Friday, May 15, 2009

Kale that crunches

I didn't join a CSA (community supported agriculture) co-op this year; getting moved into our new house was enough excitement for one spring. But I know that most of them feature kale during the cooler months. Kale isn't high on many people's list, but as with most vegetables, it takes a little experimentation to figure out exactly the recipe that you like the best. For me, I've enjoyed it most when it is cut into ribbons, then sauteed quickly in olive oil and garlic. But here's a recipe I came across today and I think this may elevate kale to "favored vegetable status."

Jacques Pepin's crispy kale

Take a big bowl of kale greens, removed from the stems, broken up into smallish pieces. Toss with a tablespoon of oil and a good sprinkle of salt, and other spices if you'd like. Crisp up on a baking rack set over a sheet pan at 250 degrees for about 25 minutes. Toss about halfway through. The kale will darken in color and diminish in volume dramatically.

Result is a crispy crunchy snack that makes it easy to get your kale.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food allergies nothing to sneeze at

If you're planning to cook for a crowd (something I love to do), you might keep in mind that experts say eight foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions in people:
  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • soy
Yes, avoiding all of these may limit your options, but it's better than sending someone to the hospital. Or have a substitute or two on hand for those with one of these common allergies.

Jim's cousin Cait says she forgot to order her usual gluten-free meal on her way from Ireland recently, and got a bagel, a mini-muffin and frosted mini-wheats for her breakfast. Luckily, she brought some food with her that she could eat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Secrets chefs keep under their toques

Smart Money magazine this week has an amusing article by Jason Kephart, "10 things celebrity chefs won't tell you." If you want to read it in full, which will require you to view 10 separate pages with lots of animated ads, click here. But here are a summary and excerpts that will give you the gist of the story.

1. "I’m a celebrity first and a chef second."
Rachael Ray, the Babe Ruth of celebrity chefs, has ridden her culinary fame to a daytime talk show and her own magazine. Without marketing, you can’t be a celebrity chef.
2. "There’s absolutely no reason to buy my cookbook." 
This isn't exactly true. You can get more of Bobby Flay's recipes on the Food Network's recipe database than in any of his cookbooks, but will they work for the home cook? Maybe, but maybe not. If you decide to pick a recipe off the Web, be sure you know the source. When I worked for The Sacramento Bee, every recipe I included in my cookbook reviews was tested in my kitchen, and if it didn't work out the first time, I went through and tested it again. The New York Times had a story a few years ago that 60 percent of recipes in cookbooks were never tested. I'm sure the number has gone up, and they may not be as tested in newspapers, either, given the staff cuts at most print outlets.

3. "Just because I have a cooking show doesn’t mean I’m a chef." "It’s not necessary that there are professional chefs on the Food Network,’ says Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential" author and a celebrity chef in his own right. "But what they really need are good cooks, and they have precious few of those." 
Foodies, take heart. PBS has been taking in Food Network’castoffs, including respected chefs Ming Tsai, Mario Batali, and Sara Moulton.
4. Sex sells, even with foodies. 
A growing number of chefs are making mouths water for reasons other than their culinary acumen. Actress and model Padma Lakshmi, for one, has gone from guest-starring on "Star Trek: Enterprise" to hosting the popular reality show "Top Chef."
Rachael Ray forged new ground for nonmodel chefs when she appeared in the October 2003 issue of FHM in a skimpy outfit, seductively licking chocolate off a spoon. How did other women chefs react to the sexy spread? "It didn’t hurt her career any," says Cat Cora, an FHM veteran herself, who has joined Nigella Lawson and Giada De Laurentiis in ditching traditional cooking togs for tight sweaters with plunging necklines.
5. "I’m addicted to porn - food porn, that is." It’s crucial the food look great on-screen. Food stylists ...
often shop for ingredients, prepare, and even cook the dish, all the while making sure it’s ready for its close-up.
6. "The dishes I make on TV don’t always work so great at home . . ."
Sue Gordon, a New Jersey cooking instructor, is a big fan of the Food Network. ‘I’m always looking for what they’ll teach me,’ she says. Unfortunately, when she tried to duplicate the sweet-potato gnocchi she watched Giada DeLaurentiis make on Everyday Italian, she learned the age-old lesson that looks aren’t everything. ‘It was so sticky, I had to keep adding flour,’ Gordon says. ‘The amounts were completely wrong.’ (A spokesperson for DeLaurentiis declined to comment.)
Often it’s a matter of translation. A chef might take a recipe for, say, 24 servings and divide it by four’but then fail to adjust the cooking’time properly. These slight variations can make a huge difference, according to Ellen Brown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Substitutions. Also, home cooking and professional cooking are entirely different; even the equipment varies. ‘It’s like getting advice from a race-car driver on how to commute to work,’ Kimball says. ‘It’s two different skill sets.’
7. ‘. . . and sometimes they’re just plain gross.’ 
Take the Red Bean Beach Salad that Ingrid Hoffmann made on the beach-picnic episode of Simply Delicioso, for example. Users’ reviews on the FoodNetwork.com’s recipe board slammed the dish for its strange, unappetizing combination of beans and sweet pickles. (A spokesperson for Hoffmann declined to comment.)
8. ‘It might be my restaurant, but that doesn’t mean I cook there.’
A recent ad campaign for the city of Las Vegas used a commercial featuring Emeril Lagasse, Mario’Batali, and Wolfgang Puck, promising that in Vegas you would visit three celebrity chefs in three days. What the ad didn’t mention is that you’ve got a better chance of hitting the jackpot at keno than you do eating food that’s actually been cooked by your favorite celebrity chef at one of his many restaurants.
9. ‘My show is one long commercial for my cookbooks.’
Celebrity’chefs have a stranglehold on the bestseller list, which is proving tough to break. The top five cookbooks of 2006, and four of the top 20 in 2007, belonged to Food Network personalities, according to Simba Information, a Stamford, Conn., market research firm.
10. ‘Bottom line: My celebrity status is great for business.’
It’s a fact that a spot on TV most often translates into increased traffic to that chef's restaurant.
But as Tom Colicchio says he once told a graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America, ‘If you got into this business to be the next Emeril, you should apologize to your parents for wasting their money.’

