Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cajun Crab Cakes

Maybe it's an escape from the cold weather here in Maine, but for some reason we seem to be on a bit of a spicy Cajun kick at the Bic household these days. Last Friday night I made pan-blackened haddock along with some red beans and rice. And just this Tuesday night I made our favorite spicy Cajun crab cakes.

With crab cakes and me, it was love at first bite. I've tried about a dozen recipes and liked all of them--but this recipe is my very favorite. It's inspired by a recipe for "Louisiana Deviled Crab Cakes" that appeared in (the sadly now defunct) Gourmet magazine in April, 2001. I've spiced up the timid original recipe quite a bit and converted it to make use of clarified butter--which improves its flavor remarkably.

Try them sometime! Along with a simple green salad, a loaf of French bread, and a cold bottle of dry white wine they make for a delicious and fun meal in not very much time at all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pan Blackened Haddock

Friday was another cold day in a long stretch of cold and blustery weather here in Portland. Ms. Bic and I decided some spicy Louisiana fare would be just the ticket to warm us up--body and soul. Neither one of us felt like spending a lot of time cooking though.

It turned out we had some Cajun red beans in the freezer. They do take a while to make, so whenever I make them, I make an extra big batch and freeze some. They're as good after being frozen for a few months as the day they were made. On top of some steamed and lightly buttered long-grain white rice, they're soul-satisfying and delicious. Here's the recipe.

Although redfish and catfish are the usual varieties of fish pan blackened in Cajun country, haddock from the cold waters of the North Atlantic is at least as delicious and is what's beautifully fresh and almost always available here in Maine--so that's what I use in my recipe. If fresh haddock isn't available, use whatever fresh and mild white-fleshed fish fillets you can find--fresh is the key word here. Farm raised fresh catfish is now readily available throughout North America and its mild flavor and good texture go well with pan-blackened flavors. In any case, here's my recipe for pan blackened haddock. Most pan blackened fish recipes require an outdoor-vented commercial-quality exhaust fan over the stove to clear the prodigious amounts of smoke they create. This recipe doesn't and can be cooked in just about any kitchen.

You'll notice I suggest frying the fish in clarified butter. If you haven't clarified butter before, it's a great (and simple) skill to add to your cooking repertoire. Clarified butter has a significantly higher smoking point than "regular" butter which makes it ideal for high-temperature frying in recipes where you want the flavor only butter can provide. Here's how to clarify butter.

Try both the blackened fish, and the rice and beans sometime. If you don't have the time (or the inclination) to make the rice and beans together with the fish, a baguette with some butter--and a simple green salad round out the blackened fish very nicely and easily.

Don't forget the wine. Something cold, tart, and white. An American, Chilean, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect.

Update 12/24/09: For my Cajun Crab Cake recipe--which also utilizes clarified butter--click here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Beer-Teriyaki Marinated Pork Chops

Ever since I've been a teenager, I've loved just about anything grilled with a teriyaki sauce.

This pork chop recipe is one of my very favorites.  It has evolved from a recipe appearing in (sadly now defunct) Gourmet magazine back in 1993. They used apple cider vinegar in their version. I think substituting unseasoned rice vinegar gives the pork a cleaner, brighter flavor. Also, I now rely on a instant read digital thermometer to determine the doneness of the pork. They're available for under $10 and there's just no excuse not to own one.

Monday, I bought a couple of locally and naturally raised, bone-in, center cut pork chops at Whole Foods. Besides the fact that the pigs are treated humanely, these chops taste a lot better than industrially raised pork and to me are well worth the extra money. I think bone-in chops taste better than boneless. Also, classy fellow that I am, I just like chewing on the bone.

Anyway, I marinated the chops overnight, turned them once first thing Tuesday morning, and embarked on a busy day knowing a good dinner was going to happen with not much more work involved. All that was left to do besides actually grilling the chops was to make a quick and easy (I'll post the recipe soon) soba noodle salad. I knocked that off in little more than the 20 minutes it took to preheat the gas grill. Then, with a nice glass of cool white wine in hand, I grilled the chops. Dinner was delicious.

Regarding the beverage choices: the wines mentioned in my Jerk Pork Chop post would all work well here. So would a dry sake if you're so inclined--as would a Japanese beer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Baby Greens With Baked Goat Cheese

Busy days around here lately.

I was working at the paying job all day yesterday--hence, no blogging. Similar deal today.

