Megnut

Sustainable cooking in the home kitchen

Starchef.com talks to San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino about sustainable eating in, Head to Tail.

'Sustainable eating,' according to Chef Cosentino's eco-friendly culinary sensibility towards food and its preparation, encompasses the use of sustainably grown produce, humane animal husbandry, and an overall obsession with care and respect for the planet and the environment. 'Head to tail' cooking can be traced back to just about every cultural cuisine in the world, such as the Native American community who wasted no part of the buffalo.

I am a believer in sustainable eating as well, and have been trying to eat locally for a long time. More recently I've been adding the "whole animal" approach to my dining, both at home and while out. And I'll admit, it's a bit of a challenge. The other night I was having some friends over for dinner, so I decided I'd make this chicken liver mousse recipe from Gourmet (Mar 06). It was my first real experience with chicken livers. Previously my interaction with them involved removing them from the chicken, prior to roasting, and throwing them in the trash. Once I put them in a baggie and froze them.

I bought approximately a pound of fresh organic chicken livers at Whole Foods. I "cleaned" them, which I had no idea really how to do and ended up with a rather bloody mess on my cutting board as I removed some veins and fat. Honestly, it turned my stomach, but I forced myself to do it if I wanted to be a real "chef". Once that was done, it was pretty much smooth sailing, except that I put all the ingredients in a shallow bowl, and when I put my hand blender in and turned it on, some bloody liver bits went flinging out and stuck themselves to various appliances (toaster, stand mixer) and kitchen items (tea kettle, tiles) and clothing (my green sweater, should have worn a white coat!).

Aside from the horror filmness of it all, the mousse turned out lovely and was a delicious opening to a delightful dinner. I plan to make it again, and to experiment with other animal parts, and to continue to eat them when I'm out to dinner as well. That is, at least, until something goes horribly wrong and I eat something so gross that I revert to vegetarianism forever.

Trouble at In-N-Out

News from the west, my friends: Wherefore the Double-Double?, "A family feud has left In-N-Out Burger, that iconic Western enterprise, at a crossroads. Will it still be ours if its bright yellow arrow points east?" I hate to read such things, but if there's a possibility that In-N-Out will be coming east, I rejoice! Some days I miss the hills of Marin. Some days I miss my misty morning runs in Golden Gate Park. But many days I miss my trips to In-N-Out and their delicious fries, and tasty burgers (which often I got as "grilled cheese", everything but the burger.) Oh how I'd love to see that yellow arrow pointing at me here in New York!

The fatty glory of confit

The New York Times has a look at one of my favorite culinary techniques, confit, in Florence Fabricant's article, By Fat Transformed: The Confit, in All Its Splendor. Chef David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, CA says,

"I once had chicken livers confit in a small bistro in the north of Italy and couldn't forget them," he said. "They were smooth, like ganache, or good foie gras. You can spread them on toast."

To achieve this consistency, his technique is unusual. After carefully trimming the livers, Mr. Kinch lets them soak in milk overnight, a French technique that makes them less bitter. To cook them, he places them in clarified butter in a saucepan, enough to cover the livers completely. A sprig of thyme or a bay leaf can add a subtle dimension.

Hmmm...this sounds like something I might have to try here at home. I love confit of anything, but especially of duck. I almost always order it in Paris when I see it on the menu, and am rarely disappointed. I haven't gotten into the confiting of vegetables as much as meat though, and in general it seems the word has been applied quite liberally by American chefs to various preparations. A stricter definition (some might say the only definition) from Larousse Gastronomique:

A piece of pok, goose, duck or turkey cooked in its own fat and stored in a pot, covered in the same fat to preserve it.

Or as a chef I worked with once said, "There's no such thing as onion confit! An onion doesn't have fat, so you can't cook it in its own fat!" Well, right or wrong, when something's cooked long and slow so that it's amazingly tender and rich, whether animal or vegetable, I call that delicious!

