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  • Archive | July, 2009

    More Food Porn: Linguini with Red Pepper Pesto and Italian Sausage

    Honestly? Italian cuisine is lyrical and melodic, and it comes across as a tune almost everyone can sing. What other cuisines can come close?


    Missing the Point on Organic Food

    The headline reads “Organic food ‘no healthier than conventional“. The piece is reporting on the findings of the Food Standards Agency who was trying to determine if organic foods had a higher nutritional benefit than those produced by industrial agriculture.

    The problem with this report is twofold. For one, people who understand the underlying philosophy of organic food already know this. Recent science reports have made this point clear. Even the Mayo Clinic agrees that:

    No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food. And the USDA — even though it certifies organic food — doesn’t claim that these products are safer or more nutritious.

    While there is a percentage of organic food fans who do argue that there are nutritional benefits, it is of my experience that most people who go down the organic path do so for other reasons. And for some reason, a fair amount of mainstream news organizations miss the point of this entirely. Referring back to the Mayo Clinic piece, the following is written:

    • Conventional farmers: Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
    • Organic farmers: Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
    • Conventional farmers: Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
    • Organic farmers: Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
    • Conventional farmers: Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.
    • Organic farmers: Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds
    • Conventional farmers: Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth
    • Organic farmers: Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

    When approaching organic foods from this point of view, it becomes clear that the underlying philosophy is not one of individual nutrition, but rather one of both environmental and ethical approaches to production. In other words, the organic food movement is less about consumption than it is about production.

    That some people continually to miss this distinction continues to confound me.


    How to increase your beer knowledge

    It seems that the larger the scope of any topic, the more intimidating it can be for those looking to become even only slightly literate in said topic. It’s even more difficult when one has a preconceived notion that they can fall back.

    The topic of beer illustrates the above point nicely, especially for Americans (and Canadians, I suppose). We love to think that the beer world is primarily made up of crisp, light lagers. A large subset of this group may be aware of darker beers, such as Guinness, without really knowing how these brews fit into the larger context of the beer world. I would also hazard a guess that most people are aware of micro-breweries. But as to the types of beer they sell? That’s where it gets tricky. There are literally hundreds of brands out there, each with their own take on a hundred or so different varieties of types of beer.

    So the question that comes from this is thus: How does a person learn to increase their beer knowledge? Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

    1. Get out of your comfort zone: This is a number that I’ve stated before, but it bears repeating. 8 out of every 10 beers sold in the United States comes from either Anheuser-Busch, or MillersCoors. If your idea of beer comes from the beers or advertising of either of these two companies, you will need to change your perspective rather quickly.
    2. Avoid Light Lagers: This relates to the first point somewhat. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have made their fortunes on the back of Light Lagers. As such, when an American thinks of beer, the stereotype is of these types of beer. The fact is that these types of beer constitute only a small percentage of the varieties of beer that can be produced.
    3. Think Countries, rather than Companies: There are several cultures out there that have strong relationships with their brewing histories. Some of them include Bavarian, Belgian, British, and more recently, American. If you start to approach beer from the point of view of these histories, rather than from brand-loyalty, your knowledge will increase much, much faster.
    4. Understand that the taste spectrum of beer is quite large:. This is a follow up to the second point – not all beers highlight the same characteristics. Beers can taste sweet, sour, bread-like, flower-like, bitter, coffee-like, to even quite bitter. Their complexity can range anywhere between subtle to quite overt in their flavors. In short, there’s a beer out there for everyone. Anyone who has ever taken a drink of a lambic will tell you that it’s a far, far cry from the light lagers. As an example, lambics from Lindemans taste like liquid Jolly Ranchers to me.
    5. Don’t be afraid of the tap: As a rule of thumb, a beer from a tap is better than a beer from the bottle, which, in turn, is better than a beer from a can. There are many, many exceptions to this rule, especially if the bottle is green or clear rather than brown (as these are prone to skunky aromas) or if you’re dealing with bottle conditioned beers. If you’re going to get out of your comfort zone, put aside the bottle of Budweiser and ask for what’s on tap.
    6. Understand that there are beers that you won’t like: Due to the sheer amount of beers available, there are bound to be some beers that don’t catch your fancy. Sometimes this is due to a poorly made beer, sometimes this can be due to the fact that you may not like a particular flavor characteristic. Regardless, don’t let this discourage you. My partner, Tara, took a while to discover she loves Wheat beer. My friend Andrea has decided that porters are more her speed. To arrive at these conclusions, they had to soldier on after tasting many bad and mediocre beers.
    7. Take advantage of the knowledge of others: Collectively, beer freaks are the friendliest people I know. The have no qualms about speaking about beer to either their friends, or even complete strangers. Head to a micro-pub, and ask the person behind the bar to give you recommendation.
    8. Take advantage of the community where you live: Speaking of bars, in every big city there are places that devote themselves to beer making and/or beer fans. Make a plan to head to one of these locations, and indulging yourself in the unknown. These places are typically locally owned, have good to great pub food, and encourage socializing.
    9. Sample, Sample, Sample: there’s less brand loyalty in the micro-brew world, than their is in the corporate beer world. There’s several reasons for this. One, the sheer volume of the variety of beer means that everyone can looking for the best brewer, best type of beer, or even the best beer overall. In other words, everyone is doing what you’re doing if you follow the above steps – They’re looking for the beer that best suits them.
    10. Enjoy yourself: I can’t say this enough. It’s often better to enjoy the moment than to enjoy the beer. While Andrea and I have been ‘researching’ beers for the past six months, often that research is set aside as we end up laughing, talking about work, or socializing with other co-workers and friends who have come out with us.


