Saturday, February 21, 2009

Low-calorie, delicious lunch

Tired of soup? Tired of sandwiches? Here's a lunch that will warm your heart. I made it at home, but it could be packed as a lunch to be made in the microwave at work.

Lori K's fast low-cal, low-carb, low fat lunch
Serves 1

1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
2 cups raw baby spinach (about 3 ounces)
3 ounces albacore tuna, drained
Hickory smoked salt and pepper, to taste

Put broth and shallots in a deep saucepan and bring to a boil. Add spinach (it will look like a lot, but cooks down to about a 1/4 cup) and cover tightly. Boil for one minute. Stir in the tuna, and season with the smoked salt and pepper. Drain (if necessary) and serve.

Per serving: 121 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 5.7 g carbs

If you are watching your salt intake, use no-salt broth and add a little liquid smoke to it instead of using regular broth and hickory smoked salt. Another option would be to use half chicken broth and half lemon juice and skip the smoke.

This would also be good over rice or pasta, or mixed with white beans, for a more filling meal.

Best food movies of all time

In preparation of the Oscars presentation Sunday night, here are my all-time favorite food movies:

Like Water for Chocolate
This sensual film (the photo at right is from the movie poster) tells a series of erotic stories built around recipes, set on a Mexican ranch. The title alludes to sexual arousal being similar to the effect of boiling water poured onto chocolate, but this film also provided the starting point of one of the most powerful theological reflections I’ve had the pleasure of leading. 

Big Night
Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci are the owners of a 1950s New Jersey restaurant on the brink of disaster because Shalhoub refuses to cook uninspired Italian-American food for undiscerning customers. They prepare a feast for a star who promises to be there then doesn’t show – allowing the food to be the star of this show. The last scene speaks volumes without words.

Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe
Origin of my favorite dessert quote: “There’s a bomb in the bombe!”
Jacqueline Bisset is a celebrated pastry chef invited to London to assist in preparing a dinner for the Queen organized by Robert Morley. Morley plays a gourmand publisher of a gourmet magazine whose health is failing from an addiction to several chefs' specialties. Mysteriously, each chef is murdered, killed in the manner of his most famous dish. (In the book “Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe” by Nan and Ivan Lyons, the recipe for each dish is given.)

Tortilla Soup
This is a remake of Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman,” but its intimate scope makes it move better as it tells the similar tale. A Los Angeles family whose widowed father and master chef (Hector Elizondo) tries to prevent his three daughters from leaving him for husbands, while he avoids a pushy woman played by a deliciously vulgar Raquel Welch.

This is actually an American film, shot in Burgundy, starring Juliette Binoche as a mysterious unmarried mother and chocolatier arriving in a very staid French village, where she encounters Judi Dench as an embittered old woman, Johnny Depp as a gypsy and Alfred Molina as a hidebound religious mayor. All are changed by the redemptive taste of Binoche’s incredible chocolates.

飲食男女 (Eat Drink Man Woman)

Supersize Me
The IMDB summary says it all:
Why are Americans so fat? Two words: fast food. What would happen if you ate nothing but fast food for an entire month? Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock does just that and embarks on the most perilous journey of his life. The rules? For 30 days he can't eat or drink anything that isn't on McDonald's menu; he must wolf three squares a day; he must consume everything on the menu at least once and supersize his meal if asked. Spurlock treks across the country interviewing a host of experts on fast food and an equal number of regular folk while chowing down at the Golden Arches. Spurlock's grueling drive-through diet spirals him into a physical and emotional metamorphosis that will make you think twice about picking up another Big Mac.

Movies with good food scenes
The Godfather
My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My favorite food movie review
“My Dinner with Andre” by Gene Shalit: “Thank God he didn’t order dessert.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smithfield ham update

I heard from Dennis Pittman, corporate communications director, who assured me Smithfield hams indeed are processed in Smithfield, VA. (Click here for earlier post.) Our connection was bad, but we'll talk more later. Stay tuned.

