Megnut

Bon App&eacutetit editors have launched a blog. "Think of this as an extension of the conversations that go on in the Bon App&eacutetit Coffee Room. Our editors will be posting daily on everything from chocolates we think you'll want to try right now (for some reason, we've been tasting some particularly luscious ones recently) to a good excuse to make yourself a cocktail."

Barrett at Too Many Chefs says, 'Eat local? No thanks.' "But when you see a mango from the Philippines, a can of Italian Pomodoro tomatoes, or Swiss chocolates in the supermarket, don't hesitate. Drop them in the cart and enjoy the amazing variety of food that modern agriculture and transportation has brought to your doorstep."

I don't usually read Celebrity Baby Blog (really, I don't!) but I happened upon this post today, Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton delivers a baby boy. Prune has not only a female chef but also a female sous chef. That's pretty rare. Rarer still: they were both pregnant at the same time. Andrea Strong as more details over at the Post, Buns in the Oven, about how they managed to work in a small 200 sq. ft. kitchen with bulging bellies. Color me way impressed.

Touring America on 12 Meals a Day over at NPR with my favorite road food writers, Jane and Michael Stern. They always make me want to hit the road and stop at some greasy spoon in nowheresville.

The dangers of drinking wine

No, not the usual dangers about liver, there's more to worry about now. According to this article, Is it OK ... to drink wine? in The Guardian:

The debate about the social and health impact of alcohol consumption, including wine, is well rehearsed elsewhere, but the production of wine also throws up a number of concerns, with the reality often far from the bucolic idyll of lore.

Many of the world's vineyards are now highly industrialised. Of most concern, perhaps, is the increasing reliance on pesticides. Several recent studies have discovered pesticide residues in wines, including some labelled as organic. This suggests that vines could be particularly vulnerable to contamination from airbound pollutants. One study of Bulgarian wine found that wine from a vineyard in a heavily polluted region contained more than double the legal limit of lead.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to discover that we've poisoned our food supply as we poisoned our planet, but still, it's a bummer. The article also raises the issue of the sustainability of shipping bottles of wine around the world. Some times the more I think about food production and sustainability, the more depressed I get.

Ideas in Food has started a new series of posts called "Just Before the Bin" as way to catalogue recipes that didn't quite work. The first is a, A Greek Salad? which was a Greek salad dessert. From the picture it looks good and sounds interesting, but I guess it wasn't great. I like the idea behind this feature a lot: it's important to share and build on failures as well as successes. Not everything we cook turns out fabulous, and it's nice to see even the pros admit that.

The Hungry Cabbie went to a pickle party and has a great write-up of the event and the new pickle company Wheelehouse Pickles, Travis Pickle. Mmmm...pickles! Some day I'd like to make my own pickles.

I love a good cookbook meme

This little cookbook meme is going around the food blogs, and seems fun, so here are my responses.

How many cookbooks do you own?
Approximately 40, though I also have a bunch of food memoirs with recipes in them as well (Ruth Reichl's books, an Elizabeth David) but I always forget about them because they're not in the kitchen. I also subscribe to Gourmet and Food & Wine, and use the web a lot for recipes. But my cookbooks are like trusted friends.

Which cookbook did you buy most recently?
La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home CookingLa Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home Cooking. I read about this someplace (can't recall where) and had to have it. I love it, though I haven't cooked anything from it yet. It's incredibly detailed, explaining how to do pretty much everything. And I love the design and drawings it has inside. It seems like something I'll use one of these days when I plan a grand dinner party -- not that the food is grand, but just that I'll want to make something different.

Which is the cookbook that you read most recently?
I guess that would be La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home Cooking mentioned above.

Name 5 cookbooks that mean a lot to you.
The New Basics CookbookThe New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. This was the first cookbook I really owned on my own. I bought it in college and just loved it. It guided me through my first preparation of duck, my first catfish fillet, and countless other appetizers and main courses. I rarely use it anymore but I used to just sit and read it for hours -- to learn more about cheese or meat, or just to read the great culinary quotes interspersed between recipes.