    Beer Review: Paulaner Salvator Double Bock

    Okay, I’m finding a pattern here, at least when it comes to personal preference. I like malt, but not to an excess. I can tolerate hops, again, when it’s not to an excess. I don’t think I’m a fan of Double Bocks. I like ‘em (if Paulaner is representative of what they taste like), but I probably won’t search them out other than for “research”.

    Served in a bottle, and consumed after an hour’s workout on the recumbent bike.

    Look: A nice dark copper/orange coloring, and the clarity that lagers are known for. The head is a light tan color that is quite full to start, but dissipates rather quickly.

    Aroma: Very sweet, very malty. Not overly strong, but quite present. No hops anywhere. This is as it should be.

    Taste: Sweet up front, and the malt is everywhere. Sits on the tongue for a bit and the finish can end up cloyingly sweet, but not to the point where it’s dominating your palate.

    Mouthfeel: It has the uniqueness of being both full bodied, but yet quite light on the carbonation. This is a feature with doppelbocks and not a bug. The sweetness on the finish can make you thick this beer is more viscous than it is.

    Drinkability: If you like malt, this is the way to go.

    Overall: B+


    What is a Cream Ale?

    A cream ale is a type of beer that is a tad unique in the brewing world. It’s a beer that tries to have it both ways, by having techniques and characteristics similar to both lagers AND ales.

    How they get this way is a bit up for debate, with some people saying that it’s fermented with top-fermenting yeast which is similar to that of traditional ales, but then it is brought to age at cooler temperatures for conditioning, like lagers. Sometimes lagering yeast is added at this point, other times, lager beer is mixed in.

    The result is a beer with similarities to American Standard Lagers, but with a mouthfeel notably different. Some would say taste differs as well, but the use of corn by same makes any variation in taste only slight when compared against their lager cousins. If you look at the judging criteria for both Cream Ales and Standard American Lagers, you’ll seem them quite similar, with the only difference being that a Cream Ale can be a little hoppier and thus a bit more bitter.

    Being similar to American Lagers, Cream Ales are meant to be enjoyed the same way. That is to say, it’s a summer beer, chilled quite well and served as a refreshment against the heat. It also pares up nicely against lighter meals.


    New Food Media vs. Old Food Media (or Julie vs. Julia)

    The upcoming movie Julie & Julia is bringing up some interesting discussions in the food world about old-school food journal vs. new-school food journalism. Or in other words, professional food writers who work at newspapers and have had cookbooks published by mainstream publishing houses are discussing the validity of those food writers who are cutting their teeth in the blog world, and then moving on to bigger and better things.

    It makes sense that this movie would initiate such a discussion, for it details the life of two women who best represent each school. In one corner, you have Julia Child, whose legacy is nearly larger than life, an icon of the food movement. In the other you have Julie Powell, an ex-food blogger whose web site hit the big time when she parleyed her exploration of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking into a book deal and then subsequently a movie deal. Both women are quite representative of their eras, as well as the technologies of their eras, Julia Child’s popularity wouldn’t have been so great without television. Ms. Powell’s popularity would be non-existent without blog technology, even if she strongly feels the need to disassociate herself with the blogging generation.

