Saturday, December 27, 2008

New post on the new site

In which I look at Cool Whip in a can, pre-peeled and cubed potatoes for mashing, and mini Hershey's Kiss cookies. Check it out here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year, New Site, New Cooking

I've bought my own domain for this effort, and am going to be updating the blog over at Recipes of the Damned. I'll do some cross-posting for a while, but do please update your bookmarks.

I'm also going to be relaunching my efforts. My work schedule, which has been the bane of my existence for an awfully long time, is changing. Instead of walking in the door at about 9:15 pm, I will be getting home some time between 6:30 and 6:45 pm. Which means I can spend an hour in the kitchen and still have dinner ready before I was usually even logging off at the office. So I plan to do so. Starting in January I will be challenging myself to cook dinner as many nights as possible, with a limit of one hour of labor in the kitchen on weeknights. And I'll write about it: The planning that helps me succeed, the inevitable mistakes, the ways that one can still avoid the trap of packaged mixes and Jell-O. (I have eaten a fair bit of take-out and Boboli pizza this year, but I have not eaten any Jell-O!)

Come join me at the new site, and please jump into the conversation. I'm looking forward to it.

Happy holidays to you and yours!


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

I'm doing a very short post now, but will post more within the coming week--taking advantage of vacation time. I promise that in the not-too-distant future my out-of-control work schedule will be somewhat tamed and I will be making more regular appearances. I'm also in the process of getting my own domain--more info on that to come.

This was our fourth year of hosting a vegetarian party, anchored not with Tofurky but with a seitan "pot roast." Much tastier, and surprisingly easy to make; most of the time involved is spent letting it cook, making it a good choice when one is laboring over the many side dishes. Photos can be found here. Despite our best efforts to get the guests to carry away as many of the leftovers as possible we still have a fridge and freezer full of food, and have no excuse for buying any more groceries for about a week.

I had to work the three days before, and spent some of the less-frenzied time surfing pre-Thanksgiving writing. This Slate piece details taste comparisons of vegetarian turkey analogs, though not really an equivalent of my homemade seitan. I'm not that crazy about Tofurky; as the reviewers do, I find it palatable but not great. With the seitan I get a lot more control over the final flavor.

Slate also amused me with this article about why food writers find this such a challenging holiday; it's hard to be truly inventive and write something new when the traditional meal structure is such a powerful force. "It's like redrawing the Kama Sutra when readers really only care about the missionary position," says the author.

Food Books
A bit ago I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. As I had suspected, Pollan rather beautifully lays out the ethical and historical underpinnings of the Recipes of the Damned--even to the point of advising readers to avoid purchasing food at gas stations. Which means I can spend less time elaborating that in my book proposal, and more time making fun of Jell-O.

Monday, November 10, 2008

God's Love We Deliver

It grows tedious to say my schedule has been out of control, but it is still the truth. I am not quite out of the busy period yet but things are starting to stabilize a bit. For now. So I must seize a chance to write a few posts.

Last week I went with a team of co-workers to take part in our annual volunteering day. We had chosen the New York organization God’s Love We Deliver, which despite the name is a secular nonprofit that delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, MS and other life-altering illnesses. Our office was divided into two teams, one of which did deliveries in the morning and worked in the kitchen in the afternoon. My team worked in the kitchen all day. We got an orientation and a food-safety session, donned our hairnets and aprons, scrubbed and gloved ourselves, and got to work.

It was a blast. Under the supervision of chefs we assembled eggplant parmigiana stacks, chopped leeks, chopped broccoli, and cleaned up our work areas and washed cutting boards and knives before breaking for lunch. We had arranged for pizza delivery, and sat in the boardroom enjoying the chance to be off our feet and talking about the morning’s work.

“This was fun,” said B, a woman maybe five years older than I am. “I’ve never chopped vegetables before.”

I laughed. “How did you manage to get out of that duty?” I asked.

“Well, we never cooked with fresh vegetables when I was growing up,” she said. “Everything was either canned or frozen.”

