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.