Articles

‘Way Too Much’ Antibiotics In Meat Production Image

The meat case at your local supermarket could contain something far scarier than the most bloodthirsty Halloween zombie.

That’s because current methods of meat production are leading to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

AUTHOR


ChangeFood, Pam Weisz

Pam Weisz is deputy director of Change Food, a nonprofit that works to raise public awareness and educate consumers about problems with the U.S. food system. Learn more at www.changefood.org.

“The most diabolical villain could not design a better system for creating superbugs than the modern concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO),” or factory farm, said Lance Price, professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

In CAFO’s, large numbers of animals are crowded into a confined space, meaning that trillions of bacteria can easily be transmitted from one animal to another. “When I see these operations, I don’t see factories making meat. I see factories making trillions and trillions and trillions of drug-resistant bacteria,” said Price, who holds a doctorate in environmental health sciences.

Antibiotic use in livestock

Price spoke at TEDxManhattan, a one-day conference in March featuring leading innovators in the food movement.

In his talk, Price pointed out that the vast majority of antibiotic use in this country is in animal food production. While human medicine accounts for 7.7 million pounds of antibiotic — which, he noted, is “way too much” — 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used in industrial farming.

Further, he said, “the best estimates suggest that only 20% of that is being used to treat sick animals. The other 80% is being used as production tools, to make animals grow faster, to prevent diseases, or treat diseases occurring just because of the way we’re raising animals.”

This leads to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. “You have tens of thousands of animals crammed together in filthy, stressful conditions. You have loads of bacteria living in those animals. And you have the magic ingredient — a steady stream of low-dose antibiotics,” Price said. From there, he said, “it’s just a matter of evolution.”

“Every now and then, one bacterium will pick up a mutation that makes them resistant to antibiotics,” Price explained. “If that’s happening in an environment where you have a lot of antibiotics, then the susceptible bacteria are going to die off and the resistant ones are going to multiply. And the thing about bacteria is they multiply very quickly. You can go from a single drug-resistant E. coli to a billion in 24 hours.”

Dangers of ‘superbugs’

Drug-resistant bacteria end up on meat when the animals harboring them are slaughtered. “Those bacteria go on to cause drug-resistant infections in people,” Price said.

Major health organizations have been raising the alarm about superbugs. The World Health Organization, for example, states that “antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction for the future; it is happening right now, across the world, and is putting at risk the ability to treat common infections in the community and hospitals.”

Yet despite this bleak picture, Price says there is room for hope — if we make some fundamental changes.

First, he said, “We have to embrace this idea that antibiotics are different, and value them for what they are. They’re just short of a miracle — they save people’s lives. We should only be using them to treat sick people and sick animals.”

The key to making this happen is changing the way we raise animals for food. “If you remove the antibiotics from food animal production, many of those bacteria will revert to being susceptible to those antibiotics again,” Price said.

Other changes are also needed, he said. “We need to increase hygiene in our hospitals, homes and food production systems,” Price said. Development of new antibiotics is also needed, although, he noted, bacteria have been developing resistance to antibiotics ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

Decoding meat labels

Consumers can play a role by only buying meat from animals raised without antibiotics. Organizations such as Consumer Reports offer guidance on how to decode labels to ensure your meat comes from such animals. The National Resources Defense Council and the Pew Charitable Trusts are among other groups working on this issue.

The meat industry has taken some steps in response to the increased concern. Earlier this fall, for example, Perdue Farms announced it would stop using antibiotics in its hatcheries.

“The good news is the models exist,” Price said. “My dream is that we stop propping up this broken system with antibiotics, that we let farmers be farmers again, that we have animals live like healthy animals again, and that we save antibiotics for future generations. We can do this. But we have to act now.”

Main photo: Cattle at a factory farm. Credit: tepic/iStockphoto

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Pear-Blue Nirvana? 11 Ways To Enjoy This Fall Fruit Image

The first pears have arrived in markets and, when perfectly ripe, they are delicious when eaten out-of-hand. And yet, as the weeks go by, you may long for even more from this fall favorite.

A fertile pear tree keeps my supply of this heavenly fruit overflowing for months. One unusual and-little known fact about pears is that they don’t ripen on the tree; they only do so after they are picked. The ones I’m intimately familiar with are about 1 to 2 pounds each and very hard. They are Bartletts, and they grow it abundance each year. Once picked, the pears go into paper bags in the garage until they start to ripen.

Other varieties readily found at most groceries and farmers markets are Anjou, which come in both green and red; the crisp Bosc; the buttery Comice; the voluptuous Starkrimson; and, in some places, the crunchy Concorde.