    The old-school/new-school debate was put forth once again by Virginia Willis, a food writer and photographer who was brought in old school traditions, even as she embraces new school technologies. She had an in-depth exploration of her feelings a week or so back. The entire thing is worth a read, but this is the part that took me in:

    I also read the Julie/Julia Project blog and for a time, I followed Julie Powell. I was very intrigued by her nerve actually, of cooking the book. Pretty stiff stuff for an untrained cook. Good for her, I thought. What an undertaking. But one day she made a comment implying a recipe being wrong for roast chicken. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it struck me as being so disrespectful, completely without deference to Julia Child, that I stopped. What the hell did she know about food? Had she even heard of poulet au Bresse?

    (snip)

    People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts. The incredible proliferation and self-indulgent blabber of many food blogs has given people the freedom to hallucinate, “I can type and I eat, therefore I am a food journalist”!

    Granted, Julie Powell did not present herself as a food expert. I am not saying she did, quite the contrary. It’s also not a case of sour grapes on my part. Bravo for her. Her food memoir was a best-seller. A rising tide floats all boats, and as a food writer, I wholeheartedly thank her.

    I am not necessarily saying my writing is better. After all, who am I to question what is published in the New York Times? Of course, I recognize the irony that I am sharing this indeed in an aforementioned self-serving blog. But good grief, people who don’t know how to begin to roast a ding dang chicken without following a recipe can be our new, ahem, food experts? This makes me a bit sad and more than a bit aggravated.

    There’s so much I want to talk about with her perspective, I don’t know where to necessarily start.

    For the most part, i don’t think that many individual food bloggers count themselves as food journalists. Granted my sampling is based off of those sites I happen to consume on a regular basis, but those I read come more from a personal memoir/diary perspective, with a tad bit of research thrown in to provide context. Not all food writers are food journalists, and to equate the two is doing a disservice to those who explicitly do not do food journalism.

    But let’s talk about expertise for a moment. Can people who simply consume food without knowing its context be considered experts? If not, does this lack of expertise diminish their experience, or make that experience less important?

    First and foremost, food is a reflection of any given culture, regardless of the era in which they live. Each culture has its own ignorance of items relating to their culture. Is Pliny the Elder’s position on beer to be dismissed because he didn’t know of yeast, nor of beer’s importance to the tribes of his enemies? Are the cooks of the Renaissance less important to food culture because they didn’t know the etymology and evolution of the recipes they were using? Of course not. The same can be said of those who simply mimic recipes and discuss their value on food blogs or other similar mediums. Their input has inherent value. Just because one knows the importance of Poulet au Bresse does not mean that their insight has more cultural value from one who does not.

    So if cultural currency isn’t the issue, then what is? My guess is something I call “Institutional Relevancy”, or how important one person is to the institution they serve, in this case: food media.

    Here’s an observation I have that most American food writers don’t want to hear – the majority of Americans don’t care about food, or at least not in the way the experts would like them to. There are many anecdotal statistics I could throw out there to support my position – the popularity of fast food restaurants, the ratio of sales of prepared food versus fresh produce, the number of people who call Kraft Singles “cheese”.

    “But Kate!”, one might exclaim. “What about the popularity of The Food Network?”

    Granted, The Food Networks growth over the past ten years or so have been impressive, but let’s take a look at the shows they have on. Some of them a pure entertainment, (Ace of Cakes, Iron Chef, The Search for the Next Food Network Star), others are recipe shows that have approach cooking from a very simplistic point of view (Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, and others), and still others are simply border line food porn (Paula Deen). My point here is that the largest food media institution has succeeded because it either treats food as entertainment, or as a dumbed-down commodity. There are exceptions on the network, to be sure, but these tend to be the exceptions, and not the rule. On the Food Network, Poulet au Bresse is afforded the same respect as any other chicken.

    The proliferation of food blogs that take this simplistic approach reflect the current standard of American food knowledge. That is to say, we are how we eat – kind of mindlessly.

    But this is changing. I doubt the local food movement would be as successful today without blogs, the same could be said for the organic movement five years ago. And each of these movements have entered our culinary vernacular, and have made us smarter when it comes to food.

