Month: September 2016

Cooking corn on the cob: three methods

Cooking corn on the cob: three methods

Sometimes the simplest things get complicated. How best to cook corn on the cob? The goal is to end up with hot, butterable corn on a cob you can pick up and eat. Maybe wearing a bib!

We tried three different techniques for cooking corn on the cob: boil water, steaming in an Instant Pot, and cooking in a microwave. There are some advantages to each method.

Boiling

Far and away the simplest approach is to get a pot of water boiling and drop the shucked corn into it for 5 minutes, lift it out with tongs and serve right away. The advantage is scale: in a big pot, you can cook a lot of corn in a hurry.

pot

Now some die-hards like to spread butter on the hot corn, and while this is entertaining, it is way better to just brush some melted butter on each piece before serving. We melted  our butter in a small pitcher in the microwave, at 50% power to prevent the milk components from boiling.

Instant Pot

instant-potAnother popular method for members of the Instant Pot owners cult is to put several shucked corn ears in the Instant pot with a cup of water under the trivet. Then, set the pot to steam under low pressure conditions. We found that 3 minutes in the put made pretty nice corn. The disadvantage is that  it takes the pot more than 5 minutes to get that water to a boil and you can only do a few ears at a time in the pot: maybe 4 or so. In our experiment, we used the Quick Release after 3 minutes, rather than letting it cool down in the pot and perhaps overcook.

The corn comes out very well, but you have to clean out the pot when the boiling water pot is simpler to clean.

Microwave

 

The third approach is to put the ears in a microwave oven. In this case, you don’t shuck off the husk until afterwards, to keep the steam inside the ear. You cook them for 4 minutes, then cut off the bottom and pull out the corn. This did not work very well for us. Neither of out two trials resulted in “quick release” corn. We had to peel it manually, and when the husk, the corn and the cob itself are very hot, this is very tricky. Further, you really can only do 1-2 ears at a time, reducing scalability.

Results

All three methods produced tasty hot corn: we took a few bites from each and found no obvious differences. However, the microwaved corn is hot through and through, making it difficult to pick up the corn and eat it without burning your fingers.  While we tried to pick corn ears that were similar in size, we didn’t succeed: the middle, smallest ear was microwaved, the left one cooked in boiling water and the right one in the Instant Pot.

wrinkledHowever, as the corn cooled, we noted that the kernels of the microwaved corn began to collapse and pucker. We repeated this with another ear and found the same result. The water was evidently forced out of the kernels by the microwave heating, and when the corn cooled it was unsightly. While we didn’t notice a flavor difference, the difference in appearance indicates that the microwaved corn could be or seem to be less flavorful. Because of the difficulty in peeling the husks and the puckered kernels, we ranked this technique third, and don’t recommend it.

Among the other two: the boiled and the Instant Pot are about the same, but the open pot of boiling water lets you make far more corn in a hurry for a crowd.  We would guess that you could only do about 4 ears at a time in the Instant Pot, and the elapsed time is greater, because once the open pot of water is boiling, you can cook all the corn you want without a reheating step.

We omitted cooking corn on a barbecue grill because the results are so different, but you can, if careful, caramelize the kernels a bit to make very good corn without steaming or boiling.

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‘Fed Up’ movie review: it gets a lot wrong

logoLast night, the Wilton Library presented a screening of the film “Fed Up” by Laurie David which takes the view that excess sugar added to just about everything is a main cause of the  world wide obesity epidemic. The screening was followed by a discussion featuring chef Michel Nischan of Wholesome Wave (and formerly of the now closed Dressing Room restaurant) and Ceci Maher of Person2Person, a local food bank and assistance organizaion, with local filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris as moderator.

The film was partly supported by the local Jesse and Betsy Fink foundation Moral Ground, and was introduced by Jesse Fink. It was directed by Stephanie Soechtig and narrated by Katie Couric.

The central thesis of the film’s scattered interviews and visuals is that of Dr Robert Lustig, who is interviewed throughout. Lustig, in his book Fat Chance presents the thesis that added sugar is the cause of all our dietary woes. The trouble is that Lustig’s views are considered outliers and have not really been scientifically tested. And the idea that sugar is “poison” is just not accurate.

The film follows three morbidly obese young teenagers who struggle with their weight quite unsuccessfully. All are clearly from fairly low income families and the film skirts the issue of class and obesity even though it is clearly part of these youngster’s problems. One of the three ends up having lap band surgery, although as the surgeon clearly notes, such surgery is really not advisable for 14 year olds, and that the potential side effects might be worse than the possible weight loss outcome.