Often my pears all ripen at the same moment. When this happens, I experiment with ways to get more pears into meals, which has helped me discover how amazingly versatile they are. Here are some ideas on ways to cook and serve them.

Appetizers

Pear and Brie bruschetta: Spread several crostini or a large piece of toasted levain with a thin coat of soft, runny Brie. Lay a very thin slice of prosciutto over the Brie and top with arugula leaves. Cover with thin slices of pear (no need to peel), drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on coarse sea salt.

Pear and blue nirvana: Pear halves with blue cheese and candied pecans. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Pear and blue nirvana: Pear halves with blue cheese and candied pecans. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Pear and blue nirvana: Halve and core 2 pears and put each half onto a small plate. Place a generous wedge of blue cheese into the core cavity and sprinkle candied pecans over the pear.

Salads

Toss thinly sliced pears with hearty greens, such as torn kale, baby spinach and arugula. Mix in fresh raspberries and toasted hazelnuts. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.

Mix arugula with quartered fresh figs, thinly sliced firm pears and toasted pumpkin seeds. Toss with a light dressing made with lemon juice, olive oil and honey.

Main dishes

Make a sauce for roasted pork or poultry. Start by peeling, coring and quartering 3 pounds of pears and putting them into a saucepan with ¼ cup St. George Spiced Pear liqueur or pear brandy, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch each of ground cloves and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the pears are soft. Mash with a potato masher to a chunky consistency. This sauce is also good with gingerbread.

Grill firm quarters of pears and serve with teriyaki chicken, barbecued pork, spicy sausages or grilled duck breast. The grilled pears are also good on a day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich with roast turkey and cranberry sauce.

Desserts

Poach pears by peeling them and submerging, either whole or cored and quartered, in wine or sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, whole cloves or citrus peel. Cover the pan and cook until the pears are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve as is with some of the syrup, over ice cream, alongside a wedge of pound cake or with biscotti.

Make a crisp with peeled, cored and diced pears tossed with dried cherries and a squeeze of lemon juice. Top with your favorite crisp mixture and bake until tender.

Quarter and core pears and toss with melted butter and maple syrup, just enough to coat the fruit. Roast in a 400F oven until tender, about 20-25 minutes depending on pear variety and ripeness. Serve with crème fraiche, as part of a cheese course or with butter cookies or ice cream.

Find further inspiration in the recipes below.

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Total time: 1½ hours

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

8 cloves garlic, peeled

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 ounces slivered almonds

⅓ cup water

3 tablespoons ghee or olive oil

1½ pounds lamb stew meat, seasoned well with salt and pepper

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons Indian curry paste

One 14-ounce can reduced fat coconut milk

3 medium pears (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and diced

½ cup frozen peas

Fresh grapes or raisins for garnish

Toasted, slivered almonds for garnish

Basmati rice for serving

Directions

1. Put garlic, ginger, almonds and water into a blender, and puree to make a paste. Set aside.

2. Heat ghee or olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over high until shimmering. Add lamb, in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl.

3. Turn heat to medium and add onions; sauté until tender and golden.

4. Add curry paste and stir until aromatic.

5. Mix in meat, incorporating all ingredients until well combined.

6. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Put lid on and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour until lamb is fork tender.

7. Fold in the pears and peas and cook for 10 more minutes to incorporate the flavors.

8. Serve over basmati rice, sprinkling the top of the curry with halved grapes or raisins and roasted almonds.

Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup brown sugar

1 large Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cornmeal

1½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened

¾ of a cup of sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup of buttermilk, shaken

Whipped cream for serving

Directions

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F.

2. In a 10-inch ovenproof, nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the brown sugar and stir into the butter.

3. Cook for a few minutes until sugar starts to melt. Arrange pears in a pinwheel design in the brown sugar, remove from heat and set aside.

4. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt on a piece of waxed paper.

5. Cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

6. Pour into the prepared skillet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Main photo: Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake. Credit: Brooke Jackson

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Terra Madre’s Fresh Ideas Bring New Life To Africa Image

When Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International, the global grassroots nonprofit association, launched the “1,000 Food Gardens in Africa” project in 2012, he could never have imagined that within two years the project would have doubled its results and increased its goals tenfold.

“We’ve already launched 2,000 gardens, and are now aiming for 10,000 to be established by 2016 in all 52 countries of the continent,” says Slow Food International vice president Edie Mukiibi, from Uganda, who has coordinated the project. (Californian chef and activist Alice Waters is the association’s other vice president).

Mukiibi was speaking at Terra Madre, Slow Food’s biennial five-day event which, with Salone del Gusto, is underway in Turin, Italy. Both are open to the public. Terra Madre is a global network of food-producing communities from more than 150 countries worldwide, and this year it brought hundreds of representatives from 2,500 of those communities to Piedmont to meet, share knowledge and exchange ideas.

