Friday, March 25, 2011

Thirteen Indiputable Universal Laws

A friend shared these in this morning's e-mail:

Law of Mechanical Repair - After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to pee.

 Law of Gravity - Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

 Law of Probability -The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act

 Law of Random Numbers - If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.

 Law of the Alibi - If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the very next morning you will have a flat tire..

 Variation Law - If you change lines (or traffic lanes),
the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time).

Law of the Bath - When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.

Law of Close Encounters -The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

Law of the Result - When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will.

The Coffee Law - As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

Law of Physical Surfaces - The chances of an open-faced jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

Wilson's Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy - As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it. 

Doctors' Law - If you don't feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you'll feel better. But don't make an appointment, and you'll stay sick.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chefs Create Countless Variations of the Veggie Burger

THEY were the four syllables that had the power to make both carnivores and vegetarians ringe: veggie burger.

For meat-lovers, the veggie burger was long seen as a sad stand-in that tried to copy the contours and textures of a classic beef patty while falling pathetically short of the pleasure. And for meat-refusers, the veggie burger served as a kind of penitential wafer: You ate this bland, freeze-dried nutrient disc because you had to eat it (your duty as someone who had forsaken the flesh) and because at many a restaurant or backyard barbecue, it was the only option available.

If that has been your mental framework since the days when Jerry Garcia was still with us, it might be time to take another bite. To borrow a phrase from the culture that produced it, the veggie burger seems finally to have achieved self-actualization.

Across the country, chefs and restaurateurs have been taking on the erstwhile health-food punch line with a kind of experimental brio, using it as a noble excuse to fool around with flavor and texture and hue. As a result, veggie burgers haven’t merely become good. They have exploded into countless variations of good, and in doing so they’ve begun to look like a bellwether for the American appetite. If the growing passion for plant-based diets is here to stay, chefs — even in restaurants where you won’t find the slightest trace of spirulina — are paying attention.

“I just think it’s important to accommodate everybody,” said Josh Capon, who opened Burger & Barrel in SoHo last fall and quietly slipped a chickpea-based veggie burger onto a menu heady with pork chops, charcuterie and carpaccio. “And I don’t think somebody should feel like they’re eating an inferior burger. If you’re going to do a veggie burger, it should have that richness and mouth feel and overall texture. When you pick it up, it should eat like a burger.”

He will get no argument from Adam Fleischman, the owner of the expanding Umami Burger chain in Los Angeles. Even though his Earth Burger includes no meat, it offers the taste buds a gooey, decadent tradeoff by dandying up a mushroom-and-edamame patty with ricotta, truffle aioli and cipollini onions.

At Cru, a largely vegan and raw-food-focused cafe in that city’s Silver Lake neighborhood, the dietary and structural restrictions only seem to open up pathways of metamorphosis. Cru’s South American sliders are made of sprouted lentils and cooked garbanzo beans pulsed with garlic and spices. They’re deep-fried, dressed with a mojo sauce of blood orange and paprika and Peruvian aji amarillo chilies, and served on leaves of butter lettuce instead of a bread bun.

“We’re trying to stay away from that dry, tasteless veggie burger thing,” said Cru’s chef, Vincent Krimmel. “We have a lot more to play with now.”

Reda the complete story here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

U.S. Now Drinks the Most Wine in World

The United States has passed France as the world’s largest consumer of wine.
 According to the wine industry, wine shipments to the U.S. from U.S. states and foreign producers grew 2 percent last year to 330 million cases with an estimated retail value of $30 billion.
 France and Italy still lead the world in per-capita wine consumption, but the U.S. is catching up.

Read the complete story here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chefs Take The Deprivation Out of Lenten Fridays

No matter how much you like fish and chips, they can get tiresome if you eat them every Friday during Lent. And there’s no need for monotonous fare, unless you choose it as a form of abstinence.

“People are looking for something different than fish and chips,” said Richard Daniels of Quincy, a chef at Stars on Hingham Harbor.

Daniels and other chefs cook up lobster mac ’n’ cheese, pan-seared scallops, linguine with shellfish and other fish and pastas dishes that have complex flavors but are relatively easy to prepare. And some chefs reinvent dishes strongly associated with meat by replacing the meat with a variety of fresh, high-quality ingredients and seasonings.

“I have fun playing with tons of ingredients and creating a contemporary fusion kind of food,” said Pankaj Pradhan, chef and owner of Red Lentil, a 2-year-old vegetarian restaurant on the Newton/Watertown line.

Years ago, Catholics might have felt unusual on meatless Fridays. But today, many non-vegetarians choose meatless meals at least once a week, prompted by concerns about fat in their diet, animal welfare and the environmental stress of meat production. About half his customers are not vegetarians, Pradhan said.

“People come who have eaten meat their whole life, but they want to try things unrelated to animal products,” said Pradhan, who prepares food inspired by the cuisines of Mexico, Italy, Greece, the Middle East and India, where he grew up. “They’re thinking about their health and the environment.”