I'm headed out to do the food shopping for tonight's dinner very soon--then, it's off to the homeless shelter to work until six. Home a little later in time for a cocktail and (fettuccine and kale?) dinner. It's destined to be another weak blogging day, I'm afraid.

Before I leave, I do want to post that baked goat cheese salad recipe I was on about Sunday afternoon. It's a dependable way to turn out delicious (and authentic) bistro-style baked goat cheese at home. Baked or fried goat cheese recipes are notoriously finicky--often leading to incinerated globs of cheese and breading stuck to the pan or baking sheet. This recipe really works. Trust me. The key is thoroughly freezing the cheese after coating and before baking the rounds. Give it a try. I suspect it'll become a "standard" at your house. It certainly has at ours.

Click here for the recipe.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shrimp and Cocktails For Two

Did I mention I was feeling better last night? Ms. Bic was too. Not just better from the flu, but also fully-recovered from a bland, boring, and heavy Thanksgiving dinner. We were both in the mood for something tasty, fun, and light. We started off with martinis and shrimp cocktail and finished up with a salad of mixed baby greens accompanied with baked herbed goat cheese rounds and a bottle of young red wine. It was a good evening.

Regarding the martinis: real martinis are made with gin and dry vermouth. That's it. OK--ice; and a garnish too. But no chocolate, no strawberries, no cutesy-fartsy fruity liqueurs. These may all be part of a tasty cocktail. Just not part of a martini. Gin and vermouth and usually an olive or two. Simple? Yes. Easy to fuck up? You betcha.

Let's talk about the ingredients one at a time. First, the gin. Of the commonly available brands, I prefer Beefeater, with Bombay Sapphire coming in a close second. Beefeater is a little less flowery than Bombay and that's my preference. Try them both. Lately I've heard good things about Plymouth gin too. Haven't tried it yet. In any case, use good gin. It's the heart of the drink. Nothing will ruin a martini faster than using cheap gin.
Dry vermouth: again, two contenders. Martini and Rossi (Italian), and Noilly Prat (French). I slightly prefer M & R. Again, I find it a little less floral, but that's just me. Do not buy cheap vermouth. It will ruin your martini. Period. And don't forget, vermouth is just flavored wine. It has a very limited shelf life. Buy small bottles and keep it refrigerated. Toss it after two or three months. Would you enjoy a glass of "regular" wine from a bottle that was opened a year ago and has been sitting in someone's warm kitchen cupboard ever since? I didn't think so. Vermouth's no different--it's wine too. Enough said.

The ice: Yes, the ice. With a drink as simple as a martini, the quality of the ice really matters. Or more precisely--the quality of the water the ice was made from really matters. If your tap water tastes shitty, so will your ice and so will your martinis. No point in buying good gin and vermouth and then ruining the whole thing with ice cubes that taste like frozen little chunks of chlorinated swimming-pool water. If your water is bad, filter it or use bottled water for your ice.

The garnish: usually a green olive or two. I like garlic-stuffed Greek green olives the best. Use whatever you like. Sometimes a thin strip of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler is used instead of an olive. Once in a while, a tiny bottled cocktail onion. Then the cocktail is technically called a Gibson rather than a martini. But let's not get picky.

Last night we enjoyed ours with a few Maine shrimp that I gently simmered with a little Old Bay seasoning, then chilled and served with some homemade cocktail sauce. It was a delicious combination.

Making your own shrimp cocktail sauce couldn't be easier. Just pour out a couple good glugs of ketchup into a little bowl, and add some prepared horseradish to taste. I start with about a ten to one ketchup to horseradish ratio and add horseradish or ketchup until it tastes just right to me. When it tastes just right to you, add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. That's it. Just add some shrimp and a couple of dry martinis and you've got yourself a lovely little cocktail party for two.

I'll tell you about the goat cheese salad a little later.

Anyway, to make two double martinis start with 6 oz. of gin in a measuring cup. Add 1 scant teaspoon dry vermouth. The comfortably-full cap of a 375 ml. bottle of Martini and Rossi vermouth is a perfect measuring device. Shake in a metal cocktail shaker with plenty of ice until the shaker is almost too cold to hold. This accomplishes two things: it chills the booze and also dilutes it. Properly diluted gin is key to a great martini. Remember, imported London dry gin is generally about 94 proof. It can stand up to some melted ice. In fact, it's made to stand up to some melted ice. Once it's well-shaken and good and cold, just strain through the top of the cocktail shaker into two martini glasses. Add an olive or two to each. Serve immediately. Drink while still cold.

