Alton, Salt, and The Holy Spirit

Today’s NY Times reports on the front page: Several big processed food companies are fighting back against medical claims that cutting back on salt will decrease the risks of strokes and heart attacks.

Shilling for the industry is Food Network guy Alton Brown.  Turns out Mr. Brown is a Born again Christian.

Is there a connection between faith and a willingness to ignore the scientific data showing that high salt intake is deleterious to one’s health?

How many research scientists are born again?

I have no idea.  Just asking.

Seems that there are three principal ways for industry in this unregulated, wholly profit driven country to adopt safer, consumer driven, scientifically informed changes:

The first is for a guy like Nader to push for laws that regulate industry to make the changes.

The second is for consumers to pay more for healthier products.  (This requires something called, “A Business Plan.”  Google that.  It’s an interesting concept.)

The third way is for government to provide financial incentives that will save industry money when they make the changes.

Meanwhile, the shills carry the day.

Do you think that Alton is getting paid by direct deposit or that he has to sign each check and deposit it himself?

Lord knows.

The Pizza Crisis of Today: A Modern Parable

All went well last night as 60 or more well-wishers arrived in my home to eat and drink in celebration of their college graduates.  The vibe was so pleasant that it was possible for the host to enjoy himself.  He had a good time drinking temperate amounts of Cloudy Bay, not hitting the Bombay until late when all but a few hardcore revelers had left.

The damage was impressive:

Of 72 pulled pork sammiches, only 12 remained.  A winner of regional BBQ sampled the product and praised the balance of vinegar.  Correctly, he noted how salt was limited, which meant less depth.  True, but necessary, as I knew the crowd would not like the saltier, restaurant quality version.

Two cases of beer: Wiped out except for six Red Stripe.

A case of Prosecco: Gone.

Eight of 12 bottles of white wine: Emptied.

Two of four pounds of prosciutto eaten.

Grilled vegetables: History

Four trays of pizza: Ah, now here’s the conundrum.  Two trays were not eaten.  So it’s non-stop pizza, day and night, can’t stop eating the Galleria Umberto slices.

I fear where this will lead…

Pulled Pork and Harvard

I find that cooking is up there on satisfying, necessary, repetitive distractions that get my mind and heart far away from thoughts, feelings, and current stimuli that worry or sadden me.

So yesterday, in the tumult of the graduation this morning, I roasted a big butt.

You make an East Coast Grill inspired dry rub: Equal amounts of cumin and paprika.  Salt, pepper, white sugar, and brown sugar to taste.  Rub that butt.

Place on rack in put in oven at 350.

Walk, run, read, and write for a few hours.

Remove from oven and let cool.

Chop up that sucker into shredded-size pieces and put into pot.

You make an East Coast Grill inspired “sauce”: Equal amounts of cider vinegar and white vinegar, red chili pepper flakes, Tabasco, pepper, salt, and sugar to taste.   Pour onto shredded pork and mix by hand.

Place on little, fluffy rolls, top with slaw, add dab of BBQ sauce–Blue Ribbon is pretty wonderful–and open a cold one.

What, me worry?

Harvard Graduation and Post Partum Blues

Harvard graduation is tomorrow and this had led to unusually high levels of preoccupation here in The Haas Test Kitchen as our daughter, Madeline, is among those commencing.

Typically, on a Wednesday, I would post snarky, but insightful comments on the wastelands of newspaper food sections.

Hopelessly, however, I found that items on a new beef place in Brooklyn owned by the very estimable guys who opened the terrific Frankie’s on First; and, the truly exciting and most welcome food court opening at The Plaza, well, these piqued my interest and stirred admiration.

Other stuff–a cover story on how to make kebabs at home (Globe)  especially…are they kidding?  Who cares?

But this was good: Pretzels, German style, in NYC!  Endlich!

Still, it was Harvard and the humongous party we’re having here tomorrow night.

The menu:

NC style pulled pork sammiches with slaw (made by Cook S here in THTK)

Galleria Umberto square Sicilian slices

Prosciutto

Grilled vegetables

Cloudy Bay, Red Stripe, Asahi Super Dry

Cannoli from The Modern

Will this be enough to distract us from the fear and sorrow of our children being released into the world?

A group of model strangers similar to those who will graduate tomorrow:

Young Graduates Photo - 42-15529175

Not A Review: Sportello & Drink

Trying to keep an open mind on eating and drinking in Boston, eager to avoid pegging myself as a fuddy-duddy who only goes to the same old haunts, I found myself at Drink and Sportello last night, pre-gaming it before walking to the Garden to witness The Truth.

Both establishments-Drink and Sportello–are Barbara Lynch enterprises.  Drink is in the cellar and Sportello is just above street level.

Next door is Lynch’s latest: Menton, where dinner costs a minimum of $400 per couple.  Why, that’s more than 99% of the restaurants in NYC, Boston, SF, Napa, & L.A.

Anyhow, Drink is tres hip, from the cartoon ‘tooed gal at the entrance who looked like she popped out of a panel, to the delicious $2 cheese puffs to the very hip crowd to the tiny $10.75 drinks.  I would love to see a chain of these, a franchise, and so, no doubt, would Lynch.  It’s not formulaic, just hip, urban, pleasant, and good.

Upstairs, we have Sportello: A brightly lit venue that looks like a diner.  Counter service, long tables, and laminated menus.  Good portion sizes: Nothing humongous, well-plated, not too fussy.  A starter of greens, asparagus, and a poached egg was pretty good although the egg was hard boiled rather than soft; hard to believe it, but they screwed up an egg in the kitchen.  Other starters of beets, brodo, and raw tuna were nice.  Just nice.  Nothing special and bland.  Main dishes included a delicious tagliatelle with Bolognese–accurate, but unimpressive.  Meaning that it was without depth.  The surface told it all.