Attempt at a salmon sandwich

Canned salmonThe other day I wrote about eating less fish, Less fish and more cow in my belly, and I decided I'd try and eat more salmon. Canned wild salmon seemed like a good idea for lunch, and so I began dreaming of the salmon sandwiches I'd create. Over the weekend I went to Whole Foods and bought two cans of wild salmon, some fresh dill, a nice loaf of whole wheat bread, and a red onion. And today I set out to make my delicious salmon sandwich!

Step one: open can of canned salmon with can opener. Step two: remove lid. Step three: recoil in horror!! Ewwww!! What is this? Skin! Lots of salmon skin! I don't mind salmon skin when it's been seared nice and crisp in a pan, but I sure don't want it all gummy and slimy in my salmon sandwich! And wait, what's this?! Bones! BONES!! And not just pin bones, but like, a slice of the salmon's spine! Right in the can! It is so gross-looking and smelly that I can hardly bear to taste a small skin-free bone-free nibble.

Also: it looks like cat food. In fact, it looks worse than cat food. In fact, it is worse than cat food! My cat came into the kitchen when he heard the can opener, hoping for some early dinner. After I decided there was no way I was making my sandwich, I put the bowl down on the floor. Someone should eat this, I figured. After one tentative sniff and bite, the cat decided it would not be he, and he walked away.

Meat-in-belly Meg: 1
Salmon-in-belly Meg: 0

Less fish and more cow in my belly

The New York Times examines what's going on with the 'contaminants in fish' advice that's been coming out lately, Advisories on Fish and the Pitfalls of Good Intent. I think they're talking about me!

SHOPPING for fish these days is fraught with confusion. There is so much contradictory information about what is safe and what isn't. Some nutritionists are worried that people will throw up their hands and choose steak instead.

Yup, that's me! I used to eat tons of fish, but I've really cut back. Partly because I tired of salmon all the time, and partly because I read that farmed salmon and white tuna were dangerous for women of child-bearing age. I eat some wild salmon when I can find it, but in general my fish consumption has declined. And I'm eating a lot more red meat. Of course, that doesn't really mean a lot of red meat, just a lot more than I used to. Now I have it maybe three times a week, max. And boy, is it good! So sorry nutritionists, I'll try and eat canned wild salmon sandwiches for lunch from now on!

Picabo Street's got a blog

Former US ski team member, and gold medalist, Picabo Street has a blog! You may remember her from the 1998 games in Nagano. She won the gold in the Super G. She's in Torino now as a special correspondent for NBC. While there, she's keeping a blog on the Torino experience, especially now that she's getting to enjoy the Games as a spectator rather than a competitor. Neat.

A little skiing video featuring me

Speaking of wanting it...you can watch me "go for gold" in a little video Jason's posted to his site: Skiing videos. It's the bottom one, and it's small and blurry. But it's still kind of fun, I think, though decidedly less exciting than watching the men's downhill. Oh well...

No gold for your subjective criteria

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins give US skiers Bode Miller and Darren Rahlves a hard time in her column, U.S. skiers 'Best in the World'? Not a chance, for not 'podiuming' (that's what the snowboarders call it, dude!) in Sunday's men's downhill event.

Miller skied with more abandon, actually leading the race after the first time interval before he inexplicably let time leak away in the lower section of the course. But afterward he was vague and esoteric, suggesting that he skied to some purer, invisible, inner standard of excellence.

"I feel I skied the way I hoped would reflect a positive objective end result," he said. "But when there's a discrepancy there, you have a moment of confusion and disappointment. But after that, what can you do? My subjective criteria was satisfied. Subjectively is how I ski."

Maybe I'm too dense to appreciate the subtleties of Miller's subjective goals. I thought the point was to ski faster than everyone else. The trouble with Miller's articulacy is, sometimes it sounds like excuse making.

