Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Myth of 'Healthy' Foods

In more interesting news out of Britain, a recent survey showed that nine out of ten mothers were misled by labelling on food packaging.

The BBC reports that the survey, conducted by the British Heart Foundation, found that "mothers believe claims such as 'a source of calcium, iron and six vitamins' mean a product is likely to be healthy." The truth, the foundation revealed, is that an average serving of a product that claims to be made with whole grains and "keep your heart healthy and maintain a healthy body," such as Nestle's Honey Shreddies, actually contain more sugar than a donut.

As part of its Food4Thought campaign, the BHF examines how food manufacturers manipulate parents through distracting health-like claims to market breakfast foods and lunchbox snacks.

The report is a call to action, indicating the need for stronger regulation of junk food marketing. The BHF is asking for:
  • A ban on all junk food advertising on television before 9 p.m., allowing parents to be confident that any products they see advertised before that time are suitable for a child’s healthy diet.
  • Legislation in the UK to make the regulatory framework consistent. "There must be equally stringent measures across broadcast and non-broadcast marketing and an end to the loophole that allows the claims that are outlawed in television campaigns to still be made on product packaging."
  • A mandatory front of pack food labelling system to help parents understand the nutritional values of the products they are purchasing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Death By Popcorn

If you're like me, a big part of the fun of going to the movies is having a bucket of popcorn. I'm under no illusions that it's not the healthiest of treats, but I didn't realize just how bad it was till now.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, just released a review of movie theater treats showing that a medium popcorn and medium soft drink has 1,200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat and 980 milligrams of sodium. That, says the Chicago Tribune, is the nutritional equivalent of three Quarter Pounder hamburgers topped with 12 pats of butter.

And yet, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 52 quarts per man, woman and child, according to the Popcorn Board, and 30 percent of that is eaten outside the home.

But it wasn't always the favored treat of moviegoers. A 1947 New York Times article asked "Is popcorn here to stay? That's the $64 question being bounced back and forth by the nation's motion picture operators at the moment."

Popcorn sales, the article reported, had reached astronomical proportions at the movies, with some theater owners reporting larger profits from popcorn sales than from movie tickets. But the treat was not without its opponents.
The popping of corn in theatres is a ticklish undertaking, since the poppers give off considerable odor and, of course, a lot of folks are sensitive to the smell of hot cottonseed oil.

Some theatre men hold popcorn will eventually drive more people out of movie houses than Hollywood's best pictures will be able to drag in. Already there are signs of revolt. Loew's houses in St. Louis have banned popcorn in recent weeks and in Kansas and Indianapolis some theatres have instituted checking services for patrons bringing packages of corn.

Monday, November 16, 2009

As World Leaders Tackle Hunger, What About Obesity?

As world leaders gather in Rome to discuss a new strategy to combat world hunger, a few news stories this morning highlighted the problems at the other end of the hunger spectrum: obesity and poor nutrition even in countries where food is plentiful.

America is already a world leader in obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and a story in The Times Online says that the country may be doomed to remain the leader, "as long as the process by which it elects its presidents starts in Iowa — a state known for its cornfields and corn subsidies."
With a minimum price of $1.90 per bushel of corn guaranteed by the 2007 Farm Bill, activists say that the crop is a guaranteed winner for the farmers of the Midwest — and one of the results is something called super-abundant high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Known to its detractors as “liquid Satan”, HFCS is the sweetener of choice in the vast bulk of fizzy drinks and packaged cakes and biscuits consumed in the US. Its producers have long enjoyed the solid support of the US Senate and most presidential candidates, who gravitate every four years to Iowa to pledge their allegiance to its voters. “Farm subsidies are a third rail of Iowa politics,” a former staffer on Senator John Edwards’s presidential campaign said yesterday. “You don’t touch them.”

The 2007 Farm Bill conferred more than $2 billion on Iowa in corn subsidies for 2007 to 2012 — nearly 80 per cent of the state’s subsidies for all crops for the period. Americans’ consumption of corn on the cob has not risen markedly as a result, but their intake of HFCS has been climbing for decades, from 0.6lb per person per year in 1970 to 73.5lb in 2007.
Americans are not alone in their weight gain, however. In Venezuela, the country's president, Hugo Chávez, "has sounded the alarm about his compatriots' expanding waistlines and called on them to wage battle against the bulge, saying the revolution needed them fit and strong," according to a story in the Guardian.
Chávez's intervention was prompted by a study which suggested that in the past two decades the average adult Venezuelan's "excess" weight had ballooned from 6.3kg (1 stone) to 14.5kg.

The same study said nutrition had improved, and the president said the revolution had ensured even the poor had three meals a day. "Now we are eating better but we need to be careful," he said. "Watch out for the fat people!"
Battling obesity, the story explains, may be a doomed fight in Venezuela, where people are "fanatical about fattening dishes such as chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and like to fill arepas, a type of corn patty, with roast pork, beef and blocks of cheese. Meals are not complete without fizzy drinks, beer or rum and Coke."

If you think these sound like fattening meals, another story in the U.K.'s Daily Express describes the most common meals eaten by British families. There are, apparently, nine main dishes that most Mums rely on, including: spaghetti bolognese, roast dinners, shepherd’s or cottage pie and another pasta dish.

Translation: pasta with meat, meat with potatoes on the side, meat with potatoes on top, and another kind of pasta.
The survey also found that cooking dinner takes the average mother 35 minutes from start to finish, and four in 10 play safe by choosing meals they know their family like.

Over a third don’t want to waste money cooking food the kids screw their noses up at, and 44 per cent don’t have the time to experiment anyway. However, two-thirds feel guilty that they don’t make the time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

"Willful waste makes woeful want," as the old saying goes. Use your resources wisely and you'll save yourself from wanting -- and needing -- more than you can provide.