Update: Here's a link to the subsequent goat cheese salad post and recipe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cavatappi with Shrimp and Sheep's Milk Feta

It was cold, windy, and raining cats and dogs in Portland yesterday. A day literally calling out for some good, hot comfort food. But not super-heavy, fat-laden comfort food. Something lighter but yet soul-satisfying.

Pasta spirals with little shrimp in a light tomato sauce accented with feta cheese filled the billet perfectly. This recipe is a cold weather favorite at our house. If you're only familiar with cow's milk--or even goat's milk feta--sheep's milk feta is a revelation. It's rich tasting, tangy, and flavorful without an over-reliance on salt for its flavor. It's readily available these days and well worth seeking out.

Cavatappi pasta spirals work great in this dish. They're toothsome and satisfying without being ponderous. I prefer DeCecco brand. DeCecco pasta is flavorful, and maintains good texture--rather than getting all mushy--even after baking. It's worth the extra few cents.

As far as the shrimp go, get the smallest raw shrimp you can. Wild caught if possible. If you can get them, tiny Maine shrimp are ideal.

Anyway, this dish, along with a green salad and maybe a loaf of good bread makes for a great meal without a lot of work. Here's a link to the recipe.

Oh yeah, don't forget the wine. Something cold and white. An Italian Pinot Grigio or an American, New Zealand, or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc all work perfectly.

Update: Link to shrimp cocktail recipe added 11/30/09.

Click on image for a larger view.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ms. Bic's Mejillones a la Vinagreta (Spanish Mussels)

Although we call them "Spanish Mussels" at our house. Whatever you call them, they are one of the very best mussel dishes in the world. People who think they don't like mussels often love these.

Last night we had some good friends join us for dinner. The main course featured "Leaping Frog Chicken." It's a great grilled chicken dish with Latin American roots. I did a post on it a few months ago. Click here to check it out.

Ms. Bic figured her Spanish Mussels would be perfect for an appetizer. She was absolutely right. Accompanied by a cold bottle of Spanish Albarino white wine, they were a great start to the meal and a big hit. Here's her recipe.

For dessert we had Ms. Bic's heavenly Phyllo Pear Flowers with Berry Centers. But that will have to be a post of its own.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fettuccine with Hot Italian Sausage and Tuscan Kale

We're well into fall here in Maine. The certainty of winter approaching is a tangible presence in the air. The homeless people I work with at my paying job are increasingly dependent upon the warmth and food that the shelters and soup kitchens offer. This is the beginning of the busy season for those of us who staff those facilities. Hence, I've had less time to blog and cook than I've grown accustomed to over the last several months.

Thursday morning, before I left for work, I decided to make one of my favorite one-pot meals for dinner that night. This recipe is relatively quick to make, delicious, soul- satisfying, and nutritious. Along with a loaf of good bread and a bottle of young red wine, it's a complete meal. Try it sometime!

Make sure you use egg fettuccine rather than "regular" dried fettuccine for this recipe. Egg fettuccine comes in four bird-nesty looking portions per 500 g. (8.8 oz.) package. I like DeCecco brand best.

If you happen to live in southern Maine, Micucci's on India Street in Portland is a wonderful little market and a dependable source for most food things Mediterranean. That's where I got the sausage, pasta, and wine for this dinner.

And if you don't do pig--although I've never tried them with this--I imagine substituting the turkey or chicken-based hot Italian sausages I've seen around would be fine.

Note: Click on photo to enlarge. This works with most photos posted on the blog.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lobster Rolls for Dinner

For Maine, for this time of year, yesterday was a relatively warm (61 F/16 C) day and sunny, with light winds. In its own Northern way, very lovely.

Ms. Bic and I were both off from work and didn't have anything planned. We decided to drive down the coast to Ogunquit and go for a walk on the town's world famous beach--mostly deserted after the summer's influx of tourists were gone. After a long walk and a lot of sea air, we were both hungry for some good seafood. Nothing ponderous or heavy though. Nothing fried or swimming in a rich butter sauce. Something light. Something fun. We decided to pick up some lobsters on the way home and make lobster rolls for dinner.