Mukiibi explains how the African gardens project has been able to increase so fast: “We’ve set up a network using local radio stations and mobile phones to spread the word about the importance of this project in remote parts of the country.” The objectives of the gardens are practical, symbolic and political.

“We have a heavy responsibility to lift Africa from where it now is,” he continues. “Africa is an old continent in terms of its creation but now it has the energy and fresh ideas of its youthful population. This gives us lots of opportunities. Our generation has access to communications and education so we must act and react against industrial farming’s brainwashing. Biodiversity and sustainability must be priorities in the fight against the monocultures of the cynical, market-driven corporations that are trying to dominate the world of agriculture.”

Gardens benefit families and communities

The food gardens follow different models. The largest, of several acres, are community gardens, worked on by many members of a local tribe or village. Family food gardens are also being established wherever possible to increase self-sufficiency. School gardens are another important part of the project. As Alice Waters, who has long led the fight to put school lunch on the curriculum in the U.S. and to create food gardens in schools, says: “Food gardens breathe life into education.”

At the African Food Gardens conference at Terra Madre, many Africans shared stories about their experiences. Moudane Hassan, from Somalia, explained that his people were originally nomadic camel herders who had never traditionally planted vegetables.

“We now have 54 gardens in Somalia, of which 19 are in schools and 24 in communities,” he said. “They are helping us get improve nutrition and free ourselves from dependence on international food aid.”

Julie Cissé, an activist from Senegal and founder of GIPS/WAR (a group of initiatives for social progress in an area called War), has another inspiring story to tell. She runs a network of 300 women who work the land.

“We’ve battled for women to become owners of the land they work, and we’ve had to ask permission for this from our elders and local administrators. We’ve even lobbied government.

“Our most effective argument is to explain that we want to re-create the kinds of vegetable gardens our grandmothers had, and that strikes a chord even with the most macho of men,” she says.

“We believe in sustainability, in farming the land without chemicals and pesticides or genetically modified crops. Now the men see just how productive we are, and how much we are bringing in as food and resources, and they are enthusiastic.”

The Senegal gardens are either family gardens of around 150 square yards, or much bigger, 15-acre community gardens on which up to 120 women may work. Slow Food helps by providing access to technical support and, in some cases, sponsorship from companies and individuals abroad.

Illustration of the "one woman, one chicken coop" concept.  Credit: Carla Capalbo

Illustration of the “one woman, one chicken coop” concept. Credit: Carla Capalbo

The group also came up with an innovative solution for city women and for those who have lost plots to land-grabbing but who want to produce food. Called “One woman, one chicken crate,” it involves wooden crates that are 1.7 square yards. The women can keep chickens in the crate and use the top to grow a vegetable.

“A crate or two can always be fitted into a courtyard or alley and provide the women with a source of healthy vitamins while supplementing the family income,” Cissé says.

Mukiibi agrees: “Our grandfathers fought for independence. We too must stand up and fight malnutrition and the neo-colonialism of land-grabbing and imposed monocultures. Let’s support the biodiversity of our food to save African gastronomy. Start by spreading the word.”

He might have added that this doesn’t apply only to Africa: Planting food gardens in our own schools, communities and backyards can turn the tide on junk-food wastelands and the health problems they are creating everywhere.

Top photo: Julie Cissé at Terra Madre. Credit: Carla Capalbo

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Celebrate Healthy Eating — All Year Long Image

The days following a holiday are always a bit of a downer. And all too often it’s just a matter of time before the importance of the occasion becomes a distant memory as we return to the status quo of living our everyday lives.

Wait, you didn’t know Friday, October 24, was a holiday?

OK, perhaps not a holiday exactly, but for food geeks like me it was a day where houses were filled with brightly colored fruit and vegetable balloons and salubrious meals were followed by delicious-but-still-nutritious desserts. Food Day was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to raise awareness about the story of food from farm to table and back to soil to encourage dietary changes that support health, community, and the environment.

Why what you eat matters

In my own world, though, October 24 is just another day to do what I always do: teach people about why what you eat matters, farm to fork. I first began making the connections between what I ate and how it affected our planet and its peoples almost 20 years ago, learning from a professor who had been teaching “nutrition ecology” for decades. Learning to think beyond myself when it came to food was an “Aha!” moment for me. It has had an indelible effect on everything I’ve ever done in my career as a nutrition scientist.

As you probably already know, nutrition is a science focused on how food impacts health and disease, which is in essence biochemistry and physiology. Fundamentally, nutrition is based in the biological sciences, hence rooted to an individual. The concept of “nutrition ecology” was first coined in the early 1980s and remains unfamiliar to most people (including most nutritionists, by the way, since thinking outside the body is not standard practice for them, either). In essence, nutrition ecology expands how we think about food beyond health, a paradigm that includes the impact of our food choices on the environment, economy and society as a whole.

In other words, when it comes to what you eat, it’s not just about you.

Of course, diet impacts your own health, weight and risk of disease: 80% of chronic diseases are essentially preventable through modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet, and better food choices will lead to a longer life filled with more active years. If you’re not yet paying close enough attention to your own well-being, now’s a great time to think about the kinds of changes you can make to improve your own health. Yet the spirit of Food Day truly becomes alive when we step outside ourselves and deeply consider why what we eat matters — apart from our own bodies. How food is grown and what resources are used to produce it, including feed, land, water, fuel, fertilizers and soil; who grows it, and how fairly she or he is treated and remunerated; how it gets to you and how much it costs; and how food is disposed and/or wasted — should you be lucky enough to live in a place where surplus exists — all matter.

Sound like a tall order to consider all of that next time you’re making a meal?

Sustainable eating

It’s true that the road to healthy and sustainable eating is rife with complexities. Yet if you’re not up for a semester-long course in farm to fork eating, like the kinds of classes I teach, the good news is that cutting back on animal foods like beef, pork, lamb, and poultry (especially processed products) and increasing your consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes will go a long way toward improving your health as well as the environment, due to the much smaller carbon- and water-footprint of plant-based diets. And that simple change, if enough people do it, can lead to many other large-scale positive effects elsewhere in the food system.

Sure, there’s a lot more you can do aside from consuming less meat, and Food Day is a terrific opportunity to educate yourself about critical food issues from farming to food waste, chemicals to climate change. And, as long as you ensure your sources are science-based, there are myriad places to help you put into practice the principles of nutrition ecology.

P.K. Newby

P.K. Newby

But Food Day is just one day, and now it’s over — and, if we’re being honest, most people probably didn’t even know about it, anyway. And that’s OK because, let’s face it, every day is food day, really. Not only do we need food to live, but food is an integral part of our cultural identity and, for many, a source of joy and connection to ourselves, others, and the planet we share. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, food is practically the whole story every time. Far more important than celebrating a day that quickly lapses into the past is to make your food choices matter in the present every time you shop, cook, eat and drink. With each bite, you have the opportunity to invest not only in your own health, but to cast a vote about the kind of world we want to live in, together.

I hope there will be a time when we don’t need a special day to remind us.

Main photo: The Copley Square farmers market in Boston. Credit: P.K. Newby

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Un Dia De Los Muertos To Raise Your Spirits Image

Many cultures around the world honor departed ancestors with holidays each year. Some feature altars. Some burn incense. But feasting is the common thread that runs through many of the celebrations.

The dead are part of that — with food offerings left in their honor.

In Mexico’s two-day Day of the Dead celebration — el Día de los Muertos — Nov. 1 celebrates the lives of departed infants and children. Nov. 2 honors those who died as adults. On both days, families provide the favorite food and drink of the departed.

In China, families set out plates of food during for their ancestors at the Hungry Ghost Festival. An empty place at the dinner table is sometimes left for an ancestor to join in the feast.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, which is thousands of years old, is traditionally celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Chinese families place ancestral artifacts on a table, burn incense and display photographs of the dead.

Remembering the dead with food, flowers and festive décor

Mexico’s tradition also features colorful altars to honor ancestors.

MexicanSugarSkull.com offers this detail on the offerings — ofrendas — that families set out on their Day of the Dead altars:

“They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil and bright red cock’s combs), mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan de muerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.

 

The Day of the Dead sugar skulls are an example of the festive way that the Mexican culture approaches death -- with an air of celebration as a way to joyfully remember departed loved ones. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee

The Day of the Dead sugar skulls are an example of the festive way that the Mexican culture approaches death — with an air of celebration as a way to joyfully remember departed loved ones. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee

Mexico’s Day of the Dead is believed to trace its origins to pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals. After the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, the celebrations were moved to coincide with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).

Not just a Mexican holiday anymore

Today, Day of the Dead has grown in popularity far behind the borders of Mexico and Latin America. The traditional observance from central and southern Mexico can now be seen in Día de los Muertos imagery and art around the world.

You can purchase just about anything you need for your own Day of the Dead celebration. From sugar skull molds to authentic Mexican Día de los Muertos folk art pieces, which are sometimes used as an altar decoration by celebrants.  The happy skeletons are shown doing many different things, from cooking to selling wares at the market. There are even skeleton mariachi bands. Families will purchase the colorful skeletons that depict activities their departed family member enjoyed in life.

