed the bread pudding with seasonal fruit. I think I could eat that every morning for the rest of my life and never get bored. Please will someone open a place this good in New York City, preferably in my neighborhood?

The New Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lombard
Modern supermarket experience

Miracle Fruit, or miraculin, is an ordinary glycoprotein molecule with some trailing carbohydrate chains which somehow change the way our tongue perceives taste. "Eating Miracle Fruit somehow makes sour food taste incredibly sweet." Whoa. [Thx Jason]!

Coffee and doughnuts to become just doughnuts. A scientist has developed caffeinated doughnuts! So you can skip the coffee, or double down on your morning caffeine intake by having a cuppa and a caf doughnut.

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