Shepherd’s pie is one of the most popular dishes at Red Lentil. After experimenting with combinations of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, Pradhan created a dish with layers of mashed Yukon gold and sweet potatoes, spinach, corn and soy sausage, served with a gravy made from ground cashews and soy milk and drizzled with cilantro sunflower pesto. Other meatless adaptations are sweet potato quesadillas, moussaka pizza and brown rice risotto with roasted butternut squash, red peppers, peas and goat cheese.

At Stars, Daniels serves vegetable risotto to complement pan-seared scallops.

“This method uses high heat and sears in the juices so the scallops don’t dry out,” he said.
Since Daniels introduced lobster mac ’n’ cheese several years ago, it has become the second most popular dish during Lent, after fish and chips. Bearing little resemblance to traditional macaroni and cheese, cavatelli pasta is baked with shiitake mushrooms, fresh peas and lobster pieces in a sauce of cream, white cheddar and parmesan. It’s topped with bread crumbs and white truffle oil.

Read the complete story here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fresh Sprouts at School

When you think about it, farms and schools have the same goal: to plant seeds and nurture growth. At Sunset Beach Elementary School the figurative ideal has gone literal. Seed-planting, plus a healthy dose of support from educators, parents, farms and the community, has sprouted and nurtured students' love of gardening and their taste for locally grown fruits and vegetables.

On the school campus, students tend a garden and an orchard, thanks to donations from the community and support from the Kokua Hawaii Foundation. The 'AINA Kine Student Farmers' Market Club funds a biweekly healthy snack supplied mostly by local farms, and a weekly lunchtime salad bar comes via support of the foundation.

All this focus on local, healthful food began converging at the school in February 2009, when parent Erin Delventhal noticed that fruit from neighborhood trees was "left on the ground half the time."

"I knew they could be put to good use, so I set up a meeting with the principal and Kim Johnson of the Kokua Foundation, who also has kids at the school," she recalls.  The school organized a farmers market club for students and asked the community to donate home-grown produce for the first sale. On market day they had a table full of food that generated $180 in one hour.

"When we asked the club what they wanted to do with the money, they said they wanted to provide the students with a healthy snack," Delventhal says. "The first snack was watermelon."

Since then, 15,000 healthy snacks have been served to the student body.

"Working with local farmers, I am usually able to purchase produce that is allowed to ripen naturally," says Delventhal. "Buying local gives the students the best-tasting snacks and, ultimately, influences their food choices. For instance, after serving starfruit from Poamoho Organic Produce in Waialua, we saw students lining up, quarters in hand, ready to purchase starfruit at the student farmers market."

Several months after that first market, the club received a grant from the foundation to plant a garden at the school. It also hosted a community tree drive that led to an orchard of guava, starfruit, kumquat, orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, sapodilla, wax jambu and sweetsop trees. Under the trees, the children planted sweet potato, pumpkin, zinnias,
gardenias, lilikoi and pineapple.

Meanwhile, the school organized a fresh lunchtime salad bar.

Today, produce from the school garden takes its place on the farmers market table alongside donations, and Thursday lunches include a trip to the salad bar. And the students love it.

Read the complete story here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Purist Chefs Ban Ketchup, Decaf and Toasted Bagels

At a pea-size Lower East Side bistro known for its fries, the admonition is spelled out on a chalkboard: No ketchup. At a popular gastropub in the West Village, customers cannot have the burger with any cheese other than Roquefort.

And at Murray’s Bagels in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, the morning crowd can order its bagels topped any number of ways but never — ever! — toasted. “It’s really annoying, because a toasted bagel is kind of fierce, right?” Jamie Divine, a product designer and frequent patron, said with a hint of an eye-roll.

New York has spawned a breed of hard-line restaurants and cafes that are saying no. No to pouring takeout espressos, or grinding more than a pound of coffee at a time. No to taming the intensity of a magma-spicy dish. And most of all, no to the 21st-century conviction that everything can be accessorized to the customer’s taste.

“People just assume that every restaurant should be for everyone — I could understand that if we were in a town with, like, 20 restaurants,” said David Chang, whose small empire of Momofuku restaurants is known for refusing to make substitutions or provide vegetarian options. “Instead of trying to make a menu that’s for everyone, let’s make a menu that works best for what we want to do.”

He added, “The customer is not always right.”

This coterie of food purists — or puritans, perhaps — is hardly limited to New York. The chef-owner of the Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Graham Elliot does not serve decaffeinated coffee at his new sandwich shop and coffee bar, Grahamwich, because, Mr. Elliot said in an e-mail, “we decided to let our inner purists shine through and showcase coffee for what it is — a flavorful, caffeinated elixir.”

Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant, recalled a San Francisco spot that would not supply salt or pepper because the chef supposedly seasoned every dish perfectly.

But New York has a hallowed history of persnickety cooks: Kenny Shopsin became something of a cult figure for the litany of rules — including no parties bigger than four, and no more than one order at each table of any particular dish — enforced for years at Shopsin’s diner in the West Village, now a small outpost at the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side.