Martini most fowl

Ian Cahir, a friend from the heartland (well, Kansas), posted this photo on Facebook. And because I don't stop at the mere sight of atrocities, here is the recipe from the blog of the creator, Georgia Hardstark:
For a few months now, my girl Alie and I had an idea for the perfect late night/after hours snack. It started as a joke. We found ourselves hungry after last call, and seemed to be having regular cravings for McNuggets.

Alie’s obsession and constant quest to find the perfect alcoholic beverage/dinner/dessert (also see: White Russian), led us to concoct what is sure to become the new craze for the upscale watering holes.


Recipe by Alie and Georgia

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Yield: 2 servings


2 McNuggz (plus more for snacking)
1 tub McDonald's Brand Barbecue Sauce (plus more for licking off pinky finger)
1 large McDonald's Brand Chocolate Milkshake (plus more for bringing all the boys to the yard)
1 bottle vanilla Vodka (recommended brand: Absolut)

Open the McDonald's bag. Eat one McNugg each, followed by two bites of the Filet-o-Fish (make sure you don’t tell anyone that you eat Filet-o-Fishes).

Mix three or four shots of vanilla vodka in the McDonald's Brand Chocolate Milkshake, followed by one shot each directly into your mouth.

Rim each martini glass with McDonald's Brand Barbecue Sauce, and pour milkshake/vodka mixture into the glass. Garnish with a McNugg (which is to be swiped along barbecue-sauce-rimmed glass after the milkshake has been finished, and consumed with pure, unadulterated glee).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not-so-sweet sweet potatoes

Now that the holidays are over, a great majority of Americans don't give sweet potatoes the time of day. Pity.

A few avant-garde restaurants have put them on the menu as fries, but they treat them just like their potato cousins, and the delicate orange flesh is often overwhelmed by the oil. I like to either wedge them (if they are small) or cut them in thick slices, toss them in oil, season with a mixture of chili powder, salt and citric acid (sold as a mix in Mexican groceries for seasoning jimaca, fruit and corn on the cob) and roast at 425 degrees until brown and puffy.

An English friend of mine just pops them in the microwave, skin and all, until they "moosh to the touch," then slices them lengthwise, opens them by gently squeezing each end toward the middle and drops a knob of butter to begin its liquid journey through the fluffy topography as she seasons the root with salt and pepper.

Mark Bittman of the New York Times likes to stir-fry them, and Joe Yonan of the Washington Post likes to roast them, too. Their recipes are below.

Stir-fried sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage
By Mark Bittman
Serves 4-6
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and grated, 4 to 6 cups
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, more to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed
20 sage leaves
Put oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until they change color and begin to brown, then stir more frequently until they are tender but not at all mushy.
Meanwhile, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sage; shake pan occasionally. When butter turns brown, turn off heat.
Use tongs to remove sage and garlic from butter. Serve potatoes drizzled with butter and garnished with a few sage leaves. Garlic can be served alongside, though it will not be super-soft.
Each of 5 servings: 353 calories; 3 g protein; 41 g carbohydrates; 20.5 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 115 mg sodium; 25 mg cholesterol; 5 g dietary fiber.

Miso pork on a sweet potato
By Joe Yonan
Serves 1
1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed clean (about 6 ounces)
3 ounces lean ground pork
2 stalks (6 ounces) broccolini, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon mild white miso
2 tablespoons water, plus more as needed
1 scallion, white and green parts, cut crosswise on the diagonal into thin slices
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Use a fork or sharp knife to prick the sweet potato in several places. Place on a piece of aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 60 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender and can be easily squeezed. (Alternatively, to speed up the process, the pricked sweet potato can be microwaved on high for 1 minute, then carefully transferred to the oven and seated on a piece of foil. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the potato is tender.)
Heat a large, heavy skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the pork and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until no traces of pink remain and the pork starts to exude juices; break up any large clumps as you work. Add the broccolini and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the vegetables are barely tender and retain some crunch.
Add the miso and water; cook, stirring, for 1 minute or so, until a creamy sauce forms. If the mixture seems too dry, add up to a few more tablespoons of water, stirring to combine.
When the sweet potato has finished baking, place it on a serving plate. Use a sharp knife to make a centered, lengthwise slit in the top, pinching the potato on each end to expose the flesh and make a pocket for the filling. Spoon the miso-pork mixture on top. Sprinkle with the scallions and serve hot.
Each serving: 428 calories; 19 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 23 g protein; 45 g carbohydrates; 61 mg cholesterol; 718 mg sodium; 10 g dietary fiber

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Smithfield ham, where art thou?

