dimanche 28 février 2010

Films on Food: Food, Inc.

Released in the U.S. last June, the documentary film Food Inc. is the latest in a growing succession of best-selling books and popular movies about the politics of the modern U.S. food industry, including: Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (2001), Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004), Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and In Defense of Food (2008), and French documentarian Marie-Monique Robin’s Le Monde selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto) (2008).

The film, directed by Robert Kenner, and narrated by Schlosser and Pollen, gives an overview of the various dangers and ills posed to American consumers and workers by our current factory-farm model of food production. In no great depth, unfortunately, it covers most of the major issues consumers care about: foodborne illnesses such as E.coli found in hamburger meat, the effect of large companies’ purchasing power on farmers and small farms, immigrant workers lacking basic rights, genetic engineering, organic and local food efforts, and the environmental unsustainability of factory farms. The (much more interesting) frame of the film, however, is examining how companies such as Monsanto and Tyson are able to keep consumers coming back for more, when participating in such a harmful production system is becoming less and less interesting. Now, sales-pushing corporate dishonesty is nothing new. This is the problem in the first place with any mass industrial system, whatever it is producing. But you may be surprised to find how far, or how low, these companies can and will go to shield the truth from consumers who dare to look, and how deftly they and their Washington cohorts change laws in their favor. For example, food libel laws in several states make it illegal to publicly criticize food manufacturers. Even an expression of dissatisfaction is grounds for a lawsuit!

Controlling vast portions of the markets allows huge companies to reshape the consumer market as well as consumer behavior. 90 % of the meat produced in the U.S. is slaughtered by 4 companies. Wal-Mart leads the list of 5 companies that control 50% of supermarket sales. Conglomerates are very effective at lowering prices—good for the consumer—but they also essentially control the market, deciding what is bought and sold, what is available to the consumer. If Wal-Mart decides to stock its produce aisles with locally-grown beets (which it is doing in certain areas), it will create enough demand that it’s in the best interests of local farmers to supply beets. Unfortunately, organic foods are not yet in such high demand. Our American grocery stores are flooded with cheap meat, corn syrup-sweetened beverages and snacks, and processed foods. The companies that provide these products have enormous political leverage and influence. Corn and soy crops receive heavy government subsidies, driving down the cost of cattle, poultry, and dairy products (as a result of cheap feed), and also processed foods. Thus the food that most people buy (understandably, the cheapest available), and that children learn to develop a taste for, is by no accident the kind of unhealthy food that is mass-produced, and that contributes to the continued growth of McDonalds and Frito-Lay. Health problems posed by mass-produced meat are quietly passed by and health code violations overlooked by FDA officials. The bigwigs at the FDA and the chairmen of food companies are often one and the same. Hardly the objective eye we’d expect to be regulating our food safety.

Food companies today, the film reiterates, rely on a lack of transparency to sell their products. They fight GMO labeling, calorie counts, product history. It all comes down to how well you, as the consumer, know your food. What’s in it? Where did it come from? How will it affect your body and your health? Companies want to distract you with the price tag, but insist on looking beyond. The final message of the film is that despite corporate power, consumer behavior can change the system. Fight for labeling and be aware of what you’re eating. Most Americans sit down to dinner with a bag over their heads—maybe this film will poke a couple eyeholes in it.

dimanche 21 février 2010

Corn Muffins

Vegetables in cakes and sweets are treated with suspicion in France. American classics such as pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, zucchini bread, carrot cake, and cornbread are, sadly, unknown and unappreciated. But I’m working to regulate this problem.

These corn muffins, I think, will do the trick.

Corn reminds me of home sweet home in Illinois, where I spent several childhood summers slaving away in the corn fields under the blazing sun for minimum wage, wiping pollen from my eyes and spiders from my ankles.

Corn makes French people think of what, I don’t know, but maybe my corn muffins will communicate something to them, maybe it will bring a glaze to their eye and memories of blue sky and white clouds above a waving field of yellow and green . . .

There are infinite variations to these muffins, if corn doesn’t suit your fancy: carrot, zucchini, pumpkin, banana, applesauce, etc. Just make sure to mash the vegetable in the food processor first. Also, the whole-wheat pastry flour is used to give a finer texture than most wheat muffins.

Corn muffins

Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s
Whole-Wheat Muffins

2 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt
½ cup melted butter
1 cup mashed sweet corn

1. Mix the dry ingredients together lightly.
2. Mix or fold in wet ingredients; stir just enough to wet the whole batter. Lumps in the batter are not a problem.
3. Fill muffin cups ¾ full and bake at 375 F for 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

jeudi 18 février 2010

Le chou-fleur

Quand on parle d’alimentation, généralement, la règle nous dit que les légumes de couleur foncée sont bon pour la santé, les légumes de couleur claire, moins bon. Pensez-vous à la laitue, la farine, la guimauve. Mais, si on considère le chou-fleur, on voit l’exception à la règle. Le chou-fleur est plein de vitamines et d’autres substances bonnes pour la santé.

