DIY pet food goes national

More and more folks are making their own

January 31, 2011

For years, one of the most popular posts on Culinate has been Jim Dixon’s how-to on making your own dog food. Just last week, the same topic hit the top of the New York Times’ most-emailed list, with a story that expanded the DIY category to include homemade cat food. As reporter Samantha Storey noted,

It’s hard to justify dumping a can of mystery meat for Bo while the rest of the family is sitting down to grass-fed osso buco with a side of biodynamic polenta. As people eat more sustainable seasonal produce and meat raised and butchered outside the industrial system, so do their pets. And as do-it-yourself hobbies like canning, gardening, and raising backyard chickens have taken off in recent years, grinding 40 pounds of pet food starts to look like another fun weekend project.

Holy GMO foods!

But GMO alfalfa is no laughing matter

January 28, 2011

In a recent Atlantic Food Channel story, Barry Estabrook noted that the U.S. has lobbied mightily to overturn the European Union’s ban on genetically modified food, including negotiating with the Pope to turn pro-GMO. (The pope said nope.) More pressing Stateside is the current debate over GMO alfalfa, which the USDA approved yesterday for planting in the U.S., despite the fact that GMO alfalfa has been documented to contaminate organic alfalfa.

Tweet time

Enter an online recipe contest via Twitter

January 27, 2011

So you thought Mark Bittman’s super-brief recipes in his 101 lists were amazingly short? Try scrunching them down to 140 characters or less, the limit per tweet on Twitter. Through Monday, January 31, the Oregonian is holding a Twitter recipe contest. Winners get print-media goodies: glossy cookbooks as well as publication in the paper.

Mark Bittman goes officially political

And ends his popular “Minimalist” column

January 26, 2011

This week marks the end of Mark Bittman’s beloved 13-year-old column in the New York Times, “The Minimalist.” In a farewell note, Bittman explained the origins of the column, how it evolved over the years, and what he’s up to next: moving to the Sunday magazine and the op-ed pages, where he’ll be advocating for better food from a political perspective. Here’s his conclusion:

In part, what I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue. I’ll be writing regularly about this in the opinion pages of The Times, and in a blog that begins next week. That’s one place to look for me from now on. The other is in The Times Magazine, where I’ll be writing a recipe column most Sundays beginning in March.
Part of my reasoning in going to the opinion section is to advocate, essentially, for eaters’ rights. But the response of good cooks, and those of us who write about cooking, must be to continue to look for ways to bring real food to all of our tables.
Which, in a way, is pretty funny, because it’s where The Minimalist began.

The clothianidin controversy

It’s bad for honey bees, admits the EPA

January 25, 2011

But will the pesticide be banned in the U.S.? »

Peanut-butter party

January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day

January 24, 2011

Unless you’re allergic, you’ve probably learned that there’s more fun to be had from a jar of peanut butter than just slathering it on white bread with a side of grape jelly. Since today is National Peanut Butter Day, break out that jar and try something different with it: the classic fave Peanut Butter Cookies, or the chocolatey and gooey Peanut Butter Crispy Bars, or the traditional Senegalese Peanut Soup, or the ever-popular Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Chicken. Slurp.

Marion Nestle’s food-safety list

Based on Bill Marler’s magic-wand list

January 21, 2011

Last summer, food-safety activist Bill Marler blogged about what he would do with a food-safety magic wand if he had one. Now nutritionist and activist Marion Nestle has taken up Marler’s theme, posting her own list of tips for making sure our food is safe.

Marler had six suggestions; Nestle has eight, ranging from the obvious (creating a single federal agency responsible for food safety, thereby bridging the gaps between the FDA and the USDA) to the unusual (mandating public funding for all elections, to ensure electing “officials who care more about public health than corporate health”). With the new FDA food-safety bill recently signed into law by President Obama, now’s the best time to catch up on this fundamental issue.

Starbucks gets even bigger

Watch out, Big Gulp

January 20, 2011

You’re probably not thinking about refreshing summer drinks right now, but Starbucks is. The coffee chain recently announced plans to introduce a new chilled-drink size in May that tops 30 ounces. Naturally, the beverage size has been dubbed the Trenta (that’s Italian for “thirty,” in case you weren’t sure). Starbucks says it was simply responding to customer demand, but as the Canadian paper the National Post pointed out, a 31-ounce drink contains more liquid than the average human stomach can handle. That hasn’t stopped Americans from guzzling similar-sized drinks, however, at such chains as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Gulp.

