The Right to Sell Kids Junk

The First Amendment to the Constitution, which tops our Bill of Rights, guarantees — theoretically, at least — things we all care about. So much is here: freedom of religion, of the press, of speech, the right to assemble and more. Yet it’s stealthily and  incredibly being invoked to safeguard the nearly unimpeded “right” of a handful of powerful corporations to market junk food to children.

It’s been reported that kids see an average of 5,500 food ads on television every year (sounds low, when you think about it), nearly all peddling junk. (They may also see Apple commercials, but not of the fruit kind.) Worse are the online “advergames” that distract kids with entertainment while immersing them in a product-driven environment. (For example: create your own Froot Loops adventure!)

And beyond worse: collecting private data, presumably in order to target children with personalized junk food promotions, as in this Capri Sun advergame, which asks for permission to use your webcam to film you — without first verifying your age.

Read the rest of this column here.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Chicken and Rice

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By Alaina Sullivan

The simple combination of chicken and rice is a one-pot dish that’s made all over the world. Despite the countless variations on the theme, this version is stripped down to the bare essentials: chicken, rice and onion (with peas added at the very end). Short-grain white rice is what the classic recipe calls for, but since I already had brown jasmine rice on hand, I went with long-grain (less sticky, more fragrant).

The ingredients initially take turns in the pan (the chicken browns, then the onion sautés, then the rice gets a glossy coat), until finally all three come together to simmer, covered and undisturbed. The rice will slowly absorb the cooking liquid (water, or stock, if you want a more intense flavor), and become tender at about the same time that the chicken is cooked through. With saffron laced throughout, peas adding little bursts of sweetness, and fresh lime juice to brighten the entire plate, this one-pot wonder deserves a spot on your roster of go-to recipes. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Chicken and Rice

Time: About 1 hour

Makes: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 whole cut-up chicken or about 3 pounds parts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 medium onions, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 cups short-grain white rice

Pinch saffron threads, optional

3 1/2 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock, or more as needed

1 cup peas (frozen are fine; no need to thaw them)

2 limes, quartered, for serving

1. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the chicken, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, undisturbed but adjusting the heat so the chicken sizzles but doesn’t burn, until the pieces release easily from the pan, 5 to 10 minutes. Then turn and rotate them every few minutes to brown them evenly. As the chicken pieces brown, after another 5 to 10 minutes, remove them from the pan.

2. Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium and pour or spoon off most of the oil so that only 2 tablespoons remain. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice; cook, stirring, until the rice is glossy and coated with oil. Crumble in the saffron threads if you’re using them.

3. Return the chicken to the pan, add the water, and stir gently to combine everything. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat so it bubbles gently but steadily. Cover the skillet and cook, undisturbed, for 20 minutes, then check the rice and chicken. The goal is to have the liquid absorbed, the rice tender, and the chicken cooked through. If the rice is dry but nothing is ready, add another 1/4 cup water and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. The meat is done when a quick-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155–165°F.

4. Remove the skillet from the heat. Taste the rice and adjust the seasoning. Add the peas, then cover the pan again and let it sit for 5 to 15 minutes. Fish the chicken out of the pan and transfer it to a serving platter. Fluff the rice with a fork, spoon it around the chicken, add the lime wedges, and serve.

Tips:

Saffron (as you probably know if you’re using it) is not cheap. Fortunately a little goes a long way.

-Don’t be intimidated by cooking chicken and rice in the same pan. It’s no harder than cooking either ingredient on its own. You may need to monitor the moisture in the pan toward the end of cooking, but as long as you resist the urge to uncover the skillet and stir, it will come out great.

-Short-grain rice is classic here, but if you like rice less sticky and more fluffy, use long-grain rice. You’ll probably need to add the extra liquid in Step 3.

Variations:

Chicken and Lentils: Skip the peas and use lemon instead of lime. Replace the rice with 1 cup dried brown or green lentils (rinsed and picked over) and continue with the recipe.