I thought about that off and on the rest of the day and throughout the week. Had I grown up with fresh vegetables? My mother chopped onions, I remembered, but I’m pretty sure I’d never even looked at bunch spinach until I was in college. Maybe B was not so exceptional. That, I thought, is what the packaged food industry has done to us: in a world of fresh bounty, it has fostered forty-somethings who have never chopped broccoli.

We returned to the kitchen for the afternoon shift. Chopping time again. We cut red potatoes into roastable chunks and cut cauliflower into florets. And then came the carrots, giant bag after giant bag of giant carrots. Our delivery-shift colleagues had come to the kitchen and were clustered around another worktable, and while we were still on cauliflower they had started to peel carrots. B watched them and frowned; it looked tedious, and we were all starting to get a little tired—-especially those who didn’t have much practice with a chef’s knife (only about three of us seemed to really know what we were doing in that respect). “I don’t want to peel carrots,” she said. So when the chef came over with the few peelers that were left, B made sure that she didn’t get one. This turned out to be a tactical error, because those who were not peeling went straight to dicing, which was quite a bit more work. Once those of us with peelers had peeled everything, we too began dicing. The plastic bins filled with little orange cubes. Our gloves became stained with gold. B was getting cranky enough to start to laugh at herself. Few words were ever more welcome to our team than the announcement “That’s enough, we’re done for today, let’s wash up.”

God’s Love We Deliver makes a point of delivering fresh food, cooked with care and by hand, to the whole family of someone affected by an illness. Its goals are to never charge a fee and to never turn away a client. And on clients’ birthdays, they bring a decorated birthday cake.

I plan to go back, and I encourage others to join me, or to find a similar organization in your area, or start one if there isn’t one. There is probably a need.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Batter Blaster

A friend points me to Batter Blaster, or pancake batter in a can. You must watch the demo video. I have to admit that when I first heard the jingle, I wondered if this might be a parody by the Apple Sisters, but no, it's sincere. Jump to the Press page: They were on "Regis and Kelly"! (But the video is no longer available. I can't be too sorry; about all I can say in praise of "Regis and Kelly" is that it isn't "Regis and Kathie Lee.")

According to the article that accompanies the now-defunct video, the product is available in the Bay Area, at high-end stores and at Costco. Apparently it was hard to get startup funding, though; the article quotes inventor Sean O'Connor as saying "Try telling someone, 'I have this idea. We're going to put pancakes in a can,' and not have them laugh you out of the room." I would imagine.

OK, the batter is USDA Certified Organic--that's something. The can is entirely recyclable. And apparently the propellant is not suitable for huffing. But this product is clearly targeted at the incompetence market. The article acknowledges this, implying that the product might be a hard sell for people who are capable of making their own pancake batter, and noting the price as an obstacle ($4.99-$5.99 per can). O'Connor counters this by comparing the product to pre-bagged salad, which certainly supports his vision from a marketing perspective but doesn't really refute what the article dubs "its contribution to laziness in American kitchens." My initial thought was, I firmly believe that if you are an otherwise healthy and moderately intelligent adult and you find that making pancake batter is beyond your capabilities, you are just not trying. O'Connor notes that the canned batter would be more suitable for singles and empty-nesters. But for that price you could probably go to a diner.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chicken Go Wraps

Each wrap is filled with handfuls of fresh chicken go!

I think, anyway.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More Fun With Velveeta

Ask and ye shall receive: I was wondering what I could quickly find to write about today, and in the mail I found a little “Simple Shortcuts” booklet from the Kraft Food & Family people. Most of the recipes were probably OK to eat and could only be faulted for their overreliance on processed foods (Kraft brands, of course), but this one seems pretty alarming. Oh, it looks harmless enough:

What could possibly go wrong?

Velveeta plus spaghetti sauce. Sure, uh, what? Inasmuch as Velveeta can be considered cheese—and I am not saying that it can, just to be perfectly clear—it does not seem like the kind of cheese that goes with spaghetti sauce. I can grudgingly see a role for it with salsa and tortilla chips, but with marinara and pasta? Uh, no.