Creating Mexican calaveras - the sugar skulls that are omnipresent in Day of the Dead celebrations - is an easy holiday activity for families. Youngsters get as much joy out of decorating the skulls as their parents do.

Creating Mexican calaveras – the sugar skulls that are omnipresent in Day of the Dead celebrations – is an easy holiday activity for families. Youngsters enjoy decorating the skulls as much as their parents do. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee

Making sugar skull decorations is very simple, using only three ingredients and a mold. The fun part is decorating them. I recruited my 7-year-old daughter and her friend to decorate the skulls. The kit came months ago, and my daughter had been bugging me since the day it arrived to make them. Not only was it a fun activity, it gave me a chance to talk about honoring our ancestors and remembering them in a fun — not sad — way.

I encourage families to make the skulls together, even decorating the skulls to resemble the deceased in their families and extended families.

Día de los Muertos Sugar Skulls

Prep time: 10 minutes

Drying time: 8 hours

Yield: 5 medium skulls

Ingredients

For the sugar skulls:

3 cups granulated sugar

3 teaspoons meringue powder

3 teaspoons water

For the royal icing:

1 pound powdered sugar

⅓ cup water

¼ cup meringue powder

Gel paste food coloring, assorted colors

Directions

For the sugar skulls:

1. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar and meringue powder.

2. Sprinkle the water over the sugar mixture.

3. Using clean hands, knead the mixture until all the sugar is moistened and it feels like wet sand. Make sure there are no lumps.

4. Pack the mix firmly into the sugar skull mold.

5. Carefully invert the mold onto a baking sheet or piece of cardboard.

6. Gently tap the mold to release the sugar skull from the mold.

7. Let the skulls dry for at least 8 hours to overnight.

8. Decorate the skulls with royal icing.

For the royal icing:

1. In a stand mixer, beat the icing until it makes stiff peaks.

2. Divide the icing and use paste food coloring to make assorted colors.

3. Using a piping bag, decorate the skulls as desired.

Main photo: Mexican sugar skulls for Day of the Dead celebrations. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee 

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Let’s Talk: Meals That Make Strong Connections. Image

When I first opened the doors to my restaurant Tanoreen 15 years ago, I had a clear intention: offer my diners a peek into the Middle Eastern cuisine I knew beyond falafel and hummus. I also wanted to share a rich, nuanced culinary world that — contrary to popular belief — was more slow food than fast food.

At that time, hummus was not served at cocktail parties with carrot sticks, people didn’t know what tahini was or how to use it. Freekah (smoked wheat) was not proclaimed a “super food” and za’atar and sumac were not the trendiest spices in the land. But to me, these foods were things we consumed and used daily. They were part of the tradition of food in the Middle East that was then unknown in America. I am quite pleased that the Mediterranean diet has become so popular. It’s healthy, fresh and in my opinion, delectable.

But let’s be honest. Most of the popular Middle Eastern dishes that have worked their way through the food chain were, until recently, “fast food” such as supermarket shish kabob carts and hummus party trays. Middle Eastern food is about much more than dips and sandwiches. The spice mixes and the use of fresh vegetables, lean meats, grains and olive oil are all cornerstones.

Our meals, when I was growing up and with my own children, were and remain an active meditation. It’s not “on the go” but rather celebrating slow-cooked food, togetherness, conversation and phones off!

Unlike baking, cooking is not formulaic, even though recipes can feel that way sometimes. I always say two people can make the same recipe, and it will taste completely different. There is a soulfulness in this kind of cooking.

It’s an inner, almost empathetic connection to the people you’re cooking for. The focus is on what really tastes good, and not just on your tongue. It’s also in the emotions and memories triggered as your guests eat the meal you’ve prepared.

Chef and author Rawia Bishara: A great meal is a conduit to togetherness. Credit: Peter Cassidy

Chef and author Rawia Bishara: A great meal is a conduit to togetherness. Credit: Peter Cassidy

Similarly my cookbook, “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar,” comes from that same premise. I want to celebrate the variety of recipes, which are not at all difficult, along with the traditions and memories that come with Middle Eastern food.

Memories of such meals stand like flag posts throughout my life: the first meal I cooked for my husband (stuffed artichoke hearts), our traditional Christmas dinner (roast leg of lamb), my daughter’s favorite breakfast food as a child (potatoes and eggs) and traditional wedding mezzes.

I learned all this from my mother, a schoolteacher and home cook. Technically speaking, she was a genius chef. But her real strength as a cook lay in her ability to make meals that were an extension of her love for her family and guests — of which there were many! Her meals created an environment of warmth, safety, comfort and a total blast for the senses. It was hypnotic, with all your synapses triggered simultaneously.

A snapshot of a favorite meal: a warm winter stew of slow-braised cauliflower and fragrant spiced lamb, served alongside warm rice pilaf and toasted vermicelli noodles, fresh tomato salad with shaved radish and herbs from her garden. There were heaping plates of olives, warm fresh Arabic bread, long thin hot peppers to crunch on. And small plates of hummus and labne, served before the meal but later banished to the outer corners of a table almost wiped clean. Two parents, five children and almost always a guest or two — because if you cook for seven, you are cooking for 10.

Ghada, as we called it, was a refuge. The biggest meal of the day, served in the late afternoon, with dinner usually later and much lighter.

In today’s world, we may seem more connected, but really we’re more disconnected than ever. People click away on their smartphones on the train, walking down the street, at the gym and, yes, at the dinner table.

As a chef, I try to create a cozy bubble-like environment in my restaurant, just as I did in my own home as a mother and wife. Middle Eastern food creates that mood, using dishes that invite connection. A great meal is a conduit to togetherness.

Brussels Sprouts With Panko

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

Corn oil for frying

4 pounds Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, cut in half

1 cup Thick Tahini Sauce (see recipe below)

1 cup lowfat plain yogurt

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)

Pinch sea salt

Directions

1. Pour ¼ to ½ inch corn oil in a large skillet and place over a high heat until hot. To test the temperature, slip half a Brussels sprout into the pan; if it makes a popping sound, the oil is hot enough.

2. Working in batches, fry the Brussels sprouts, turning occasionally, until they are browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sprouts to a paper towel–lined plate to drain.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the Thick Tahini Sauce, yogurt and pomegranate molasses in a medium bowl. Set aside.

4. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high until hot. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Add the panko and stir constantly until the crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes.

6. Stir in the salt and remove the bread crumbs from the heat. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.

7. Place the Brussels sprouts in a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce and top with the panko crumbs. Serve immediately.

Notes

Brussels sprouts were not part of the Palestinian kitchen when I was growing up. I discovered them here in the States and very eagerly tried to push them on my children. To that end, I did what any good mother would do — I pumped up their flavor by adding a little tahini sauce and sweet pomegranate molasses. It worked!

In fact these Brussels sprouts were so delicious that they made it onto the original Tanoreen menu and I’ve never taken them off.

Thick Tahini Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 2½ cups

Ingredients

1½ cups tahini (sesame paste)

3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed

Juice of 5 lemons or to taste (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt and process on low speed for 2 minutes or until thoroughly incorporated.
2. Turn the speed to high and blend until the tahini mixture begins to whiten.
3. Gradually add up to ½ cup water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.
4. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley. Leftover tahini sauce can be stored, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

Tahini sauce is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern kitchens. It is the condiment. There is hardly a dish that isn’t enhanced by it. At Tanoreen, I mix it into salad dressings and drizzle it into cauliflower casseroles. My daughter? She dips French fries into it! Learn to make this and you will have a simple, delicious, versatile sauce to add to your repertoire.

Main photo: With a bit of tahini sauce and pomegranate molasses, even kids love the author’s Brussels Sprouts With Panko. Credit: Peter Cassidy

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Want Delicious Pork? Skip The Factory-Farmed Pigs Image

“The worst thing to ever happen to the pork industry was the Other White Meat campaign,” Chipotle culinary manager Nate Appleman proclaimed at the sixth Chefs Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit, held this year in Boulder, Colo.

To that audience, he didn’t have to explain his point: Not only were the ads misleading, they heralded an industry trend toward lean, muscle-bound hogs you can likely thank (along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s old cooking-temperature guidelines) for every bland, dry piece of pork you’ve ever eaten.

But Chefs Collaborative conference-goers who attended a breakout session titled “Eating Invasives” received a demonstration nonetheless, as Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm-Table-Bistro and conservation biologist Joe Roman organized a comparative tasting of roasted loins from three hogs: one factory farmed, one a heritage breed called Mulefoot and one wild boar.

It may go without saying that the supermarket product paled in every sense of the word, but the starkness of its inferiority surprised even the hosts. As Roman observed later, “Since our tasting, I’ve noticed the consistency of industrial pork: lean, white, almost tasteless. There was a certain complexity of taste and color in the Mulefoot and the boar.”

Skokan agreed, viewing the meat samples along a spectrum: “At one end you have cardboard, at the other end, noticeable gaminess.”

But when it comes to both the heritage breeds and wild animals, consumer education and market availability are major sticking points. To learn more, I talked to the two gentlemen about their pet (so to speak) causes.

The Mulefoot

Once common throughout the Midwest as a prized lard pig, this black breed was “as close to extinction as you could get” less than a decade ago, Skokan said. Today, numbers are on the gradual rise through the efforts of advocates like Arie McFarlen of South Dakota’s Maveric Heritage Ranch. (Skokan calls her “one of the most important people in food you’ve never heard of in your life.”)

Sausage made using Mulefoot pork. Credit: Ashley Davis Tilly

Sausage made using Mulefoot pork. Credit: Ashley Davis Tilly

Chef-farmer Skokan decided to raise Mulefoots in 2007 after a lesson-filled first year on his Longmont, Colo., property. “I’d grown this huge number of turnips that were inedible — no amount of kitchen creativity could save them. I realized I could use pigs as a way of turning lemons into lemonade; they would eat up the failed experiments. But if I was going to do it, they had to be great,” he said.

That was when he learned about Mulefoots. “I literally Googled ‘what’s the best-tasting breed of pork?’ And the oracle told me that The Livestock Conservancy had done a tasting with a panel of judges, and Mulefoot won.”

Skokan wasn’t concerned only with its culinary advantages. Given Colorado’s high-desert climate, the pigs had to be able to tolerate intense sun as well as cold winters, and because he’s a father to young children, they had to have “a great disposition. Mulefoots are cuddly if anything.”

Still, as the owner of two restaurants — Black Cat and adjacent gastropub Bramble & Hare — he’s above all a fan of its “superb flavor. I like to joke that even terrible cooks can cook it well; it’s very forgiving.

“We haven’t bought pork in five or six years,” he added. “We use Mulefoots for everything but the squeak.” In his just-released cookbook, “Farm, Fork, Food” (Kyle Books, $29.95), you’ll find gorgeous examples from country pâté with turnip mostarda to plum wood-smoked shoulder.

Their upbringing has something to do with their deliciousness, of course. “They’re free range all the time. We have really big fields, and we actually require them to move, putting where they eat, sleep, drink and graze in opposite corners.” His animals also live at least twice as long as their factory-raised brethren (11 to 13 months versus about six), fattening up over time as the bone structure of their breed dictates.

Scrumptious, user-friendly, consciously raised — sign me up, right? Well, not so fast. Skokan explained that although Mulefoot breeders are beginning to sell their meat commercially, “it’s still very localized and very niche.” If you’re determined to get your hands on some, look for a farm in your area; otherwise, try different types of heritage pork from online retailers.

Feral pigs and wild boars

Given their anything-goes diet, there’s no question these omnivores pack a stronger, more savory punch than their domesticated counterparts; Roman called the meat “almost nutty.” At the same time, they’re even leaner than today’s factory-bred pigs, developing muscle naturally on the prowl. Generally, the younger the carcass is, the more tender and flavorful it is, rather than downright pungent.

Chef-farmer Eric Skokan during a demonstration with a wild boar. Credit: Ruth Tobias

Chef-farmer Eric Skokan during a demonstration with a wild boar. Credit: Ruth Tobias

Although you’ll find a swell profile on Roman’s website, Eat the Invaders, here’s his nutshell version: “Wild boar and feral hogs are both the same species, Sus scrofa, but they have different histories in the United States. Wild boar were released to provide huntable game, and feral swine were either released to forage on the open range by farmers and settlers or escaped from captivity.” Because they interbreed, however, “it is not easy to tell the three groups — wild, feral, hybrid — apart, even for experts,” he said.

It’s not easy to get ahold of them, either. “At present, there are just two practical ways,” Roman said. “If you live within their range, the best is to hunt it yourself, or get it from a neighbor who does.” If you’re OK with that, you’re probably in luck, because “many states encourage the hunting of wild boar, to reduce numbers. Florida, for example, has no size or bag limits, and hogs can be hunted during almost any season.”

If your state’s laws are more restrictive, however, or if you’re not a hunter, Roman recommends ordering the meat online through Texas outfit Broken Arrow Ranch.

Cooking the beasts may be the easiest part: You do it just as you would a domestic pig, with the important caveat that safe cooking temperatures are paramount. Yes, hitting that blasted 160 F mark is probably necessary to avoid potential illness — we’ll give the USDA this one.

Main photo: Mulefoot pigs. Credit: Kirsten Boyer Photography

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Three Dinners in One from a New England Classic Image

Careful thought can ease your workload considerably, if that’s how you think of cooking, by squeezing three dinners from one initial cooking. It’s a novel way of viewing leftovers in that you’re not using them so much as you are making leftovers to be used according to a plan.