The Vegetarian Bistro: 250 Authentic French Regional RecipesThe Vegetarian Bistro: 250 Authentic French Regional Recipes by Marlena Spieler. I was a vegetarian for four years and during that time this was my go-to cookbook. I still use it regularly, even now that I eat meat. It is filled with such delicious and straightforward recipes. Nothing French and stuffy, more simple French fare that highlights the purity of the ingredients and the brightens their flavors. I also learned a lot about French food from it, and was delighted when I traveled to Paris to discover I recognized items on menus simply from cooking from this book. Authentic is right!

The Cake BibleThe Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It wasn't until college that I began to cook, prior to that I was a baking fiend. I made all kinds of elaborate cakes that required fancy molds and trips to the liquor store for ingredients like Grand Marnier. If only I'd had The Cake Bible then, oh the cakes I would have baked! Still, I got this book in the mid-nineties and I treasure it. It is filled with the hows and whys and cake making, and with recipes for the most amazing confections. When I made a wedding cake -- with rolled fondant! -- for friends, this book was my guide and I couldn't have done it without it. I consider it an absolute must for anyone who likes to bake cakes.

Vegetarian Cooking for EveryoneVegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I picked this up when I became a vegetarian in 1998 and it's been in constant use ever since. Her veggie stock is wonderful, and I make the soups in here all the time. I also use her pasta dough recipe whenever I make pasta from scratch. Even though I eat meat now, I use this cookbook a ton, whether for a side dish or to find inspiration for a meat-free main course. Also, like many of the other books I've mentioned, she offers a lot of culinary instruction and philosophy with her recipes, so using her book has made me a wiser and better cook.

Think Like a ChefThink Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio. This book, perhaps more than any other I've mentioned, has had the biggest recent impact on my cooking. I love this book because, again like my other favorites, it's about education more than anything else. I've read it numerous times, and I've found I'm much more confident now at the stove when preparing meat. Meat has always been my culinary weakness (since I didn't eat it much and was pretty scared of it) but with this book and a meaty resolve, I've learned how to create delicious roast chickens and beef at home. Highly recommended for anyone looking to boost their culinary confidence.

[Thanks Jason!]

Wondering what all those crazy greens are at the farmer's market, or in your fancy "mixed greens" at the restaurant? Epicurious to the rescue with an illustrated guide to salad greens.

Ed Levine live-blogged the James Beard Awards, LIVE: The James Beard Awards and he's got pictures too. It's almost like being there, or having been there. Almost.

Cheese by Hand stopped in West Cornwall, VT to visit a goat's milk cheese producer and has the details here, Small: Twig Farm. Sounds like a great operation, and just what I picture for my farm when my agrarian daydreams overtake me. I'll have to find some Twig Farm and try it out.

Trouble at organic dairies?

It must be organic day here at megnut.com, because I've got another link about organic farming! From NPR's All Thing's Considered, Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System.

As organic mega-dairies with thousands of cows sprout up across the country, small-dairy farmers complain that some so-called "organic" cows don't get enough meadow time. They say the huge dairy operations are taking advantage of the system at the expense of the smaller farms that built the organic movement into a lucrative industry.

The Faces of Organic: Swanton, Farmer is a first in his field. Grows organic berries and offers great benefits and pay to his employees. [via del.icio.us/sautewednesday]

There's a great article in this week's New Yorker, Paradise Sold
What are you buying when you buy organic?
by Steven Shapin. Long but worth it. [Thanks Jason]

My favorite way to prepare ramps

I've been babbling about ramps for several weeks now but here's an article with pictures and instructions for gathering your own in the woods, Ramps: Wild vegetables bring fresh flavor to spring dishes. Also includes a few recipes, though my new favorite is the one I've made several times in the past two weeks (and forced some friends to make too!)

Roasted ramps and baby potatoes

Two bunches of ramps
2 - 3 lbs of the smallest baby potatoes you can find (I used ones barely bigger than my thumbnail!)
sea salt
pepper
olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 375┬░. Clean potatoes and place in baking dish. Toss to coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When the oven is to temperature, place dish on rack in the middle of oven.

2. While potatoes are cooking, clean ramps by rinsing thoroughly in water and removing outer layer. Trim off ends and then cut ramps into 1" pieces, separating whites from green.

3. After ~fifteen minutes in oven, remove potatoes and toss with ramp whites (reserving greens) and replace in oven. (The idea is you want to roast the ramps with the potatoes but not the whole time because they'll burn up. I've found about half the time is good.)

4. After ~25 minutes, check potatoes. If the potatoes are almost done, stir in the greens and cook until greens are wilted and warmed (~ five minutes).

5. Remove and eat. Can be served as a side dish with a roast chicken or fish or just about anything.

Are chefs libertarians?

The blog East Meets West wonders, Are chefs more likely to be libertarians? They present two reasons they think the answers might be yes. The first, because, "chefs...are basically in the hedonism business" and secondly, "[c]hefs and restaurateurs must deal with government regulations that are often ineffective and arbitrarily enforced."

I concede their points, but I wonder -- if we assume chefs are libertarians -- if their reasons are causes or effects of pre-existing libertarianism. I think people who are attracted to the culinary industry in the first place are a bit off. They already eschew a traditional work environment for one filled with long hours of intense labor that's sometimes violent, often times hectic, and during most months, hot as hell. Renegades are drawn to the kitchen (Bourdain talks about this in Kitchen Confidential, I believe) so for me it more likely follows that many chefs enter the kitchen as libertarians. All the government regulations probably just push them further over the edge than they already were.

Early reports from Craftsteak

Augieland goes to Tom Colicchio's brand new Craftsteak and has a lengthy write-up about the experience, Craftsteak: 552 dashfedillian stars. He and his companion engage in some comparison dining while there.

So here we were with an aged corn-fed strip steak and a grass-fed strip, cooked at the same time by the same guy, with which to compare the merits of one to the other. Because of this opportunity alone I will forever have a warm spot in my heart for Craftsteak.

Ultimately they decide they like the grass-fed beef more than the corn-fed. Craftsteak sounds delicious. I may have to save up for a visit.

What you're really celebrating with Cinco de Mayo

It's Cinco de Mayo! Yay! Let's celebrate the defeat of the French by drinking Coronas and margaritas! Wait, what? The French? Isn't Cinco de Mayo about, well, um, maybe, Independence? Or something? It's Mexico's most important holiday, isn't it?

Actually, no.

While the United States was mired in the Civil War, the French (under Napoleon III) invaded Mexico. Landing at the Gulf city of Veracruz in January 1862, they began marching toward Mexico City. Along the way, they suffered a surprising defeat on May 5 (el cinco de mayo), 1862, in the city of Puebla at the hands of a small, poorly armed, disorganized army. This was a great victory for Mexico.

But one victory does not a war win, and the French charged on to Mexico City where they installed an emperor, Maximilian, and ruled Mexico for several years. After the US Civil War ended in 1865, the United States began supporting the Mexican Republicans. By 1866 with their troops losing battles, France announced their intention to withdraw from the country. In 1867, Maximilian was executed and the Mexican republic was restored.

But don't let this new information impede your drinking this evening. I think it's great that once a year Americans decide to pay attention to their friends south of the border and celebrate a piece of their tumultuous history. Just don't think you're celebrating Mexican Independence, because you're not. That celebration begins on the evening of September 15 (September 16 being Mexican Independence Day) and goes on long through the night. Perhaps marketing executives felt that Mexico's most important holiday shouldn't be cheapened by crass commercialism and beer promotions, so they picked Cinco de Mayo to degrade instead. ¡Salud!

Wine Library TV: Episode #42 - How to taste wine. Great little video about, well, just what it says it is.

Feeding Desire at the Cooper-Hewitt

Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005 opens today at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum here in New York City. It's on view from May 5-October 29, 2006.

A journey through the evolution of Western dining from the Renaissance to the present, Feeding Desire features objects from Cooper-Hewitt's world-class collections. The exhibition will address the development of utensil forms, innovations in production and materials, etiquette, and flatware as social commentary.

I can't wait to go see it!

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY 10128
(212) 849-8400

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