Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fast and French

French food, for most people, conjures up hours in the kitchen, striving for perfection of sauces and presentation. Not so for Jacques Pépin, born and kitchen-trained in France. He wrote "Fast Food My Way" (Houghton Mifflin, $30, 250 pages) five years ago, and although it's not a beginner's cookbook (there are no notes on basic cooking techniques), most of the recipes are, as promised, fast - which translates as uncomplicated and straightforward. Pépin also has included many menus, which is a great help in balancing out a meal.
It's a small book, but has lovely and inviting photographs by Ben Fink, all in bounce-off-the-page color.
The cookbook has a wealth of vegetable recipes and salads, and a few recipes for most kinds of seafood and meats. A substantial dessert section includes a tiramisu that is not unlike the one I hit upon when assembling one for a dinner for 100, and I'm sure it is just as delicious.
The recipe I used last night was definitely a winner: chicken breasts with garlic and parsley. Pépin says he adapted the idea from a traditional French way of cooking frog legs. Well, if he can adapt, so can I. I didn't have parsley, but my basil is loving this cool, wet weather, and I love the way it works with garlic and lemon.

Fast chicken breasts with garlic and basil
(adapted from "Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way")

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (organic preferred; each about 7 ounces, cut into 1-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons rice flour (Pépin=Wondra)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (Pépin=parsley)
1 tablespoon butter (Pépin=2 tablespoons unsalted)
1 lemon, quartered

Dry the chicken cubes with paper towels and toss them with the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the chicken cubes and cook in one layer turning occasionally, for about 3 1/2 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Add the butter and the parsley mixture to the skillet and sauté for 1 minute longer, shaking the skillet occasionally to coat the chicken. Divide among 4 plates, add a wedge of lemon to each plate and serve within 15 minutes.

Editor's note: Want this cookbook? Click on the photo or the name of the book to go to Powell's Books; it's $21 there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Top 10 Riskiest Foods

This is definitely worth reposting.

Top 10 Riskiest Foods Regulated by the FDA
The list includes leafy greens, eggs and tuna

By: Candy Sagon | Source: AARP Bulletin Today | October 5, 2009

The good news is chocolate is not on the list. The bad news—ice cream is.
Some of the healthiest, most inviting foods on your grocery list—lettuce, eggs, ice cream—are the most likely to make you sick, says a Washington, D.C., nonprofit advocacy group.
Researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on Tuesday announced their own grocery list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The most hazardous, in order: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts and berries.
50,000 cases of food-borne illnesses
According to CSPI’s study, those 10 foods account for nearly 40 percent of all food-borne outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated foods between 1990 and 2006. Nearly 50,000 illnesses—from temporary stomach cramps to disability and death—were reported as a result of the outbreaks. And those illnesses are only the tip of the iceberg. For every case of salmonella poisoning reported, for instance, federal officials estimate that another 38 cases go unreported.
Meat, pork and poultry, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were not included in the research. Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of CSPI’s food safety program, says the group chose FDA-regulated foods because the federal agency is responsible for “80 percent of the food supply,” including produce, dairy products and seafood, as well as packaged goods like peanut butter and refrigerated cookie dough—both of which were involved in recent food-poisoning outbreaks.
Leafy greens, No. 1 culprit
Many of the items that made the top 10 list are healthy, vitamin-packed foods that nutrition experts frequently urge Americans to eat. “Leafy greens hit a nutritional home run, but they’re starting to mimic the well-known risks of ground beef,” says Sarah Klein, an attorney with CSPI and lead author of the study. This is partly because, like the ground scraps and bits collected to make hamburger meat, the popular bags of prewashed, ready-cut greens are collected from a variety of sources. “A large batch can be contaminated by just one item,” notes DeWaal.
Leafy greens, which include iceberg lettuce, romaine, spring mix, spinach and cabbage, sickened nearly 13,570 people who reported becoming ill—an estimated 30 percent of all the reported illnesses caused by the top 10. This includes the highly publicized 2006 outbreak of food poisoning and deaths traced to bagged spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Eggs, the second most risky food in the study, are now subject to new FDA regulations that went into effect this summer. The rules require egg producers to test for salmonella—the cause of 95 percent of egg-related food illness, according to CSPI—and refrigerate eggs during storage and transportation. The agency, in announcing the new rules in July, said it expects them to help decrease the 30 deaths annually caused by contaminated eggs.
Watch that homemade ice cream
Salmonella in raw and under-cooked eggs was also the culprit when Americans got sick eating ice cream. Almost half of the ice cream outbreaks could be traced to homemade ice cream made with under-cooked eggs, the study found.
That familiar deli standby, potato salad, pushed potatoes onto the risky foods list, says Klein. “Potatoes are always cooked before eating, but they’re likely being cross-contaminated by other items like mayonnaise or meat,” she says. More than 40 percent of potato-related outbreaks were linked to foods prepared in restaurants and food establishments like grocery stores and delis.
Toxic tuna
Researchers were also surprised to find that scromboid poisoning, from the hard-to-destroy scromboid toxin, made tuna the third riskiest food in the CSPI study. The toxin is most commonly found in fresh tuna (think sushi and seared tuna in restaurants) but cannot be destroyed by cooking, freezing, smoking, curing or canning.
Symptoms of scromboid poisoning often include flushed skin, headaches, abdominal cramps and heart palpitations. More than 65 percent of the outbreaks reported from contaminated tuna occurred in restaurants, the study found.
Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million food-borne illnesses occur annually, Craig Hedberg of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health notes that “our food supply is relatively safe, with one illness for every 3,000 to 4,000 meals eaten.” Still, he adds, “new challenges to food safety will continue to emerge and we need a strong and flexible regulatory response.”
Help for the FDA?
The FDA has been criticized for its lax oversight, particularly in the wake of recent illnesses and deaths from tainted spinach and peanut butter products popular with children.
This summer, the House approved a bill that would provide sweeping new powers to the FDA for the first time in 70 years, including stepped-up inspections and the ability to mandate a product recall. The Senate is expected to take up its version this fall and Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety with the Pew Health Group, hopes to see a new bill enacted “before Christmas.”
Candy Sagon is a food and health writer in Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1995–2009, AARP. All rights reserved. A Member of AARP Global Network

