Letter From California TM_CA_FISHTACO_FI_001

As James Cameron can tell you, puttering around the Mariana Trench in his tiny submarine, the sea is full of bizarre and mysterious creatures. There are Pompeii worms, which live near volcanic heat vents and can withstand temperatures of 175°F. There are deep-sea anglerfish, those nightmare-jawed beasts with small fins and little glowing bulbs hanging from their heads.

And then – then there is that ocean oddity known as the fish taco.

If you haven’t had a Baja-style fish taco, it might look a bit like the taco equivalent of an anglerfish – you can recognize it as a taco, but it also doesn’t look quite like any taco you’ve ever seen before. The fish is battered (usually beer-battered) and deep-fried into golden chunks. (Don’t let anyone convince you that the fish should be grilled. If it is, you’re not eating a Baja-style taco.) Finely shredded cabbage is a topping requirement, as is the creamy white sauce. Beyond that, you can get fancy with salsas and radishes, but they’re not required.
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Ingredient TM_IN_CHILE_FI_001

Halfway into my first real Midwestern winter, it’s taking some creativity to figure out how to do warm, comforting meals night after night without everything tasting too rich, hefty and well, boring. There are only so many soups I can blend without craving something chunky and textured, and don’t ask me to make yet another delicious but depressingly dull roast.

Enter the dried chile pepper. Most commonly known for their starring roles in salsas and sauces, dried chiles are a great way to bring heat, complexity and warmth to any dish, without the weight of roasted veggies and thick stews.

Living and cooking in Texas for the past eight years, I generally took the nuances of many varieties of chile pepper for granted. Since moving up north, I’ve noticed that many menus in the Midwest tend to lump all kinds of dried peppers into one generic “chile pepper” category. Yet each kind of pepper has a unique personality, and once you become adept at incorporating them into your meals at home, it’s easy to appreciate the subtle nuances between the guajillo, pasilla, chipotle or ancho.
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Viva La Vegan

Snap Crackle Pike

A father's obsession becomes a daughter's interpretation

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Sometimes, I swear, all my dad wants is for me to like fish.

The man is a fishing maniac. He subscribes to New Jersey Fisherman magazine and keeps the pages dog-eared. His station wagon always carries his rod and tackle box just in case a spare moment arrives; because of this his vehicle always emulates a strong fishy smell. He loves everything about fish: watching them, catching them, gutting them, cooking them, eating them, trying to get inside their tiny fishy brains. As an professional artist, he even loves drawing them, and fish play a central role in many of his stained-glass window designs. Each Thanksgiving, Dad goes out to cast in the morning, hoping to catch a fresh spread for our table. Even if nothing bites, he’ll pick up some fish from the store to make his annual bouillabaisse. We can always tell though, the years when the additions to the stew are his own. He doles out bowls of thick red stew with special care, encouraging us all to marvel with him at the freshness, and regaling us with the details of exactly how he reeled it in. His pride is palpable.

When I became a vegetarian, my dad was confused. I explained to him what it means, but he still had questions. “You can still eat fish, right?” he implored, and I shook my head, reminding him that I’ve never liked the stuff to begin with. To this he replied, “You never really gave it a chance. Now you can’t even try it.” I’ve been meat-free for almost three years, and a vegan now for almost a year, and still my dad asks. He always asks if I want a piece of fish. MORE

DIY TM_DY_SMOKED_FI_001

We shove plenty of foods in our face holes without thinking much about them. What’s in a Twinkie? How was the slurry that becomes a McDonald’s chicken nugget actually formed? What the hell combination of black magic and ingredients is needed to make Mountain Dew Code Red? When we decide to consume foods and drinks like these, we know we’re heading into a bit of a mystery; there are ingredients and processes involved that we will never truly understand. So it goes.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_ANCHOV_FI_001

There is a category of foods for adults that I call “stink foods.” These are the foods that people appreciate after they’ve eschewed the plain pasta of their picky eater days and developed a more mature palate. I’m talking about foods like eye-watering onions; soft, blue-veined cheese; and pungent garlic.

Or tiny, oil-packed, smelly little fish. Like the oh-so-humble anchovy.
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Fish Fortnight

Fishing for the Truth

In light of widespread fraud, activists seek honest labeling

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Looking over a typical day’s selection at the fishmonger, you might notice that the light pink flesh of a fluke, $12 per pound, looks remarkably like that of the pricier sole, at $16 per pound, right beside it. In fact, the two fillets could be swapped for each other and no one would know the difference. Unfortunately, this kind of seafood fraud happens much more often than you probably think.

This year, Oceana, an ocean conservation group, began reporting findings from its ongoing seafood labeling investigations. In July, Oceana found that nearly one third of 60 South Florida restaurants had mislabeled their seafood. In Los Angeles, Oceana found 55 percent of seafood had been mislabeled and in Boston, almost half (48 percent) had been mislabeled. Of 76 fish samples collected from 58 restaurants, 76 percent of samples had been mislabeled. When working with the Monterey County Weekly, Oceana also found that 7 out of 19 seafood samples (36 percent) were incorrectly identified. MORE

Fish Fortnight TM_TL_BLUFSH_FI_001

When I was very young, my great-aunt had a house in one of the little towns that dots the Jersey shore. Despite living in Southern California, many summers, we’d make the cross-country trek to spend some time with the extended family at Aunt Doris’ shore house.

