Just when I had given up writing about food…
Today marks the release of Michael Pollan’s new book, “COOKED: A NATURAL HISTORY OF TRANSFORMATION” in which he decries the demise of home cooking.
You, of course, know Pollan as Marty McFly’s brother-in-law, but that’s because you think about pop culture more than you do about food. Except when pop culture is food, like when Guy Fieri travels cross-country to commune with an 8,000-calorie bacon-sausage-ham full-pound cheeseburger (I know, I know; I just drooled all over my Kindle). And so begins the problem with our relationship with food, which Pollan is working so hard to correct.
Pollan’s 2006 book, “THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA,” was a benchmark in changing American eating habits, a direct link to the spread of the grass-fed beef movement.
Earlier in that decade I had begun trekking to Berkley annually to soak up some sun at the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Berkeley, an oxymoronic experience until you consider my real reason for being there: to pick up a quarter steer from one of the early proponents of pasture-fed cows. My rancher friend couldn’t legally sell directly to the consumer unless it was in carcass-size lots, so he figured out how to match up two to four buyers and have them split a whole cow. A butcher in Petaluma de-supersized my share into dozens of individually wrapped packets that fit into two giant coolers I’d lug up in the back of our Volvo (the same one I now use to schlep Ressikan flutes and “Inner Light” scripts to cons in Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Francisco). Steaks, chops, bones, brains, hearts – the works, all from very contented cows free of the antibiotics mandated by the typical and highly unnatural diet of corn.
I had by then already become a pretty good home cook. When I asked myself how that came to be (more…)
As you read this I am totally engrossed in Tracie McMillan’s terrific book, “The American Way of Eating.” You can follow this link to an excellent review but suffice to say, McMillan and I share an attitude about food: it should be within any American’s grasp to eat healthy, well-prepared meals, daily. To me that rules out food prepared by someone who isn’t standing in your own kitchen. Yes, I’m talking to you, lady in the Prius who cut me off so she could double-park at Whole Foods while her nanny ran in to pick up take-out dinners.
That’s why, in my very first cooking post on these pages, I emphasized that my topic is MEAL PREPARATION, not recipes. If I occasionally use things that would make a foodie gag on his or her double-malt aged cacio birraio – like the microwave, or dried onion flakes – it’s because my wish is for more people to cook more family meals more often. It’s got to be doable not daunting.
Which brings us to Superman, or as he was known around the house on Krypton, Kal-El. (more…)
Here’s a dish that meets all the criteria for this column – you can make it after work without too much effort; no exotic ingredients; family-pleasing – but it has the bonus of looking somewhat sci-fi-ish. Credit that to the bright green of the spinach pesto at the heart of this recipe. You make that part in the blender and the rice noodles don’t need any cooking, so in about 10 minutes you have a nice bed for whatever protein you feel like (broiled salmon pictured here).
In keeping with the vegetal nature of the dish, I recommend a good slug of Tequila to make the meal prep more tolerable. I like mine over ice and tonic. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
While you’re enjoying your beverage, clean a single bunch of spinach. The fresh kind, that comes bound in a twisty on steroids. Not a bag and definitely not frozen. Yeah, it’s a little extra effort to clean it, but that’s why you’re drinking Tequila. Slice off the stems then plunge the leaves repeatedly in a large mixing bowl of water. Rinse and repeat. While you’re at it, rip off the excess stems – but you don’t have to be too diligent about this. (more…)
If I were in a grade school cooking class there is one kitchencentric word that would surely bust me up: SPATCHCOCKED.
Oh, the many uses an unruly young boy might have for such a wonderful word. Well, at least this particular boy, whose school desk at King Philip Elementary School in West Hartford Connecticut often had to be moved into the hallway to prevent me from “disturbing” the other kids. I often challenged my teachers on this strategy on the grounds that “disturbing” was not a synonym for “entertaining,” which is what I clearly was making an effort to do. Like the time we had to use new words in a sentence – out loud for the whole class – and when we got to the word “verisimilitude” I volunteered this line (delivered with a New Yawk accent): “The coat I wore to school today is verisimilitude a one I wore yesterday.” BIG laughs. I KILLED. Desk INTO HALLWAY.
I had been, I might have said to passers-by, spatchcocked.
Today I appreciate a beautiful thing like spatchcocking for more than its hint of frisky wordplay. When it comes to poultry it’s the key to quick flavor. (more…)
As I’m sure Peter Griffin of “Family Guy” knows, Kakalak Stew was the first dish Eline served Kamin/Picard on Kataan. But the “Inner Light” connection to this blog entry is not just superficial. Like Kamin railing against the naysayers on Kataan, my views on food are deeply contrarian.
I blame cooking shows for the demise of home-cooked meals. Family dinner used to be about getting a meal on the table; a recipe was what you dusted off when you wanted to impress dinner guests. Today we impress friends with our knowledge of recipes we’ve seen some celebrity chef cook on TV. (That’s why I love Tony Bourdain; he morphed from chef into anarchist.)
We all know the anecdotal evidence about how important communal cooking and dining is to child-rearing. But there’s also the flavor issue: self-cooked chow executed with even bare-bones competence can handily trump the warmed-up, over-salted plastic-toted variety.