Grain gain

For a good slideshow on 6 good grains for everyone, click here (and click on the orange rectangle that says "Start" when you get there to go through the show; it's kind of a busy site). And don't forget to vote for your favorite grain at the end of it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Food on the cheap

Although there are some indicators that say we may have hit bottom on the recession, for many of us who are no longer in our careers of a year or two ago, there's no time like the present to explore ways to save on our food costs, especially if we enjoy good food and don't want to sink into the malaise of manufactured mishmash. I once had a relative who used to justify every bad food purchase she made with "Well, it was only $2," without stopping to think what the total cost of all those $2 purchases were.

To eat well on a budget, here are a few basics to keep in mind:
  • Meat and processed foods are the most expensive things in most peoples' carts, excluding alcohol, tobacco and nonfood items. Cut out the latter and learn to make those items you like. Make them in bulk and freeze them if you need to save time. On the meat front, figure out what you like the most and what's best for you, and don't eat more than 4 ounces of it (about the size of a pack of cards). Even filet mignon, at about $20 a pound, comes out to about $5 per person with those guidelines. A whole chicken, at 89 cents a pound, isn't a real bargain if you only like the breast and don't like soup; better to look for frozen tenderloins on sale. Learn all you can about cuts of meat. A book that has helped me a lot on this is Emilie Taylor's "Inflation-Fighter Meat Book," which got me into beef shanks (lots of good beef flavor, low in fat, and tender as can be when slow-cooked all day with a base of root vegetables) and showed how to get a rib steak and stew or chili meat from certain chuck steaks. 
  • Protein isn't just meat, as your vegetarian friends can tell you. Rice and beans, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter on toast or bagel are all fine substitutes, as is tofu. If you don't like the texture of the stuff out of a box, wrap it in a towel and put a weight on it in the fridge overnight. The towel will be sopping wet by the morning, and the tofu will be drier and will readily soak up any sauce you want to use to flavor it.
  • Have a pasta night. Experiment with different kinds and different sauces. Try to make your own; it's not hard and you'll have a satisfaction that is worth more that what you would have paid for fresh pasta at the grocery store.
  • Grow a herb garden. Even if herbs are more than $2 per pot, they will grow and yield many times the amount you'd have to pay for in a store, and you can snip only as much as you need. Some even come back year after year.
  • Other good substitutes to try: polenta, chilled overnight then grilled or fried, with pesto or spaghetti sauce; jalapeno cheese grits; whole wheat pizza (unlike bread, pizza crust is almost foolproof to make yourself). 
Do you need recipes for any of these? Drop me a line and I'll try to publish as many as I can in the next few days.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The steaks are high

Before we all knew the dangers of red meat, I would swear that the only thing that could get me over the flu was a good steak. I love almost everything about beef, especially its smell.

I don't eat much red meat anymore, but on the few occasions that I do, I try to make sure it is really good beef. 

Last night, I cooked two T-bones I got from Heartland Farms. Oh, heaven. The T-bone is a funny cut of meat, with a tiny filet-tender piece on one side and an a rough-and-tumble larger chewy piece on the other. Bring to room temperature before cooking, salt and pepper it, either grill or pan fry it, and here's my favorite part: A squeeze of lemon juice. I got that from a loud and funky steak house in Dallas, which closed before the millennium, I believe. But it left a delicious legacy.