A new report in Britain quantifies the amount of food and drink wasted by consumers in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that 8.3 million tons of food and drink waste is generated by British households every year -- much (approximately two-thirds) of it avoidable. Often, the study found, people either cooked, prepared and served too much or didn't use the food in time.

To put this waste in perspective, the report put monetary values on the wasted food:
"To purchase the avoidable fraction of the food and drink waste would cost people in the UK a total of £12 billion per year, an average of £480 per household per year."
This is roughly equivalent to every American household buying and then throwing away $800 worth of food every year.

Experts say there are a few simple rules to follow to help cut down on how much food we waste.
  • Plan your shopping carefully -- come up with meal plans and grocery lists and buy only what you know you will use.
  • Be aware of what's in your kitchen, refrigerator and pantry and use things up before their expiry dates.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set to the right temperature and seals properly and be mindful of what food can be frozen for use later.
  • Compost your organic waste, rather than sending it to the landfill.
Here are 10 more helpful tips from The Daily Green.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Remembering the true Thanksgiving

The New York Public Library has embraced social media, with a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and online galleries of their holdings. Now, to usher in Thanksgiving, they've posted a gallery of vintage Thanksgiving menus, holiday postcards and seasonal posters from their colorful visual collections.

The images are a quaint reminder of what the holiday once was -- the culmination of an "extremely auspicious season which the farmer has enjoyed in the planting, growing, and harvesting of the grain crop of the present year," as noted in The New York Times in 1851.

These days it seems we have nearly forgotten the origins of the holiday, lost as it is in a sea of football games, Macy's parades and free supermarket turkeys. For an interesting look at the origins of the observance, try this article, also from The New York Times.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dinner at Le Bernardin

What a treat we had last night. We celebrated our eighth anniversary at Le Bernardin, a fantastic New York restaurant that was awarded four stars when it opened in 1986 and has never let go of them.

The service at a restaurant like that is almost as impressive as the food. I think there were as many people working the floor as there were dining and they were all in constant motion, like a choreographed dance recital.

As we were waiting to be seated I saw someone who looked familiar -- it was Arnaud Devulder, whom I once interviewed for a story I did on champagne glasses. He is now one of three sommeliers for the restaurant.

We opted for the 4-course prix fixe rather than one of the tasting menus. This includes two appetizers, an entree and a dessert. The appetizers were divided into 'almost raw' and 'barely touched'. From the 'almost raw' section, we had an amazing, amazing hamachi in vinaigrette that I am still thinking about and a thinly pounded tuna with toasted brioche and shaved foie gras.

Next we had one of the signature dishes, which was escolar (white tuna) poached in olive oil and served with a red wine bearnaise sauce. My husband had a langoustine dish that was sweet and incredible. For entrees we had black bass and mahi mahi. The bass was really, really good -- the mahi mahi was a bit of a disappointment but on balance everything else was so good that it didn't matter.

They gave us a comped dessert for making us wait, which was sort of like a mousse served in an egg shell with milk chocolate at the bottom. Can't explain it, but it was great. When dessert was coming I asked the waiter to send Arnaud over so we could say hello. We had a nice chat and he was really happy to see us and brought us some dessert wine. We mentioned it was our anniversary so next thing you know we had another comped dessert, in addition to the two we ordered from the menu, and a glass of calvados for me and cognac for my husband.

Then petit fours. Then MORE petit fours and the maitre d' came over to greet us. Then Arnaud introduced us to the head sommelier. By this time the whole restaurant seemed to be buzzing around our table. I think we ended up eating more sweets than fish! It was great. Too bad we couldn't meet Eric Ripert, but maybe next time...?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Live Blogging: Iron Chef Coconut Battle

9:59pm -- Wow, close score. Good exposure for Mehta, no doubt, but I think the Iron Chef deserved it based on his original ingredients. But I'll still take dinner at Nobu over dinner at Graffiti... Maybe it's just spite. Thanks for reading!

9:54pm -- Well, Jehangir seemed to have impressed them with his desserts, which is not surprising since he was a pastry chef. But was it enough to edge out the Iron Chef?

9:50pm -- Did I just hear "wedge-eh-tubbles"?

9:45pm -- Have just realized that my "live blog" is really lacking in insight and is just incessant rambling as the TV show is on... Sorry readers! My husband is away or I probably wouldn't have subjected you to this! He would have had to bear the brunt of my incessant rambling instead.

9:44pm -- Ponytails on men are pretty passé but I gotta say Morimoto rocks his.

9:43pm -- Look at Tiki struggling with his chopsticks! Get the man a fork please!

9:42pm -- Oooohhhh! The iceberg lettuce was on Morimoto's side? Hard to watch carefully AND write a blog! Sorry Jung-gear.

9:41pm -- Wouldn't cold coconut soup leave a film on the roof of your mouth?

9:40pm -- I don't think Mehta won too many points on originality.

9:38pm -- Oh come on! Pop Rocks?

9:37pm -- It's pretty ballsy to pick Morimoto as your opponent. Unless you have no intention of winning.

9:32pm -- Here's a Kopra Paak recipe that's pretty on-target, but I hate that they call it "Coconut Fudge Delight..."

9:29pm -- My favorite Parsi dessert is shredded coconut with sugar and butter. It's called Kopra Paak and my great-aunt makes the best!

9:29pm -- This is certainly not shaping up to be a particularly healthy meal for the judges. Coconuts are high in fat and cholesterol and there's lots of frying and sugar going on there.

9:27pm -- Coconut maki rolls!! Lovely idea.

9:26pm -- Harold McGee says that the word coconut "comes from the Portuguese coco, which means goblin or monkey."