Arthur Schwartz, a food writer and historian, recalled a restaurant that the New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme opened in Manhattan more than 20 years ago that also prohibited dining companions from ordering the same dish. “It didn’t last very long,” Mr. Schwartz said, “because in those days we all said: ‘Too many rules. New Yorkers are not going to do this.’ ”

Yet in a city filled with newcomers seeking a sense of belonging, rules can be part of the attraction. “One reason people go to a particular restaurant is they want to feel part of a particular community,” Mr. Schwartz said — even if that community is based on nothing more than a shared appreciation for carefully tended espresso that never touches a paper cup.

“You’re supposed to drink espresso fast,” said Caroline Bell, an owner of Cafe Grumpy, explaining that paper lets the heat dissipate too quickly.

When some customers at the three outposts in Brooklyn and Manhattan became, well, grumpy over the lack of takeout espresso, Ms. Bell instituted a policy meant to be taken more with a wink than with the snarl of the cafe’s logo: Patrons can get an espresso to go, if they pay $12 to drink it from a porcelain cup they can keep. “People actually do that,” she said. “There’s a guy that comes in every day to Chelsea with that cup and gets espresso.”

Some restaurateurs say they limit choices because it allows them to serve items consistently prepared the way they want.

“Cooks are creatures of habit,” Mr. Chang said. “To do this ‘Can I get this with no olives, can I get the salad chopped, sauce on the side’ — some of those special requests are ridiculous. My personal opinion is that a lot of people say they have a special allergy or they don’t like something so they can get better service.” 

Read the entire story here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Beef Industry Carves a Course

Cattlemen's Group Promotes Red Meat, Trains Recruits to Win Over Consumers

Colorado native Jen Johnson loved raising cattle and eating steak, a lifestyle some of her friends at Princeton University found a bit hard to swallow. 

Ms. Johnson tried winning them over with sheer enthusiasm. But she soon realized she needed help persuading her salad-nibbling sorority sisters to order steaks. So she went back to school to get her MBA—Masters of Beef Advocacy.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which represents beef producers, launched the MBA two years ago. The course trains ranchers, feedlot operators, butchers, chefs—anyone, really, who loves a good, thick rib-eye—in the fine art of promoting and defending red meat.

Nearly 2,000 graduates have completed the program. The cattlemen aim to train at least 20,000 more, in the hope of building a forceful counterweight to the animal-rights advocates who denounce beef production as inhumane, and the vegetarian activists who reject beef consumption as unhealthy.

The advocacy effort comes at a tough time for the beef industry. Beef consumption in the U.S. plunged from a high of 94 pounds a person in 1976 to less than 62 pounds in 2009, according to the American Meat Institute, a trade group representing beef processors.

School districts across the country have adopted "Meatless Mondays" and are dishing out bean burritos in lieu of burgers. And this winter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new dietary guidelines advising consumers to replace some of the meat in their diet with seafood.

Meanwhile, veggie evangelists at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have turned heads with ever-more-racy campaigns, including sending models clad only in strategically placed leaves of lettuce to hand out tofu hot dogs on street corners nationwide.

PETA says its tactics work. Last year, the nonprofit fielded 850,000 requests for "vegetarian starter kits" packed with recipes like Tofu Tamale Pie and testimonials from celebrity supporters like actress Natalie Portman.

"We're winning," said Bruce Friedrich, a PETA vice president.

Not so fast, the MBAs respond.

Beef has its own celebrity backers—actor Matthew McConaughey has done radio spots—but industry strategists decided that the best way to promote the product was to put the men and women who produce beef front and center.

Their goal: convince skeptical consumers that the shrink-wrapped sirloin tips in the supermarket aren't artery-clogging commodities mass-produced on factory farms, but wholesome meals turned out with great care by hard-working families. To that end, MBA students are encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers.

Ranchers are urged to talk about the hours they spend caring for cattle—all those trips to the pasture at 3 a.m. to help a laboring cow give birth. Retailers could mention nutritional facts—that a three-ounce serving of eye-round roast has just slightly more fat than a skinless chicken breast, for example.

Ms. Johnson, 26 years old, has taken to sending email blasts to her friends from Princeton, describing a morning she spent artificially inseminating cows or explaining how grazing helps ranch land thrive. The majority of beef cattle in the U.S. are raised on grass on family-owned ranches before they are sent to feedlots for fattening and then on to the slaughterhouse for processing.

"We can change the dynamic of the discussion going on with the consumer with two phrases: We care and we're capable," Daren Williams, an executive at the cattleman's association, told a recent MBA class in Denver.

But critics of the industry say true transparency about how burgers come to be may backfire.
Constant reminders that a juicy quarter-pounder was once a wobbly-legged, big-eyed calf may put some people "in the mood to have a steak," said Michael Pollan, who has written several books critical of modern beef production. "For others," he said, "it puts them in the mood to become a vegan."

Read the complete story here.