Unless the spaghetti sauce doesn’t actually have any flavor beyond tomato, which is true of some commercial sauces. Maybe that’s what they’re going for. I was a little surprised to see no brand being touted here; surely Kraft owns a spaghetti sauce brand? There are other recipes in the booklet that call for similarly nameless sauce, which probably rules out the idea that the recipe creators just decided none of the house flavors really were suited to the recipe.

The nutrition information for all recipes is listed in the back of the booklet. This recipe has 520 calories per serving, 14 grams of fat (7 g saturated), 100 mg of cholesterol, 1,000 mg of sodium, 55 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber, 11 g of sugars and 40 g of protein. Which to me looks like it has too much of everything but fiber. Not too surprising; I’m pretty sure the U.S. RDA of Velveeta is zero.

Cheesy Chicken Italiano
3 cups rotini pasta (1/2 lb.)
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
1 jar (14 oz.) spaghetti sauce
6 oz. Velveeta, cubed

COOK pasta. HEAT a large skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium-high heat. ADD chicken; cook for 2 min. on each side. ADD sauce; cover and simmer over low heat for 10 min. or until chicken is cooked [165° F]. ADD Velveeta; stir until melted. TOP pasta with chicken and sauce. SERVES 4.

Turn this dish into dinner just by adding cooked green beans.

From Kraft Food & Family Simple Shortcuts Fall 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Short takes for the holiday

A few quick thoughts as I catch up on other things:

Twinkie, Deconstructed
I'm partway through a fascinating book called Twinkie, Deconstructed. The author traces the origins of the ingredients in processed food, working from the ingredient list on a package of Twinkies. You will never think the same way about cornstarch again. Recommended reading.

Food Cellar
Yesterday I visited a new upscale supermarket in the Long Island City neighborhood, Food Cellar, an offshoot of the Amish Market chain. The store is gorgeous--spacious, well-lit, and not crowded. I cannot stress enough how exceptional that is in New York City, where most grocery chains haphazardly cram maximum product into minimum space and shopping at the Whole Foods in Union Square is practically a combat sport. Food Cellar is clearly aiming for the new population of the gentrifying neighborhood, people who would otherwise be taking the subway to one of the Manhattan Whole Foods locations or ordering from Fresh Direct. There really don't seem to be other supermarkets in the immediate neighborhood, even mainstream ones like FoodTown and Associated, though if you head just a few subway stops east into my neighborhood you can find several of those. For me Food Cellar represents an opportunity to get organic or humanely raised meats without having to schlep into Manhattan and change trains, and if I want any of the frozen foods I can probably get them home without melting. I also wonder how much more crowded it will get after the holiday weekend; New York seems to empty out for Labor Day, so I need to reserve judgment. But Food Cellar has a lot more space for the masses than pretty much any other food store I've seen in the city.

Paton Oswalt on Black Angus
I saw a variation of this bit on Oswalt's "Comedy Central Presents" special recently; be warned that there is a fair bit of offensive and adult language in this clip. He certainly has a point; some of these chains are pushing food in quantities that go beyond appetizing to frightening.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweet, sweet cauliflower

Once again, I must apologize for protracted absence and reassure you that, as Granny Weatherwax would insist, I aten’t dead. I have just been doing other things. You can accuse me of having my priorities out of whack.

But you cannot accuse me of suggesting that you could pour Coca-Cola over cauliflower and call it food. That crime is ascribable to the editors of Consumer Guide, who in their 1984 More Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cookbook offer this among other less sinister recommendations for working brand-name foodstuffs into your cooking. Sadly, the book does not have many photos, just a few more presentable concoctions in a center-pages insert; I regret this because I would really like to know what this cauliflower mess looks like when ready to serve, but I am not about to waste a perfectly good head of cauliflower to find out for myself.

I’m also utterly mystified about what makes it Japanese. And for that matter I have my doubts about its “pickled” status; to me, the combination of about a cup of sugar and cola with 3/8 of a cup of vinegar and half a tablespoon of salt seems more likely to result in syrup than brine. Perhaps “candied cauliflower” didn’t test well with audiences.

Most of the other recipes in the book are less bizarre than the combination of Coke and cauliflower, but they still include a lot of stretches to include brand-name ingredients where other, less processed foods would probably do just as well or even better. A pork and cheese casserole calls for a particular brand of bleu cheese crumbles, but I’m pretty sure you could substitute whatever kind you had handy. “Chinese Skillet Dinner” lists only one brand-name ingredient, Premium Saltines, half of which are crumbled and mixed in with a combination of butter, celery, scallions, chicken and rice soup, chicken, frozen broccoli, lemon juice and soy sauce; the other half are thinly sliced (yeah, right) and used to scoop up the mixture. Many of the recipes make this halfhearted effort at brand loyalty. Perhaps the editors of Consumer Guide realized what a joke this all was.

The dessert chapters look comparatively good, largely because most of the brand-name ingredients required there are things like Pillsbury flour, Hershey’s chocolate chips and Libby’s canned pumpkin—items that many cooks would already use, or that are easily replaced with better-quality offerings like Ghirardelli. But even in these sections some weird items appear: Superose Liquid Fructose, Butter Buds, Sweet & Low, Dr. Pepper. Significant effort and expense went into producing a book of recipes that would have been far better in the aggregate if readers had been advised to turn away from processed mixes and substitutes and just cook with real food.

Japanese Pickled Cauliflower
1 medium sized head of cauliflower
1 green pepper
½ cup very thinly sliced celery
¾ cup Coca-Cola
6 tablespoons wine vinegar or white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Break off each floweret in cauliflower, wash and drain. Wash and remove seeds from green pepper; cut into thin 2-inch strips. In large bowl, combine cauliflower and green pepper. Cover with boiling water; let stand 2 minutes; drain thoroughly. Add celery. In small pan, heat Coca-Cola with remaining ingredients. Pour over vegetables. Toss lightly with a fork, and pack into a 1-quart glass jar. Push down lightly so liquid covers vegetables. Cover and chill overnight. This keeps in the refrigerator for several days.
Makes about 1 quart
From More Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cookbook, by the Editors of Consumer Guide. Skokie, Ill.: Publications International Ltd., 1984.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Completely crackers

I've been neglectful of the blog because I've been busy with work. NOT because there's any dearth of material, oh no. Two quick notes:

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Crackers
How many times have you said, "I like Cheez-Its, but they taste too much like actual cheese, and they're not bright enough to read by at night. What can I do?" Your troubles are over with the introduction of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Crackers. Yes, really.

Is Cereal Supposed to Be Bad for You?
I spotted this at a local grocery store and could hardly believe it: Chocolate Chex. Next to it on the shelf was Strawberry Chex. No. No, no, no. Chex is supposed to be a decent cereal, a not-so-sweet cereal. It's supposed to be one of the few mainstream brands on the cereal aisle that might be a little bit good for you. Turning it into candy is just wrong.

OK, I'm going to go eat some peaches. I'll write more soon.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fresh Tomato Shortcake: Bisquick Ick

I’ve been awfully busy of late, which means I’ve been sitting on a gold mine: A cookbook titled More Favorite Name Brand recipes Cookbook and a 1967 Bisquick cookbook. I’m leading off with Bisquick.

Ah, Bisquick. The convenience food that frees you from the trouble of finding and measuring actual ingredients when you want to make biscuits or breads. I hadn’t thought that measuring flour and leavening was especially difficult, but apparently there has long been a demand for pre-mixed ingredients, standardized, shelf-stable, safe from the annoyingly delicious flavor of dairy fresh butter, replete with partially hydrogenated oils. I know our family had a box of the stuff on the shelf for a while; kind of a long while, actually, as I think my mom was quick to realize that she could do a lot better herself when she chose to. But Bisquick is still available, in Original; Heart Smart; Bisquick Complete, enabling you to make biscuits in the flavors Buttermilk, Cheese-Garlic, Honey-Butter and Three Cheese; and now in a “Shake and Pour” jug to which you add water so you can make pancakes. The Web site suggests this enables you to make pancakes for the family in minutes, but doesn’t bother to point out that the time-consuming part of making pancakes is cooking them.

But Bisquick is so much more than pancakes. It’s muffins, dumplings, hamburger pancake roll-ups, meatball pie, chicken fricassee, and country-fried steak. All these and more can be found in So Quick With New Bisquick, a 1967 recipe book that helps home cooks work from breakfast to dessert with the box of lumpy powder. I’ll be fair: Lots of the recipes in the booklet are innocuous, the basics of short dough and casserole thickener and dessert pastry. They might be better if made from scratch—they would certainly be less likely to contain trans fats—but they’re probably not that bad made with the mix. But 1960s color photography and food design seldom disappoints me for long, and I soon found a glorious image of the Fresh Tomato Shortcake.

I’ve given the recipe below, but I admit the description of the ingredients is more appealing than the picture. Far more scary recipes in the book include Ring Around Tuna (canned tuna, cheddar cheese and biscuit dough), Batter Franks (deep fried in a Bisquick batter), and Oriental Meat Pie, which combines ground beef, chopped onion, cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, salt, olives, parsley and Bisquick biscuit dough in a casserole. I think the soy sauce is supposed to be what makes it “Oriental”; but seriously, that’s quite a stretch.

Here’s the tuna ring:

Upsetting, isn’t it?

And here’s the Chicken Fricassee and Dumplings:

Which doesn’t look quite as awful but is rather pale. There’s a sauce that says, mmm, flour and milk; white, white goodness.

The booklet is full of breathless, cheerful prose exhorting the reliability and speed of Bisquick, and promising that you’ll become the most popular hostess and a well-loved mom if you spoon up Bisquick delicacies from dawn to dusk. One section titled “Remember Gramma’s?” promises you traditional foods like pancakes, chicken and dumplings, and fruit cobbler, in less time, all thanks to the magic of Bisquick. Gramma probably didn’t have the heart to tell readers that making cobbler from scratch doesn’t add more than about five minutes to the effort.

Fresh Tomato Shortcake
Bacon, tomato and cheese flavors—good with lettuce wedges.

Prepare Cheese Sauce (below). Keep sauce hot over hot water. Prepare Shortcakes from Basic Recipe (below), except—omit sugar. Cut 3 tomatoes into thin slices. Fry 6 slices of bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels. Split shortcakes crosswise; spread butter on halves. Place tomato slices between layers and on top of each shortcake. Spoon Cheese Sauce over shortcakes and garnish each with a bacon slice. 6 servings.

Cheese Sauce
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. New Bisquick
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. ground thyme
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups shredded process sharp Cheddar cheese
Melt butter over low heat in saucepan. Blend in Bisquick and seasonings. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Cook and stir over low heat until cheese melts. Makes about 2 cups.

Basic Recipe for Shortcake
2 1/3 cups New Bisquick
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup milk*
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all ingredients with fork to a soft dough. Knead 8 to 10 times on lightly floured cloth-covered board. roll dough ½ inch thick. Cut with 3-inch floured cutter. Bake on ungreased baking sheet about 10 minutes. Split warm shortcakes.

* If desired, omit butter and add 2/3 cup light cream.

So Quick With New Bisquick: A Betty Crocker Cookbook for Breads, Main Dishes, Desserts. General Mills. New York: Golden Press, 1967.

Monday, June 16, 2008


A friend lent me Good Housekeeping’s Appetizer Book from 1958, and I thought I’d share some of the findings with you. Let this be a lesson on what not to do when you entertain.

“This is an era of dips and dunks and sticks and picks,” announces the booklet. “And we say ‘hurrah!’” The authors’ excitement may be premature.

Not everything in the book is bad, of course, but a lot of the recipes seem as if they’d be best enjoyed by people who have deadened their taste buds through heavy smoking. Some of these might also be more palatable after the third martini. In fact, the booklet insists on it:

“And when it comes to selecting that drink, don’t overlook the possibilities of fruit, tomato or vegetable juice, hot or cold soup, bouillon-on-the-rocks, hot tomato juice, mulled cider,” the booklet counsels. Yeah, sign me up for bouillon on the rocks. Preferably large rocks that I can use to hit myself in the forehead to condition myself not to do that again. If that’s not enough shock therapy for you, take a hard look at this:

There’s nothing wrong with an appetizer of prosciutto and melon, but this looks as if it’s been sitting out in the sun all afternoon.