The Associated Press reported today that Smithfield Foods plans to cut 1,800 jobs and close six factories as part of a restructuring.
Smithfield Foods Inc., based in Smithfield, Va., announced the closures and layoffs as part of a plan to consolidate and streamline its pork business. The company plans to save $125 million a year by 2011.
Plants slated for closure include: Smithfield Packing Co. plants in Smithfield, Va.; Plant City, Fla.; and Elon, N.C.; as well as a John Morrell plant in Great Bend, Kan.; a Farmland Foods plant in New Riegel, Ohio; and an Armour-Eckrich Meats factory in Hastings, Neb.

The report that this was excerpted from leaves out a few key facts, from what I've been able to determine.

First: There will still be a plant open in Smithfield; the operations from the Smithfield South plant will be transferred to the Smithfield North plant, according to the press release from the company today, and more than half the employees will be offered transfers there.

Second: The world-famous "Smithfield Ham" isn't one of the products produced in Smithfield. This may come as a shock to many people. In fact, according to the Virginia legislative site:

§ 3.1-867. (Repealed effective October 1, 2008) Smithfield hams defined.

Genuine Smithfield hams are hereby defined to be hams processed, treated, smoked, aged, cured by the long-cure, dry salt method of cure and aged for a minimum period of six months; such six-month period to commence when the green pork cut is first introduced to dry salt, all such salting, processing, treating, smoking, curing and aging to be done within the corporate limits of the town of Smithfield, Virginia.
(Code 1950, § 3-667; 1966, c. 702; 1968, c. 140.)

Needless to say, the company didn't issue a press release on the repeal. But I could not find any stories on the Web about the repeal, either. Chalk that up to the shrinking media presence -- newspapers may be trying to do more with less, but when it comes to being the watchdog of the goverment, less is simply less.

According to the Smithfield Foods site, dry curing of hams now is done in Elon, NC.
But today's press release was rather terse: "The Smithfield Packing Company plant in Elon, North Carolina, will close late in the summer and country ham production there will cease. About 160 employees will be affected."

So where does that leave the world-famous ham? There are three other companies in Smithfield that cure hams. I put in a call to the Smithfield Foods corporate communications office in New York City, but have not heard back from them.

The town of Smithfield must be reeling. From its Web site:
Nurtured by trade and commerce, Smithfield soon became a town of industry with four plants devoted to the art of curing the world famous "Smithfield Ham". Once a commercial center for shipping, Smithfield has evolved to host one of the area's largest meat-processing industries as well as the home to one of Hampton Roads' largest employers - Smithfield Foods, Inc. - a Fortune 500 company with its corporate headquarters in Smithfield. Smithfield was just recently named "one of the 50 best small southern towns".

Food safety in America

I turn my blog over today to the lead editorial in the New York Times today, an excellent commentary on the issue of food safety. 

Dangerous Food

The more investigators look into the latest food-safety scandal involving the Peanut Corporation of America, the worse it gets. It now appears that as many as nine people have died and 19,000 have been sickened after eating cookies, crackers or institutional peanut butter tainted with salmonella from a plant in Georgia owned by the company.

At a charged Congressional hearing last week, company executives refused to answer questions on the advice of their attorneys, but the questions told much of the story. “The food poisoning of people — is that just a cost of doing business?” one congressman asked. When another angrily asked the company’s president if he would like to try some of the recalled products, he refused.

The company is facing a criminal inquiry and has now filed for bankruptcy court protection. But it would be a mistake to view this as “an unconscionable act by one manufacturer,” as an official from the American Peanut Council, the industry’s trade association, said.

While most successful food producers are far more diligent — big name-brand peanut butter is considered safe, for example — American consumers have faced far too many food-supply emergencies in the last few years. Congress and the Obama administration must finally make food safety a serious priority.

