All Posts By Food Network Kitchen

Summer Blight

by in In Season, July 23rd, 2009

Monday morning, I began to write about the collection of tomatoes starting to ripen in my garden, ranging from vibrant yellow beauties the shape and size of gumballs to tiny green striated torpedoes and deep purple-maroon monsters with more crevices than an elephant’s trunk.

My writing was stopped short when our sous chef and fellow gardener Miriam showed up at my desk with news of the late blight fungus that is rapidly spreading throughout tomato plants in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic and likely to hit home gardens hard. The fungus, which is also found and carried in potatoes (think Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century), is sometimes found in small amounts in August and September, but this outbreak is on a scale rarely seen by plant pathologists and agricultural experts.

Although the fungus has been around for centuries, this outbreak is thought to have started in mass-market outdoor and gardening stores. Since Miriam and I buy most of our tomato plants from heirloom producers at the farmers’ market, we thought we might be safe.

Over the next few days, we gathered around every news and gardening report, filtering through the news that that for organic gardeners (like us), there is no known cure or prevention except extracting the plants and disposing of them (in the garbage, not compost). Fungicides can help prevent the fungus from spreading, but that’s an option many aren’t willing to make.  And as an organic gardener in a community garden that lives by that commitment, my own choice is limited.

We all went home, inspected our tomatoes, coddled them, and picked and cherished every healthy ripe tomato straight from the vine. We held our breath and hoped for hot sunny days (reported to kill late blight), exchanged worried glances during the rain, and promised that we’d continue to buy tomatoes from the farmer’s market, even as prices doubled, to support those that are quickly losing their crops.

Two days later, Miriam came in with an almost-ripe orange and yellow striped tomato wearing all the signs of blight. We stood in a quiet circle, inspecting her tomato, and patting her on the back, as if to say “we’re sorry this happened to you.” To lighten the mood, we joked about giving Miriam’s tomato a proper burial, and offered to sit shiva for her crop. But the truth is, the blight is no joke, least of all for the hundreds of farmers whose living depends on it — evidence that the many principles of sustainability, most primarily biodiversity, are wise ones. Planting large varieties of any plant in any garden or farm is the best defense against total crop failure.

Wherever your tomato plants came from, and however many varieties you’ve planted, I sincerely hope they will not be affected by the blight, and that you don’t give up on gardening if they do. And I hope just as fiercely that you’ll keep eating tomatoes, keep buying tomatoes, and keep our farmers (and tomatoes) in business for years and years to come.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

This

by in View All Posts, July 22nd, 2009

Zucchinimandering

by in View All Posts, July 20th, 2009

Far be it from me to get involved in other food media institutions’ test kitchen power struggles, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my close friend (and college roommate) Andrea Albin is currently battling for zucchini supremacy over on the Gourmet website. Video can’t be embedded, but click here to see it.

Voting is here. While I’m not saying you necessarily have to vote for Andrea, a vote for Andrea is a vote for bacon and tequila, and really, how can you argue with either?

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

Seeing Green

by in In Season, July 16th, 2009

Year after year, cucumbers have been the most dependable and prolific plants in my garden, making them an easy sell for me each spring. This year, I got so carried away with tomatoes and peppers, I almost forgot them, until my friends from Teich Garden Systems (who build our Good Food Gardens) gave me an heirloom pickling cucumber plant. I almost forgot them again until this morning, when I found the plant cleverly creeping up the legs of an old-cast-iron trellis, with two chubby cucumbers hanging heavily from its vines. These first cucumbers mark the glorious beginning of weeks upon weeks of green, as well as meals and menus inspired by their vibrant green skin.

Best picked when evenly green, firm and crisp, cucumbers should be eaten as soon after picking as possible, when their cells are bursting with water. It’s that crisp edge that makes them so refreshing raw, dipped in hummus, tossed into a Greek salad, or sliced (any size, skin on) with lemons in ice water, a spa trick that’s easy to adopt at home.

They are also the inspiration behind three of my favorite summer foods: chilled cucumber soup; pickles; and tzatziki, a garlicky yogurt-based cucumber dip that’s perfect with pita and as a topping for lamb burgers, gyros, or kebabs.

And if you happen to have a garden bursting with green, or a good farmers’ market nearby, take the color and run with it with a summer supper made of tzatziki with grilled flatbread, pesto stuffed into grilled arctic char, a summer squash carpaccio, and a peppermint and lime herb refresher. Bon Appetit!

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

P.S. If you didn’t get your cucumber plants in yet, it’s okay to plant some now for a fall harvest. Cucumbers grow quickly and like lots of space, sun, and water, so give them room to grow either out (at least two feet apart) or up (they work well when trellised or allowed to creep up a link fence) and keep the soil moist.

It Came From The Library 13: Whither Organics?

by in News, July 14th, 2009

Media-wise, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for the organics industry. Earlier this month a prominent LA Times food journalist confessed, “I don’t believe in organic,” arguing that flavor–most reliably found in farmers’ markets–should trump all other considerations for conscientious food shoppers. Fair enough perhaps. And in and of itself, the article is of limited significance. But its timing is telling and, to my mind, reflective of the declining status of organics in general and of the federal organic label in particular. My sense of this was solidified a few days later when the Washington Post ran a front page report raising questions about the integrity of the federal organics program, which oversees the federal organic labels.