Once back home in Portland, we stopped at Harbor Fish Market (probably the best all-around fish market in Maine) and bought a couple of relatively small soft-shell lobsters for just under $10. We then stopped at Whole Foods and bought some hot dog rolls. Yes, hot dog rolls. A good, soft hot dog roll, preferably top-split--is the best thing in the world for making lobster rolls. Just make sure you get top-quality ones. To me, Whole Foods' store-brand plain organic white wheat rolls are the best--with Pepperidge Farm coming in a close second. Only plain, soft white flour rolls and NOT the whole grain alternatives will make a heavenly lobster roll. Your karma will survive the ideological insult--trust me on this.

As soon as we got home, I cooked the lobsters. I wanted them to have time to cool off before I made the lobster salad. Here's how I did it. I stuck the cooked lobsters in the fridge for about half an hour and then I removed all the meat from them and cut it into bite-size (about 1/2") chunks.

Next, I made the lobster salad. Here's my recipe. As you'll see, it incorporates some minced shallot and tarragon. I think these flavors--used in moderation--although not strictly traditional, take the salad to a higher level.

To go with the lobster rolls, I made a salad of simply-dressed mesclun greens with a couple of still warm-from-the-oven, rounds of baked goat cheese nestled alongside. But I guess that should be the topic for another post someday soon.

One last thing: a fun, light-hearted dinner like this calls for a fun, light-hearted wine. Definitely something dry, white, and cold. Actually anything dry, white, and cold! If you want to splurge a little bit, a tart New Zealand or Washington state Sauvignon Blanc, or a Spanish Albarino would work perfectly. Your call!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

It's getting gotten cold here in Maine. Time for some comfort food. Real, homemade, good comfort food--like chicken pot pie.

Tuesday, I had the whole day off while Ms. Bic was at her very stressful job struggling to make headway on a complicated financial forecast that needed to be completed in a ridiculously short period of time. I wanted to have a good dinner ready for her when she limped home that evening.

So, as soon as I got out from under the covers that cold morning, I decided it was going to be chicken pot pie for dinner. Right after my breakfast, I got started on the crust.

I already had those ingredients on hand so I knocked that off before going shopping for the filling ingredients. Flaky pastry is always better if the dough sits in the fridge a few hours before rolling it out. The flaky pastry I like best for my chicken pot pie is an adaptation of a recipe I originally found in Rose Levy Beranbaum's wonderful The Pie and Pastry Bible. It incorporates one small (3 oz.) brick of cream cheese--which gives it great savory flavor and a deep golden color after baking. Click here for the recipe.

Update 3/19/10: Click here for a new recipe for a cheddar cheese flaky pastry crust that is equally good. Try them both!

As far as the filling, that recipe originated from one in Cook's Illustrated magazine's cookbook, The New Best Recipe, which in my opinion is one of the very best general cookbooks out there. The book would be a perfect gift for someone who wants to learn how to cook excellent versions of "standard" dishes.

My filling recipe (click here for it) is about as simple and straightforward as it can be while still creating a delicious, healthy filling.

The recipe serves four extremely generously. Leftovers are great for a few days in the fridge. As for wine: I'd recommend a soft, not-too-tannic, full-bodied red. Jadot's Beaujolais Villages (about $12) is ideal, La Vielle Ferme red (about $8) is very good with this, and Bota Box Cabernet Sauvignon (about $18 for a 3 liter box) is just fine in a swillable sort of way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stale Bread

I cant' wait to make this. From The Atlantic:
Migas are perhaps the apotheosis of old bread. The name literally means "crumbs," and that's pretty much what it is. This is humble food, food of poor shepherds in the dry hills of Extremadura, food which in Madrid is remembered with a mixture of rue and nostalgia as the hardscrabble fare of the hungry years after the Civil War. In those years it gave new life to the stale butt of bread, the last rind of ham, whatever fragments of chorizo or panceta might found. Of course what goes around comes around, and the generation which has grown up in the abundance of the last 30 years is rediscovering the charm of their grandparents' survival rations. Migas now appear on the menu of chic tapas bars all over the country...
Continue to recipe.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leaping Frog Chicken

So let's talk food. Specifically, grilled chicken sort of food. More specifically, "Leaping Frog Chicken" from the June 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine.