Which is pretty much what the place is like: Flat, like a cartoon, not three-dimensional.  And certainly not specific to the chef.  By which I mean there was a generic, paint by numbers quality about the food: It tasted correct, but there was little flavor that struck a chord or is likely to create a memory.

School Lunches Redux

Around the globe, children in school are the recipients of programs to provide them with healthy meals in school.  Eating well frees the mind to focus on work.

In Japan, the government has, since the early 1950’s, established a publicly funded series of programs designed by scientists and nutritionists.

In India, the government has made it a law: Children in school must be fed.  Difficulties with infrastructure and funding make this the ideal in some states rather than the reality.   One successful program is set up by the Akshaya Patra Organization: Feeds 1.2 million kids each day, at very low costs, using local farmers and decentralized kitchens.

It will be interesting to see what happens here as school lunches become a focus.

PB & J

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Wednesday Food Sections+: Soda Tax & Stoner Cuisine

An intriguing selection of pieces about food amidst the carnage of Blumenthal’s lies and the success of the Tea Party in Kentucky.  BTW: Am I the only person who thought the Tea Party was about first flush Darjeeling?  I didn’t think so.  And now?  Now it’s probably too late to stop them.  Pretty soon we’ll all be listening to Aryan Nation rock ballads and asking to see the President’s birth certificate.

But I digress.

The Boston Globe:

1) Recipes for stuff you don’t need recipes for, including chicken cacciatore.  Google “chicken cacciatore” and: 337,000 hits.

2) Risotto chips: Someone has been reading my mind.  Finally, risotto chips!  Just what we need.

3) Proof the recession is over: Don Otto, a new grocery store opens in the South End, where eggs are sold at $8.50 a dozen.  Owner explains the psychotic pricing: “Their lay cycles rely on the sun, not on artificial lamps that distort production.”  Hey, why not $8.50 an egg while you’re at it?

The New York Times

1) Actually, this is in the Business section, but it’s the best thing about food in both papers: Soda Tax.  D.C. wants to exact a penny per ounce on soda.  To fight obesity.  The soda companies object.  It’s a great idea.  The tax, not the objection.

2) Stoner Cuisine: Turns out the celebrity chef dudes are getting high before, during, and after work.  Makes sense to me.  How else to explain the concoctions that emerge from the kitchens?  Two guys note: “It helped create new projects.”  Uh, guys?  Deciding to make olive oil ice cream is a new project, but not a good one.  Burroughs said it best: Smoking pot makes one feel good without knowing why.  It deadens emotion, ironically.  That’s not a good way to think about anything let alone food.

3) Homemade pizza.  A full page of recipes for people who live in the tundra and can’t call their local joint to deliver pies.

Is this a stoned dude about to make a pizza or is he going to fry two eggs that cost him $1.40?

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School Lunches

Slow Food USA sent me and about a bazillion others a note today urging us to write our representatives and ask that they not postpone voting on legislation to increase funding and research and programming for school lunches.  Whew, that’s a mouthful.

Well, I agree.  Of course, I do.  Jamie Oliver is in the schools trying to get kids to put down the burgers and pick up the carrots.

Look to Japan for answers:  In the late 1940’s, nach dem Krieg, the government started to develop programs, prefecture by prefecture, specific to each region in calories and ingredients, to get healthy diets for school age children.  The program was an extension of the Meiji period’s initial school lunch program.  In the 1950’s, the programs became law and with the help of state funded nutritionists and scientists, vegetable driven school lunches were established.

Nowadays, all kids in  Japan must eat what’s served unless they can document medical allergies.

Eat that dried squid!  Pick up the kelp!  Got to love yuba!

Here’s a cool link to the Japanese program: search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090127i1.html

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Patois in Treme

Last night’s episode of Treme, a show that I am beginning to organize my Sunday around, next to the NBA finals–yo, yo, yo: ‘”C’mon, Rasheed, c’mon!”–featured James Carter, homage to Trane, and fancy Oedipal stuff that had geographic, racial, sexual, and class underpinnings.  Wow, all in 60 minutes! Take that, Amy Bloom!

High points in the show, among many, are the scenes in Patois, which is a fictionalized restaurant.  Great food, great ingredients, a kitchen that is humming, celebrity chefs who drop by from NYC, and yet…last night we saw the place close up.  Chef couldn’t pay purveyors or staff.

Now that would be a great reality food show.  Not knocking Bobby Flay, but shouldn’t all the starry eyed food fans see what really happens day to day in restaurants that often struggle to survive?

One reason we have so many franchises and upscale chef “brands”: Deep pockets.  The little guys hardly stand a chance.

The photo depicts a New Orleans creature prior to its transformation into a nice pair of boots, a steak, and a size 34 belt:

An alligator in a swamp near Houma (outside New Orleans).

Bright Lights, Big City

Downtown Boston, unrecognizable week to week, has a good, new addition.  Having opened in late October, in the new W, in a lot where the big deal for decades was parking and greasy slices, we now have MARKET.

It’s Jean Georges Vongerichten’s low-key concept: Coming soon to a neighborhood near you!

No chef has a better understanding of and greater finesse in taking flavors associated with Shanghai and southeast Asia and using high-end French technique to refine the combionations in ways that surprise and delight the palate.

Here we have a duck foie gras with a carmelized lid accompanied by Meyer lemon and pineapple compote: Savory, sweet, salty, densely textured, a play on the tongue, and deeply sensual.

Followed by gently seared striped bass with a light sesame-nut crust in a small, sweet and sour broth that conjures up pho.

As soon as the front of the house catches up to the kitchen, we’ll have a restaurant on the top of the pinnacle.

As it stands, given the very reasonable price points here, the bar is raised in Boston…

A Meyer lemon, pre-compote: