Carrots and Cumin: 2 Ways

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By Alaina Sullivan

Carrot and cumin is a flavor pairing worth tattooing into your brain. Here, dressed simply in olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, the carrots are roasted at high heat until they become tender, caramelized, and smoky. You can eat them straight from the baking sheet, or turn them into soup as I did (see below.) Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

Roasted Carrots with Cumin*

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 35 minutes

1 to 1 ½ pounds baby carrots, green tops tripped, or full-sized carrots, cut into sticks

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds (you can also use ground cumin)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil; sprinkle with the cumin and salt and pepper. Roast until the carrots are tender and browning, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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The Rise and Fall of Twinkies

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By Daniel Meyer

The third-to-last of the nearly 40 ingredients that make up a Twinkie is listed on the package as “sorbic acid (to retain freshness).” It’s the only ingredient that comes with an explanation of its purpose, as if it’s essential for us to understand that this Twinkie is as good as it was when it was made.

While Twinkies themselves may not degrade much over time, their cultural weight certainly has. They’re no longer a lunchbox staple or an American icon, and as of last week (as Mark writes here) the Hostess company (maker of Twinkies) has filed for bankruptcy protection yet again.

 

James Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, invented Twinkies in 1930. He noticed that the machines and pans used to make the company’s cream-filled strawberry shortcake were only employed during strawberry season, so he conceived of a shortcake filled with banana cream that could be made and marketed year-round. So Twinkies were born out of the hard-and-fast limitations of seasonality.

Continental switched from banana cream — originally made with real bananas and real cream — to vanilla cream during World War II, when bananas were rationed. While the “original” version is occasionally reintroduced, vanilla “cream” Twinkies are the ones that charmed their way into the heart of American culture and diet.

In the ‘50s we watched Buffalo Bob Smith “make” Twinkies on “Howdy Doody,” clumsily combining the pasty white ingredients in a pan, and “alakazam presto” emerging with a pristine plastic package of “golden sponge cake with creamy filling.” In the ‘70s we let “Twinkie the Kid” lasso our children all the way to Twinkie Town, and in the ‘80s we learned that Twinkies were not only wholesome, but slightly sexy.

Read the rest of this piece here.

Seared Scallops with Romaine

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By Alaina Sullivan

When it comes to preparing scallops, less is often more: Salt, pepper and a quick butter sear is all it takes. Allow each side to caramelize for just a few minutes in a hot skillet – any longer and you run the risk of the scallops turning rubbery. Simple garnishes — a kiss of lemon juice and fresh parsley — add the perfect amount of brightness without overpowering the mild flavor of the scallops. Greens make a reliable companion, too. Here, the fresh crunch of romaine brings balance to the scallops’ soft flesh. Grilling the romaine adds even more character to the dish – its smoky flavor is an excellent foil to the sweet, buttery scallops. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Seared Scallops with Romaine*

Season scallops with salt and pepper; then sear the scallops for a few minutes in butter, turning once, until just browned on both sides. Drizzle a bunch of romaine lettuce with some olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the scallops with a bit more freshly squeezed lemon juice (some zest is nice here too) and some chopped parsley, and serve over the dressed lettuce with the pan juices.

*For grilled romaine: Cut the romaine hearts in half lengthwise, leaving the core intact,brush with the olive oil and some minced garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down until the lettuce begins to brown and get some grill marks, but remains crisp – 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, let it cool, and dress with the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Twinkies, The Undead Snack

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The news that Hostess filed for bankruptcy last week was met with nostalgic dismay by millions of baby boomers who lamented what they thought was the imminent demise of the Twinkie. Hostess, which emerged from bankruptcy just three years ago, has maybe 100,000 creditors, mostly labor unions and pension funds (one of which is reportedly owed $944 million) that represent the company’s employees. Its debt approaches a billion dollars, a lot by most standards.

Predictably, Hostess says that its competition has fewer labor restrictions, and that to be competitive they must “restructure” their labor agreements. Not good news for the company’s 19,000 employees, of course, though supposedly no layoffs are planned.

Read the rest of this column here.

Duck Fried Rice

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By Daniel Meyer

Yesterday, in my capacity as occasional co-tester of Mark’s recipes, I wound up with a duck. My responsiblities to this bird were fairly light: scribble down the easiest way to cut it up, roast the carcass with some vegetables, and make stock. Easy enough.

After stashing the legs and a breast in the freezer, straining the stock, and nibbling on the vegetables (soft and slick with duck fat) for lunch, I was left with a single boneless breast and a roasted/simmered carcass. I picked the meat from the carcass, scored and salted the breast, and put it in the fridge (right next to the container of day-old white rice.) Fate sealed. Duck fried rice for dinner.

I started with the breast, skin-side down, in a cold skillet over medium-low heat (the modest and gradual heat gently renders out the fat without burning it.) It took about eight minutes to crisp the skin, then three or four on the other side to cook the meat to a rosy pink.

With the breast resting under foil on the cutting board, I added some of the meat pulled from the carcass and cooked it in the rendered fat until chewy and crisp (essentially duck carnitas, a dish worthy in its own right.) After the crisping it all went very quickly: I added sliced carrots and celery and cooked them until just pliant, then the rice until barely browned, minced garlic and ginger until fragrant, and finally a beaten egg until scrambled (salting everything to taste along the way.) I sliced the duck breast over the top of the rice and that was it.

All in all, this was one of the more indulgent and satisfying dishes I’ve made in a while. There are probably a million things to do with duck that’s now in the freezer, but my best guess is that I’ll just wind up making this again.

Green Tea Broth with Udon Noodles

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By Alaina Sullivan

While udon noodles typically swim in water or broth, here they’re coooked in green tea. The herbal broth is fortified by the noodles as they simmer, and brightened with a touch of sweet mirin. This dish is easy as can be (if you can brew tea and boil noodles you’re good to go,) and a perfect canvas for endless variations. I made mine with yellow beans (added to the broth when the noodles were nearly finished cooking,) sliced leftover pork (decidedly not vegetarian,) crunchy lentil sprouts, chopped scallions and a final drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

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Why Are We Eating Less Meat?

Americans eat more meat than any other population in the world; about one-sixth of the total, though we’re less than one-twentieth of the population.

But that’s changing.

Until recently, almost everyone considered their dinner plate naked without a big old hunk of meat on it. (You remember “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” of course. How could you forget?) And we could afford it: our production methods and the denial of their true costs have kept meat cheap beyond all credibility. (American hamburger is arguably the cheapest convenience food there is.) This, in part, is why we spend a smaller percentage of our money on food than any other country, and much of that goes toward the roughly half-pound of meat each of us eats, on average, every day.

But that’s changing, and considering the fairly steady climb in meat consumption over the last half-century, you might say the numbers are plummeting. The department of agriculture projects that our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.

Holy cow. What’s up?

Read the rest of this column here.