First, in the method that follows, you’re not simply using leftovers, you’re following a game plan to create three nights of family dinners for four by using the foods from the first meal for the second meal and from the first and second meals for the third meal. You’ll add one or two foods to subsequent dinners Nos. 2 and 3. You can do all of this for about $40.

Ideally, dinner No. 1 should begin on a Sunday morning as you’ll be making a boiled dinner that can cook slowly all day either in a large slow cooker or on the stove top if your cook top has a simmer-control setting. A simmer-control setting is so low that a pot of water set on top of it will never boil; it will only shimmer on top.

The first meal is based on a New England boiled dinner, a family meal that was far more popular in the early 20th century than today and something of a misnomer as one never actually boils the chicken but rather poaches it. The second meal is based on an Alpine-type of baked casserole au gratin with fontina cheese. The third meal is based on a root vegetable soup purée with chunks of meat and vegetables.

First Dinner: Boiled Dinner

Prep time: About 30 minutes

Cook time: 3-9 hours

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

One 4-pound chicken

2 pounds fresh kielbasa sausage or mild Italian sausage

1¾ pounds boiling potatoes, such as small Yukon gold or fingerling, peeled

1½ pounds fat carrots, scraped and cut in half

1 pound (7 or 8) small onions, peeled

1½ pounds fat parsnips, scraped

1¼ pound small turnips (7 or 8), trimmed of tops

2 small celery roots (1 pound), trimmed and peeled

2 celery stalks, cut in half

50 garlic cloves

Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth, consisting of parsley, celery stalk top, marjoram, bay leaf, and oregano

10 peppercorns

Water as needed

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Wrap the chicken in cheesecloth and tie off with kitchen twine. Place in a large stockpot with the sausage, potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips, celery root, celery stalk, garlic, bouquet garni and peppercorns and cover with water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a near boil. Reduce the heat to very low the minute you see a bubble or two rise to the surface. Cook until all the foods are very tender, about 9 hours with a simmer control and about 3 hours without. At no time should the water boil; it should only shimmer on top. About halfway through the cooking, season a bit with salt. Bring to just below a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to low, so it is just shimmering on the surface.

2. Remove the chicken and unwrap from the kitchen twine. Set the chicken in the middle of a large round platter. It will be so well-cooked it will collapse unless you handle it gently. Surround with all the other meats and vegetables except for the celery stalk and bouquet garni, which you will discard. Serve with any two of these accompaniments: horseradish with apple, Bavarian mustard, Cajun mustard, regular mustard, Mostarda di Cremona, apple sauce or hot sauce of your choice.

3. Save all food not eaten.

4. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and return to a pot. Boil until the broth is reduce by a third. Cool and save.

wright-boileddinner2

wright-boileddinner2
Picture 1 of 3

Meat and vegetables ready for dinners two and three. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Second Dinner: Baked Casserole au Gratin

Prep time: about 10 minutes

Cook time: 1¼ hours

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Leftovers from boiled dinner, sliced

2½ ounces smoked slab bacon, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, pork lard or duck fat

½ pound cabbage, cored and thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 slices (about 2 ounces) French or Italian country bread

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground cinnamon

¾ pound fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, in thin slices

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in thin slivers

2 cups chicken broth (from first meal)

Directions

1. Remove the meat from the chicken and discard the carcass. Chop or slice the chicken and sausage keeping them separated. Slice all the vegetables but keep them separate. Remove half of everything and set aside for meal No. 3.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

3. In a sauté pan, cook, stirring, the bacon and cooking fat over medium heat until almost crispy, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and a little water to deglaze the pan and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4. In four 8 x 1½-inch baking casseroles, or one larger baking casserole, or similar ovenproof vessel, place the bread and then layer half the leftovers on top and half the cabbage and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Layer half the fontina cheese and then another layer of leftovers and cabbage and finally some slivers of butter. Finish with one more layer of cheese and butter. Pour ½ cup broth into each casserole and bake until golden brown and bubbling, 55 to 60 minutes. Serve hot.

Third Dinner: Root Vegetable Purée With Chicken and Sausage

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Leftover vegetables from dinner one

3½ cups chicken broth (from first meal)

3 tablespoons heavy cream

3 ounces fresh or frozen peas

Leftover meat from dinner one

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

4 slices (about 2 ounces) Italian or French country bread, pan-fried in butter until golden brown

Directions

1. Place all the leftover vegetables in a food processor with 2 cups broth and blend in pulses at first then continuously until smooth. Transfer to a soup pot with the cream, peas, remaining meat leftovers, remaining broth and ground ginger and heat over low heat until hot. Check the seasoning. Serve with bread.

Main photo: New England boiled dinner with chicken and vegetables. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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