And here’s some good old-fashioned nightmare fodder:

Another of the recipes keeps us in the tradition of inappropriate cakes. It’s the Hors d’Oeuvre Birthday Cake, and it combines olive spread and deviled ham and liver pate in a layered fright. And as a special bonus, you can get melted wax all over it! I notice the “cake” serves 12-15, which I’m guessing is a conservative estimate; a little of this would go a long way.

A section of “Slimmers” includes celery sticks filled with a corned-beef and sauerkraut juice mixture. That sounds like a very effective appetite suppressant.

The back cover of the booklet sends us off in style. I’m not sure just what’s in the basket behind the flying shrimps, but once I decided it looked like macaroni and cheese I could not see it as anything else. Yum!

Hors d’Oeuvre Birthday Cake
1 1-lb. round loaf pumpernickel
1 jar or pkg. cheese spread
1 4-oz. jar olive spread
2 2 ¼-oz. cans deviled ham
1 4-oz can liver pate
3 3-oz pkg. cream cheese
¼ cup top milk or light cream
Birthday candles
Red carnations and laurel leaves

Several hours ahead: Cut ½-inch thick slice of pumpernickel from bottom and top of loaf (save these to use next day). Then slice remaining loaf into 5 layers.

Starting from the bottom, put layers together with the following fillings: cheese spread, olive spread, deviled ham, and liver pate. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: Place “cake” on round tray. In bowl, rub cream cheese with milk until smooth; use to frost loaf. Around cake on tray, put candles, securing them with melted wax. Place red carnations and laurel leaves between candles.

Cut cake into pie-shaped wedges. Serve on dessert plates with forks.
Makes 12 to 15 servings

Peanut-Butter Catchup Dip
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup catchup
corn chips

Mix peanut butter with catchup until smooth. Refrigerate until served.
To serve: Arrange dip in bowl, surrounded with corn chips. Let guests dip their own.

From Good Housekeeping’s Appetizer Book: Irresistible Canapes, Hors d’Oeuvres and Nibblers. The Hearst Corporation, 1958.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Breakfast Cake

I expect to be able to post a little more in the coming weeks while I am on vacation from work. I have a lot of content wrangling to do, so for now here's a quick link to Breakfast Cake, which I don't think is specifically related to Meat Cake, though I don't know for sure.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gummy Popcorn

You might think that the words “gummy” and “popcorn” do not belong together, at least not as a description of something you might want to eat. But today at a 99-cent store in Queens,* I spotted this product:

It’s not just Gummy Popcorn, it’s Sour Gummy Popcorn. “Wow, that’s even worse,” you may be thinking. “This is the kind of thing that can bankrupt a farmer.” But of course we’re talking about candy here, not corn,** and sour candy lines range from bears to worms to random shapes, so corn is not terribly exceptionable here.

I wasn’t going to buy it, but then I saw this challenge:

My immediate response was, “I bet you can’t!” So I had to get it and find out for myself.

The candy pieces are actually pretty similar in appearance to the pictures on the box.

As you can see, the pieces are a bit larger around than a quarter, and of course much thicker.

Please, don’t feed Sour Gummy Popcorn into the machines at the Laundromat. After wrestling with the plastic bag for several minutes*** I was able to open it and free the candy nuggets. My husband looked alarmed. “Guess which flavor I’m not eating,” he said. “Oh, that’s right—all of them.”

They smell a bit like marshmallows—probably because they contain gelatin—but the first taste impression is sour, sour, sour. I bit into one and chewed and chewed (they’re not kidding when they call these “gummy”), and then guessed the flavor. What are my choices again? Apple, strawberry, watermelon, and popcorn. (Popcorn? Are you kidding me?) I chewed and mused. Apple, I think. Curious, my husband tried one too. After some deliberation, he said, “It’s either strawberry or watermelon. Oh, there’s the aftertaste. Watermelon.”

I can confirm that Sour Gummy Popcorn offers 99 cents worth of entertainment. But I can’t recommend it as something to eat.
* Just so you know: Queens is the world champion of 99-cent stores. Our neighborhood favorite has a hang tag in one aisle advertising “Plastic Stuff.”