School lunch gets healthier

The USDA gets stricter

January 19, 2011

As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the federally funded school-lunch program is about to get healthier:

The guidelines . . . would require schools to cut sodium in those meals by more than half, use more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so schools couldn’t offer french fries every day.

Overall calorie totals would drop, too, and nearly all trans fats would be banned. Will the plan work? It’s supposed to be phased in over time, so it’ll be years before the verdict is in.

Feasting on art

Art-inspired food

January 18, 2011

Dreary winter days and museum attendance usually dance together. But what if, say, you’d like to have your Wayne Thiebaud cake and eat it, too? That’s where the art-and-food blog Feasting on Art comes in. Australian blogger Megan Fizell, who loves food-focused art, posts about her fave images — and the recipes inspired by them. (She also shares said recipes with the Christian Science Monitor in her Stir It Up! online column.) Check out her art library, then click over to the recipes, where you’ll find Wayne Thiebaud-inspired cupcakes hiding near the bottom.

America’s test kitchen takes to the airwaves

Christopher Kimball goes on the air

January 17, 2011

The folks behind the magazine Cook's Illustrated and the television show “America’s Test Kitchen” branched out this month into radio. Say what? some folks asked, wondering how audio alone would get listeners salivating. But, as others have pointed out, there’s plenty of food-radio precedent, especially Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s popular NPR series "The Splendid Table." So far, the new radio show has discussed coffee and restaurants. And yes, they take your call-in questions, too.

Thinking outside the wine box

David Lebovitz goes unconventional with cheese

January 14, 2011

It’s the middle of winter, the time of year when — bubbly at New Year’s excepted — you’re probably drinking a lot of heavy red wines with all that hearty seasonal fare. But David Lebovitz, in a recent thoughtful post on his blog, takes exception to this traditional assumption, offering several arguments in favor of white wine. His main reason? Whites can pair really, really well with cheese.

Lebovitz also likes pairing wines and cheeses from the same region, on the principle of like goes with like. And he likes the fact that white is literally less heavy-hitting than red; his amusing French-style analogy for this is that reds are like men, tough and brutal, while whites are “much more nuanced and interesting, like women.”

He doesn’t mention it, but while white wine can be damaging to tooth enamel, drinking it with a cheese course can mitigate the problem. A classic French solution indeed.

Our Mark Bittman app is tops

Culinate’s app is boffo, according to the Daily Meal

January 13, 2011

Time for a little self-promotion: In a recent roundup of the best cooking apps, food website the Daily Meal picked Culinate’s How to Cook Everything app for the iPhone and iPad as one of its faves.

Other winners included Jamie Oliver's 20-Minute Meals app and the Locavore app for selecting what’s in season locally. Check out the Daily Meal’s slideshow of winners — just remember to scroll down and scan the right-hand column for the rather hidden app descriptions.

Bottled-water blues

A new report details how little info is available about bottled water

January 12, 2011

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group recently released its latest report on bottled water, dinging most manufacturers for refusing to reveal such seemingly basic info as where the water is sourced, whether it’s been purified, and whether it’s been contaminated.

Instead of consuming possibly dubious bottled water, the EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water: “You’ll save money, drink water that’s purer than tap water and help solve the global glut of plastic bottles.”

On the other hand, as Yahoo! Green’s report on the bottled-water study noted, “the advice to drink filtered tap water can seem confusing when there are often reports about the contaminants found in municipal water supplies.” But a reverse-osmosis filter can take care of the problem at home.

No more bananas

The global die-out continues

January 11, 2011

The news of the banana’s death has been widely reported for decades. A cloned crop that’s hard to hybridize, the banana is the perfect target for a variety of diseases, fungi, and other pests.

Now comes the latest update, from the New Yorker, which includes a recap of the banana’s complicated history and focuses on Tropical Race Four, a very effective and deadly fungus with a NASCAR-evocative name.

The secret to the banana’s survival? Genetic diversity, of course. “The only way to keep going is to breed a disease-resistant variety, one with commercial potential. That’s the only way,” an Australian grower told reporter Mike Peed. “Someone has to do this work. Otherwise, there’ll be grief.”

But a successful scientific defense is years, if not decades, away.