9:17pm -- I love that Morimoto needs subtitles. And that he brought such a rare ingredient no one has ever seen it before, while Mehta brings out the iceberg lettuce...

9:14pm -- Fish poached in coconut milk... Yum!

9:10pm -- In the commercial break, I'll let you know which side of this battle I'm on. You might think I'd be rooting for my fellow Parsi, but not only am I a big fan of Morimoto, I'm NOT a big fan of Mehta. I once asked him for a donation for a fundraiser and he took the free ad we offered him but never provided the free prize he promised us. Like an elephant, I never forget.

9:09pm -- By way of explanation, I'm particularly interested in this Iron Chef episode because the challenger is a fellow "Parsi" -- a member of a small tribe of Indian Zoroastrians. We're usually fiercely proud of anyone who makes it big -- like Freddy Mercury and Zubin Mehta (no relation to Jehangir, by the way).

9:07pm -- Iron Chef Morimoto-san is such a rock star he just broke his hammer!

9:04pm -- First of all, Alton Brown called him "Juh-hanger May-duh" ... shouldn't Mehta's PR people have told the producers that his name is pronounced more like "Jung-gear Meh-tah?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Up close and very personal with the tomato blight

Martha Stewart has posted a slideshow on her blog that shows a detailed account of the late blight that has affected so many gardeners and farmers this year. The results are, sadly, not "a good thing."

Link: The tomato blight in my garden

When The Heat Is On, Soup Is The Thing

Summer has finally settled in to New York – with a vengeance. After a nice long period of cool temperatures and sunny, breezy days, we're now having the hot, humid weather we usually expect this time of year.

Soup may not be the first thing that comes to mind in this weather, but the truth is that it can be the perfect solution for a quick meal – even when the sun is shining. Warmer weather brings to mind the soups of Asia, like this hot and tangy coconut and lentil soup, which can be ready in about half an hour and doesn’t require much more than basic pantry staples.

One item not hanging around the typical kitchen is fresh lemongrass, which is widely used in South East Asian cuisine. Though available online and in most urban centers, cooks who can’t find it often improvise with lemon zest and fresh coriander. It’s not quite the same as lemongrass, but the simplicity of this recipe means you can be flexible with the ingredients.

To convert the metric measurements, try this site or use the following: ½ cup of shallots, 2 tablespoons of ginger, 1 cup of lentils, 2 cups of water.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Final Frontier for a Block of Cheese

Wallace and Gromit may have dreamt it, but it took a group of enterprising British cheesemakers to make space travel a reality for creatures of the curd kind. These are the same people who, in 2007, created the internet sensation that became known as 'Wedginald.' They focused a webcam on a 44-pound wheel of cheddar and thousands of people tuned in to watch it mature.

This year's stunt, marking the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, involved launching a weather balloon 18 miles into the upper atmosphere attached to a capsule containing about a half a pound of Cheddar. Hours later, the GPS tracking system had stopped working, leaving the cheesemakers wondering where their cheese had gone.

Dom Lane, of Shepton Mallet's West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers group, told BBC Wiltshire: "We've been tracking the trajectory and the current prediction is that it could land anywhere from here in Wiltshire to Hemel Hempstead.

Luckily for them, a helpful Samaritan turned the cheddar in to the police the next day -- about 75 miles away.

"The whole exercise was a nice way to wave the flag for authentic Cheddar," Mr. Lane said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Test Your Knowledge of Sustainable Food

Turns out I didn't know as much about sustainable food as I thought I did. This is according to two simple quizzes on the National Geographic site. One tests whether you know the true cost of food with questions that explore the meaning of beef certified as American Grassfed and which twelve fruits and vegetables are most often contaminated with pesticides.

I was amazed at how many of these questions I got wrong. That aforementioned question was particularly interesting and it's worth listing those twelve items:
  • peaches
  • sweet bell peppers
  • strawberries
  • pears
  • spinach
  • potatoes
  • apples
  • celery
  • nectarines
  • cherries
  • lettuce
  • grapes
These foods are so commonly consumed that it's worth spending a little extra to get organic, whenever possible.

Monday, July 27, 2009

HIdden Danger in Iced Coffees

Iced coffees are a favorite summer treat, but when the mercury rises it's best to think twice about what you're about to order. A new report by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has found one iced coffee drink sold at Starbucks contains more than a quarter of the estimated daily calorie requirement for an average woman.

WCRF warns that regularly consuming high calorie drinks like these could increase cancer risk. Scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to help prevent cancer.

As their website states, a Starbucks Venti Mocha Frappuccino blended coffee with whipped cream is 500 calories.

For cancer prevention, water is always the best choice of drink, but unsweetened tea and coffee made without cream are also preferred to sugary drinks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Catch (and Cook) a Crab

To be honest, I have little patience for foods like crab that make you work so hard for their rewards. I am a big fan of crab meat, just not the work it involves. However, I guess it's an important skill to have in the kitchen, so this slideshow from the Guardian is an invaluable resource.

Crab is not only a challenge in the kitchen, it's one of the hardest creatures to catch. Fans of The Deadliest Catch, a show on the Discovery Channel, know it as the most dangerous job in the world.

Statistics show that 128 per 100,000 Alaskan fishermen perished on the job in 2007, 26 times the national average -- of these fishermen, crab men have it particularly bad.

From "How Stuff Works:"
Crab fishing involves dropping 800-pound steel cages, called crab pots, into select areas of the Bering Sea where specific crab species, such as king crab, live. Fishermen cover the traps with herring meat as bait, and the crabs climb up a ramp to get the food, then fall into the bottom of the pot where they can't escape. Fishermen leave these pots in the water for a day or two to allow them to fill up, then haul in their load.

