Wednesday, April 30, 2008

To Save a Species from Extinction, Get People to Eat It ?

Kim Severson writing in today's New York Times
considers the proposition that the way to save a species from extinction is to convince people to eat it. If they love it they will demand that it be preserved.

I've been mulling over this proposition for a long time beginning, I think, in the late 1970's when I began formal studies in ecology and the forces that control plant and animal distribution. The proposition seems reasonable enough until you scratch beneath surface and realize that while it may work for heirloom varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals, when it is applied to wild plants and animals encouraging people to eat things does not in any way guarantee their survival.

Take the domestic cow (Bos taurus) for example, an animal that now one would argue is in danger of extinction. All domestic cattle have been bred from the Auroch a wild ancestor (Bos primigenius) that lived in Europe until it was hunted out of existence in the 17th century. Populations of widely eaten species of wild fish such as cod and redfish are under intense pressure from overfishing and some will doubtless become extinct. The ancestors of the domestic chicken still exist in the wild, but their genomes have apparently been altered due to accidental cross-breeding (back-breeding) with domesticated birds.

Wild plants and fungi that are prized at the table fare no better. Foraging for gastronomically prized species of plants like ginseng and mushrooms like chanterelles, morels, truffles puts intense pressure on natural populations and in no way guarantees their survival. Frankly, there are thousands of species of plants, fungi, and animals that have been driven into extinction because people liked to eat them. And those that have been "preserved" because they have been farmed or husbanded, are in many cases so genetically distinct from their wild ancestors that if one of those ancestors would suddenly reappear, it would not be able to breed successfully (produce fertile offspring) with it's domesticated form. This would almost certainly be the case with the domestic cow Bos taurus, and the auroch Bos primigenuis since they are recognized as separate species.*

I think that once humans came on the scene, the game was pretty much over for anything that got in the way of our appetites. Once we choose to eat some wild thing, it is either doomed to extinction or we work on it's mutability until it becomes something else. Of course, there are many exceptions. It's not a plant or an animal but the algae that is used to make nori exists abundantly in the wild, and then there stop while I'm behind.

* A species is an organism that can breed "normally" (without help from us) with other organisms of the same species and produce fertile offspring.

Actually, the fertility-of-the-offspring test is often more important in determining if two organisms represent a single or two separate species. For example, a donkey (Equus asinus) and a horse (Equus caballus) are considered to be separate species because even though they can breed without our help, their offspring (mules) are always sterile.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

10 Things Celebrity Chefs Won't Tell You - AOL Money & Finance

Not much to disagree with here although regarding number 4 made me wonder if anyone thinks "foodies" (Jeeze, that's a creepy word.) are any more or less interested in sex than say, Trekkies or those funny Furry people who dress up in animal costumes and go on cruises together.

1. "I'm a celebrity first and a chef second."
2. "There's absolutely no reason to buy my cookbook."
3. "Just because I have a cooking show doesn't mean I'm a chef."
4. "Sex sells, even with foodies."
5. "I'm addicted to porn -- food porn, that is.
6. "The dishes I make on TV don't always work so great at home..."
7. "...and sometimes they're just plain gross."
8. "It might be my restaurant, but that doesn't mean I cook there."
9. "My show is one long commercial for my cookbooks."
10. "Bottom line: My celebrity status is great for business."

10 Things Celebrity Chefs Won't Tell You - AOL Money & Finance

Monday, April 28, 2008

Even A Hunger Artist Might Lose His Appetite

When someone tries to serve him donkey penis

or yak dong. Ick.

Care for some salade au wang , doggie style? Not me thanks, my dog is already upset over the loss of his twin instruments of progeneration. He's bite me if he found out I'd feasted on dog penis. (But doesn't the cherry make it look irresistible?)

Source:Der Spiegle

My thanks to Scotty for tipping us off to this blunt photo essay on phallus munching by the deep throats of China.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Musing on Salume and Time

Yesterday I surprised myself a little when, after having finished slicing up a bunch of salume to serve some guests, I realized that I was largely responsible for having made it all. Whatever, I'm not overawed by my accomplishment -it's not like I built a practical artificial nose or something- but there is something about making cured and fermented meats that is deeply satisfying in a way that does not attend other methods of food preparation that I have used.

I love that it takes a long time to make a salami. I hung salami over a month ago that won't be ready for more than two months. Some lamb leg prosciutto that I hung in November of 2007 probably won't be ready to eat until August. I suppose that the process of making dry cured meat is more like making wine than it is like making soup or baking a cake. Unless you count the time it takes to grow the ingredients, the two latter activities happen in an instant relative to the former.