Usually I hate the focus on winning a medal at the Games, especially the "quest for gold" bs that consumes the US broadcasters every Olympics. But this time I think Jenkins may have a valid point. Rahlves and Miller both had the fastest training runs. And then before the event there was all this crazy last-minute changing of equipment, with Miller skiing on some new factory-fresh pair of skis, and Rahlves planning to and then switching back to his old skis only minutes before his run. That just struck me as odd.

Then the races themselves. Both guys looked fine out there, but not aggressive. Not like they wanted to win. Sure it's important to be satisfied. And sure, you don't want to beat yourself up when, as Rahlves said, "I did what I could, and that's how it turned out." But come on! It's the Olympics! You gotta want it! Enough with this new-age touchy-feely satisfaction of some inner criteria, bring home the hardware!!!

If I only had flour

I'm in Vermont right now, and for some reason we don't seem to have any flour in our kitchen. If we did, I would be making these delicious sounding Bread Pudding Pancakes! I [heart] bread pudding and I [heart] pancakes, so this sounds like the perfect recipe for me! If only I had flour...

I've joined the RSS Board

Though this was announced nearly two weeks ago, I've been distracted so much with other things I've failed to mention it on this site: I've joined the RSS Advisory Board. With the continuing (and surprising to me!) growth of RSS, I'm looking forward to working with the others to help make RSS easy to use and easy to understand, for the techies and the non-techies alike.

The best thing about the 21st century

Without a doubt in my mind, I'd like to go on the record and say the best 21st century happening is the "invention" of really soft cotton t-shirts and tank tops! It used to be you had to wear your t-shirts forever and ever to get that super-soft and thin shirt. But now, through some technology I can only imagine was developed in collaboration with NASA (perhaps that's what the mission specialists do on the Space Shuttle?), you can just go to any store and buy a brand new super soft t-shirt. And it's not even expensive! You can get them at Forever 21 and H&M for like $5.99!! The future *is* here. I thought it wasn't, but I was wrong. Oh how I love you brand new super soft shirts!!!

My four things

Ok, this has been going around for a while now, and Jason's tagged me, so I'll go:

Four jobs I've had:
1. Pie baker
2. Ice cream maker
3. Management consultant
4. Canoeing counselor at girls summer camp in VT (I worked very hard on my tan that summer)

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Old School
2. Office Space
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (KAHN!!!!!!)
4. Ocean's Eleven

Four places I've lived:
1. Buffalo NY
2. San Francisco
3. Cuernavaca Mexico
4. Nearly every neighborhood in "Boston", including Somerville, Medford, the Back Bay, JP, Brookline...

Four Two TV shows I love:
1. American Experience (PBS)
2. Six Feet Under

I really don't watch that much TV. I used to like Seinfeld, but that was a long time ago...

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Kauai Hawaii
2. Nantucket MA
3. Winter Park CO
4. Zipolite Mexico

Five of my favorite dishes:
1. Bread pudding
2. Potato pancakes
3. Lasagne (no meat, no veggies, just cheese, noodles, and sauce)
4. Thomas Keller's torchon of foie gras
5. Nantucket bay scallops

This list is ridiculously short! Five dishes? I could go on to twenty-five, np!

Four sites I visit daily:
1. kottke.org
2. Yahoo! most popular
3. www.flickr.com
4. www.google.com

Five places I would rather be right now:
1. Someplace I've never been, like Italy or New Zealand
2. Jogging through Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture on Nantucket
3. Paris (of course!)
4. Vermont, skiing at Mad River
5. The moon

Four bloggers I am tagging:
1. My running amigo DJ
2. My mom
3. G-Trap
4. You! If you feel like doing this, go for it!

Take that Kottke! "too old school" my ass!

Placing Sept 11 in historical context

Over the weekend there was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times by Joseph J. Ellis, Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History. First he questions the threat of September 11 to national security, "in the grand sweep of American history" and finds, "it does not make the top tier of the list." And as such, he questions whether the broad changes to domestic and foreign made in its name are justified. Second, he examines when such changes have been made (e.g. 1789's Alien and Sedition Acts and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII) and finds:

In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing.

It's ridiculous that in the effort to "win" the war on terror, we're scraping the constitutional protections that make America the great country that it is. And as Professor Ellis writes, history will likely show that once again, we've overreacted.

Remembering Challenger at 20

It's hard to believe that it's twenty years since Challenger, twenty years since our confidence (we'll send a civilian!) and optimism (we'll send a teacher!) was shattered. I still remember everything about that morning so clearly.

The launch (originally scheduled for January 22) had been pushed back for days, until it was scheduled for the 27th. By that time, I was in exams at school, so we didn't have our regular schedule, only three exam periods a day. Since I had no exams at the time, I was home watching the countdown and hoping to see the lift-off. This was during my "I want to be an astronaut" phase (a phase I'll note that's never really ended for me) and I watched as many shuttle launches as I could, and this one especially because teacher Christa McAuliffe was aboard. In 1985, I'd been to Florida and seen the Challenger lift-off, so of all the shuttles, Challenger was the "best" in my adolescent mind.

The launch was scrubbed that day, I don’t remember why. Maybe winds? Maybe the cold? (Ah, "ground servicing equipment hatch closing fixture could not be removed from orbiter hatch" says NASA) I remember being disappointed. The next morning, I was up and the TV was on again, but again the launch was delayed, this time as they waited for it to warm up. And finally, I had to leave to head to school and take a math exam. I was walking from the T stop next to my high school towards the main building when my friend Kevin stopped me in front of the gym.

"Did you hear about the space shuttle?! It blew up!"

"No, that's impossible." I told him. I'd been there! I'd seen the thing! I had mounds of packets from NASA at home, all about the space program! I even knew an astronaut! But then I noticed everyone around me was talking about. I hurried into the building, trying not to think about it. As we got settled in our seats for the exam, the headmaster came on the loudspeaker and announced the accident to everyone. Then Mrs. Young handed out our exam, which I promptly flunked.

It's hard to believe it's been twenty years, and that during that time, human space travel has become no more routine. In fact, we've lost a second shuttle, and the whole necessity of manned space travel continues to be called into question. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll continue to explore the final frontier. Eventually we'll return to the moon and head to Mars, and hopefully farther. We'll continue to explore the worlds beyond our own, and when we do, we'll carry the memory not just of the Challenger crew, but all those who've lost their lives doing something amazing: heading into outer space.

The source of our literacy woes

I keep reading articles saying things about college graduates possessing poor reading skills (see the Guardian's 12m workers have reading age of children, apparently the UK has a similar problem.) Well today I think I stumbled upon the cause! It's TV! I was at the gym on the treadmill when I looked up at the TVs. One was tuned to MSNBC, and they displayed one of those static banners across the bottom of the screen as they cycled through clips of various people talking. It said, "World Reax to Hamas Victory." I must have looked at it five times, making sure there was no sweat in my eyes. But every time, it was still there. Reax. It was enough to make an English major cry on the spot.

Inside the restaurant experience

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni goes undercover at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge with My Week as a Waiter. Totally worth reading so you have some idea how much work goes into "just" being a waiter. Servers work hard, very hard. I saw it first-hand when I worked at Fifty-Six Union in 2004. Pretty much every job in a restaurant is harder than you imagine, even hostessing. I worked a handful of busy nights as hostess in August, and let me tell you, if you think you just read that list and take people to a table, you've got no idea. Just like Bruni as server, I was flummoxed doing what seemed like simple tasks.

My favorite memory was when it was pretty busy and things were hopping. I had no idea what time it was, people just flowed in, I seated them, menued them, and returned to do it again, while also ushering folks to the bar, taking people from the bar to their tables, and answering the phone. At some point, the phone rang and I picked it up,

"Good evening, Fifty-Six Union. How may I help you?"

The man on the other end wanted a reservation for that evening. I quickly scanned the book and spotted only two openings.