Crab pots and crab pot launchers are common sources of injuries. Fishermen get caught up in the coil lines. Working at the edge of the boat also puts them at risk of being swept off the deck and falling overboard.

A wintertime Bering Sea injects a heavy dose of danger into the job. While salmon fishing season, for example, falls between June and September, crab fishing takes place in spurts between October and January. The icy waters threaten hypothermia and storms grow more frequent during that time of year. The brief season zips by so quickly, the haste of the catch can also contribute to a high fatality rate. And if you get hurt on the boat, no one can drive you to a hospital. To add to the mental strain of an 18- to 20-hour shift, Alaskan winter days may be dark except for a few hours.

With the environmental odds stacked against them, what keeps people coming back to crab fishing, season after season? Many sail the blue waters in search of the green. Business Week magazine named crab fishing the "Worst Job with the Best Pay," with fishermen cashing out as much as $50,000 for a few days work catching king crab and even more for snow crab [source: Miller].

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick and Easy Pesto, Hold the Basil

Sometimes when we're in Canada we're so overwhelmed by the 99 cent broccoli rabe (rapini) in the supermarket that we go a little overboard, buying way more than can possibly be eaten in one sitting... But when a sad little bunch sells for $3.99 in New York, who can resist?

So it was that we ended up with a container of frozen rapini which had been boiled and set aside. There's no problem with just defrosting this and having it for dinner with some crusty bread, but yesterday I was feeling adventurous.

I quickly defrosted the greens and then put them in the food processor with a handful of walnuts, chopped garlic, basil, olive oil and parmesan. Blitz, and voila! A creamy, delicious rapini pesto. I think it could have used a shade of something sour or acidic, and maybe a bit of spice, but it was terrific nonetheless, if I may say so myself.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The top 10 foods you should not eat in a car

Eating while driving is, apparently, one of the most distracting things you can do, according to a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute -- 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction.

For that reason, has published a list of the top 10 food offenders in a car are:
  1. Coffee – Even in cups with travel lids, somehow the liquid finds its way out of the opening each time you hit a bump.
  2. Hot soup – Many people drink it like coffee and run the same risks.
  3. Tacos – Any food that can disassemble itself will leave your car looking like a salad bar.
  4. Chili dogs – The potential for drips and slops down the front of clothing is significant.
  5. Hamburgers – From the grease of the burger to ketchup and mustard, it could all end up on your hands, your clothes, and the steering wheel.
  6. Barbecued food – Ditto. The sauce may be great, but if you have to lick your fingers, the sauce will end up on whatever you touch – and that wheel will be tough to grip.
  7. Fried chicken – Another food that leaves you with greasy hands, which means constantly wiping them on something, even if it's your shirt.
  8. Jelly or cream-filled donuts – Have you eaten a jelly donut without some of the center oozing out? It's simply not possible.
  9. Soft drinks – Not only are they subject to spills, but also the carbonated kind can fizz as you're drinking if you make sudden movements, and most of us remember cola fizz in the nose from childhood. It isn't any more pleasant now.
  10. Chocolate – Like greasy foods, chocolate coats the fingers as it melts, leaving its mark anywhere you touch. As you try to clean it off the steering wheel you're likely to end up swerving.
A 2001 survey of drivers for Exxon showed that more than 70 percent of drivers reported that they eat while driving, up from 58 percent in 1995. Some even report having a microwave in the car.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fast Food Never Looked So Good

A site that's been getting a lot of buzz lately is Fancy Fast Food... And to be honest, this time the hype is actually worth it.

Erik Trinidad, the site's founder, makes ordinary extraordinary with just a few simple steps. For example, a KFC original recipe meal with corn on the cob, potato wedges, cole slaw and a bottle of water becomes Chicken Corn Chowder and a Big Mac morphs into Steak & Potatoes.

If you think you can do better, Trinidad welcomes your submissions. Here are the rules: no additional ingredients are allowed other than a simple garnish (which won't necessarily be eaten anyway, [i.e. parsley]), and no Photoshopping other than minor adjustments in sharpness or color correction.

Joining Forces for Local Food

Thanks to a tip from Canadiun, a fellow blogger, I learned yesterday of a story that renews my faith. Five supermarket owners in southern Ontario have cut the cord of their franchiser, Sobeys, and formed a co-op that allows them to provide local food to their customers.

The CBC reports that Dale Kropf, one of the supermarket owners, was particularly troubled by the fact that his license with Sobeys wouldn't allow him to buy local meat. "Most of our beef was Alberta beef. Chicken and pork could be U.S., so to me, that was a concern that, you know, we've got all these farmers in our back yard," Kropf says.

Kropf says Sobeys did permit franchisees to buy local fruit and vegetables, but items that don't grow in Canada or were out-of-season came in big boxes from a centralized distribution point. He says co-op members can now control the quality of their produce, and the group has hired a buyer to hand-pick fresh fruit and vegetables at the food terminal in Toronto.

"He actually looks at the quality. If the quality isn't good, we don't have it [in our store]. So before we would just get it. We'd put it out and it would either sell or it wouldn't sell," says Kropf. "Green beans is a prime example where we're now selling more green beans than we've ever sold before because they are No. 1 quality."

As Canadiun notes, we should all be doing what we can to support local farmers and artisanal producers. That could mean shopping at a farmers market or, better yet, setting up your own neighbourhood cooperative in collaboration with local suppliers.

Mostly, though, we can all start by simply THINKING about where our food comes from, and taking a moment to consider how it got there. If you're in Ontario and your meat came from Alberta, when was it slaughtered? How did it arrive in Ontario? How much processing was necessary for the food to make the journey? If blueberries grow in the area where you live, why should you be forced to buy berries that came from Chile? When we all start thinking about and asking the right questions, we will be in good shape to start demanding change.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

We Made Our Own Kimchee!

