Sunday, August 30, 2009

A-Whole Foods

Boycott Whole Foods

Back in the early 70's, when some of my friends had moved to Austin to attend college, I'd go up there for weekends of debauchery and other hippy pastimes.
Surprisingly, all sorts of illegal drugs were okay to take, but the food we ate had to be natural, organic and healthy.
Back then, Whole Foods had only one broken-down store with lots of veggies and other natural foods. It had a very hippyish atmosphere and I felt super cool hanging out with the other hippies.
Then one day, Whole Foods exploded with chains of ultraslick stores all over. The new flagship Austin store was fabulous, with a huge inventory and incredible displays.
A few years later, an even newer flagship store was built in Austin (see photo) and it defined the very best in comestibles. Whenever an out of state visitor arrived in San Antonio, we'd always drive the 85 miles up to Austin so they could see the finest Whole Foods store in America.
Then I started reading news about WF owner John Mackey.
First I read that he used a fake name to visit WF message boards and post positive things about himself.
No big deal, I thought, many CEO's had big egos. He called himself a “new-age libertarian environmentalist,” and that sounded pretty good to me.
But now it turns out he's vehemently against labor unions, and even worse, he's totally against any new health care reform.
How dare he?
We patronized his expensive grocery stores because, not only was the food great, we thought we were filling the coffers of a company that was doing the right thing, for the environment, for their employees, and for the communities they served.
John Mackey's opinions on labor unions and health care reform cancel all that out.
No more Whole Foods shopping for me or my family.
These days, John Mackey's sounding more like a Republican obstructionist than a new-age libertarian environmentalist.
Whole Foods needs to be boycotted.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drop Your Forks And Go Now!

Julie and Julia: A Review

Gosh, a movie about cooking and women who cook, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams?
And Streep plays Julia Child? What could possibly go wrong?
With Nora Ephron's writing and directing, this movie was a confection, with appetizers, salad, fish and an entree thrown in for good measure.
For starters, Meryl Streep became Julia Child. Within 20 seconds of her first screen appearance, I totally forgot it was Streep.
From the sloping shoulders to the warbling voice and the taller than tall presence, she made me believe Julia was not dead, she was in her 40's and bigger than life.
We all know the movie's premise:
Julie is a married 29-year-old in NYC looking for a project to snap her out of her ennui, at work and at home. Her saint of a husband suggests she start a blog about food, but she needs to set a deadline or she won't follow through.
So her goal is to cook all 552 recipes in Julia Child's masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, blogging about it all the while.
The movie toggles between Julie in modern times and Julia and her husband Paul (played by Stanley Tucci) back in Paris during the 40's and 50's.
Oh, the glorious food shots!
Julia, sniffing fresh herbs at a French produce stall. Julia, hoisting fresh fish. Julia, buying bread at a Parisian boulangerie. Julia, at the Cordon Bleu learning to cook in the proper French style.
Julie, giving sliced mushrooms plenty of room in the pan to saute more evenly, and searing lean beef chunks for boeuf bourguignon.
My movie companion and I drooled as we watched dish after dish being prepared, by both J's, with such gustatory abandon.
She and I agreed to make boeuf bourguignon together soon. She's got a great kitchen with professional grade appliances, and I've got sharp knives and good pots and pans, so it should be fun. I'll take pictures.
I think Meryl Streep could (and should) get an Oscar for her amazing performance.
Go see the movie, come back and tell me your impressions. I can't wait to hear what you thought.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do Not Mess With Babyback Ribs

My Simple Babyback Secrets

The trouble with making babyback ribs is, you gotta know how to tame them before you even think about grilling or roasting them.
Here's what I do.
First, I cut them into individual ribs so the dry rub covers more area, and they don't have to be man-handled once they're served.
Then I boil the living hell out of them until they are cooked. They look awful at this stage; the meat is gray and the bones are white and they aren't all that tender, but they are cooked.
Then I prepare a dry rub, because barbecue sauce on a rib should be a Class C misdemeanor.
A good dry rub I like to use consists of coffee beans ground to the consistency of a fine powder, then I add a little brown sugar, salt, pepper and maybe a dash of paprika. Taste it-- it should be a well balanced flavor with nothing too obvious.
Using my clean, bare fingers I massage the rub over every square inch of the ribs, bones included. Then I rub in another layer for good measure.
I like to roast my babybacks in the oven because it's too hot to grill outside right now. I roast mine on a rack so they cook top, bottom and sides.
The key is, low and slow.
I heat the oven to about 275F and leave the ribs in for at least an hour to 90 minutes. The longer and slower they roast, the more tender they'll be.
They are done when the meat jumps off the bones and up into your mouth.
They are done when the bones can be stripped bare without any effort.
If you make babybacks and find even a speck of meat left on the bones after your guests are finished eating, you have undercooked your ribs and I wish you better luck next time.

Hey Cupcake!

Austin's Premiere Cupcake Trailer

For years now, I've had a fantasy of opening a one-trick pony bakery--selling just one item: cupcakes of all varieties.
The plain ones with frosting would cost a dollar, and the fancy ones with highly decorated tops and exotic ingredients might cost up to $5 each.
Who knew my idea would be trumped by some enterprising Austin hippy?
Enter Hey Cupcake!, a silver Gulfstream trailer located in a parking lot on Congress Avenue.
Recently, Big Sis and I lined up to grab a few of the delicious babycakes on a day when the temperature was close to 105F.
The sun was glinting off the asphalt and the shiny trailer, while we stood there sweating bullets as the goofy, Ty Pennington-type cupcake clerk flirted relentlessly with the scantily clad co-eds on line in front of us.
Finally, I said in a rather loud voice, "Come on buddy, it's 150 degrees out here."
He sort of chuckled and pointed us toward the stand of pink parasols located next to the trailer.
We finally hit the head of the line and Sis ordered one carrot cake, one red velvet and two yellow cakes with chocolate frosting.
Ty Pennington asked if we wanted cream injected, and I thought that sounded like a great idea. When I told him to stuff the carrot and the red velvet ones, he went into a long shpiel about us having to guarantee the cupcakes infused with cream would have to be eaten within 20 minutes, or he couldn't do it.
We crossed our fingers and promised we would.
So off we went, back to the air conditioned car where my lover-in-law sat idling.
Once we settled back at their house, we dug into the cupcakes and, man, were they good. We didn't eat the cream-filled ones in 20 minutes like we promised, but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
Four cupcakes for $12 may sound like a lot, but with a case of the munchies like we had, they were worth twice that.
I noticed the other day someone in San Antonio has opened a cupcake shop on Main Street, in a trendy little retail strip across from a boutique Mexican restaurant.
I'll have to check them out soon, but they have a lot to prove after I've sampled Hey Cupcake's merchandise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Trouble With Foodie Magazines

Bon Appetit?

I'll admit I subscribe to this magazine, but I can never bring myself to replicate any of their recipes because they are either impossibly time consuming, require extremely hard to find or expensive ingredients, or a combination of them all.
I scanned some of the recipes in the latest issue, and I swear every one of them requires at least one ingredient I don't have or don't want to hassle with finding.
Here are some examples:
1. Fried chicken & biscuits with pink peppercorn honey butter
Sounds easy, but they want you to stock buttermilk, pink peppercorns and clover honey. Cooking should not first require a scavenger hunt.
2. Bloody Mary
Unbelievably, for a simple cocktail they expect you to gather fresh plum tomatoes, a carrot, a golden beet, a fennel bulb, celery seeds, fresh grated horseradish, Sriacha (Asian hot sauce), a cup of Guinness, and for garnishing, pickled okra or green beans.
And a golden beet? Really?
Here's a great Bloody Mary recipe: Some good tomato juice, some good vodka and maybe some salt and pepper. Add whatever else you have around that sounds good. And ice.

I could list a lot more ridiculous recipes from Bon Appetit but the point is, unless you live in a large city with boutique-style comestible markets and have an unlimited grocery budget, Bon Appetit seems to be making things more difficult than they need to be just to be snooty.

I mean come on...

How many of these items are in your pantry or refrigerator?

Ras-el-Hanout (a Moroccan spice blend)
Fresh thyme
Brown turkey figs
Argan oil (from the nut of an Argan tree)
Pepper cress or watercress
Lemon thyme
Whole vanilla beans
Miniature red and yellow bell peppers
Preserved lemons
Lamb shoulder
Fennel pollen
Lemon grass broth
All of these ingredients are listed in recipes within the first half of the magazine.

I think good cooking requires good ingredients. They can be very simple and still be delicious.
A potato, some unsalted butter, a little kosher salt and ground pepper is not complicated but it's sublime.
A loaf of rye, a pound of corned beef and Swiss, a can or jar of good sauerkraut, and a little mustard or Russian dressing can make a mess of perfect Reuben sandwiches.

So what I think I'll do soon is take a great sounding recipe from Bon Appetit, deconstruct it and replace all the silly, scavenger hunt ingredients with just regular stuff you can find at any decent grocery store. Yes?