What Aldous Huxley proposed when he wrote [the title] "Time Must Have a Stop" is a pipe dream, the best we can do, I think, is to pretend to slow it down. And making really slow food might just be one of the ways to get that done.

Top Photo L to R: Soppresata; Salami a la Toscano; Bresaola (air-dried beef); Orange-Cardamon Salami
Bottom Left: Chicken-Potato Leek Torta Rustica; Soppresata with black peppercorns made by a friend of Hendricks Farms and Dairy.

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Friday, April 25, 2008


Trent bought two Belgian quarter horses to add to his pair of Percheron mares last week. This video shows Trent, the Belgians and a kleine kinde on a practice run with a disking machine. A disking machine is design to break up clods of soil prior to furrowing and planting and after the soil surface has been broken by a plow. For real, I am no farmer, but I think it is obvious from the video that the here soil needs loosening.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Report alleges abuse in Asia shrimp industry -

As if the lousy taste of farmed shrimp was not reason enough to never buy it again, here is another potential reason to despise and not buy farmed shrimp: some of the people who are directly responsible for raising and processing it are being humiliated, tortured and in many other ways abused.

Report alleges abuse in Asia shrimp industry

Vegetarian Accused Of Serial-Type Deer Killings - News Story - KPTV Portland

Apparently so many people believe that vegetarians are all so deeply in love with animals that news editors know that they can get eyes with headers like Vegetarian Accused Of Serial-Type Deer Killings .
But reasonable people know that not everyone who prefers a plant based diet comes to herbivorism
out of compassion for animals. Very many do it for health reasons only and a few of these don't have any more empathy for animals than the Oregonian in this news story (above).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

David Returned to Italy after Tour of United States

An obese David returned to Florence today after a tour of the Untied States. Apparently the statue became depressed and developed a proclivity for fast food restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets sometime after being ejected from a symposium on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet at NYU for what another participant described as "lewd and lascivious behavior." 

In a press interview following his ejaculation ejection from the symposium, David was like "Madone, I'm a masterpiec, what they expect; I'm gonna put fig leaf?"  (sic)

David is currently at the Agenzia Regionale Di Sanita preparing to undergo gastric bypass surgery.


French Small Fries Fight Big Cheese

Big cheese companies in France tried to claim  that their mass-produced pasteurized, machine-made camembert should be given the same official status as camembert that is made by traditional methods. Now, according to some artisan cheese makers,  Gros Fromage may be resorting to dirty tricks after the court refused to allow them to put the   Apellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation on their product.

"In recent weeks, the biggest industrial producer, Lactalis, told authorities that dangerous bacteria was found in a batch of AOC raw milk camembert produced by Reaux."


So perhaps Lactalis did find "dangerous bacteria" in the raw milk cheese.  Given how little of the the stuff there is, the average French consumer is far more likely to get sick from putting his fingers in his bouche during his toilette  than he will from eating contaminated raw milk cheese.  I think that Lactalis' motive for broadcasting that it's tiny rival's cheese was contaminated,  was probably designed to make it's product appear "superior" to the public and not deliberately aimed at undermining the Reaux AOC cheese. But it still stinks like Velveeta.

I hope that the French public is smart enough, and proud enough of their cheese making heritage that they don't fall for this crap and let yet another cheese go extinct.

Small farmers fight dairy giants over the future of French cheese

Monday, April 21, 2008

PETA Offers Prize for Fake Meat

Wow, is this ever interesting. The animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is supposed to announce today that it is offering a 1 million dollar prize to the
“first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.”

That PETA would sponsor something like this is not surprising. But what is fascinating is that apparently there are people within the organization who are so disgusted by meat that they are angry that the leadership has chosen to indirectly endorse meat eating by offering the prize. I've always thought that synthetic or even cloned meat canceled any concerns that anyone who opposes meat eating would have. But the reaction from within PETA against this effort by the organization to promote "fake meat" production is really weird. I suppose too that some of PETA's people are "natural" food enthusiasts and would be unhappy that their organization seems to promote engineered food. But I don't think that is where the biggest resistance is coming from.

PETA’s Latest Tactic: $1 Million for Fake Meat - New York Times

Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World

The rush to turn grain into biofuel is having lots of foreseen consequences. So far there continues to be food riots in 3rd world nations, heightened pressure on indigenous plants and animals as more land comes under cultivation and now playing in supermarkets near you: Food Rationing!

Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World | The New York Sun

Seems like the only good news is that some of the farmers who grow grain and making money.

Hunger in Haiti increasing rapidly

"Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti's presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and police. Hunger sent the country's prime minister packing."

Hunger in Haiti increasing rapidly - International Herald Tribune

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oranges and Swine

So this week two types of salami, Tuscan and orange-cardamom, that were hung within 10 days of each other were ripe enough to harvest. Both of these appear in the slide show below.

The first salami in the show was from a recipe that was inspired by the suggestion from Christian the Apprentice that we try something with cardamom and orange. I did not go for the idea at first because while I knew that cardamom and orange share many complementary aromatic elements, I did not love the idea of citrus flavored fermented pork. The concept was too hippy-dippy, too new age-ish. It had that someone smoked too much pot, had the munchies and tried to recreate an olfactory hallucination in the kitchen ring to it.

Then something happened to change my mind: I was served an antipasto in a very busy locally popular restaurant that had a slice of citrus flavored salami on it. Well, that salami sucked-it had no distinct flavor- but the lesson I learned was that if someone else was making citrus flavored salami and selling it, then perhaps Christian's idea had some merit after all. So, upon my return to the farm the following week, I commanded the apprentice to get some oranges and I worked up and recipe.

The orange flavor comes from orange zest only, no orange juice was used because I get nervous over the idea of lower the pH (making acidic) or any type of sausage by any means other than fermentation. I've had too many bad experiences with sausage that have been seasoned with something acidic and have ended up throwing water and drying out. (Long story in this but the skinny is that when you lower the pH of meat, the proteins begin to lose their attraction for water. )

In addition to the orange-cardamom salami you see in the slide show we made another version with pistachio nuts that's great too, but not pictured here because I forgot to shoot it.

The second set of photos show the smaller form of the giant Tuscan style salami featured in
this earlier post . It is an almost literal version of a recipe that appears in the book Charcuterie, by my friend Michael Ruhlman and the Michiginese chef and salumaio, Brian Polcyn.

I'm sure the large chunks of fat are going to give some people the heebie-jeebies, but they taste great and do a bang up job of adding lubricity to the matrix. The overall flavor is deep, nutty and when compared to the other ancient -which is ironic when you consider that it's less than two weeks older.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Team Work

It was hot in the kitchen on Friday, but not nearly as hot as it was outside. I clocked 90 degrees on my way out the door at 3:15PM. By that time, Trent had been out with his team disking this field for about three hours. I'd feel sorry for the boy if I did not know that he was having some grave fun working his team in the hot sun.
Note how much dust is being kicked up. The soil is pretty dry already, and I'll bet the subsoil is not much damper. We had very little rain and snow in PA this winter and it ain't raining much this spring. I hope we are not looking at another drought summer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Yesterday

Some really swell stuff happening at the farm this week.

Trent and the crew have been busting hump getting the fields ready to receive seed for the new growing season. Today two people spent about four hours cutting seed potatoes. I'm not sure how much is actually in the ground yet, besides onions, and perennials like strawberries.

The new chickens are starting to lay eggs more often and we have started to keep an "egg log" to keep track of how many eggs we are getting from them each day.

We harvested three new salami that were hung between 3 and 4 weeks ago. I'll post pictures of them soon, but suffice it to say that 2 are from completely original recipes and the third is a Tuscan style salami from MichaelRuhlman and Brian Polcyn's super-duper excellent book "Charcuterie."

And...the Berkshire hog leg that I put up in salt 26 days ago was today ready to hang and ripen into prosciutto. I'm finding this a little hard to believe but this ham is going to hang in the aging room for at least a year before it's ready to eat. I thought I was used to slow food, but this is much slower than anything I have ever tried to make. I've planted trees that I knew were going to take longer than this ham is going to take to mature. But I've never "cooked" anything that required anywhere close to the amount of time that this is going to take to become edible.

I'm sure I sound overawed. Anyway, I hope I get to make many more of these.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Australain Rice Crop Reduced by 98%

As Australia dries, a global shortage of rice - International Herald Tribune: "The collapse of Australia's rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world's largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alt Sourdough Technique

Typical sourdough starter has many fine qualities, not the least of which is that it holds out the promise of becoming something that you can pass on to your kids, who can then pass it on to their kids so that 100 years from now your descendants can direct slavebots to make sourdough bread from a culture begun by you. But as thrilling as the prospect of becoming the progenitor of a such a warm and fuzzy family tradition might be, people like me think sourdough starter is a pain in the neck.

If you leave it out, you must feed it or it dies. If you freeze it, you have to remember to thaw it before you use it and make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to resuscitate it in case there has been a big die off of yeast and bacteria while the thing was in the freezer. But for selectively lazy folks like me, the biggest pain from traditional starter comes from having to keep it around: I can't be bothered, it's just too much to think about.

Yet I really like sour bread. So after a few years of poking around for a substitute, I finally found an alternative method of producing sourdough that does not require that I keep starter around.

Honestly, my method is not any easier than breaking off a lump of starter and mixing it into a new batch of dough. Neither is it any faster; in fact, it takes longer. Also, I imagine that sourdough starter purists would argue that my method is inferior because, unlike a traditional starter in which the microflora begin to represent the yeast and bacteria that are specific to one's home and geographic location, my method mostly reproduces the yeast and bacteria that are initially present in the flour at the onset of the process. But if my bread lacks terroir because it does not contain local species of yeast and acteobacteria, I take solace in the fact unless someone uses flour produced from grain near his home, his bread isn't going to have much more "local flavor" than mine anyway.

Considerations of ease, speed and potential opinions of terroirists (sic) aside, my method does produce a nice sour-flavored bread and it frees me up from having to be responsible for the health and well-being of yet another living thing that, unlike my kids and dog, cannot so much as offer the hope that it will return the favor by pushing me around the nursing home once in a while.

The method takes three days and will produce enough "starter" for one big loaf of bread. I'd like to say that I invented this method, but I cannot believe that I'm the first person to come up with this because it's just too logical.

Try to use organic flour. Since organic flour has never been treated with fungicide, it will have more yeast.

Day 1/ Hour 0
Mix 6 ounces/168g (by weight) coarse organic rye flour with 7 ounces/ 196g/196cc of water. Cover and let sit 24 hours.

Day 2/Hour 24
Add 6 ounces/168g of white bread flour and 7 ounces of water. Cover and let sit 24 hours.

Day 3/Hour 48
By now the mixture should be full of bubbles (See photo below right) indicating that the yeast and bacteria have grown. Taste the mixture, it should taste sour.

Now you can use this mixture to build a large hearth bread by adding flour, water and salt to it. There should be enough yeast in the mix to leaven the bread but it can't hurt -and it won't alter the taste- to toss in a bit of instant yeast to cover your er, ah, ego.

bread flour 20 ounces/ 560g
water 10 ounces/ 280g/cc
salt 0.7 ounces/19-20g
yeast, instant Big Pinch, about 3g

Family Recipes, Passed Down From One Site to Another - New York Times

Oops! Someone in the McCain campaign forgot that there are thousands of people running every word they put out through search engines.

Family Recipes, Passed Down From One Site to Another - New York Times

Global warming rage lets global hunger grow - Telegraph

Global warming rage lets global hunger grow - Telegraph: "The UN says it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted 'massacres' unless the biofuel policy is halted."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

History is Messy

The historical record around any subject is messy, complicating and occasionally disorienting. Take this excerpt from an article in the November 1938 edition of the English magazine Homes and Gardens about The Berghof , Adolph Hitler's mountain house . Anyone who has read similar magazines (Town and Country, House and Garden) understands that the people who write for them are not allowed to be critical of the people they cover. If you did not know who Hitler was, and the misery he and his followers imposed on millions of people whose only crime was to have been born in the wrong century, you might be forgiven for thinking that the subject of this article was the home of a relatively benign statesman. But for those who understand who it was who lived in the house and strolled in the gardens -all of it described in exceedingly guileless prose- the effect of reading this can be vertiginous.

Every morning at nine he goes out for a walk with his gardeners about their day's work. These men, like the chauffeur and air-pilot, are not so much servants as local friends. A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler's kitchen plots are both varied and heavy in produce. Even in his meatless diet Hitler is something of a gourmet -- as Sir John Simon and Mr. Anthony Eden were surprised to note when they dined with him in the Presidial Palace at Berlin. His Bavarian chef, Herr Kannenberg, contrives an imposing array of vegetarian dishes, savoury and rich, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, and all conforming to the dietetic standards which Hitler exacts. But at Haus Wachenfeld he keeps a generous table for guests of normal tastes. Here bons viveurs like Field Marshals Göring and von Blomberg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop will forgather at dinner. Elaborate dishes like Caneton à la presse and truite saumoné à la Monseigneur will then be served, with fine wines and liqueurs of von Ribbentrop's expert choosing. Cigars and cigarettes are duly lighted at this terrace feast -- though Hitler himself never smokes, nor does he take alcohol in any form.

I have chosen not to link to any of the sources that I found for this article and from which the quoted text is excerpted, because I cannot be sure that any of the sites that have posted it are not sponsored by Neo-Nazis or Nazi apologists. I do not want to be in the business of sending web traffic to those whack-jobs. But the article is easy enough to find if you search for it.

Fuel Choices, Food Crises and Finger-Pointing - New York Times

The New York Times follows my lead for once :-) with a story on the non-wisdom of using grain to ferment into biofuels.

Fuel Choices, Food Crises and Finger-Pointing - New York Times

Raw milk's the rave? Demand grows despite risks -

I don't know much about the purported health benefits (my guess is that some of them are real, certainly not all of them). But I do know that the raw milk I drink and that is produced at Hendricks' Farms -where I work- tastes A LOT better than any pasteurized milk I've ever had. So much better, in fact, that after a couple of decades of not drinking milk regularly I currently drink about one quart per week. I'm a sucker for stuff that tastes great.

My main man Miguel Cervantes was certainly not wrong when in Don Quixote he wrote (in Spanish, of course) "the best sauce in the world is hunger" but I think magnificent flavor makes a pretty fine sauce too.

The risks of drinking raw milk are real, so make sure you know who is producing the raw milk you buy. Poke around the dairy and make sure it's clean. Check to make sure the cows' udders are being sanitized before milking and that the milking room floor is kept hosed down. Due diligence is required.

Raw milk's the rave? Demand grows despite risks

World Bank leader urges quick action on hunger

The president of the World Bank urged immediate action yesterday to deal with rising food prices that have caused hunger and deadly violence in several countries.
Winston-Salem Journal | National Briefs

Haiti Aid Workers Fear Widening Hunger

"Haiti imports almost all its food and global food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007. Locally, the prices of rice and pasta have doubled in parts of the capital of Haiti, a country where 2.4 million people already cannot afford the minimum daily calories recommended by the World Health Organization."
The Associated Press: Haiti Aid Workers Fear Widening Hunger

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gourmet ketchup?

Nobody makes tomato ketchup as well as Heinz an no one can fake a whine like a Brit. Check out this spasm of feigned indignation from William Sitwell writing about Heinz's attempt to flesh out it's product base in the UK by introducing ketchup designed to "satisfy adults with a more sophisticated palette."(sic)

Sitwell is so good at pretending that he really believes that Heinz ketchup made with Demerara sugar is a threat to ketchup's reputation as the sauce of the people that we almost believe him.

Of course, there is always the possibility that a) he is not kidding and b) he is correct when he suggests that gourmet ketchup is a threat to democracy in which case I'll have to ignore the damn stuff just like I ignore Heinz's Organic ketchup.

Gourmet ketchup? Champagne Marmite? Stop this pretentious meddling with our kitchen classics, says one furious foodie | the Daily Mail

Something to cheer your Monday

WASHINGTON — The world’s economic ministers declared on Sunday that shortages and skyrocketing prices for food posed a potentially greater threat to economic and political stability than the turmoil in capital markets.
Finance Ministers Emphasize Food Crisis Over Credit Crisis - New York Times

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Force Required

Tracy Sutton at Lancaster Farming reports that chef Dan Barber of The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture visited Eduoardo Sousa who has developed method for fattening the livers of geese for foie gras without having to force feed them. The result according to Barber was

"a transformative experience...the best foie gras of my life"

Just like traditional foie gras producers, Sousa fattens the geese by taking advantage of their innate need to store energy prior to migration in the form of large amounts of fat in their livers. Except Sousa does not force feed the geese, but lets them roam freely through groves of olive, fig and oak. When migration time rolls around the geese begin eating more often and become very fat. Sousa's foie gras is apparently so good that it not only convinced Barber that it was the real deal but also persuaded a panel of French judges when it won the award for best foie gras at the Paris International Food Salon in 2006.

Now consider this: if a chef as celebrated as Dan Barber and a panel of French culinary experts say that Sousa's product is the real deal (i.e., foie gras d' oie) then the liver must be much larger and much fattier than a liver from a goose that has not been raised to produce a foie gras.

And it naturally follows that if geese will, of their own accord, eat so much that their livers become huge, then at least Sousa's foie gras must is a natural product (i.e., the product of his geese's innate tendency to accumulate energy prior to migration). And almost certainly not diseased -and if it is diseased it is a disease that the geese inflict upon themselves in order to survive. (How ironic would that be?)

Of course, animal rights activists and their apologists will continue to insist that all foie gras is "is the swollen, diseased liver of ducks and geese."

We will never see organizations like PETA or Farm Sanctuary admit that foie gras is not a diseased and deadly thing that can only be produced by malevolent farmers who rejoice in the despair of their victims as they force food down their throats until their livers explode. People who want to make meat illegal, are not going to let facts get in the way of progress. But that's cool, everyone is entitled to think whatever our brains are capable of thinking and we are free to express whatever the rest of us is capable of expressing. And with a few exemptions made for humans and perhaps house pets, we are allowed to cook and eat whatever we choose too.

A YouTube video of Eduardo Sousa (In Spanish)

Friday, April 11, 2008

This will get you steamed

When you make hearth breads like the pair in the picture above. It's very important to be sure that the oven is very humid during the early stages of baking. Making sure there is plenty of water will prevent the crust from hardening before the dough has fully expanded (i.e. completed oven spring) and will assure that the starch granules have gelatinized enough so that the bread develops a nice shiny, crispy crust.

Commercial bread baking ovens are equipped with valves that fire bursts of steam to get the job done, but conventional ovens need to be gamed to make sure that there is adequate humidity. I'm sure that I have tried more ways to get water into my ovens for baking than I can recall. But I'll give it a go; over the last 3 decades I have
  • Sprayed the walls of the oven with a spray bottle
  • Soaked rags in water and put them in a bread pan in the back of the oven
  • Rigged the milk steamer from an espresso machine
  • Put a pan, a skillet in the bottom of the oven with ice cubes
  • Placed a sheet ban with water in the bottom of the oven
  • Soaked bricks and placed them on the oven floor
All of these tricks worked with varying degrees of success . (Although the spray-bottle routine ruined an oven by causing the walls to weaken and buckle.) However, nothing worked as well as the technique I adapted from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."

The photograph directly below shows how I set up my oven to bake hearth bread following Reinhart's technique.

A sheet pan is placed on a rack that is as high up in the oven as it can go. The oven is then preheated to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. When the oven reaches the preset temperature I slide the dough in from a bread peel, pour 6 ounces of hot water into the sheetpan, slam the door shut and bolt away to avoid getting a steam burn.

After about 8 minutes I drop the temperature to 450 degrees -because by that time oven spring is finished and there's no point in keeping the oven cranked- and let the bread "bake out."

Okay, so why put the pan of water in the top ot the oven and not at the bottom where the heating element or, if you have a gas oven, flame is? Well, the answer turns out to be pretty simple. Heat rises, so as long as you have good seals on your oven doors, the ceiling of the oven will usually be hotter than the floor. I've proven this many times to myself and my students by shooting the oven with my surface reading thermometer (seen in the photo below and here).

Note: Temps are for ceiling and floor of oven. I did not heat the oven to full bake temp. to conserve energy.

Putting the water at the top also gives a more forceful production of steam because when the steam that is generated in the pan hits the top of the oven it gets super-heated and then forced down towards the bread by the oven roof and walls.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hendricks Farms on Science Friday

So it's Thursday, sue me.

Flora Lichtman of National Public Radio's Science Friday came to the farm where I work couple of months ago to film farmer Trent making cheese. They just released the video today. I'm not in it, but I hope you enjoy it anyway :-)

Grain-Based biofuels Promote Hunger

The rush to reduce the western world's dependence on oil and reverse the most recent trend in global warming (the previous warming cycle took place between 110,000-125,000 years ago) by turning grain into fuel seems to be at least partially responsible for the big runup in grain prices on world markets.

As a result, food riots have broken out in countries that rely on grain imports and soon millions of people who are not already starving will join the many millions more who are.

On the American home front, many farmers are jumping at the opportunity to make some money by bringing marginal land under cultivation thereby increasing the potential for damage to river and lake systems due to increased runoff, while others are withdrawing fallow land from a federal conservation program designed to protect native population of plants and animals.

While I understand that the things that affect the price of grain are manifold and cannot be reduced to a single effect, I don't doubt for a nanosecond that grain-based biofuel production is probably at least as important as rising fossil fuel and fertilizer costs in driving up the cost of grain. I'm not fundamentally opposed to biofuels as an alternative to imported oil. But it seems crazy to be using food that could be used to feed people and livestock as transportation fuel.

My bottom line? I don't like grain-based biofuel.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Hitler Vegetarian Cookbook Question

This morning, a friend who knows that I have an unpublished novel about Adolph Hitler's chef sitting on my hard drive sent me this question from the usenet (?) group

[Could we write the Hitler Vegetarian Cookbook?]

Surely a lot of the menus for events Hitler attended must survive?
It should be possible to work out how the chefs of the time coped
with his requirements. I've never seen an elite/gourmet veggie
cookbook from that period, they all seem to be solidly bourgeois.
He presumably didn't need to have nut roast alternating with bean
and cheese casserole every night.

I assume that the reason this question is coming up now has something to do with the approach of the Son of the Prince of Darkness' birthday on April 20. And certainly whoever wrote it does not know -or perhaps fails to acknowledge- that Hitler was only an occasional vegetarian who seemed to be philosophically opposed to eating meat when it suited his propaganda agenda. It also seems likely that Hitler was convinced that a vegetarian diet would correct the gastrointestinal problems that had plagued him throughout his adult life. (You may or may not be amused to know that it has been reported that one of his doctors treated him with e. coli bacteria cultured from Hitler's own stool. This homeopathic remedy is referred to as Mutaflor and can be purchased today. But it is made, I assume, from e. coli from the guts of someone other than Hitler.)

In the end I suspect that the question is disingenuous and the person who wrote it is not truly serious about wanting to write a "A Thousand Years (Oops! Make that twelve.) of Great Aryan Veggie Recipes." But the subordinate question about the menus is pretty intriguing. I'm sure such things exist. If any reader of this blog comes across any German or Austrian vegetarian books, menus or recipes from the period of Hitler's rise (1933) and fall (1945) please let us know.

If the cook isn't Italian, can his food be Real?

Oy vey! I can't believe that this topic is something that still stirs controversy. Anybody who takes the time to study the cultural roots and master the techniques of any cuisine earns the right to call it whatever they want to call it. So yeah, a woman born in China can make authentic Parmesan cuisine as long as she has taken the time to become acculturated to Parma and has mastered the basic cooking techniques etc.

Of course, if you believe that each culture has a "soul" that is imparted to it's members only at conception or that cultural identity is encoded in the genes, then no immigrant anywhere can produce anything that is authentically representative of his adopted culture.

But then I'd have to accuse you of smoking crack or something analogous.

Is Cuisine Still Italian Even if the Chef Isn’t? - New York Times

Monday, April 7, 2008

Got Hat

Last fall, when Mike Pardus and I were leaving Hudson Valley Farms the manager, Marcus Henley, tried to give us caps. But when he went to retrieve two caps from the storeroom he discovered that he had run out. Mike and I were properly disappointed, but since we had just toured one of the most responsibly run farms either of us had ever seen, understood that we had little cause to complain. Yet I still wanted that damn cap, if for no other reason that I wanted to be able to wear it around to arouse and alienate people who think that foie-gras farming is intrinsically evil.

Well, yesterday I was surprised and delighted to see a UPS box on my doorstep that proved to contain this marvelously stylish Hudson Valley Foie Gras cap. There was also a DVD of Tony Bourdain's "No Reservations" visit to the farm, a nice note from Marcus and a letter from the marketing director with lots of good news.

1) On February 11, 2008 Hudson Valley Farms became the first USDA approved "Cage Free" farm in the United States.
2) On March 6, 2008 The Maryland legislature rejected a proposed ban on foie gras.
3) On March 17, 2008 The New York State Supreme Court dismissed a suit brought by the Humane Society
of the United States who had alleged that foie gras was an "adulterated food product."
Okay, now I'm going to go back to reading about how Monsanto spends 2 million dollars a day hunting down farmers who they suspect are saving their GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds and otherwise infringing on their patent rights. Can you imagine that?

Farmers have been saving seeds for millenniums. But if they buy seeds from Monsanto they are compelled to sign an agreement that they will not harvest seeds from one crop in order to plant another. It wouldn't be so bad if Monsanto was not on the verge of becoming the leading producer of the world's seed crop. And Monsanto is as ruthless as a record company when it finds that someone is violating its terms of use policy.

Except that in Monsanto's case, its target could be the owner of a ten acre farm who just happened to be unlucky enough to have one of their investigators pay him a visit a week or so after a bird excreted a GMO seed onto his field.

I'm not fundamentally opposed to genetic engineering of foods, but I've got very little patience for businesses that attempt to monopolize an industry, and punish anyone who stands in their way. That's evil.

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Unconventional wine expert says the number of taste buds determines your wine preferences

Tim Hanni, the wine expert, makes a whole lot of sense when he postulates that taste in wine is largely determined by the number of taste nerves in the tongue. If you have a lot of nerves, you will tend to like sweeter wines like Sauternes and Boone's Farm. If you are a big fan of Mad Dog 20/20 or flinty dry champagne your tongue is likely to contain far fewer nerves than your apple wine swilling homeboy.
The same logic is surely applicable to taste in food.

I'm a "tolerant taster," my son is a "supertaster." When I was his age there was no vegetable I would not eat. I loved chicory and other bitter greens (still do). Why, I even used to hose down those parsley garnishes that diners and restaurants used to put on everything , whereas my boy complains that ketchup is bitter.

It's too bad that heightened sensitivity to taste due to a superabundance of fungiform papillae has come to be called "supertasting" because from where I sit, the only thing super about it, is that people who have lots of papillae might be better qualified to check the food of potentates for poison.

I suppose if my son decides to become a chef he's better off as a supertaster than its extreme opposite, a non-taster. Someone who finds it difficult to taste the basic tastes might be inclined to over-season and so he might grow up to be a Cajun chef or, heaven help me, one of those southwestern cooks who wear a holster with hot sauce in it.

Unconventional wine expert says the number of taste buds determines your wine preferences

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Luncheon Roll May Leave Bad Taste in Mouth

These photos were taken by a friend who is a chef in the galley of a hospital ship that is currently docked somewhere in Africa. I assume that this marvelous looking stuff is on board, but really I do not know.

I think that it's odd looking name is probably a function of the fact that it is heavily season with asafoetida.

No wait, asafoetida has only one "s" in its prefix and the ass. on the face of the boxes has two :)-

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Certified Boring

I thought I knew how to begin this post until I clicked through to the Eggology website and got cold-cocked by the U2 song the company is using to brand themselves as progressive and humane and whatever other feel-good vibes (self-determination and righteousness?) we associate with U2, Bono and rock and roll.

I'm pretty sure I was going to write something on the order of "Well, I suppose it's great that Eggology's line of whites only (no, you are not supposed to think of Jim Crow now, these are chicken eggs) products are organic and certified humane but why does this feel like the organic produce thing all over again?"

When organic produce first started appearing in supermarkets, I was hopeful that I was witnessing the beginning of a new era of better tasting and looking stuff to cook and eat. And at first this seemed to be the case. The earliest organic produce was more interesting than the gargantuan conventionally produced watery stuff.

But in what in retrospect seems like five or six heart beats, the organic stuff became just as watery, huge and tasteless as the finest chemically enhanced products of the soil. AND it was more expensive. Later, as the organoleptic qualities of the mass produced organic produce became indistinguishable from the conventionally grown stuff, the price difference would diminish, so that the only reason to buy organic was the perception that it was healthier because it presumably did not contain "bad" man made chemicals. But for someone like myself who worships "flavor" with the fervor of a baptist preacher up to his waist in water and a line of supplicants up and over the river bank, organic supermarket food is a big YAWN.

So now add "organic and certified humane" egg whites and pre-boiled eggs to the list of foods that are more interesting to me for what they are not (something I want to eat) than anything else. Whatever. I think I'm going to go make myself some pancakes.

Eggology Becomes First Egg Products Brand "Certified Humane"

Ted Turner on the Nexus of Global Warming and Hunger

Ted Turner tells Charlie Rose that global warming will wipe out agriculture, kill off millions and turn the rest into cannibals. In other words, life on earth will be much, much worse than it is already.

Look, this could be serious.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

France Takes Baking Title

"Team France on Wednesday took home gold at the World Cup of Baking, ending a 12-year drought on the strength of textbook baguettes, complex but uncluttered viennoiserie (yeasted pastry) and an intricate dough sculpture depicting a shapely woman clothed in haute couture."

France Takes Home Baking Title -

Here's a video that was made before the France's triumphe.

The Mancows are Coming

Wow, scientists (Who else would do such a thing?) have put human DNA in a cow cell? Yum! So it may soon be possible to have true Manwichs, Sloppy Joes, and if you can get your mother to swab her cheek for a DNA sample mother's milk from a cow.

Life is Good!

We have created human-animal embryos already, say British team

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Second Litter of Pigs

This video was taken mid-morning last Thursday (3/27/08)at Hendricks Farms and Dairy. No one was around when the second litter was born, so we are not sure of exactly when they emerged. But from the look of the piglets, the absence of any placental material on them or in the pen, I suspect that they were born several hours prior to when this was shot.

A few words of explanation about the sound track and cast

When the video starts you hear me say "F--k you. I'll eat you; get out of here." to a sow who has become much too interested in the smell of my pants and shoes (I work in a kitchen remember.)

The fellow who appears to be enthralled by the new mother's nesting behavior is someone who comes to farm out of love for cooking and farming, Christian Spinillo (aka Christian the Apprentice). He's a terrific help to me and a great guy, and I think his lip ring is really cool -I'm really open minded; ask anybody!

The other human being in the video is Trent Hendricks who, given what he has already accomplished (created a state of the art raw milk dairy; taught himself to farm and make raw milk cheese and sell thousands of pounds of it a month; hired me) deserves to be more well known.