Le chou-fleur se marie très bien avec du fromage. J’affiche une très bonne recette, et parfaite pour l’hiver.

Macaroni au chou-fleur

500 ml (2 tasses) macaroni grains entiers
½ chou-fleur moyen
1 oignon blanc, tranché
2 cuillères à soupe d’huile d’olive
50 g de beurre
2 cuillères à soupe de farine
150 ml de lait
250 ml (1 tasse) de Gouda, râpé
Au choix, et selon vos goûts, ajouter de la moutarde, du poivre moulu, du sel ou du cayenne.

1. Hacher finement le tronçon du chou-fleur et séparer la tête en petites fleurettes.

2. Dans une grande casserole d’eau salée bouillante, ajouter les macaronis et les laisser cuire pendant 5 minutes, pas plus. Ajouter le chou-fleur et laisser cuire 5 minutes de plus. Vider l’eau.

3. Dans une poêle, faire adoucir l’oignon dans l’huile d’olive pendant 5 minutes, et ajouter le beurre et le lait. Ajouter la farine et bien remuer.

4. Ajouter la moutarde, sel, poivre, et cayenne selon votre choix. Laisser cuire quelques minutes, puis ajouter le fromage et le laisser fondre.

5. Servir les pâtes avec la sauce de fromage sur le dessus.


Isn’t the rule of nutritious eating to eat deep, rich colors, and avoid pale, whitish colors ? Think iceberg lettuce, bleached flour, marshmallows. Cauliflower is a clear exception to the rule. It’s packed with vitamins and compounds that benefit the health, and has a very high nutritional density.

To boot, cauliflower has a high fractal dimension.

I’m attaching a superb recipe, surprisingly from Rachel Ray, whom I would not usually describe as superb. She picks up on the perfect marriage between cauliflower and cheese here, though. Because you’ll cook the pasta and cauliflower together (which saves a lot of time), make sure to cook the pasta no more than 5 minutes before adding the cauliflower, otherwise the pasta will end up overcooked.

The second recipe is a curry, which is also perfectly suited for cauliflower. The curry tints the cauliflower a beautiful yellow color, and the lentils give the curry the perfect texture.

Mac-n-Smoked Gouda with Cauliflower

from Rachel Ray, Food Network

pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi (corkscrew-shaped pasta)
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cups whole milk
3 cups shredded smoked Gouda
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to season the cooking water, then add the pasta. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the cauliflower and cook for 3 minutes more or until pasta is cooked al dente and the florets are just tender. Drain well and return to the pot.
2. While the pasta cooks, heat a medium sauce pot over medium-low heat. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and heat with the butter until it melts. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 5 minutes to sweat them out and turn the juices sweet. Raise the heat a bit, then whisk in the flour, cayenne, and paprika. Whisk together until the roux bubbles up, then cook for 1 minute more. Whisk in the milk and raise the heat a bit higher to bring the sauce to a quick boil. Once it bubbles, drop the heat back to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the cheese to the thickened sauce and stir to melt it, a minute or so. Stir in the mustard and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pour over the cauliflower and cooked pasta and toss to combine.

Cauliflower Lentil Curry

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 medium fresh green chile, seeded and finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry powder (eyeball it according to your taste)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup dried red lentils
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2-1 cup water
cooked white rice, for serving

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and chile and cook until onion is soft, about 4 minutes. Add curry powder and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes.
2. Add lentils, cauliflower, stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils and cauliflower and tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes.
3. Serve over rice.

mardi 16 février 2010

Shrimp Gumbo and Sweet Potato Pie

Today is Mardi gras, or Carnaval, as it’s called in French (even though “mardi gras” is French . . . ? I can’t explain that one). The Mardi gras festivities here are nothing to report on—it’s sort of like a candy-less Halloween, but quieter—so I’m looking to New Orleans for inspiration, and I’m celebrating with a big ole pot of shrimp gumbo, Louisiana Creole style, and a sweet potato pie.

Gumbo is a literal melting pot of cuisines, originating in New Orleans in the 18th century, but taking elements of French, Spanish, Native American, West African, and Italian cuisines. The original idea was taken from the southern French seafood stew bouillabaisse, the vegetables were imported from the Spanish, filé powder (used in place of roux to thicken the soup) from the Native Americans, okra (also used as a thickener) from West Africa, and tomatoes from the Italian population in New Orleans.