When I first skimmed that issue of the magazine back in late May when it arrived in the mail, I was instantly intrigued by the method of preparing the chicken rather than by the specific recipe. The recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of Argentinean ají molido or hot smoked paprika. I had neither on hand and although smoked paprika is now widely available, hot smoked paprika is not as easily obtained--or so I thought. Since I wanted to try cutting up a chicken this new fancy way--and didn't want to wait until I obtained some hot smoked paprika, I went ahead and did it and used an old tried and true coating for grilled chicken that has been a standby at our house for years. It's Julia Child's "Deviled Chicken With Mustard Coating" recipe. It's from her "Way To Cook" book and it's excellent. Here's a link to a copy of it.

Using the "Leaping Frog" method of prepping the chicken along with Julia's mustard coating produced a delicious chicken--dark meat and white meat both perfectly done and no part of the chicken wasted-- which is the case with "standard" butterflied chicken where the backbone and part of the oysters are removed. But I digress.

Yes, the chicken was delicious with Julia's mustard coating and I would highly recommend you try it sometime. But Ruth Cousineau's (the director of Gourmet's test kitchen) words, “Every so often, a recipe comes along and changes your life; and this one will” stuck in my little foodie brain. I had to try the whole "Leaping Frog" recipe in its entirety.

It turned out, last night (Sunday) was Ms. Bic's last night of a week away from her work. So, to make the transition back to work a little less unpleasant, a nice dinner was called for. And let me tell you--this girl loves her chicken. So, the decision was made Saturday morning--if I could get my hands on some hot smoked paprika I would marinate the bird early Sunday morning and cook her the real deal for dinner Sunday. Fortunately, it turned out the Whole Foods market here in Portland did have hot smoked paprika. I was in luck! As soon as I got home from the store I opened the tin and smelled and tasted the stuff. Dark red, smoky, and exotic. Funky.

I was all set.

Sunday morning right after breakfast, I made the marinade, prepped the chicken, and stuck it in the fridge for the day. Later, I grilled it on the gas grill over indirect medium-high heat (about 375°) for about 55 minutes. The white meat was about 160° and the thighs were about 175° Perfect! The chicken was done. I served it with a rice pilaf made with loads of baby spinach, cilantro, and parsley all pureed with chicken broth in the blender. Also some fresh green beans from the local farmers' market rounded things out.

It turned out to be an especially wonderful dinner. Possibly it's the best grilled chicken I've ever made. I highly recommend it!

Photo by Bic (click on it for larger image)

Update 11/8/09 original title changed from "Slow News Day" for the sake of clarity.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Meat Cooking Us?

From today's WaPo, Ezra Klein on meat and global warming. Two excerpts:
The debate over climate change has reached a rarefied level of policy abstraction in recent months. Carbon tax or cap-and-trade? Upstream or downstream? Should we auction permits? Head-scratching is, at this point, permitted. But at base, these policies aim to do a simple thing, in a simple way: persuade us to undertake fewer activities that are bad for the atmosphere by making those activities more expensive. Driving an SUV would become pricier. So would heating a giant house with coal and buying electricity from an inefficient power plant. But there's one activity that's not on the list and should be: eating a hamburger.

If it's any consolation, I didn't like writing that sentence any more than you liked reading it. But the evidence is strong. It's not simply that meat is a contributor to global warming; it's that it is a huge contributor. Larger, by a significant margin, than the global transportation sector...


...It's also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It's not a value judgment on anyone's choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it's better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.
I've not had the willpower to eliminate bacon from my life entirely, and so I eliminated it from breakfast and lunch, and when that grew easier, pulled back further to allow myself five meat-based meals a month. And believe me, I enjoy the hell out of those five meals. But if we're going to take global warming seriously, if we're going to make crude oil more expensive and tank-size cars less practical, there's no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates.
Read the whole thing, you'll be glad you did.

Photo credit: USDA via Wikimedia

More Good News For Yogurt Fans?

This comes from a producer of probiotics so its veracity is questionable, but nevertheless--there may be something to this. An excerpt from MedPage Today:
When given preventively over the winter months, probiotics reduce fever, cough, and runny noses in children, researchers said.

Prophylactic Lactobacillus acidophilus alone or in combination with other microorganisms reduced the incidence and duration of all three symptoms, Gregory J. Leyer, PhD, of Danisco USA in Madison, Wis., and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics. Danisco produces probiotics and other health foods.