Mr. Chicken McNuggets is gone

R.I.P Donald J. Tyson, the founder of Tyson Foods

January 10, 2011

The man who built Arkansas-based Tyson Foods into a massive global meat producer and packager died last week at age 90. In a lengthy obituary, the New York Times depicted the life of Donald J. Tyson as a classic American capitalist success story, complete with glitzy billionaire perks, rapacious business practices, dubious political deals, and legal shenanigans. Oh, and Chicken McNuggets, which Tyson helped develop.

Of course, Tyson Foods was also an Upton Sinclair nightmare: “Environmentalists accused Tyson of fouling waterways. Animal-rights groups said it raised chickens in cruel conditions. Regulators said it discriminated against women and blacks and cheated workers out of wages. . . . In 2001 the company and three managers were charged with conspiring for years to smuggle illegal immigrants from Mexico and South America to work in its plants, but all were acquitted.”

Tyson Foods is still the most familiar chicken brand in U.S. supermarkets.

Simplifying the Farm Bill

Explaining how corn subsidies really work

January 7, 2011

On its blog, the food-awareness website Simple, Good and Tasty recently included a visual explanation of the corn subsidies in the Farm Bill. Yes, you’ve seen these sorts of charts before, but it’s still stunning to see just how corny our country’s farmland really is. For the full picture (and sources), download the accompanying PDFs.

Chinese consumerism

Panacea or not?

January 6, 2011

Late last year, the New York Times magazine ran a feature about the future of consumerism in China. Grist commentator Tom Philpott took a hard look at the story, pointing out that author David Leonhardt’s hopeful prognostications for turning the Chinese into Western-style consumers offered nothing in the way of new economic models:

I thought the time might be ripe for a multi-trillion-dollar public investment in a new, green economy: much-needed infrastructure for local and regional food systems; high-speed trains connecting cities; high-functioning mass transit within cities; a mass roll-out of truly clean energy like wind and solar; smart grids; etc. Such a program would eliminate much of the misery of underemployment and food security by putting people to work. And it would have repaid itself by laying the groundwork for carbon-light, community-based economic development going forward . . . Unfortunately, nothing remotely like that has happened.

Will the new China just be more of the same? Or a force for major global reforms? After all, as Philpott points out, the billions of mouths in China are still fed by a heavily regional and localized small-scale farm system. Can we do the same here?

Treat your pans right

How to care for a new nonstick pan

January 5, 2011

Back in December, during latke-frying season, reporter Alina Tugend accidentally destroyed a new Hanukkah present for her son: a nonstick skillet. Chastened, she researched what she should’ve done, and turned up a number of tips for using nonstick pans correctly.

The list is a long one: Preseason the pan with a little oil, just like a cast-iron pan or a wok. Despite the fact that it’s a nonstick pan, always use a little oil when cooking in it. Don’t overdo it on the oil, and don’t use cooking spray, which can accumulate around the edges as greasy buildup. Don’t cook on high heat, and don’t use metal tools, which can scratch the nonstick coating. Same goes for metal scrubbers, as well as skipping the dishwasher entirely. Don’t nest your nonstick pans together (more of the scratching problem) unless you use a liner in between pans (paper towels work fine). And if the coating gets scratched, ditch the pan.

Food waste, worldwide

How efficiency reforms are inefficient

January 4, 2011

In a recent New Yorker article, "The Efficiency Dilemma," David Owen writes that the trouble with increased efficiency is increased waste. He gives several examples before alighting on refrigeration:

The steadily declining cost of refrigeration has made eating much more interesting. It has also made almost all elements of food production more cost-effective and energy-efficient: milk lasts longer if you don’t have to keep it in a pail in your well. But there are environmental downsides, beyond the obvious one that most of the electricity that powers the world’s refrigerators is generated by burning fossil fuels.

Owen quotes James McWilliams and Jonathan Bloom before noting, “Coincidentally or not, the growth of American refrigerator volume has been roughly paralleled by the growth of American body-mass index.” Now that’s a chilling thought.

January celebrations

Treats for the new year

January 3, 2011

Should you feel like celebrating Twelfth Night this week, we’ve got a few suggestions. Make a Spanish-style epiphany cake or a French-style galette des rois. Whip up one last batch of eggnog, and hand around any leftover Christmas or New Year’s goodies you might still have on hand. Then toast the new year — after all, Lunar New Year is right around the corner. If you didn’t get around to making mochi for Japanese New Year, now’s your chance.

Sift archive — January 2011

Our Table

Joy of Cooking app

A new tool for the kitchen

The latest in our collection of cooking apps.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice