Buying meat from trucks

Yesterday, a guy came to my door with some story about delivering meat somewhere and being left with a lot of stock on his truck (all sorts of things) that he was selling for cheap. He, of course, offered to sell me some – I, of course, declined.
Why, I can only wonder, would anyone buy meat from some stranger from a truck? Can the bargains be /that/ great, that someone would be willing to risk the possibility that the meat be contaminated, had been kept badly, be ready to go bad, come from sick cows, or just be less than tender? And who the hell are these people and where did they get that meat?
If anyone has any clue as to the last question, please let me know. I’m intrigued 🙂

A Saint for Italian food

I probably shouldn’t make fun of this but today the Vatican beatified father Carlo Gnocchi, a military chaplain during WWII who went on to dedicate his life to the disabled. It’s not clear what miracle father Gnocchi is said to be responsible for (you need to have performed one miracle to be beatified – the first step on being cannonized) – but I want to believe that it was something to do with food. Perhaps a bad cook somewhere prayed to him to make a good Bolognese sauce? Yeah, I doubt it too – but with a name like that I think it’ll be hard to not associate saint Gnocchi with food and perhaps today, as I attempt a boeuf bourguignon recipe based on Julia Child’s, I’ll pray to him 😉

Bloggers must now disclose compensation

According to an article in today’s LA Times, a new federal regulation explicitly requires bloggers who receive cash or in-kind payment to review a product to disclose the fact that they were compensated. Such posts are considered an endorsement of that product. Bloggers are allowed to receive a sample of the product for review, provided that it’s not too expensive (e.g. like a car).
Personally I think it’s appalling that anyone would review a product for compensation and not disclose that fact. Who can trust a reviewer that gets paid by the manufacturer/establishment to write that review? I even think that it’s unethical (though it perhaps should not be illegal) to not disclose it when you get free samples, it’s hard to write a critical review when someone was nice enough to send you a box of cheesecakes (and yet, I think I managed to be so). But when you get paid? No way you will be objective.
Unfortunately the regulation does not have any penalties associated with it. At worse, the culprit can get a cease-and-desist letter and be taken to court if he does not abide by it. But how likely is that to happen?

Testing ads

I’ve been reluctant to try to capitalize this blog in any way, but given the financial situation I thought I’d give google ads a try – at least to help a bit with my bead obsession. So I’m giving it a try and putting a small, discreet, but not-endorsed-by-me (I don’t get to chose the ad, and I can’t even filter ones that I don’t like) ads at the bottom of the left margin. Please click on them 🙂

It’s Ramadan

A factor I didn’t consider when I made my menu plans for the week (I’ll be cooking Colombian and Costan Rican food, and trying to make desserts from the Baleares, Bordeaux and Croatia). Fortunately Ramadan lasts a whole month, so I have time to get in the spirit of the season 🙂
I’ll be cooking a Chinese Muslim dish next week, the only one I could find, and then I’ll look for some typical Ramadan food. I remember that when I was in Morocco (over fifteen years ago), the iftar menu was pretty standard. It had some lentil soup, a hard boiled egg and a very sweet pastry – I don’t remember if anything else. I’ll look it up and try it.
If you know traditional Ramadan food from any other country, please let me know.

Good food, cheap wine

2chuck.jpgYou’ve heard it over and over, from both expert cooks and people who have barely stepped into a kitchen: “never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink”. I think few commands have frightened people off the kitchen, or at least off cooking with wine, than this one. While there are many drinkable wines under $5-10, it’s hard to predict whether the one you chose will be one of them, so if you follow this mantra chances are you’ll end up spending much more money on the wine that you’d otherwise want to. And all for nothing, because the truth is, cheap wine makes GREAT cooking wine.
I’ve been cooking with 2-bucks-chuck pretty much since it came out. I won’t drink it unless I have to, but I find it perfectly fine to flavor sauces, braises, stews and marinades. I very seriously doubt that anyone would be able to tell the difference between a dish cooked with a $20 award winning wine and one with chuck – once you heat them up and combine them with other flavors, cheap wine improves magnificently. Indeed, that’s what NY Time food writer Julia Moskin found out, when she decided to test the premise by making identical dishes both with good wine and cheap wine – she couldn’t tell the difference in the finished dishes.
And it’s not only cheap wine that makes great cooking wine – old wine is also good for food. I pretty much never finish a bottle of wine when I open it – so I keep the leftovers in the fridge for when the muse inspires me to cook. In my experience, wine will still be good for at least two weeks after you open the bottle. Just make sure to put the cork back before you put it in the fridge.

Julie & Julia

juliejulia.jpgLast night the kids were at a sleepover and Mike and I went to see Julie & Julia. I had read great things about the “Julia” part of the movie, and I was vaguely interested in the “Julie” part, as my friend Lola had followed the blog way back then and really enjoyed it. Alas, like everyone else said, that part of the movie was pretty “blah”. Julie looks for a gimmick for getting rich/famous as a writer, lucks into a good one, gets rich/famous as a writer while spouting some nonsense about being saved by Julia or becoming a better person through Julia. A pretty weak dramatic arch, if you ask me, and one that the actual Julia Childs does not seem to have bought into. Indeed, she seemed to think, correctly IMHO, that it was just a stunt. But hey, more power to Julie, right? Too bad she didn’t wait until Julia was at least dead so as to not mock her on her face. But as Julie herself acknowledged in the movie, she is quite the egocentric person.
The Julia part, as everyone said, was wonderful – and yes, I hated not seeing Meryl Streep/Julia, more on the screen. I thought that Mery Streep was great in mimicking Julia’s accent and joie de vive, though I’d like to have seen more complexity to the character – which I’m sure could have been shown if they’d cut the Julie story out of it.
In all it was a sweet movie, nothing if not fluffy, but enjoyable enough. I did not get out of it wanting to cook or eat French food (the way you drool over Mexican food in Tortilla Soup), though that duck at the end seemed like a fun challenge.

Top Chef Masters

I’ve been enjoying watching Top Chef Masters – in particular this last show, in which the winners of the last six previous episodes competed against each other by making each other’s signature dishes. Part of what I’ve enjoyed is getting to know the chefs, some of whom were completely unknown to me.
I’ve been rooting for Hubert Keller, the chef-owner of Fleur de Lys, a restaurant that I’ve gone to a couple of times. I loved the food last time, though the service and timing left much to be desired. In any case, Hubert is local and seems like a very cool guy, he has these big, puppy dog eyes and gives an aura of happiness. He is also clearly very secure on himself and his cooking, clearly he has mastered both technique and flavor profiles, and yet you don’t ever see him boast. I think he is the true master.
And yet, I was very surprised on how well Rick Bayless has done. I’ve seen some of his shows and I have not been particularly impressed by him. Part of it is that I’m prejudiced about a non-Mexican becoming the voice for Mexican food in America – mostly through his television programs. It seems sort of unfair. It’s difficult to believe that there aren’t Mexican chefs that are just as accomplished. I’m also prejudiced against the true cooking abilities of television chefs. Clearly there are some who are marvelous cooks, such as Jacques Pepin – his techniques are so beautiful and effortless, you know the end result must be great. But others seem too young, too inexperienced to be the experts they proclaim themselves to be. And of course, some are truly grating (Joanne Weir in particular). Until this show, I would have put Bayless in that category. He seems quite arrogant about his knowledge of Mexican cuisine and enunciates too much when he speaks. But seeing him in the last two shows has made me change my mind. For one, I learned that he was in Mexico working on his PhD in Anthropology when he fell in love with cooking. That indicates to me that his primary interest is, or at least was, on the Mexican people – that he wants to know about them (even if through their cuisines) and that he probably does have a respect for Mexican culture that was not apparent to me before. In other words, maybe he is, indeed, paying an homage to Mexican cuisine by bringing it to this country, instead of just stealing it for fame and profit. The other thing that impressed me is that he clearly is a good cook who understands the fundamentals of cuisine. He won by making an Italian dish, after all, something you wouldn’t expect from him.
My suspicion of TV chefs also made me wonder about Michael Chiarello; but I’ve been impressed by his modesty (even though he did say he was going to win the show). Clearly he understands his own limitations (while Keller, for example, doesn’t seem to think he has any).
I was happy to see Anita Lo do so well. I hadn’t heard of her before the show started, but it’s nice to see a minority woman do so well (in particular given this). Her food seems really interesting as well. I think it’s really hard to do fusion food well, it requires an intense knowledge of several cuisines, great technique and creativity, which I think many fusion chefs don’t have. I’d love to go to her restaurant.
I have little opinion of the other two chefs. Suzanne Tracht didn’t seem to have much of a personality. I loved Art Smith’s personality, but I think I may be partial to teddy-bear gay guys.
Anyway, I can’t wait to see what happens. And I’m still rooting for Keller.

Alice Waters and shark fin soup

Alice Waters has gotten into pr trouble by stating that she’d want her last meal to be shark fin soup – apparently unaware that sharks are caught, had their fins cut off and then are thrown back into the sea to die. Now that she knows, she’s changed her mind.
It seems a bit surprising that she wouldn’t know about the horrible treatment of sharks in the first place, but then again – how much of the food we consume is from animals that have been horribly treated? Sometimes I think the only ethical choice is to be a vegetarian – too bad I don’t like vegetables.

Cooking videogames

I would never have guessed that they have cooking videogames, but apparently there are several out there. The skills they “teach” seem to be quite basic (e.g. how to shake salt into ground beef to make a hamburger), and I wonder how they can be in any way more helpful than watching a food show on TV. But hey, to each its own.