Tuesday night in Brooklyn, a kimchi-palooza was underway. It all began quite simply: garlic, ginger, scallions, daikon radish, and some heads of Napa cabbage that had been salted and left to sit for six hours or so.

But then brined shrimp and chili flakes joined the party, and that's when the fun really began.

This all took place at a cooking class at Brooklyn Kitchen - a kitchen goods store in Williamsburg. The class was taught by Sunny Bang, a Korean-American chef who has cooked under the likes of Tom Colicchio and Kerry Heffernan.

Sunny started out by explaining the history and health benefits of kimchi. He explained that there are many different types of kimchi and that in Korea, each family would have its own variety. This has a lot to do with what Koreans call "seon maht" or "hand taste" - a concept that holds that each person's hands impart a specific flavor to the kimchi they make.

Hands play a big part in the kimchi-making process. Once the garlic, ginger and brined shrimp are blended into a paste and the daikon is julienned they are mixed together by hand with the chili flakes and chopped scallions. This forms the "base" for the kimchee. The hard work comes in squeezing the water out of the cabbage - by hand, of course. The base is then spread on to each layer of the cabbage and after allowing a few days for lactic acid fermentation, the kimchi is ready to put up or be eaten fresh!

Our fridge is now a mini-shrine to pickled and fermented cucumber and cabbage. Yum...

Related post: Why Mr. Kimchi is so popular

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Cider, Smoked Eel and Sublime Cheddar in Somerset

Hard as it is to believe, sitting here in this muggy apartment in midtown Manhattan, just seven days ago we were in the gorgeous English countryside. As a child, I devoured British children's literature -- Enid Blyton, especially. Walking through the narrow village lanes and across farmer's fields in Somerset I felt like I was right in the middle of one of her stories.

Somerset is one of Britain's main farming regions and in the short time we were there, we ate incredibly well: broad beans fresh from the garden, local beets, smoked eels from a local smokery. It's hard to put one item above the rest, but if I had to choose one it would be a wedge of Montgomery's Cheddar (I'm so predictable, aren't I?)

The Montgomery family has been making cheese in South Somerset for three generations on land that has been farmed for hundreds of years. Their cheddar is a farmstead cheese, meaning it is made from milk from their own herd of cows. They make cheese seven days a week, producing only about a dozen wheels a day.

"We're one of the few cheesemakers who still uses calf rennet, the traditional source of the enzyme, to start the curd," Jamie Montgomery says, "and possibly the only farmhouse Cheddar still using an old, slow peg mill to produce the peculiar fissuring and brittleness of the cheese."

Those thin fissures encourage blue veining after the cheese has been cut, adding to the cheese's flavour. The cheese is aged for a least a year and is at its best when not overly sharp or acidic. Find it at Artisanal or Murray's or ask for it at your local cheese shop.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Strange Eats in London's Chinatown

Here in London, Chinatown is a small, and fairly, new area in Soho that seems to exist exclusively for tourists. However, the New Loon Moon supermarket was pretty packed with Asian people shopping for fresh durian, vegetables, packaged goods and other regional delicacies. Such as:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Helping Kids Avoid Rainy-Day Blues

On rainy summer days, kids can go a little stir crazy.

Even though most modern kids have enough games and toys to keep them busy until it’s time for college, sometimes a pet project is just the thing. Baking is an excellent way to introduce kids to the joys of the kitchen -- keeping little hands busy and keeping cabin fever at bay. You can watch through the oven door together as small balls of dough grow into muffins and cookies, and at the end of it, you’ll have something tasty to share and enjoy.

But if the kids are already loaded up on sweets, try this: get them in the kitchen to make their own modeling clay. For more ideas, check out CreatiVegan.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Greening the Environment, One Burp at a Time

An article in the Times today profiles efforts to determine whether changing the diet of herds of cows can help them belch less methane, a gas that has been linked to climate change. Farmers in Vermont are experimenting with giving their cattle feed that includes more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed, which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and more suited to a cow's digestion.

Most dairy cattle are currently fed corn and soy feed, grains that are inexpensive and plentiful but that have a different type of fatty acid structure that causes burping and flatulence in cows.

The article says that Guy Choiniere, "a third-generation dairy herder who went organic in 2003, said he had sensed that the outcome would be good even before he got the results.
"They are healthier," he said of his cows. "Their coats are shinier, and the breath is sweet."

Sweetening cow breath is a matter of some urgency, climate scientists say. Cows have digestive bacteria in their stomachs that cause them to belch methane, the second-most-significant heat-trapping emission associated with global warming after carbon dioxide. Although it is far less common in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it has 20 times the heat-trapping ability.

Frank Mitloehner, a University of California, Davis, professor who places cows in air-tight tent enclosures and measures what he calls their “eruptions,” says the average cow expels — through burps mostly, but some flatulence — 200 to 400 pounds of methane a year.

More broadly, with worldwide production of milk and beef expected to double in the next 30 years, the United Nations has called livestock one of the most serious near-term threats to the global climate. In a 2006 report that looked at the environmental impact of cows worldwide, including forest-clearing activity to create pasture land, it estimated that cows might be more dangerous to Earth’s atmosphere than trucks and cars combined.

In the United States, where average milk production per cow has more than quadrupled since the 1950s, fewer cows are needed per gallon of milk, so the total emissions of heat-trapping gas for the American dairy industry are relatively low per gallon compared with those in less industrialized countries.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Looking At: Teapots

I'm heading to London in a few weeks for a much-needed vacation. When I think of the U.K., I think of tea and to me, a nice cuppa tastes better from a great looking pot.

This quirky number shaped like a camel may not be the most practical but it is a definite conversation starter, and a steal at just $13.99 -- it would make a great gift too.

This one from the modern art museum in San Francisco is a splurge, but how cool is it? Designed by Joey Roth and known as the "Sorapot," it brews just enough for two cups of tea.

From comes this handmade cat teapot thrown on a potter's wheel and made with high fire stoneware clay...

... or this lovely speckled stoneware pot with a looping handle, also from etsy.

I like the shape of this pot from Ikea, but past experience has proven that they're not the most durable bits of equipment.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What does "real food" mean to you?

Pop quiz:

The words "real food" conjure images of which of the following?

A) a tomato grown in your own backyard
B) a rotisserie roasted chicken from the supermarket
C) raw milk straight from the cow
D) a jar of Hellman's mayonnaise

The correct answer, of course, is 'D'. Or at least that's what Unilever, the parent company of Hellman's, and its advertising flaks at Ogilvy would have you believe.

They are currently running a campaign that, to me, is a little shocking...

At its heart it's not all that bad -- encouraging people to eat food that's "fresh, simple and delicious." Nothing wrong with that, right?

But my question is, when did Hellman's mayonnaise become the exemplar of healthy, "real" food. Here's a look at what you get in a single serving:

Calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. OK, save for the "natural flavors" and "calcium disodium EDTA" the ingredients may be "real," but they're also not really that great for you.

That's not to say that we should all stop eating mayonnaise (Though I do recommend trying to make your own. It won't last forever in your fridge, but it's tasty and gratifying.)

My real concern is when a corporation becomes the flag-bearer for a "movement" and essentially co-opts an otherwise optimistic or generally innocuous phrase. "Real Food" can mean many things to many people, but it should not mean going to the store and buying highly processed foods to feed to your family just because Bobby Flay and some advertising execs say you should.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Canada's Love for Tim's Knows No Bounds

Whether they live in tony Toronto townhouses or farms on the prairies, it seems all Canadians share one thing: a love of Tim Horton's.

A new survey shows Tim's outweighing Starbucks in popularity by 4 to 1.

"Folklore portrays the average Tim's customer as a pickup-driving Everyman in a flannel shirt and baseball cap who scorns frappucinos, isn't sure what a latte is and embraces hockey and hunting. It's supposedly the place where the average Joe gets his joe," reports a story today in the Canadian Press.

But the survey suggests that support for the Canadian brand runs much deeper than that stereotype would suggest. Among those earning under $100,000 a year, 51 per cent of respondents chose Tim's as their preference. Among those making over $100,000, 46 per cent were for Tim's.

The gender split was fairly even as well, with 51 percent of men and 47 percent of women across the country favoring Tim's over Starbucks. Among people under 30, Tim's got 55 per cent support, while 46 per cent of those over 50 also chose Tim's.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey questioned about 1,000 people in an omnibus telephone survey April 23-May 3 and is considered accurate to within 2.2 per cent 19 times in 20.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breakfast Made to Order

Breakfast. It’s a much-maligned meal – for some a necessary evil, for others, a meal worth skipping. A walk down the supermarket cereal aisle provides an almost infinite choice of breakfast bleakness or morning magic depending on your perspective.

But love it or hate it, you can’t beat designer cereal, especially when you’re the one doing the designing. [me] & goji allows customers to pick from more than 50 natural ingredients, which are then mixed by hand and sent directly to your door, with a custom label bearing your name.

Can’t afford bespoke cereals, which can come with a hefty price tag? No problem. With a little ambition, you can make your own. Here’s an easy recipe for granola bars from Mark Bittman, the king of uncomplicated cooking. Or, try your hand at making your own version of an energy bar.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Custom Made Consumer Food

Are food producers just getting lazy or are bespoke edibles the next big thing? In the past day, I have come across several sites that allow you to create your own packaged food product. This is not, grow-your-own homemade stuff. This is I-want-my-boxed-cereal-my-way.

[me] & goji
: offers "custom artisanal cereal" allowing the customer to select from more than 50 natural ingredients to mix up their very own breakfast treat.

kettle chips: Kettle chips is challenging potato chip fans to create their own custom flavored chip.

What would your dream chip or cereal look like? Are there more examples of this kind of marketing out there?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ask the Cheesehead: Raw or Pasteurized? What's the difference?

Louis PasteurWhat is the difference between raw and pasteurized milk and how do these differences translate into cheese?

Raw milk comes straight from the animal and, rather than being subjected to heat treatment, is simply filtered and cooled before use. Raw milk has a higher vitamin content than heat-treated milk and allows for a fullness and depth of flavor that is lost when the milk is pasteurized.

The pasteurization process (invented by Louis Pasteur, above), in which milk is heated to a specific temperature for a specific length of time, is intended to kill off potentially dangerous bacteria that can contaminate milk. However, it also kills some benign bacteria that can be useful in the cheese-making process. Most cheese makers prefer to work with raw milk, as it brings out the subtleties of the pasturing process and the end result more accurately represents the diet of the animals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that any cheese made from raw milk must be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the 1950s, it has also banned the import of raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days. After this date, the potentially harmful bacteria are thought to have died off.

Traditionally, all cheeses were made with raw milk straight from small herds whose health was relatively easy to monitor. Many regulations on European cheese production actually prohibit the use of pasteurized milk. To meet controlled designation of origin standards, cheeses like Comté, Gruyère and Parmesan must be made with raw milk.

Pasteurization actually inactivates many of the milk's own enzymes and kills off useful bacteria, therefore requiring the addition of bacterial agents. Ultimately, pasteurization is not a guarantee of safety. In recent years, outbreaks of salmonella and other food-borne diseases have occurred in pasteurized milk, thanks to unclean conditions at dairy processing plants.