"Daily probiotic dietary supplementation during the winter months was a safe, effective way to reduce episodes of fever, rhinorrhea, and cough, the cumulative duration of those symptoms, the incidence of antibiotic prescriptions, and the number of missed school days attributable to illness," the researchers said...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Coffee And Bad Breath

Did you know there is an organization named, "The International Society for Breath Odor Research." Neither did I. Their meetings must be really fun and exciting. Read on.

From Live Science:
An extract from coffee can inhibit the bacteria that lead to bad breath, scientists have discovered.
The extract prevents malodorous bacteria from making their presence felt — or smelt.
"Everybody thinks that coffee causes bad breath," said Tel Aviv University breath specialist Mel Rosenberg, "and it's often true, because coffee, which has a dehydrating effect in the mouth, becomes potent when mixed with milk, and can ferment into smelly substances."
But not always. Rosenberg and colleagues monitored the bacterial odor production of coffee in saliva.
"Contrary to our expectations, we found some components in coffee that actually inhibit bad breath," Rosenberg said...
Continue to read the whole article if you really care.

High Carb Foods And Heart Attacks

A very interesting new study's results were just released. From The Medical News:
It has been commonly known for a number of years that certain foods, such as white bread and corn flakes, are bad for cardiac health, but new research from Israeli scientists shows just how 'high carb' foods cause heart attacks. The researchers at Tel Aviv University have carried out a study which shows exactly how high carb foods increase the risk for heart problems - Dr Michael Shechter of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and the Heart Institute of Sheba Medical Center working in collaboration with the Endocrinology Institute "looked inside" the arteries of students as they were eating a variety of foods...

...The results were apparently quite dramatic - before any of the patients ate, arterial function was essentially the same - but after eating, except for the placebo group, all had reduced functioning and enormous peaks indicating arterial stress were found in the high glycemic index groups: the cornflakes and sugar group.

Dr Shechter says though they already knew high glycemic foods were bad for the heart, they now have a mechanism that shows just how and foods such as cornflakes, white bread, french fries, and sweetened soda all put undue stress on the arteries.

He says they have explained for the first time how high glycemic carbs can affect the progression of heart disease because during the consumption of foods high in sugar, there appears to be a temporary and sudden dysfunction in the endothelial walls of the arteries.

Endothelial health can be traced back to almost every disorder and disease in the body and Dr Shechter says it is "the riskiest of the risk factors"...

Read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.

Creole Pork Chops and Rice

Sunday night, I promised to share my Creole Pork Chops and Rice recipe. Well--here it is. It's a simple, almost one-pot meal that's perfect on a damp rainy night. Try it soon!

Coincidentally, the wine suggestions from my previously posted jerk pork chop recipe are equally suitable here--except if you're going for maximum bang for your buck and get a boxed wine, I'd do Bota Box Pinot Grigio instead of their Chardonnay with this one. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Do I Get To Decide What Constitutes Moderate Alcohol Intake?

Moderate alcohol intake may be the single biggest contributor to the Mediterranean diet's longevity benefit, accounting for 23.5% of the effect in a prospective cohort study.

Surprisingly, the high ratio of monounsaturated-to-saturated fat in the olive oil-rich diet was a more modest contributor to the reduction in all-cause mortality, at 10.6%, according to Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, PhD, of Harvard, and colleagues...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Antibiotics In Our Meat

Christopher Wanjek has a good article in Live Science today:

"The use of the powerful antibiotic streptomycin as a growth-promoting agent in turkeys also quickly promotes the growth of dangerous streptomycin-resistant coliform bacteria, according to researchers at University of California, Davis.

Perhaps such a finding should be cause for alarm, considering how agribusiness pumps more than 20 million pound of antibiotics into healthy livestock each year, constituting more than 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States.

Then again, the aforementioned study was published in 1951. Hundreds of similar studies have since been published. But no one seems to care..."

Continue reading the article.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How To Cook A Lobster

I first came to Maine in 1978 as a Seaman Apprentice fresh out of Coast Guard boot camp. I spent my entire four year enlistment on the Maine coast and underway on the cold coastal waters. Sometimes, after towing a disabled fishing vessel back to port, the grateful fishermen (no women fishers in those days) would give us as many live lobsters as we would take. These lobsters were accidentally caught up in their nets as they fished for bottom-dwelling cod and haddock. Some of these lobsters were over a foot and a half long--with claws big and strong enough to take one of your fingers clean-off if you weren’t careful! We’d cook these lobsters on board our boat with whatever rudimentary cookware we could assemble. They were delicious. That was over thirty years and many, many lobsters ago. Long out of the Coast Guard, I’m still in Maine and still cooking lobsters.

