Archive for the ‘Purchasing Food’ Category

Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder

June 27, 2011 2 comments

On July 23, 2011, those who have been searching for “Meatopia” all their life can find it in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  What is “Meatopia,” you might ask?  While Plato contemplated his utopia ruled by philosopher kings, Meatopia contemplates a happy hunting ground for carnivores who live within traveling distance of Brooklyn and who enjoy a hot afternoon of drinking beer amongst the unwashed masses, waiting in line and stuffing themselves with the meat and entrails of every 4-legged animal imaginable. Sounds like your idea of a good time?  Your appreciation of such an event will largely hinge on your reaction to the following:

The Meatopia 2011 Menu

Robert Newton
Bacon and Sorghum-Glazed Quail with Watermelon-Sweet Corn Salad

Seamus Mullen
Spit-Roasted Whole Sheep

April Bloomfield
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
Barbecued Whole Mulefoot Hog

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo
Grilled Chicken Hearts with Burnt Eggplant Puree

Eddie Huang
“Doomtopia” Stew: Taiwanese-Style Pig Foot, Oxtail, and Beef Cheek Stew

Yuhi Fujinaka
Bar Basque
Hampshire Hog Seven Ways

Naomi Pomeroy
Braised Beef Cheeks with Sour Cherry Glaze and Rustic Summer Herb Salad

Serafim Ferdeklis
Cypriot-Style Pork Gyro

Aaron Sanchez
Whole Goat Monterrey-Style Tacos with Pickled Onion

Nate Appleman
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chorizo Tostada with Tomatillo Salsa and Queso Fresco

Harold Moore
Roasted Chicken with Foie Gras Croutons, Potato Puree, and Super Jus

Eduard Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban
Edi & The Wolf
Crispy Pig’s Head Torchon with Green Beans and Horseradish

Julia Jaksic
Employees Only
Grilled Cevapi (Croatian Sausage) with Pita, Kajmak, Onions and Tomatoes

Scott Smith
Double-Smoked Pastrami Burnt Ends

Ron Silver
Bubby’s Pie Company
Sausage and Bacon-Packed Pork Pie

RL King
Hundred Acres
Pork Rilletes, Country Pate, Tongue Salad and an Assortment of Pickles and Spreads

Orhan Yegen
Bi Lokma
Turkish-Style Lamb Breast Stuffed with Fragrant Rice

Jo Ng
Kowloon-Style Beef Short Rib Tart

Floyd Cardoz
North End Grill
Roast Baby Goat with Arugula and Sweet Onion Salad

Anthony Goncalves
Lamb Belly with Toasted Couscous, Radish, Piri Piri

Franklin Becker
Abe & Arthur’s
Grilled Kalamansi-Spiced Chicken Thighs Served with Scallion-Tomatillo Salsa

Amanda Freitag
The Food Network’s Chopped
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs with Grilled Green Onion and New York Cornbread

Robbie Richter/David Shuttenberg
Big Apple BBQ/Dickson’s Farmstand Meats
“Meatopia” Sausage

Charles Grund, Jr.
Hill Country Barbecue
Texas-Style Barbecued Mangalitsa Pork Belly

Chris Hastings
Hot And Hot Fish Club
Elk shoulder Crepenettes with Olives, Clementines, Almonds and Frissee Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Sean Brock
Husk (Charleston, SC)
Carolina Whole Ossabaw Hog BBQ with Field Pea and Ramp Chow Chow, Cooked Over Wood Embers and Pig Bone Charcoal

Ignacio Mattos
Costillar a las Brasas: Whole Roasted Veal Ribcage and Sweetbreads with Chimichurri

Philippe Massoud
ilili Restaurant
Sumac and Zataar-Spiced Grilled Lamb Ribs with Lebanese Salad

Michael Psilakis
Greek Lamb Offal Mixed Grill

Ludo Lefebrve
Korean Marinated Hanger Steak with Goat Cheese Chantilly and Cauliflower Paper

Aaron Israel
Mile End
Bahn Juif – Jewish Bahn Mi – Petcha, Ground Veal and Garlic Chopped Liver

Fred Donnelly
Mo Gridder’s World Famous BBQ
Hand-Pulled Pork with Cherry Smoked and Dry Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

Eric Johnson
Mr. Bobo’s World Famous Traveling Allstars!
Barbecue Braised Beef Ribs with Bourbon-Infused Sweet Potatoes and Cabbage

Floyd Cardoz
North End Grill
Roast Baby Goat with Arugula and Sweet Onion Salad

Michael White/Bill Dorrler
Osteria Morini
Spit-Roasted Hampshire Porchetta with Sage, Rosemary and Lemon