There are as many variations of an authentic gumbo recipe as there are native New Orleans willing to fight over it, but basically what makes a gumbo is a roux (or okra, or file powder), a combination of spicy meats or shellfish, and three required vegetables: celery, green bell pepper, and onion. We add in stock and tomatoes for the sauce, and good dose of cayenne for the spice. Serve over rice. If adding meat (for non-vegetarians: do this), the best choice would be a spicy andouille sausage.

Shrimp Gumbo

½ cup flour
½ cup butter
peeled shrimp
can tomatoes
1 cup vegetable or seafood stock
green bell pepper
white onion
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves

1. Over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Using a wooden spoon, continue stirring, lowering the heat if necessary to avoid burning, for about 10 minutes, or until the roux is a medium brown color.
2. Add the chopped celery, green pepper, and onion. Cook in the roux for a couple minutes, then add the canned tomatoes and stock. Throw in the bay leaves, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. When the celery and green pepper are just about soft, add the shrimp and cook 1-2 minutes, just until pink.
4. Serve immediately over rice.

This is the second-best orange-colored pie I know, but it's a close second. It's a cinch to make and not too sweet, retaining the flavor and texture of the sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Pie

9 inch pie crust
3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 egg
2 Tbsp melted butter
½ cup cream
½ cup sugar
½ tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla
dash salt

1. Mix all ingredients and beat for 5 minutes.
2. Pour in the pie crust and bake 40-45 minutes at 325 F.

dimanche 14 février 2010

Vietnamese noodles: Bún thịt nướng

To mark the occasion of Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, today, I’m posting my mother’s recipe for bún thịt nướng, a refreshing dish of rice noodles and grilled meat. It’s one of my favorites. Usually grilled pork or beef is used, but you can substitute grilled shrimp, egg rolls, or even tofu.

Bún thịt nướng is not traditionally eaten at New Year’s, by the way. It’s a light, summer-y dish, perfect for an evening of grilling outside on the patio. But it’s one of the only Vietnamese dishes I know how to make, so it’ll have to do for today.

Bún thịt nướng
Serves 4-6

1 bag (14-16 oz.) dried rice noodles (bún)
grilled topping: pork, beef, shrimp, eggrolls, or tofu
plate of leafy lettuce (not the iceberg white)
1 cup bean sprouts
A bunch of fresh mint leaves
A bunch of cilantro
1-2 cucumbers, sliced thinly
Green onion or dried fried onions
1 cup crushed peanuts

Rice vinegar
2 Tbsp nước mắm (Vietnamese fish sauce)
Minced garlic
Chili pepper
1 lime
1 carrot, sliced very thin

1. The day before serving, marinate sliced meat or shrimp with salt, pepper, dried onions, garlic, nước mắm, and sugar. If you use beef, marinate with minced lemon grass. Grill right before serving.
2. Soak the noodles for a few hours in cold water. Cook in boiling water with a dash of salt and a teaspoon of cooking oil for a couple minutes, until tender. Drain with cold water.
3. To make the sauce, mix the sugar, water, vinegar, nước mắm, garlic, and chili pepper. Vary the amounts to taste. The nước mắm is very strong so only use 2 Tbsp. Squeeze in the juice of one lime and add the sliced carrots.
4. To serve, put the cucumber, cilantro, mint, lettuce, and bean sprouts in the bottom of a large soup bowl. Add noodles, and top with grilled meat, onions, and crushed peanuts. Pour on a couple spoons of the sauce and eat immediately.

jeudi 11 février 2010

Films on Food: The Chinese Feast

What’s more exciting than spending a languorous evening preparing a home recipe passed down from your grandmother, and serving it to a table of approving loved ones?

Certainly, that would be a high-stakes cooking contest, to be completed in very little time, with very expensive and rare ingredients, served to ruthless judges that will decide the existence of your future career.

In other words, Iron Chef, the Food Network cult favorite, and possibly the strangest and most riveting cooking show of all time. Iron Chef combines action with art, allowing a lifetime of culinary talent to be judged in a quick 60 minute fireworks show of cooking skill. What I love about Iron Chef is that it leans towards the extreme, unveiling the ‘secret theme ingredient’ to be urchin, or beef tongue (either that or the most banal: cabbage, plain yogurt), and the chefs’ methods of cooking goes on to match. Cod roe ice cream? Not impossible. Lobster-flavored asparagus? The more money outlandishly spent, the better.

The Chinese Feast (1995) by Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, is Iron Chef in film form. It’s fast-paced, with bizarre characters, plenty of action, exotic dishes, and comedy. It evens throws a love story and a martial arts sequence into the mix.

The story follows Kit, a master chef fallen from acclaim, and Sun, a talentless young man seemingly aspiring to be a rock star and chef simultaneously. The popular Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong where Sun works is threatened by Super Group, a gang of tough-looking chefs who aim to take over every restaurant in China, and the two sides agree to stage a cook-off. The meal of choice is to be the Manchu Han Imperial Feast.

The Manchu Han Imperial Feast is a true historical event. It’s one of the most lavish meals ever known in China, comprising at minimum 108 dishes, spanning 3 days, and showcasing cooking methods from across China. It was held by the emperor of the Qing Dynasty, in an effort to resolve political disputes between the Manchu and the Han.

Although the battle of the chefs in The Chinese Feast consists of a mere 3 dishes, the film is true to form as far as exoticism goes. The three required meals are: bear paw, elephant trunk, and monkey brains. Is it cruel to eat live monkey brains? Maybe yes, but these chefs have some creative ways of getting around moral hesitations. I’ll leave that for you to find out.

The only doable recipes shown in the film (unless you want to be on PETA’s blacklist) are beef noodles and sweet and sour pork. Not being a fan of pork, I'm attaching a recipe for sweet and sour shrimp.

Sweet and Sour Shrimp

• 2/3 pound medium shrimp (peeled and de-veined)
• 1 tsp. soy sauce
• 1 tsp. cornstarch

• 2 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 4 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 4 Tbsp. (packed) dark brown sugar
• 1 tsp. ground ginger
• 1 tsp. garlic powder
• 20 ounce can pineapple chunks (in juice)

• 1 celery stalk, diagonally cut very thin
• 1 carrot, diagonally cut very thin
• 1 medium onion, julienne cut (thin strips from halved onion sliced from root to top)
• 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
• 1 Tbsp oil

1. Marinate shrimp in 1 tsp. soy sauce and 1 tsp. cornstarch for about 20 minutes (in the refrigerator.)

2. In a bowl or large measuring cup mix sauce ingredients: 2 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch, 1/3 cup soy sauce (add soy sauce slowly and stir to avoid lumps), rice wine vinegar, dark brown sugar, ground ginger, garlic powder, and the juice from the pineapple chunks (reserve the pineapple chunks for later in the recipe.) Set sauce aside.

3. Heat wok or stir-fry pan over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add shrimp (with marinade) to the pan and stir-fry until just cooked (shrimp will start to curl and turn pink.) Remove shrimp to bowl or plate.

4. Add more oil to wok or pan if needed and stir-fry celery and carrot to soften and remove the vegetables to a bowl (not the one with the shrimp.)

5. Add more oil if needed and add onion and stir-fry briefly to soften. Add back carrots and celery along with bell pepper and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Add pineapple chunks to wok or pan and add back the shrimp. Stir-fry for a few seconds. Mix sauce and pour into wok or pan. Stir everything in the wok or pan and bring to a boil so the mixture can thicken.

6. Immediately remove from heat and serve with Chinese white rice or over crispy noodles.

Use a variety of colors to balance out the sauce, and chop vegetables with similar cooking times in the same shape. This is done so the ingredients cook evenly together, so the ingredients balance each other, and because it looks pretty. However, chunks of celery and carrot would overpower the dish and take too long to cook.

La nourriture sur le grand écran: Le Festin Chinois

Le Festin Chinois est un film réalisé par le hong-kongais Tsui Hark. C’est l’histoire d’un ancien grand chef Kit qui a quitté son métier à la suite de son échec pendant un concours de la cuisine, et d’un rock-and-roll jeune chef Sun sans aucun talent. Les deux doivent collaborer pour sauver le restaurant où travaille Sun contre Super Group, une organisation de chefs qui souhaitent prendre le contrôle de tous les restaurants chinois en Chine. Ils décident de parier l’avenir du restaurant sur le résultat du plus grand, du plus somptueux festin dans l’histoire de la Chine, le Festin Imperial de Manchu Han.

Le Festin Imperial de Manchu Han a eu lieu dans la Cité Interdite à Pékin pendant la dynastie Qing. Il s’agit de 108 plats préparés sur 3 jours avec des méthodes variées traversant la Chine.

Le film souligne la nature extravagante et exotique du festin. Le concours comprend 3 plats extravagants : la patte d’ours, la trompe d’éléphant, et finalement la cervelle de singe. Vous trouvez cela cruel de manger un singe vivant, tout mignon et innocent? Peut-être, mais les chefs sont plutôt créatifs. Je vous laisse découvrir la surprise finale.