The report depicts the program as a mire of lobbyist-friendly administrators, eroding standards, and lax oversight. Specifically, it details friction between the National Organic Standards Board, which controls decisions on which synthetics are permitted under the organic label, and the National Organic Program, which administers the standards. In recent years, according to the WaPo, the Program has taken it upon itself do some standard-setting of its own and to selectively enforce standards established by the Board.

Critics charge that the Program has been all too easily swayed by industry lobbyists who’ve pushed to loosen regulations by expanding the list of allowable synthetics in processed organics. Federal administrators counter they’re removing obstacles to the growth of the organics industry.

Is any of this really news? Certainly, as Samuel Fromartz, author of ‘Organics, Inc.,’ points out in a thought-provoking blog post, a fundamental tension ‘between those who have always sought to expand the industry and those who seek a more purist vision’ has underlain the entire history of efforts to standardize and enshrine organics into law.

But there is a definite sense that, under the pressure of explosive growth, this tension is building, perhaps toward a breaking point–something recognized by the standards board’s chairman, Jeff Moyer, who observes, “As the organic industry matures, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a balance between the integrity of the word ‘organic’ and the desire for the industry to grow.”

Fromartz seems to believe that the real story is the question of what happens to organics after this breaking point is reached. As he sees it two outcomes are likely, both dead-ends of a sort:

“If synthetics are taken out, even over a sunset period…organic processed foods would fade off the shelves. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but the organic industry would be a lot smaller. If, on the other hand, too many synthetics are let in, and we start getting more organic junk food with a long list of  unpronounceable ingredients, that will spell the end of organics too.”

The odds of the latter strike me as vastly more likely. The organic industry has been so thoroughly integrated into (some argue co-opted by) the larger food industry that it now has tremendous weight to throw around in Washington. If the industry wants to loosen definitions of ‘organic,’ chances are definitions will loosen. If, on the other hand, the industry fails to get its desired changes, chances are it will find a work-around by creating cheaper alternatives that siphon off organic’s cache without being constrained by organic regulations–Horizon Organics’ recent introduction of a ‘Natural’ line suggests this process is now under way. Both courses of action carry tremendous risks for the industry in terms of diminishing the value of the organic label in the eyes of consumers. The LATimes article, among other things, seems symptomatic of this spreading sense of diminished value. If Fromartz is right, organics may well be approaching a tipping point.

Jonathan Milder, Research Librarian

Tales from Tales

by in View All Posts, July 13th, 2009

Am just back from New Orleans, where I spent the last couple days as a guest of Tales of the Cocktail, the annual cocktail conference that brings together bartenders, drink historians, liquor companies, and cocktail aficionados for a 6-day extravaganza that I heard referred to more than once as “spring break for bartenders.” As can be imagined, morning seminars were slightly more sparsely-attended than evening ones, and were accompanied by no small amount of hair of the dog.

I was down from Friday through Sunday, and spent the majority of my time geeking out on cocktail history, which was to be had in abundance – presentations on that front ranged from a roundup of forgotten 19th-century bartenders to a discussion on how best to resurrect historical cocktails, as well as a threatened (but not performed) experiment to see whether navy gin (thus named because it’s high enough proof that, if you spill it on gunpowder, the gunpowder can still be lit, making it a good thing to have on ships) does in fact live up to its name.

Other highlights included the annual Spirit Awards, naming the best bars, products, and bartenders in the industry. It’s rare that this happens in any field, but frankly, I agree with almost every one of their picks, most especially the Best American Cocktail Bar (Pegu Club), Best Cocktail Writing (Dave Wondrich), American Bartender of the Year (Jim Meehan), and World’s Best Cocktail Bar (PDT, where Jim Meehan is not-coincidentally the heart and soul behind the bar). Best New Product was Bols Genever – I’m always happy to see more gin, and traditional gin at that, hitting the market, and the Bols was featured in one of my favorite drinks of the conference, the Genever Collins, demonstrated at a feisty panel, where, among other notable quotes, punch was referred to (in contrast to the austerity of a martini) as “the extravagant drag queen of the gin cocktail world.”

Brief outtakes from other moments: Phil Greene demonstrating the proper form for an airborne absinthe wash (performed pre-Sazerac, and while wearing a rain poncho to protect his suit); a raucous limoncello demo with Danny DeVito and John Besh, broadcast live on New Orleans’ legendary Chef and the Fatman radio show; a fake-mustache-involving*, only-somewhat-successful attempt at a Harry Johnson-style stacked glass pour; a homemade bitters contest and tasting, with more than one participant copping to having procured the necessary herbs at “the hippie herb store;” a short history of Bourbon street’s burlesque bars, presented in part by two former dancers now in their 80s (Wild Cherry and Evangeline the Oyster Girl); and a really remarkable, The Game-style presentation, the last of the conference, about how best as a bartender to manipulate your guests into doing what you want them to.

All told, Tales was a fascinating experience, and a highly-recommended one — and, even though I’ll probably spend the next week slowly sipping water while simultaneously avoiding bright lights and sudden noises, it was worth every sip.

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

*Mustaches were a recurring theme at the conference, both in the context of historical bartenders (that they all had them) and modern bartenders (them too) – but honestly, I think I saw just as many Hawaiian shirts as I did mustaches. I’m wondering whether Tales 2109 will involve people ritualistically, only semi-ironically putting on Hawaiian shirts the same way this year’s non-mustachioed presenters did mustaches.