    I will admit to one trend that I find disturbing – the proliferation of food blogs who do little more than regurgitate press releases and video links. I am not a fan of Slashfood or Eat Me Daily, who seem to believe that recapping Top Chef or providing obituaries about the Taco Bell Chihuahua are relevant to cooking or restaurant going. But this is a personal bias. I’m of the belief that the more we take these sites seriously, the more likely we’ll regress in our collective food knowledge.

    Let me end on this – I’m a fan of Julia Child, and I believe her place in American food history is deserved. Her French Cooking cookbooks are near required for anyone’s cookbook library. But how effective was the method of her message when a mere generation later, someone following her cookbook didn’t understand the relevance of poulet au Bresse?


    How Big is Anheuser-Busch/InBev?

    Anheuser-Busch/InBev is huge. There’s simply no denying it. But how huge is huge? Let’s take a moment to compare it against two other beer companies, and some of their brands.

    First off, Seattle based Elysian Brewing Company -

    Elysian Brewing (United States)
    The Immortal IPA
    The Wise ESB
    Dragonstooth Stout
    Perseus Porter
    Zephyrus Pilsner
    Elysian Fields Pale Ale

    Okay, Okay. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to compare a Microbrewery against the world’s largest beer maker. Let’s take the brands for the number two beer company in the United States, MillerCoors:

    Águila (Columbia)
    Coors (United States)
    Aspen Edge
    Barman Pils
    Blue Moon Belgian White
    Coors
    Coors Extra Gold
    Coors Light
    Coors Non-Alcoholic
    Full Moon Winter Ale
    Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
    Herman Joseph’s Special Reserve
    Honey Moon Summer Ale
    Keystone Ice
    Keystone Light
    Keystone Premium
    Killian’s Irish Red
    Pale Moon
    Rising Moon Spring Ale
    Rising Sun Spring Ale
    Cristal (Peru)
    Cusqueña (Peru)
    Premium Dark
    Premium Peruvian
    Foster’s Premium Ale(Australia)
    Grolsch (The Netherlands)
    Amber Ale
    Blonde Lager
    Light Lager
    Premium Lager
    Hamm’s (United States)
    Lager
    Golden Draft
    Special Light
    Henry Weinhard’s (United States)
    Belgian Style Wheat
    Blonde
    Blue Boar
    Classic Dark Lager
    Hefeweizen
    India Pale Ale
    Private Reserve
    Summer Wheat Ale
    Lech (Poland)
    Leinenkugel’s (United States)
    Berry Weiss
    BIG BUTT Dopplebock
    Classic Amber Lager
    Creamy Dark
    Fireside Nut Brown
    Honey Weiss
    Light
    Oktoberfest Lager
    Original Lager
    Red Lager
    Summer Shandy
    Sunset Wheat
    Millers (United States)
    Frederick Miller Classic Chocolate Lager
    Harley Davidson Beer
    Icehouse
    Magnum 40
    Meister Bräu
    Meister Bräu Light
    Mickey’s
    Mickey’s Ice
    Mickey’s Stinger
    Miller Chill
    Miller Genuine Draft
    Miller Genuine Draft Light 64
    Miller High Life
    Miller High Life Ice
    Miller High Life Light
    Miller Lite
    Miller Lite Amber
    Miller Lite Blonde Ale
    Miller Lite Ice
    Miller Lite Wheat
    Milwaukee’s Best
    Milwaukee’s Best Dry
    Milwaukee’s Best Ice
    Milwaukee’s Best Light
    Olde English 800
    Olde English 800 High Gravity
    Penguin Beer
    Red Dog
    Red Dog 32 Oz
    Red, White & Blue
    Sharp’s
    Sheaf Stout
    Snow Beer
    Southpaw Light
    Molson (Canada)
    Molson Canadian
    Molson Canadian Sub-Zero
    Molson Canadian Light
    Molson Canadian Ice
    Molson Canadian Cold Shots 6.0
    Molson Dry
    Molson Exel
    Molson Export
    Molson Golden
    Molson Ice
    Molson Kick
    Molson Stock Ale
    Molson XXX
    Peroni Nastro Azzurro (Italy)
    Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic)
    Steel Reserve (United States)
    High Gravity
    Triple Export
    Tyskie (Poland)

    Okay… so that’s a lot of beer. But let’s take a look at A-B/InBev’s Catalog (And note, it’s likely that I’ve missed a few). Take special note to find out what beer you thought was independently or privately owned is actually run by these guys. For example, I did not know that Alexander Keith’s, Bass, and Kokonee were all InBev products.

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