What pasteurization often does is lead to a train of thought that sanitary conditions are less important if the milk is heat-treated.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Summer is Coming! Get Ready for Brain Freeze!

It may look cloudy and cool outside your window today, at least if you live in New York, but that doesn't mean summer isn't on the way. The sure sign is that the Lemon Ice King of Corona is open for business.

For over 60 years, the Benfaremo family has been serving up their own brand of Italian ices at this humble corner in the shadow of Shea stadium (ok, Citi Field). On summer nights, old neighborhood holdouts play bocce in "Spaghetti Park" but last night, with clouds filling the sky, we were among just a handful of customers.

Anyone who has not had the pleasure of trying Benfaremo might be dazzled by the dozens of flavors on offer. "Almond," you might say, adventurously. Or, "I like licorice."

But I'm here to tell you there is really only one right choice here:


It's in the name of the place after all. He's not the Cotton Candy Ice King of Corona. Don't be fooled by the enticement of little chunks of mango or watermelon ... you want lemon. If you really, really want to try something else, I wouldn't suggest going any farther afield than orange or rainbow. Trust me on this one. I speak from several years of experience.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Many Faces of Bergamot

I have a small amount of bergamot growing in my window right now. As you can see, they're still just babies but I'm already giving some thought to how I can put them to use later on in the season.

Here are some ideas I came across:

Bergamot jelly might be fun to try in the late summer or fall when it's apple season.

Using the bergamot leaves in citrus sorbet or as a flavoring for pork or even fish.

A handful of leaves could be brewed as a mild tea, or added to lemonade or iced tea (like the Luzianne I picked up in New Orleans last year).

It's important to note that this herb is differentiated from bergamot oranges, the rinds of which give that distinct flavor to Earl Grey tea. What I have is of the mint family and is also known as 'bee balm.'

Anyone have suggestions for cool ways I can use my new acquisition?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Comfort Food: Kheemo

Growing up, this was one of my family's staple dishes. These days, it is still one of my favorite comfort foods and now even my husband, who didn't grow up on the stuff, often asks for a little "kheemo"-therapy. Kheemo is a pan-Indian dish, though it's often attributed to Punjab or Hyderabad. It consists of spiced ground beef cooked with tomatoes, potatoes and peas. Parsis generally serve it with khitchri, a rice dish made with red lentils and yellow split peas, and there's usually a yogurt raita and tomato or mango chutney to accompany.
Parsi Kheemo
1/2 kg. ground beef
one onion (chopped)
2 or 3 potatoes
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ginger paste
1 tsp. garlic paste
1 tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste
4 green chilis
dash Worcestershire sauce
handful fresh coriander
1/2 cup green peas (optional)

Fry onions till golden brown. Add all spices (except cumin seed). Cook gently then add meat. Add tomatoes, potatoes, chilis and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce heat and simmer till potatoes are cooked.

Add fresh coriander just before serving. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Please Have Deliciously

On their own, the words "cheese" and "cake" make me tingle with excitement. Together, as "cheesecake," I begin to salivate. Well, normally I do. But today I have finally met my first, totally resistible cheesecake.

It comes from Japan. Tokyo, to be exact. It purports to be made from camembert, versus the usual cream cheese. For some reason, it looks fluffy like sponge cake, not moist like cheesecake. It doesn't call to me in any way except for its packaging, which is a priceless example of the type of English often used in Asia.

"A cheesecake born in Tokyo," it proclaims. "The flavor of a cheese is very good." No argument there.

"Please have deliciously."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leafy Seasons Greetings


The first of the season's lettuces will start appearing at farmer's markets in a couple of weeks. The tender, sweet baby leaves that many vendors carry are wonderful just drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

But there's also much more that can be done with a head of lettuce. I love the Asian tradition of using lettuce to wrap spicy grilled meats, for example. In China, lettuce is most often eaten cooked, which brings out a slightly bitter character in the leaves. Some French recipes call for wrapping fish fillets in lettuce and gently poaching them. Or how about a cream of lettuce soup subtly flavored with nutmeg?

According to wikipedia:
Lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac food in Ancient Egypt, and appears as such in The Contendings of Horus and Seth. Later, Ancient Greek physicians believed lettuce could act as a sleep-inducing agent. The Romans cultivated it, and it eventually made its way to France cultivated of the Papal Court at Avignon. Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the new world.
Just some 'food for thought' as you browse the markets in the coming weeks. If you have other brilliant uses for lettuce, please let me know!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Power of Packaging

I'm a sucker for cool packaging, and this steel wool caught my attention for some reason when I was shopping at No Frills in Burlington, Ontario, this weekend. I like the fact that it looks like it was designed in the early 20th century, and has never really changed. Kind of like this Clabber Girl baking powder package.

What food-related products do you like because of their packaging?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Canuck in the City

What happens when an oyster master from PEI spends nearly half a year setting up a restaurant in New York City?

"I found it to be the hardest five months of my life.”

John Bil, who was in town to help set up a new seafood restaurant on the Upper East Side, reflects on the experience with Frank Bruni on Diner's Journal.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Weird Cheese Man Scares Children Into Eating Their Dinners

I'm all for encouraging people to eat more cheese, but something about this commercial just freaks me out:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Looking At: Cheese Boards

I've had to back off cheese lately, out of sheer guilt, since getting the results of a blood test a few months ago. But really, there's nothing I like better than a carefully chosen and beautifully presented cheese board. You could lay out your cheese on just about anything -- a plate, any old kitchen board, a paper napkin -- but if you are looking for a fun way to put some pizazz into your entertaining, try one of these boards.

  1. This 12x12 cutting board sporting the face of Marilyn Monroe isn't specifically made for cheese, but it is stain- and odor-resistant and easily goes in the dishwasher. ($32, from
  2. Made from stoneware by an artist in San Francisco, this unique piece comes with a set of serving knives and is as decorative as it is functional. ($95, from
  3. A handy and affordable find, this small, square board comes with four serving tools and features a drawer for keeping the tools close at hand, but out of sight. ($26.99, from
  4. Made from distinctly patterned olive wood, this exotic board is made by Peruvian artisans. Because of the price and the beauty of the wood, I'd probably choose to serve pre-sliced cheese on this board to prevent it from getting scratches and cuts. ($45.99, from
  5. Another set that comes with its own tools, this one from All-Clad features a beautiful marble board set into a stainless steel trivet. It all looks a bit all-you-can-eat buffet to me, but I like it nonetheless. ($99.99, from
  6. I love the way you can write the names of the cheeses on this slate board with chalk. It's infinitely customizable and the slate keeps the cheeses cool after they've been set out. (£16.95, approximately $24, from
  7. This board of Mexican alabaster is made to resemble a wedge of Swiss cheese and is sure to be a conversation piece at your next party. ($100, from
  8. Handmade of walnut wood with an inlay of turquoise, I'd be careful not to get this board wet or serve a very soft cheese on it, which would necessitate washing it. ($15, from Clio)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Light Reading for a Saturday Night

Anthony Bourdain on Iron Chef America:
I have a soft spot in my heart for this show. But the judges, man... Who are these douchebags they put on there? The show gets really good chefs to go on there, and to have them judged by the likes of Mo Rocca makes me want to vomit in my mouth.

Anthony Bourdain on Sandra Lee:
She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, "I can do that. That's not intimidating." All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you've done something really special. The most terrifying thing I've seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don't burst into flames. It's a war crime on television. You'll scream.

Anthony Bourdain on Rachael Ray:
Rachael Ray, it appears, when booking acts for her South by Southwest indie rock-meets-sloppy Joes fest, invited the New York Dolls to perform. THE NEW YORK DOLLS!! It is an article of faith with me that the Dolls were one of the greatest, most important, criminally neglected, wildly influential bands in the history of well ...the freakin' UNIVERSE!! Most of the original members (in keeping with truest rock and roll tradition) are dead. But David Johansen and Syl Sylvain are still out there, hustling a living in a cold, cruel world. And if anybody deserves steady work, a new generation of fans, buckets of money (something they never had) and elevation to icon status-it's these guys.

This development ...following hot on the heels of Rachael saying nice things about me on Nightline has caused me no small amount of confusion, panic, and misery. I don't know whether to go out and shoot a puppy-or send Rachael a fruit basket. It just does me no good at all to think of Rachael as a Dolls fan. It's really only a matter of time now until my daughter looks up from her grilled cheese and says "Yummo!!"

Only repeated viewings of Sandra Lee on YouTube slathering canned frosting on her "Kwaanza Cake" with an insane glint in her eye (a piece of video every American should see as a cautionary exercise-like a particularly gruesome highway safety film) can make me feel like I'm playing for the right team.

(He REALLY hates that video...)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wensleydale Seeks Protection

Residents of Yorkshire are petitioning the British government to grant protected status to Wensleydale cheese, similar to the protections given to Parma ham and Champagne. If granted, it would mean manufacturers outside the Yorkshire dale would not be able to make cheese and call it Real Yorkshire Wensleydale.

Only 29 British food products have been granted protected status by the EU, compared with hundreds in countries like France, Italy and Germany.

According to Wikipedia, Wensleydale cheese was first made by French monks in the 12th century. The monks, who came from the Roquefort region and settled in Wensleydale, began with a recipe using sheep's milk, but during the 1300s cows' milk began to be used instead, and the character of the cheese began to change.

By the 1990s, sales of the cheese had sunk so low that production was at risk of being suspended. The animated characters Wallace and Gromit helped revive the popularity of the cheese in their film 'A Grand Day Out' -- but the uptick was totally unintentional. The animators said they made Wensleydale Wallace's favorite cheese because they like the way the word made him look when he was animated. The success of the films ended up bringing the factory back from the brink.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ruth Madoff Hates Papparazzi, Loves Cheese

Last night around 8:30, Ruth Madoff apparently decided to go shopping. She headed out, in a ratty old ski hat and an orange hoodie, to the local Food Emporium, on a mission for detergent and maybe some Jarlsberg cheese.

Because, you know, even when your husband is the most hated man in America and you're under investigation for bilking millions of dollars, a girl still needs her cheese, right Ruth?

Here's my question though: hasn't she ever heard of Fresh Direct? They've got a nice Jarlsberg for $8.99/lb and they'll even cut it into cubes for you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comfort Food: Tuna Melt

When I think of comforting, soothing, simple foods, one of the first things that springs to mind is a good old-fashioned tuna melt. Now, I'm all for haute cuisine and adventurous eating, but certain things to me are sacrosanct -- just too important to be messed with. The tuna melt has to be one of them.

Search the term in Google and (thankfully) the first two hits are safe, traditional recipes that involve little more than tuna, bread, cheese, celery and onions (with, perhaps, an occasional mention of a tomato.)

Search deeper, however, and you start to uncover ungodly concoctions such as "Tuna-Pesto Melts on Rye with Romaine Salad with Candied Walnuts and Grapefruit," a recipe that calls for cooking tuna fillets and then flaking them into a salad. This, to me, is unnecessary and verges on silly.

As far as I'm concerned, the perfect tuna melt involves making your favorite tuna salad, putting it open-faced on a slice of your favorite bread, topping it with your favorite cheese and grilling till the cheese melts.

Anyone care to challenge me?