Le Festin Chinois représente le meilleur du cinéma moderne hong-kongais et chinois, c’est un film plein de comédie, d’action, d’amour, de personnages originaux, de situations bizarres.

Crevettes à l'ananas sauce aigre douce

Les ingrédients :
• 500 g de crevettes décortiquées
• 50 ml de sauce soja
• 5 carottes
• 1 oignon
• 1 poivron vert
• 1 poivron rouge
• 350 g d'ananas en conserve
• Pour la sauce aigre douce :
• 3 cuillèrée à soupe de sucre
• 250 ml de sauce tomate
• 60 ml de vinaigre de cidre (car plus doux et incorpore bien tous les parfums)
• 1 cuillèrée à soupe de fécule
• jus de l'ananas récupéré
• 15 ml de sauce aux huîtres
• sel

1. Laisser macérer pendant environ 1 heure les crevettes avec le sel, le poivre et la sauce soja. Chauffer l'huile d'arachide et frire les crevettes préalablement enduites de farine, à feu modéré et mettre de côté.

2. Couper l'oignon, les carottes, le céleri et les poivrons en lamelles. Faire sauter les légumes. Ajouter les morceaux d'ananas tranchés, puis la sauce aigre-douce. Mélanger les ingrédients. Servir avec un riz blanc.

mercredi 10 février 2010

Mousse au chocolat

Il y a très peu de desserts plus élégants que la mousse au chocolat et pourtant c’est un dessert très simple à réaliser. Une recette classique ne nécessite que du chocolat, des œufs, et du sucre. D’autres recettes, pour une mousse très onctueux, nécessitent de la crème liquide ou du beurre.

De toute façon, vous pouvez créer un dessert impressionnant sans beaucoup d’effort.

Mousse au chocolat

• 3 œufs, séparés
• 100 g de chocolat noir
• 10 g de beurre

1. Faites fondre le chocolat au bain-marie, lissez-le à la spatule, puis ajoutez le beurre et laissez-le un peu refroidir de manière à obtenir une pâte homogène.
2. Ajoutez les jaunes d’œufs, en mélangeant bien.
3. Incorporez, ensuite, les blancs d’œufs battus en neige ferme sans les casser.
4. Réservez votre mousse au chocolat au frais, pendant 3 heures, avant de déguster ou d’utiliser pour garnir vos pâtisseries.

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse is pure French elegance and decadence, simplified. The classic chocolate mousse recipe uses only chocolate and eggs, but many recipes also add heavy cream to make the chocolate more rich and heavy.

At every potluck-style dinner I’ve attended in France, the chocolate mousse was infallibly present. It’s easy to make (though perhaps more difficult to make very well), looks impressive, and is very, very good.

For bonus points, shave more chocolate into the mousse before chilling, and keep a sprinkle of slivers for garnish on top to serve.

Classic Chocolate Mousse

This recipe serves four
1 bar good quality chocolate, chopped.
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated

1. Melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave until just melted.
2. Let cool for 1 minute, then stir in the egg yolks, one at a time.
3. Put the egg whites into a clean bowl, and using an electric whisk or mixer, whisk until stiff peaks form.
4. Stir about ¼ of the egg white into the butter and chocolate to loosen the mixture. Then using a large metal spoon fold in the rest of the egg whites in around three further roughly equal additions.
5. Carefully spoon into the serving bowls you want to use. You could use some nice coffee cups, or pretty glasses.
6. Chill for two hours. Eat within 12 hours. Do not freeze.

lundi 1 février 2010

Easier than pie: Apple Crumble

An apple crumble is my go-to dessert when I want to make a dessert, but don’t feel like spending more than five minutes.

You don’t even need a recipe after you’ve made this once. All you need is some apples (or other fruit), butter, flour, sugar, and an oven. Cinnamon is a nice touch with the apples, but not necessary.

As always with baking, choose apples that are tart and crunchy and will hold some texture after they’ve been baked. The lemon juice is to prevent browning. The crumble topping (a streusel topping) is easy and delicious and should not be restricted to use for apple desserts.

Apple Crumble


4 apples
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon


Peel and core the apples and cut into fairly large chunks. Toss them in the lemon juice. Take about 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and 1 tsp of the cinnamon and toss with the apples to coat. In a bowl, mix the flour and the rest of the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Cut the butter into the mixture and smoosh it around with your hands until the mixture ressembles crumbs. With the apples in an oven-safe dish, top with the crumbly topping. Place uncovered in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the apples are tender. Serve it with vanilla ice cream, hot from the oven or room temperature.