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Year 2, new look

Well, since I've been at this for a year now, I thought it might be fun to play with the look of this blog. Any comments? Like it? Don't like it? Like the darker look better? Any other suggestions? I'll take any and all of your suggestions seriously. I look forward each day to sharing my love of all things food with you - and learning more about this wonderful world we consume and digest.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where's the (chefs') beef?

David Chang and Anthony Bourdain scorched the earth of the food world at a panel last Friday. For those of you who don't appreciate the overriding profanity in professional kitchens, here is the scrubbed and condensed version of 10 things they hate about food trends and fellow celebrities, as picked up from Grub Street. Chang is the genius behind Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ko, and Anthony Bordain is the author of "Kitchen Confidential" and star of the TV show "No Reservations."

Ten Things They Hate About Food

1. Cupcakes.

2. San Francisco. "... every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food," said Chang.

3. Overexposed foods. Pork bellies are the new tuna tartare, Chang asserted. That said, he passed on answering Bourdain's question: "Is bacon less cool because Paula Deen likes it, or is it always cool, like Orson Welles?" As for cheeseburgers on a Krispy Kreme doughnut, Bourdain called it "a war crime."

4. Guy Fieri.

5. Career-changers who want to start cooking professionally at 30. Cooking is “grueling physical labor,” said Chang, adding that he’d never seen anybody start “that late” in life and succeed.

6. "Hell’s Kitchen." “They’re shooting the wounded on that show,” said Bourdain. But he defended "Top Chef": “On that show, the worst chef that day goes home and the best chef that day wins.”

7. Alice Waters. While both men applauded “her message” and Chez Panisse’s game-changing cuisine, Bourdain likened her to a hippie who doesn't grasp that the poor can’t afford organic milk.

8. People who take pictures and notes on the food at Ko. “The food’s getting cold,” Chang observed.

9. Critic Alan Richman. His insistence that celebrity chefs actually cook in their own restaurants is ridiculous, the two concluded. Richman just wants chefs to “kiss his ring,” said Bourdain. “I’m going to Emeril’s restaurant — do I suddenly expect him to pop up and say 'Bam!'?”

10. The thing they hate most: "Gray Kunz and Christian Delouvrier, the two greatest chefs in New York, are still trying to make a living."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

FTC disclosure

The Federal Trade Commission is getting serious about the use of blogs and other social media to pitch products. (Click HERE for the story.) In the interest in full disclosure, I have received cookbooks from publishers for free (as all newspapers do), but I have never been pressured by a publisher to review a certain book or told what to write about the ones I review. I pay (or whoever buys my work pays) for the ingredients to test recipes out of the book, and if I ever review a book without testing the recipes (God forbid!), I certainly will let you know that upfront. Also, I do not solicit meals from restaurants I review, and try not to let them know ahead of time that I am working on a review, so that the service I receive isn't any different from what you, the reader of the review, would likely experience. It's only fair.