** But in terms of the industrial food chain it’s still probably corn; see Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or the documentary “King Corn” for more detailed explanation.

*** Why didn’t I just use scissors? Because I am stubborn.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Roundup

It’s been another busy time for me; work continues to be hectic, plus I squeezed in a five-day trip to Portland last week. Mmm, Terminator Stout. But I do want to offer up a few quick looks at food issues in the news.

First, the Bush Administration doesn’t want you to know if your beef is carrying mad cow disease. Speaking as somebody who is barred from giving blood because I ate meat in England at the wrong time, I think consumers should be able to find out the information if they want it. What’s really interesting to me about this case is that as far as I can tell, it’s not about requiring suppliers to test all their beef; it’s about permitting suppliers to test more than the minimum to meet the wishes of customers (e.g., Japanese buyers).

The New York Times spotlights some unlikely farmers, or more accurately gardeners in East New York, who are not only having fun but are also growing enough to sell their produce to neighbors. Which means Greenmarket produce has more “food miles” than these vegetables.

And Brandweek reports that casual dining chains such as Applebee’s and TGIFriday’s are feeling the pinch as consumers take their dining-out dollars to in-store eateries at supermarkets such as Publix and Whole Foods. Is it churlish of me to point out here that most of what you find in the ready-to-eat section at Whole Foods is probably better, and perhaps better for you, than the menu standbys at Applebee’s? Of course that’s just my opinion.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Roundup Post

No time for a real post today, but I’m trying to get back on track. In the meantime, here’s a sampling of things in the news lately.

The Return of the Victory Garden?
In Sunday’s NYT Magazine, Michael Pollan makes a convincing argument that the greenest thing you can do is grow some of your own food. Other writers confirm that not only do you save fuel and reduce “food miles,” you gain flavor. As for me, until I can make my work schedule more reasonable, I’m going to have to rely on the Greenmarket.

The Recipe Flap
Most of us have heard by now that recipes offered up on the McCain campaign Web site as Cindy McCain’s family favorites were actually lifted from the Food Network. In Sunday’s NYT, former White House chef Walter Scheib points out what should have been obvious: The spouse of the next president isn’t going to be doing much cooking.

Calorie Counts in NYC
The New York State Restaurant Association is still fighting it, but new city rules go into effect this week requiring restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide to prominently post the calorie counts for their food. The Gothamist Web site offers a sampling of calorie counts for chains that have started to comply, and I’m sure I’m not the only person alarmed to learn that a Chiplotle Mexican Grilled Chicken Burrito has 1,179 calories.

Eat Your French Fries
And then drive your car with the oil.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Time flies when you’re having fun

And, as it happens, when you’re just ridiculously busy with work and a variety of other things. I won’t bore you with the details; suffice to say that it feels as if I’ve been awfully busy getting nothing done. I am trying to get myself organized this weekend so it will be easier to keep up with this and other things that are more fun than my job.

While catching up on the recycling this evening I paused to thumb through the coupon circulars from today’s New York Times. And what to my wondering eye should appear but this processed food offering.

Do you know what it is? I’ll give you three guesses, and I’m hoping you aren’t even close. Give up? Well, it’s not a Twinkie; it’s a bagel. Come to think of it, that may have been blasphemy. It’s a Kraft “Bagel-ful,” which the ad describes as a “Toasty Warm Bagel & Creamy Philadelphia Cream Cheese, All In One!” and which can be found in the “frozen breakfast aisle.”

Go ahead, get a barf bag. I’ll wait.

No, I have no more idea than you do why anybody in their right mind would want to eat something like this. What really mystifies me, though, is why you would bother to market and advertise it in a city where you are seldom more than about a block away from really good bagels, prepared the way bagels should be, with a boiling-water bath and a hot oven, and served with lox. (Kraft Bagel-fuls do not seem to be available with lox, for which we can all be grateful; the flavors offered are Original, Cinnamon, Strawberry, Whole Grain and Chive.)