Brad Farmerie
Black Pudding Waffles with Red Wine Poached Pears and Whipped Foie Gras Butter

Bobby Hellen
Veal Belly Gyros with Grilled Radish

Adam Sappington
The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar
Crispy Pig Head Stuffed with Scrapple on a Buttermilk Biscuit with Oregon Chow Chow

Craig Koketsu
The Hurricane Club
Grilled Duck Magret with Green Papaya

Daniel Holzman
The Meatball Shop
Spicy Lamb Sloppy Joes

Sam Barbieri
Waterfront Ale House
Maple-Cured and Smoked Wild Boar Ham and Belly with Home-Made Mustard and Pickles

John Schafer
Wildwood Barbeque
Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Chipotle BBQ Sauce and Creamy Coleslaw

Shane McBride
Whole Smoked Hampshire Hog

Mike Price
Market Table
Nose-to-Tail Ground Veal Hoagies with Pickled Peppers

John Rivers
4 Rivers Smokehouse
Pulled Pork Shooters and Collard-Infused Cheese Grits over a Black-Eyed Pea Puree

At this point you should probably have a good idea of whether “Meatopia” would be your own personal utopia, or your own personal hell.  For those insatiable carnivores, unable to coexist peacefully with your fellow mammals, tickets can be bought here.


Accepting the Lard Back Into Your Life

June 23, 2011 1 comment

For years, the butt of jokes, the source of shuddering revulsion – lard has been the most reviled cooking fat for many generations.  It wasn’t always this way.  At one time, lard was cooking fat’s It Girl.  As these cheery advertisements indicate, lard was once marketed as a sensible lifestyle choice, for hip power couples and families alike.  But eventually, lard was eclipsed by butter and its ugly stepsister, margarine – and later on by sexy newcomers like olive oil.   So indeed lard has been relegated to become the Jimmy Carter of cooking fat, toiling away quietly and doggedly in certain regions of the country, in pie crusts and the like, while remaining the subject of derision for many.

So- the question arises, do you even know what lard really is? Yeah, sure, it has lots of fat, beef fat, or something.

In fact, it is pig fat.  Pig fat is all the rage these days, at least around New York City.  Restaurants like Fatty Crab, Fatty Cue, the Momofukus and many more have basically been created to serve you pig fat.   They call it pork belly.  If you’re really hungry you can get a Bo Ssam, or a suckling pig and feed a crowd.   So – if all the love for pig fat, why no love for lard?  Because its so bad for you! Well, maybe yes, maybe no.  According to the Source Book For Food Scientists (2d ed. 1991) by Herbert W. Ockerman, lard has less saturated fat and less cholesterol than butter by weight, and no transfats.   So, in some respects, you are better off using lard than butter.

So, you are ready to accept the lard back into your life – what to do with it?  Here is a recipe in which lard is a very traditional and crucial ingredient, but which I think most people will want to eat regardless of their prejudices.  So if you are ready to fall in love with lard all over again, give it a whirl:

Tamales De Dulce (Sweet Tamales)

Makes 24 tamales

This recipe is from “Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art,” by Tom Gilliland,  Miguel Ravago and Virginia B. Wood (Shearer Publishing).

1 1/2 cups vegetable
shortening or lard
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 1/2 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 10 3/4 ounce can chicken broth
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel
24 corn husks

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the lard until fluffy, about three to five minutes. Add sugar, salt and cinnamon; beat to blend. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the masa harina, baking powder and chicken broth. With the mixer on low speed, add the masa mixture, a little bit at a time and mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the raisins, anise seeds and citrus peel. Set aside.

Soak the husks in hot water for about 20 minutes or until they are soft and pliable. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Put 2 tablespoons masa down the center of each husk. Follow pictures for folding. Place the rack in the steamer and pour in enough water so that it just touches the rack. Stand the tamales on the rack, open end up. Bring the water to a boil, cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Vitaminwater: Not So Healthy After All

July 26, 2010 2 comments

Q: What has 33 grams of sugar and is marketed to the gullible American consumer as containing nothing but vitamins and water?  

Not only is the drink marketed as “Vitamin Water,” but one of its prominent advertising/packaging slogans is “vitamins + water = all you need.” Surprise! Like many things sold by the Coca-Cola Company, it is full of sugar and calories, you might as well just have a coke and a smile.

But this has not gone unnoticed.  Last week, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, Eastern District of New York, denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought primarily by the Center for Science In The Public Interest (CSPI), which alleged various state and federal claims of unfair competition, false advertising and deceptive business practices. 

Notably, Coca-Cola argued that claims of the health benefits of its product (e.g., “vitamins + water = all you need”) were mere “puffery,”  meaning inflated statements used to advertise a product that cannot actually be believed to be true (“come in for America’s best hamburger !”), which are not actionable under these sorts of laws.  It would seem clear to even the casual observor that there is a difference  between touting the health benefits of your product named “Vitaminwater” and claiming “America’s best hamburger.”  And Judge Gleeson agreed:

By including the suggestion that the product will “keep you healthy” or “help bring about a healthy state of physical and mental being” alongside such statements, the quoted language implies that the nutrient content of vitaminwater may help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices. I conclude, therefore, in light of the language and context in which they are used, that the statements on the “defense” and “B- Relaxed” labels constitute implied nutrient content claims which use the word “healthy.” Such claims are in violation of violation of FDA regulations because . . . vitaminwater achieves its nutritional content solely through fortification that violates FDA policy.

CSPI explains further in their press release:

[T]he company’s use of the word “healthy” violates the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on vitamin-fortified foods. The FDA’s so-called “Jelly Bean” rule prohibits companies from making health claims on junk foods that only meet various nutrient thresholds via fortification. The judge also found that vitaminwater’s claim on the “focus” flavor of vitaminwater that it “may reduce the risk of age-related eye disease” runs afoul of FDA regulations.

 . . . .

The judge also rejected Coke’s argument that disclosing sugar content on Nutrition Facts labels eliminates the possibility that consumers may be misled into thinking the product has only water and vitamins, and little or no sugar. Gleeson cited a similar case involving deceptive fruit imagery on packages for Gerber’s Fruit Juice Snacks, which are mostly corn syrup and sugar. That court held that “reasonable consumers should [not] be expected to look beyond misleading representations on the front of the box to discover the truth from the ingredient list in small print on the side of the box.”

The case will, of course, proceed toward trial, and will likely get quickly settled before it generates further bad publicity for Coca-Cola and Vitaminwater.  The lesson is very clearly this:

Just because it looks like water and claims to contain vitamins, it doesn’t mean it is health food.  You are much better off drinking a glass of water and taking a vitamin supplement, and you will save a lot of money, too (and produce less garbage).

You may look at the nutritional information on a bottle of Vitaminwater and read that it only contains 50 calories per serving.  But read the fine print further, there are 2.5 servings per bottle, so you are in fact consuming 125 calories (of course, when it comes to disclosing the daily recommended dose of vitamins you are getting, they list the whole bottle).

Of course, selling people junk on the pretense that it will make them healthier is part of the Great American Tradition (Smoothie King and makers of the “Ab Roller,” I’m looking at you).  Now, you may have reservations about people filing class-action law suits when they really should have just used their common sense (and read the fine print), but that is part of the Great American Tradition too.

Relatedly, CSPI is bringing a second lawsuit against Coca-Cola, based on the company’s marketing of its Enviga green tea beverage which it claims to have “negative calories,” thus promoting weight loss just by merely ingesting it.  Imagine that!

Raw Milk: Elixir Of Life or Bacterial Swamp?

What is raw milk?  Think of it as milk “as God intended,” straight from the cow and untouched by pasteurization.  Raw milk has some very fierce devotees, although it is illegal to sell in many states, and very heavily regulated in others.  As one might expect, raw milk carries a greater risk of harmful bacteria.  As faithful readers of this blog will recognize, consuming raw milk presents a risk similar to the risk found in consumption of bathtub cheese.

Why drink raw milk?

Advocates of raw milk claim it possesses nutrients lacking in pasteurized milk, and that it has a richer and more complex flavor.  As to the first point, advocates claim that the pasteurization process kills off beneficial bacteria, proteins and enzymes that are found in raw milk.  The FDA disagrees, claiming no nutritive value is lost in the pasteurization process.  As to the second point, it would appear to be a matter of taste, although I have no trouble believing that raw milk has a more robust flavor than pasteurized milk.

Why avoid raw milk?

Milk is pasteurized for a reason – and the pasteurization of milk is considered one of the most successful public health endeavors of the 20th century.  Consider that in 1938, milk caused 25% of all food and water-related sickness.  With the advent of pasteurization, that number dropped to 1% by 1993.  That is not to say necessarily that raw milk is a public health hazard, but that the potential is there.  Raw milk has been known to carry E. Coli, salmonella, non-pulmonary tuberculosis and typhoid, although in miniscule amounts.  Between 1998 and 2008, there have been 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and 2 deaths from consumption of raw milk.   Granted, these numbers are somewhat meaningless without knowing, for example, how much raw milk is actually purchased every year, and without a comparison of similar illness from supposedly “safe” foods (e.g., supermarket lettuce).

Am I Buying Illegal Raw Milk?