 

Back to Basics: Dessert

I couldn’t think of a better way to conclude my three-day stint on the Today Show than cooking chocolate mousse with Matt Lauer. All of the essential cooking techniques that I demonstrated this week (plus many, many more) can be found in my new book, How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Dal with Rhubarb

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By Alaina Sullivan

Rhubarb, with its stringy stalk and rouge skin, is often paired with fruits, though it is actually a vegetable. Its tart flavor is typically tempered by sugar (think pie, compotes, etc.), but here it is incorporated into a savory dish that preserves its natural zing.

The rhubarb stalks join a pot of red lentils (prepared as a traditional Indian dal with ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom, and dried chile for heat). As the dish simmers, the rhubarb practically dissolves, leaving behind molten flesh and its tangy trademark flavor. The dal is delicious sprinkled with fresh cilantro and served over rice or another grain, or spread on toasted pita. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

Simplest Dal

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 40 minutes, largely unattended

1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 cardamom pods

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2 cloves

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 dried ancho or other mild dried chile (optional)

salt

2 tablespoons cold butter or peanut oil (optional)

chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. Combine all the ingredients except the salt, butter or oil, and cilantro in a saucepan, add water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until the lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and keep cooking to the desired tenderness. The lentils should be saucy but not soupy.

2. Remove the cloves and, if you like, the cardamom pods (they’re kind of fun to eat, though). Stir in the butter or oil if you’re using it. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.

Dal with Rhubarb. The rhubarb almost dissolves into this, leaving behind its trademark flavor: To the pot along with the other ingredients, add 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, strings removed and chopped.

Back to Basics: How to Cook Vegetables

I was on the Today Show this morning (the first of three days in a row) demonstrating vegetable cooking techniques from my new book, How to Cook Everything: The Basics. For me, the easiest way to think about it is to group vegetables into three categories: greens, tender vegetables, and hard vegetables. You can cook the vegetables within each category pretty much the same way, so once you learn a few basic techniques, you’ll be able to cook any vegetable you can think of. Check out the video (above) and a simple recipe from each category here, and stay tuned for techniques for cooking meat (tomorrow), and desserts (Thursday).

Beef Stew (with or without Guinness)

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By Alaina Sullivan

This week I made Mark’s Beef Stew from How to Cook Everything, with a modest addition in honor of St. Patrick’s day: Guinness. Ireland’s famous black stout – “thinned” slightly with beef stock – makes the broth robust and dark, its mysteriously roasted flavor rippling throughout. All of the ingredients take to the Guinness in their own way – the meat gets deeply flavorful and tender, the carrots become malty and sweet, and the potatoes soak it up like sponges. You’ll be pouring your perfect pints right into the pot.

Beef Stew

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 1 ½ to 2 hours, largely unattended

2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, lightly crushed, plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 to 2 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck or round, trimmed of surface fat and cut into 1- to 1 ½-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large or 3 medium onions, cut into eighths

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, water, wine, or a combination, or more as needed*

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

4 medium to large waxy or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Heat a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes; add the oil and the crushed garlic clove; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then remove and discard the garlic. Add the meat to the skillet a few minutes at a time, turning to brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Do not crowd or the cubes will not brown properly; cook in batches if necessary. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper as it cooks.

2. When the meat is brown, remove it with a slotted spoon. Pour or spoon off most of the fat and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions. Cook, stirring until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme, and meat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes.

3. Uncover the pot; the mixture should be wet (if not, add a little more liquid). Add the potatoes and carrots, turn the heat up for a minute or so to bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat and cover again. Cook for 30 to 60 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (At this point, you may remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and refrigerate them and the stock separately. Skim the fat from the stock before combining it with the meat and vegetables, reheating, and proceeding with the recipe from this point.)

4. Add the minced garlic and the peas; if you’re pleased with the stew’s consistency, continue to cook, covered, over low heat. If it’s too soupy, remve the cover and raise the heat to high. In either case, cook for an additional 5 minutes or so, until the peas have heated through and the garlic has flavored the stew. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Beef and Guinness Stew. In Step 2, omit the flour. Use 2 cups Guinness and 1- to 1 ½-cups beef broth for the liquid (add more beer, broth or water as needed during the cooking process).