"We could do 6:45 or 9," I tell him in my most helpful, cordial voice.

"It's 7:15," he replied with a tone that pretty much also included the words, "You stupid idiot reservation girl."

"Well then, we could do 9," I say again, smilingly but now seething inside for being so stupid. Why didn't I look at the small clock mounted on my reservation stand? How hard would that have been? Oh the agony and the shame!!!

I don't remember if he took the reservation or not. What I remember is being humbled by the experience of hostessing. Over time, I improved, and would have gotten much better had I continued to do it. But even in just a few days, I learned the lesson that nothing is as easy as it looks, especially when it's new to you. Soon I moved to the back of the house and made many more stupid mistakes in the kitchen (like burning some little turnovers in the oven because I didn't check the temperature before I put them in, and it was at 500°!) Still though, it was great fun -- even the hostessing.

American Experience on John Adams

I caught the premier of American Experience's John & Abigail Adams the other night and really enjoyed it, though the program's tagline ("Meet the original power couple") is discouraging. President Adams was a very interesting fellow, and I've been intrigued by him since I read Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis a few years ago.

An examination of Adams is especially timely now with so many issues arising with regard to executive power in the US. John Adams wrote the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which established three branches of government. It was largely the basis for the Federal Constitution when it was later drafted. He believed the separation of powers in government was critical to maintain democracy, and that left unchecked (esp. by the judiciary), the executive branch could move towards despotism.

I highly recommend watching the program if you've got two free hours. It's not just informative but also entertaining, and has catapulted John Adams to the top of my list of favorite founding fathers.

Apollo 11 at the Smithsonian

If I lived in Washington DC I'd totally be doing this on Saturday: it's a family day at the Smithsonian about Apollo 11!!

Touch a moon rock and then find out how it got to Earth! See the command module Columbia from the Apollo 11 mission, the first to land a man on the moon. Learn how the astronauts from this and other Apollo missions ate, played, and slept in space. Programs will be available in English and Spanish.

Here are the details:

Milestones of Flight: Apollo 11
Saturday, January 28
10:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Milestones of Flight - Gallery 100
National Air & Space Museum
6th & Independence Ave., SW
Washington DC

Sounds like fun for anyone interested in the space program.

Casual high end fare in Paris

Oh yummy Paris and your yummy restaurants. Mark Bittman takes a look at France's famous three-star chefs going bistro for the New York Times in Restaurants of the Year: In Paris, Star Chefs Take a Casual Turn. Alain Ducasse has two Paris bistros now, and Pierre Gagnaire is now running an old fish bistro called Gaya where it sounds like he's up to his usual crazy tricks (fish and chips without any chips, reports Bittman). Makes me long for a return to Paris!

Examining thirty-three years of Roe

Usually I can't read any article about abortion because no matter what side it supports or stance it takes, I get angry about something. But today, on the thirty-third anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there's an op-ed in the New York Times, Three Decades After Roe, a War We Can All Support that frames the debate in a way I can get behind. The premise: everyone acknowledges abortions are bad and that we'd like to reduce the number of abortions, the real issue is how to do that.

The problem with using restrictions to reduce the number of abortions isn't that the restrictions are judgmental. It's that they're crude. They leap too easily from judgment to legislation and criminalization. They drag police officers, prosecutors and politicians into personal tragedies. Most people don't want such intrusion. But you lose them up front by refusing to concede that there's anything wrong with abortion. You have to offer them anti-abortion results (fewer abortions) without anti-abortion laws.

The pro-choice path to those results is simple. Help every woman when she doesn't want an abortion: before she's pregnant. That means abstinence for those who can practice it, and contraception for everybody else. Nearly half of the unintended pregnancies in this country result in abortions, and at least half of our unintended pregnancies are attributable to women who didn't use contraception.

It seems like a fitting time to reexamine this issue and discuss better ways to address it. For too long both sides have been polarized and unable to even discuss the topic of abortion in any reasonable manner.

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