The new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, is talking about creating “a modern, unified food-safety agency capable of reducing the risk of food-borne illness.” Many thoughtful food-safety experts have been calling for such an approach for years. Today’s patchwork system requires frozen pizzas to be inspected by two agencies: one if they’re cheese and another if they’re pepperoni.

A one-stop agency could take time in Washington. Until then, Mr. Vilsack should look at ways to strengthen current federal and state systems for avoiding food hazards. Congress needs to find more money for inspectors, especially at the Food and Drug Administration.

The F.D.A. also should have the authority to recall tainted food quickly, establish strict federal standards on cleanliness and create an advanced system for tracking foods so that any tainted products can be culled from the food supply more quickly. Finally, Congress should require a more efficient way to test food products and give government food inspectors the authority to review those results more easily.

What was particularly galling about the latest recall was how federal inspectors had to threaten to use anti-terrorism laws to finally gain access to the Peanut Corporation of America’s testing reports. Those reports showed how samples were re-tested if they were contaminated and how some products were shipped even before the tests showing salmonella had come in.

President Obama promised during the campaign to create a government that does a better job of protecting the American consumer. The nation’s vulnerable food supply is a healthy place to start.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Beefy statistics

For those of you feeling good about yourselves by eating grass-fed beef rather than the corn-fatted variety, some bad news from the recent meeting of scientists in Chicago (from an article in Science News):

From a climate perspective, beef is in a class by itself.

Many environmentalists have argued that finishing up the fattening of beef cattle on corn is worse for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass. An analysis finds that at least from a climate perspective, the opposite is true. “We do see significant differences in the GHG intensities [of grass vs grain finishing]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”

When an audience member questioned whether he had heard that right, that grass-fed cattle have a higher carbon footprint, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reiterated, “higher. Yes.” The reason: “It’s related to the much higher volumes of feed throughput and associated methane and nitrous-oxide [GHG] emissions.” He added that most pastures were highly managed, and subject to “periodic renovations and also fertilization.” Finally, with grass-fed cattle “there is also a high [grass] trampling rate. So the actual land area that you need to maintain magnifies that [GHG] difference,” Pelletier said.

It takes a lot of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG), get the livestock to market, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the greater part of the carcass that won’t be human food, market the retail cuts, transport them home from the store, refrigerate them until dinner time, and then cook the beef.

Tally the GHG emissions associated with all of those activities, and you’ll find it’s the global-warming equivalent to spewing 19 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kg of beef served. At the other end of the spectrum are veggies. The climate costs associated with growing, marketing, peeling and boiling up a kg of potatoes, by contrast, is just 280 grams.

Another factor contributing to cattle’s particularly egregious carbon footprint is their relative fecundity, if you will, says Pelletier. In her lifetime, a mother fish, particularly in protected aquaculture settings, may give birth to hundreds — if not thousands — of surviving offspring. A hen could certainly produce hundreds of chicks. Even a sow can give birth to eight piggies per litter. But a cow: She tends to issue a single calf every year for maybe 10. And while she’s in gestation and then waiting to become pregnant again, farmers have to care for her and perhaps a bull — which are both big, hungry manure factories.

Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent of meat’s GHG emissions. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of meat's GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s global carbon footprint. By shifting some share of beef and pork production to chicken over the next four decades, the increase in meat’s GHG emissions by 2050 might be held to just 6 percent higher than today, Pelletier said, even as the human population grows by another quarter-million each day.

Although meat's overall carbon footprint is projected to grow only a little over the next 40 years, the global goal is to cut emissions in every sector. Pelletier offered some suggestions on how to do that. Some were considerably more appetizing than others.

For instance, substituting all beef production for chicken would cut meat’s projected carbon footprint by 70 percent, he said.

Want to find out the carbon footprint of what you're eating? Go to

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crab cake update

After making the crab cakes  last night, I must say this recipe needs a bit more punch without the Dungeness crab. The crab here is more delicate and sweeter. Next time, the red pepper AND shallots, and perhaps a little cayenne, too.