A Different Shade of Risotto

As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it’s growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world’s second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: corn is numero uno.)

This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time — 20 minutes or so — that it does with white rice.

As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like Arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

The Heart of the Jack-o’-Lantern

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You’re carving your jack-o’-lanterns now; soon you’ll buy canned pumpkin for pie. Join the club. Almost no one in this country cooks fresh pumpkin.

Yet the pumpkin — or those squashes whose non-English names translate as “pumpkin” — is a staple the world over, turned into substantial dishes celebrated for their sweetness and density. So-called sugar pumpkins, which are smaller and more flavorful than anything you might carve, are the best for cooking and available even in supermarkets. But you can tackle the big boys too.

All four of the recipes are global classics, and all use cubes of pumpkin flesh; admittedly, getting at the good stuff is the tricky part. And of course you can use any orange-fleshed squash in any pumpkin recipe. But given the season, let’s assume you’re working with a pumpkin. Start just as if you were carving a jack-o’-lantern: cut a circle around the stem, then pull up on the stem and discard it. Using the cavity as a handle, peel the pumpkin with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Yes, it will take a while. To read the entire article click here.

Buying the Vote on G.M.O.’s

Supporters of ingredients derived from “genetically modified foods,” which hereafter I’ll call G.M.O.’s — genetically modified organisms — are mostly the chemical companies who make them or other people who make money from them. They assert that a) there’s no proof that G.M.O.’s are harmful to humans, and b) studies demonstrating that they might be are largely flawed [1]. Point B might even be true, although since the chemical companies largely control the research, it’s hard to tell.

But even if there were a way to guarantee that food produced with G.M.O. ingredients is not directly bad for you, it remains clear that such food is in general bad for all of us, based on the collateral damage from producing it.

What most genetically engineered crops have in common is that they’re bred to be super-resistant to chemical herbicides, chemicals that will kill pretty much everything except the specified crop. And as the weeds that those chemicals are meant to kill adapt and grow bigger and stronger, more and stronger chemicals are needed to try to deal with them.

Read the rest of this column here.

An Unpredictable Adventure in Group Cooking

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There is the potluck, but there is also collective cooking. And given a willing helper or two, it can turn a fairly standard weeknight meal into a rocking party. The pace is not necessarily relaxed, but it’s fun.

I had such an experience last week, on the East Side. Two new friends (really complete strangers — I was doing this as a charity auction prize) and I met at 4:30 at the 86th Street Fairway, with barely a plan; we just knew we were supposed to feed seven people at 7:30. I had some ideas, like buy all the vegetables that look good and figure out how to cook them later, and the others had some food preferences: one person didn’t eat meat and another didn’t eat fish. So we decided meat and fish and vegetables and dessert. Starters, I’ll confess, were olives and bread. But hey, you can’t cook everything.

Read the rest of this column here.

Bacon 25 Ways

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To cook bacon, you usually toss some strips in a pan, fry them and eat. If you start with good pork, there are (for omnivores, at least) few things better. But the uses of strip bacon beyond ‘‘plain’’ are legion. Strips are ideal for swaddling fish, chicken, fruit (anything, really). And there is always the B.L.T.

Once you get into slab bacon, though, things become interesting. Slab bacon offers not only more flexibility but also better quality. And it’s far easier to cook to the optimum level of doneness for any given recipe.

All bacon — slabs, strips, chunks or bits — can be made any way you like: low to medium heat on the stove; roasted or broiled in the oven; grilled; even microwaved. Keep the heat low, and you have more control; use olive oil in the pan, and you’re less likely to burn the outside.

In these recipes, don’t forget salt (less if the bacon is salty) and pepper. And remember that when it comes to bacon, people tend to eat a lot.

See all 25 recips here.

My Dream Food Label

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What would an ideal food label look like? By “ideal,” I mean from the perspective of consumers, not marketers.

Right now, the labels required on food give us loads of information, much of it useful. What they don’t do is tell us whether something is really beneficial, in every sense of the word. With a different set of criteria and some clear graphics, food packages could tell us much more.

Even the simplest information — a red, yellow or green “traffic light,” for example — would encourage consumers to make healthier choices. That might help counter obesity, a problem all but the most cynical agree is closely related to the consumption of junk food.

Of course, labeling changes like this would bring cries of hysteria from the food producers who argue that all foods are fine, although some should be eaten in moderation. To them, a red traffic-light symbol on chips and soda might as well be a skull and crossbones. But traffic lights could work: indeed, in one study, sales of red-lighted soda fell by 16.5 percent in three months.

Read the rest of this column here.

Everyone Eats There

California’s Central Valley is our greatest food resource. Why are we treating it so badly? 

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I left Los Angeles at 4 in the morning, long before first light, and made it to Bakersfield — the land of oil derricks, lowriders and truck stops with Punjabi food — by 6. Ten minutes later, I was in the land of carrots. 

 You know that huge pile of cello-wrapped carrots in your supermarket? Now imagine that the pile filled the entire supermarket. That’s how many carrots I saw upon my arrival at Bolthouse Farms. Something like 50 industrial trucks were filled to the top with carrots, all ready for processing. Bolthouse, along with another large producer, supplies an estimated 85 percent of the carrots eaten by Americans. There are many ways to put this in perspective, and they’re all pretty mind-blowing: Bolthouse processes six million pounds of carrots a day. If you took its yield from one week and stacked each carrot from end to end, you could circle the earth. If you took all the carrots the company grows in a year, they would double the weight of the Empire State Building. 

At Bolthouse’s complex, carrots whirl around on conveyor belts at up to 50 miles an hour en route to their future as juliennes, coins and stubs, or baby carrots, which the company popularized and which aren’t babies. Other carrots become freezer fare, concentrate, salad dressings and beverages. Fiber is separated for tomato sauce and hot dogs. Whatever’s left becomes cattle feed. For the entire article click here.