Here’s how to do it:

Get yourself a big pot with a tight fitting lid. It has to be big enough to comfortably hold all the lobsters you’re cooking. Add water to a depth of one half inch--no more. Ideally, place a steamer rack or an upside down round cake pan in the water at the bottom of the pot. This will keep the lobsters completely out of the boiling water—preserving maximum flavor. If you don’t have anything around to raise the lobsters out of the water, don’t fret. The lobsters will still be delicious even if they’re somewhat submerged while they cook.

Bring the water in the covered pot to a full boil over high heat. Add the lobsters and re-cover the pot. Steam them until they're done. This will take about 14-16 minutes for the smallest one-pound lobsters and up to 30 minutes for a big two-pounder.

Anyway, those times are just a rough guide to plan the rest of the meal by. Here’s how to tell when lobsters are perfectly done regardless of their size, whether you’re cooking them in a fancy $200 stockpot on a restaurant quality stove--or in a cheap tin pot over a little camping stove on the beach at sunset.

As you probably know, a lobster has feelers—antennae, if you prefer. These are the two long things sticking out of its head at the very front. Up until the point that the lobster is properly and fully cooked, these feelers are firmly anchored to the rest of the lobster. When the lobster is done, the feelers are easily removed with a fairly gentle tug. This works for all size lobsters in any tightly covered pot.

How hard should you have to pull on the damned things? Not very. Imagine the end of the feeler somehow firmly affixed to a quart bottle of your favorite beverage. If you were holding your cooked lobster by its body and tried to lift the imaginary bottle off the ground, the feeler would detach. Or another, more practical, example of the force required would be: suspend the (hopefully) now-cooked lobster over the pot by holding the end of one of its feelers firmly between your thumb and forefinger. Rather sharply bounce the body up and down about two inches—about as hard as you would knock on a door. The feeler should detach. If it doesn’t, steam the little bugger a couple more minutes and check again. When the feeler detaches, the lobster is done. That’s it.

For an easily printable version of this recipe, click here.

Lobster For Dinner Tonight (And Green Goddess Potato Salad)

Ms. Bic and I are off to Wyoming and Yellowstone Park this Friday. We'll be gone just one week. It's a first for both of us and we're pretty excited. Since Wyoming is not a big seafood destination, we figure we should get our fill of good Maine seafood over the next few days before we leave.

There was a good piece in the Portland Daily Sun a few days ago on the current lobster situation.

Well, I did my little part to help the Maine lobster industry this morning. I'm just back from Harbor Fish Market down on the waterfront. I got three small hardshell lobsters for about $15. To go with the lobsters, I'll be making a potato salad with a few Frenchy haricot vert green beans mixed in. It's a great recipe from Gourmet magazine that's become a favorite at our house. The anchovies in it are the secret weapon. A relatively cheap and really good meal! Oh yeah, did I forget to mention a Maine lobster loves a nice chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet or Pinot Grigio served alongside?

Update 7/1/09: The words "(And Green Goddess Potato Salad)" were added to the original title to make it easier to find the recipe on the blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Breakfast Was Good (Jerk Pork Chops and Jamaican Rice With Pigeon Peas)

This morning I warmed up some leftover Jamaican Rice and Pigeon Peas to go with my eggs. Lots of habaneros in there to help fire me up for the day. I originally made the rice Tuesday evening as the single accompaniment to grilled jerk pork chops. Try them both for a nice Caribbean dinner with friends.

Serve some Red Stripe Jamaican beer if you're so inclined--or a bottle of chilled white wine. La Vieille Ferme is relatively cheap ($8-9) these days and pairs nicely. If you want to splurge, Louis Jadot's Macon-Villages ($12-14) is wonderful with this dinner. If you just want a lot of decent, fun wine to swill enjoy with your friends while you're talking, grilling, and eating--get a box of Bota Box Chardonnay ($16-18 for 3 liters) and make sure it's been in the fridge long enough to get good and cold.

Update 7/1/09: Original title changed from "Breakfast Was Good" to make the recipes easier to find on the blog now that there is a LOT more content than there was when the post was originally published.