This particular product goes along with a theory I’m starting to develop. It seems to me as if the processed-food companies rose to prominence in an age when people had more faith in institutions and better living through chemistry, and when it was easier to convince consumers that nobody really had any time for skilled cooking of good food any more. Of course the past couple of decades have seen a resurgence of interest in good cooking, high-quality food and authentic cuisine. A big part of this movement has been the rejection of processed foods. So the processed foods companies have had two choices for response: improve the quality of their offerings to better meet the needs and standards of the new foodies, or aim their marketing at the lowest common denominator.

Which have they chosen? Suffice to say that today I saw a TV ad for orange juice that seemed to be based on the assumption that orange juice is a better choice for kids than fresh oranges because children are too stupid and clumsy to peel oranges. Admittedly, I don’t have kids, but I’d like to think that if I did I’d be up to the task of teaching them how to peel an orange. And how to wash their hands afterward, which is a pretty useful skill as well.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cookin' With Coolio

Because when you think "cooking show," the first person who comes to mind is Coolio, right? I rather enjoyed this one, and the spinach does look tasty.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

From the Onion's AV Club: Cheeseburger in a Can

Wow, am I a lousy blogger: Two months without a post! I blame my job. I will try to do better, and to make more frequent short posts even when I don't have time to track down and write up new recipes.

In the spirit of damned food, be sure to check out Cheeseburger in a Can, which is only saved from RotD status by the fact that you don't really cook anything. (Boiling water doesn't count.) The brave folks at the Onion AV Club tracked down the frightening product and tried it so that you don't have to. So please, don't.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Beef Taco Skillet

Happy new year, and best wishes for a prosperous 2008 to one and all. One of my resolutions for the year is to update this blog more often. (I know, you’re saying, “Could you possibly set the bar any lower, Amy?”) My apologies for my lackadaisical performance. Especially since the recipes show no sign of going away.

I came across this recipe for Beef Taco Skillet in the latest issue of Everyday Food. I could hardly have been more surprised if you had smacked me in the face with a flounder. Everyday Food is a Martha Stewart magazine, and its offerings are usually a lot better than this one. Of course, Beef Taco Skillet is not a recipe from the magazine; it’s from an ad for Campbell’s Soup. I suppose the editors can’t be too strict about what they accept from their advertisers, or they wouldn’t be able to run ads for much more than olive oil and Quaker Oats.

I love Everyday Food. The recipes are all winners, not just in appearance and flavor but in ease of preparation. All throughout the magazine you see beautiful images of fish with chunks of avocadoes, chicken with matchstick peppers and cucumbers, and steamed red potatoes with thyme. In this context, Beef Taco Skillet looks like a pan of Hamburger Helper sneaking in under the radar:

Not too encouraging, is it? Now I must confess that I am a snob about cooking with canned soup. I just don’t do it. When I eat canned soup I prefer Progresso or a number of organic varieties to Campbell’s condensed, but more often I make my own from scratch, which requires more time than skill. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup, and I don’t remember ever thinking, “wouldn’t this be yummy with hamburger and wilted tortillas?”

If you want a Mexican-style skillet supper, my recommendation would be to skip the soup, double the salsa (a good fresh pico de gallo rather than a jarred variety), throw in some chopped peppers and onions, and serve the tortillas whole and warmed on the side for dipping and wrapping, Or you could use good corn chips. They can’t be any saltier than the soup would have been.

Beef Taco Skillet
Campbell’s make in minutes
Prep: 5 min. Cook: 20 min.

1 lb. ground beef
1 can (10 ¾ oz.) Campbell’s Tomato Soup (Regular or 25% Less Sodium)
½ cup salsa
½ cup water
6 flour tortillas (6 inches), cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1. Cook beef in 10-inch skillet until well browned, stirring to break up meat. Pour off fat.
2. Stir in soup, salsa, water and tortillas. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 min. Stir. Top with cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Creamy Mexican Fiesta: Stir in ½ cup sour cream with soup.
Ranchero Style: Use corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas and shredded Mexican cheese blend instead of Cheddar.

From Campbell’s Soup ad in Everyday Food, Jan/Feb 2008.