There would be long days at the beach and in the late afternoon, everyone would regroup at the house for showers and dinner. While my grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, at least once during these gatherings, she’d cook up a bluefish feast, which was one of her few specialties.
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Ingredient TM_IN_TOMAT_FI_001

When it comes to summer cooking, I often find myself falling into the same monotonous rut. Fish. Salad. Burger. Repeat. When it’s over 100 degrees outside, everyday tasks like making dinner turn tedious, and up until recently, very few things get me inspired enough to set up shop up in my tiny, poorly ventilated apartment kitchen.

Until I started paying attention to the tomatillo. MORE

Culinaria TM_CU_WAFFL_FI_002

There is an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: weeche Waffle sin Dudelarwet ferlore, which means “soft waffles are love’s labor lost.” In the Pennsylvania Dutch universe, there is probably nothing worse than a soft waffle, a bedroom euphemism for male dysfunction. So ingrained are waffles in our culture that less-than-perfect specimens are ready objects of contempt.
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Ingredient TM_CK_SUNCH_FI_001

Celebrities go through identity crises and need to reinvent themselves all the time. Rarely do vegetables face the same problem. But for the Jerusalem artichoke, the rebranding process has been crucial to its revival. The first step? A new, friendlier name: Everyone, meet the sunchoke.

Will sunchokes steal the spotlight away from kale, become the new cauliflower, or out-trend Brussels sprouts? It’s too soon to tell. Regardless, sunchokes are the next dowdy vegetable that wants to be a star.
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Secret Ingredient

Something Fishy

Fish sauce isn't as scary as it smells

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Few ingredients have chilled me to my core like fish sauce once did. Even the name made my skin tingle. Before I even ever opened a bottle, I was convinced it would smell like liquid death. Hoisin, mirin, soy, plum sauce, ponzu… you could have given me any other Asian condiment out there, but I didn’t think I could have been paid enough to try fish sauce. My fish sauce avoidance was so intense that I needed to almost give myself a twelve-step introduction before even considering a grocery store purchase. I researched, I read, I collected recipes, I even had nightmares of being chased by a bottle of the brown liquid… But eventually I gave in, committed to a recipe that called for fish sauce, held my nose, and gave it
a whirl.
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Conflicted Kitchen TM_CK_HAPPS_FI_001

Let me be explicit about the conflict that informs my “Conflicted Kitchen” column here: I love food – making it and thinking about it and reading about it and eating it – but I hate gaining weight.

They say the average person gains 3 to 7 seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. One holiday season, I managed to put on 17 pounds in 21 days. This feat is easier than you might think. That year, there were cookie binges so intense that I ate every available Christmas cookie my mother had baked for the family and went on to pillage the neatly ribboned gift bags of treats she made for other people. MORE

Holiday

Old Nordic

Even the most contemporary cuisine is built on traditions

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A smörgåsbord dinnerI looked down at the array of dishes on my “Swedish Sampler” during this year’s St. Lucia Festival at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia. As I did, I thought of how little the food in front of me resembled the art-on-a-platter photos of trendy New Nordic cuisine I’ve seen everywhere in food magazines lately. Carefully placed elaborate foams and meticulously designed dustings of local dirt didn’t adorn the food. And there weren’t foraged mushrooms, bunches of fresh moss, or just-caught seafood anywhere to be found on the plate.

No, there was nothing “new” about my festive dinner. But it looked exactly like what most people think about when they think of Scandinavian food–a homey hodgepodge of old Nordic cuisine.

With foreign names like köttbullar, rödbets sallad, and knäckebröd, the food both intrigued and intimidated me. No traditional Swedish smörgåsbord buffet would be complete without herring, pickled salads, boiled potatoes, or lingonberry jam either. Having never had a taste of anything Nordic, I approached the meal cautiously. I knew that pickling was used frequently in the cuisine, so I expected vinegar to dominate and taste too unfamiliar for my American palate. MORE

New Nordic TM_NN_NNHOME_FI_001

Raw shrimp, moss foam, pine oil, and unfamiliar herbs. These are the hallmarks of a bigger trend currently sweeping Nordic-inspired restaurants all around the world. As a Dane I tend to ask myself: are these really the only things people should associate with the New Nordic Cuisine?

I say, emphatically, no. In fact, I am on a mission to show the world what New Nordic Cuisine can mean to a home cook. I’ve been teaching cooking classes on the topic for several years, and I’m surrounded daily by the research and development of the New Nordic diet and cuisine at my home university in Copenhagen, where I’m a graduate student in Food Science and Technology. The research underway is mainly focused on the potential nutritional benefits of the New Nordic diet. MORE