If you are in New York, you are only buying legal raw milk  if you are at one of 19 officially licensed farms, buying raw milk only (no cheese), which is clearly marked “Raw Milk Sold Here.”

In other words, if you buy raw milk  or cheese from Crazy Jimmy in a dark alley behind the Greenmarket,  you are perpetuating his criminal enterprise.

New Yorkers seeking raw milk should consider themselves fortunate, 28 states do not allow sales of raw milk whatsoever.  Most of the remaining states, like New York, heavily regulate who you can buy it from, and where.  In select states (California, Maine) sale of raw milk is legal and it can be purchased in stores.

Raw Milk And Political Controversy

Recently, a dispute over the availability of milk has generated considerable political controversy in Wisconsin, America’s dairy state.  It should be noted that Wisconsin takes its dairy products very seriously – for years non-dairy creamer was banned in restaurants, as well as the sale of margarine within state borders.  In April of this year, the Wisconsin state legislature passed the Raw Milk Act, which would greatly reduce restrictions on direct sale of raw milk by farmers in the state.  Not only would these farmers be able to sell straight to the masses, but they would be able to charge upwards of $6 a gallon.  However, although Governor James Doyle had indicated he would sign the bill, he reversed his position after being paid a visit by various captains of industry – e.g., the Cheese Makers Association, the Farm Bureau Federation and the Dairy Business Association, who were not pleased at the prospect of being cut out of the distribution chain. 

Of course, these business groups were very concerned for the consumers – that they could potentially suffer harm from exposure to tainted raw milk.  As a result of this selfless advocacy, Governor Doyle changed his mind and vetoed the bill, thereby dashing the hopes of dairy famers and raw milk advocates across the state, who felt that they had been railroaded by big business. 

Some were quick to point out that, if Governor Doyle were truly concerned about the health of his constituents, he would not have signed a similar bill in February that made it legal for home-picklers to sell their pickles and salsas.

The Lebanese/Israeli Hummus War

Courtesy of Eater: Over the weekend, Lebanon asserted its dominance over Israel in producing  tremendous amounts of hummus and falafel, thereby taking back the world record as to both items.  Notably, Lebanese chefs prepared 11,381 pounds of falafel, and 22,994 pounds of hummus (doubling Israel’s previous hummus record!).  

The more interesting aspect of this competition is the controversy as to the origins of hummus.  As you may guess, there is more at stake here than just the world record.  Lebanon has acused Israel of appropriating hummus, which it claims to be a Lebanese dish, and marketing it globally as an Israeli dish.  Israel responds that hummus has been around for centuries and is a regional food tied to no specific country.  Of course, the roots of this dispute go somewhat deeper than the preparation of hummus, but that is an issue for a different type of blog.

In late 2008, Lebanese industrialist Fadi Abboud spearheaded a campaign to have the European Commission recognize protected geographical status of Lebanese foods, which he asserted to include hummus, as well as falafel and tabbouleh.   This status, currently applied to such foodstuffs as parmigiano-reggiano cheese, parma ham and champagne, protects the names of these products by ensuring that only those produced within the designated region may be sold under the geographical name.  For example, if you are growing your grapes in Newark, NJ, you may sell “sparkling wine,” but you may not sell “champagne.”

Generally speaking, before a product may use a geographical indication under this regime, it must be shown that it comes from that geographic area, that it has qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of geographic area, and its production, processing or preparation takes place within that geographic area.  For example, in 2002 Greece was able to successfully argue that particular grazing terrain found in Greece contributed to the unique taste of feta cheese,  and other countries manufacturing feta were forced to stop selling it under that name.

The problem with hummus is, there is no indication as to where it was first prepared, or when.   Chickpeas and sesame seeds, the two main ingredients, have been in use for thousands of years.  While it seems to be generally accepted that hummus was first prepared somewhere in the Middle East, there seems to be absolutely no indication that it was first done in what is now Lebanon.

This would seem to pose a problem for Mr. Abboud’s quest to receieve protected geographical status.  While I am no expert on international trademark issues, it seems to me that the geographical indicator regime has been put in place to protect unique regional specialties that can be directly traced to a specific region (e.g., parma ham).  Hummus (and falafel and tabbouleh, for that matter) are far too old and widespread to be applicable – they simply cannot be accurately be traced back to any specific geographic region. 

As there appears to be no recent information available concerning Mr. Abboud’s proposal, it seems likely that it stalled somewhere in the process.

Absent such protection, to gain the advantage in the hummus war, Lebanon can keep preparing giant vats of hummus in an effort to retain the world record.  Alternatively, it could perhaps just produce and distribute a superior brand of hummus under the country’s name.