The film shows kids eating fast food and greasy, starchy school lunches and suggests that far too many school lunch programs have contracts with fast food suppliers like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. It really doesn’t show them consuming much that is sugar laden. And in fact, it is these greasy, starchy foods which are most likely to be at the root of their obesity.

Most of the speakers interviewed in the film are writers, politicians and pseudo-scientists like Mark Hyman and Lustig. We also hear from Michael Pollan (of course), food writer Mark Bittman, and pediatrician Harvey Karp. Nutritionist Marion Nestle is one of the few credible speakers, but most of the rest are just opinionators.

The film also denigrates research in the area as having been “paid for by food companies,” which shows a pretty poor understanding of how peer-reviewed science actually is carried out and checked.

Well-intentioned and produced though this film is, it does not really talk to many actual scientists who support its thesis. And it does get a number of things wrong: notably that the current generation’s life expectancy will be lower than their parents. As noted in the review in Science-Based Medicine the CDC projects continuing increases in life expectancy.

The film also claims that more people die of obesity than starvation, but this isn’t true either as Food Insight’s review points out. The WHO claims that 2.8 million people die from overweight and obesity but Oxfam estimates that over 8 million a year die from starvation.

The film also tries to make us believe that obesity isn’t caused by just too many calories, but by the sugar itself. However, this is one of Lustig’s off-the-wall ideas that isn’t supported by science. A calorie is a calorie, and too many of them will lead to obesity: it is that simple, and that difficult.

In fact, the whole idea that sugar causes obesity is wrong. Calories cause obesity, and obesity can lead to diabetes. Sugar is not a cause, but it is definitely part of the problem.

The film also groups diet soft drinks with sugary soft drinks and fruit juices as leading to obesity because it claims that diet sodas initiate a craving for sugar. This has been discredited by any number of papers. It ain’t so and they should know it.

The depressing part of this film is that it presents no hope and no solutions. One child had lap band surgery. Another family changed their eating habits to emphasize fresh foods, which the film called “sugar detox,” and indeed all of them lost weight while they cooked that way. And they regained it when they stopped! They class/income issue is not touched on, but none of these families have a lot of money, and cooking with fresh ingredients is much more expensive, and unlikely to be supported by their budgets long term.

The film, which seems overly long when sitting on hard chairs finally concludes, offering little positive outcomes, and led to a lively panel discussion.

Chef Michel Nischan’s Wholesome Wave is now active in 30 states, helping provide nourishing fresh food to low income areas, and Ceci Maher’s Person2Person provides both food and assistant to families in the Fairfield County area. They noted that local farmers’ markets now double the value of food stamps, and that the most recent Farm Bill provides $100 million in funding to help support this program.

Overall, this is a well-meaning if disorganized film, but it offers little that is positive and gets a lot wrong.

Originally published on Examiner.com on 12/13/14

Ventuno: Nantucket elegant Italian restaurant

Ventuno: Nantucket elegant Italian restaurant

signFive years ago Ventuno opened, replacing the old “21 Federal” restaurant with an elegant upscale Italian concept, created and managed by Scott Fraley along with chefs Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon, who also run Straight Wharf restaurant. The Chef de Cuisine is Andrea Solimeo. In this time the restaurant has only gotten better, but maintaining its clever menu of Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni (for sharing), Table Morsels and Dolci (desserts).

tablesMuch of the restaurant is on the second floor, although there are some first floor tables and a bar as well. The relaxed elegance includes white tablecloths and lovely place settings and attentive service throughout the meal.

A lot of the appetizers and antipasti are large enough to be considered full courses, and as it happened we both ordered their delicious meatballs (polpette, $16) as an appetizer.  These (shown above) are served in a tomato sauce with thin slices of pecorino and a sprig of basil. Three meatballs makes a pretty filling course, even though the menu classifies it as antipasti , it’s a good deal of tasty meatballs.

For our second course, we ordered the half-portion of pappardelle al sugo d’agnello or tomato braised lamb, with taggiasca olives, pecorino and marjoram ($19). The pappardelle was perfect for absorbing the lamb and tomato flavors, making an elegant dish.

Our other second course was a half portion of strozzapreti ($19), which is spicy chicken sausage with broccoli rabe and pecorino. This was moderately spicy and was enhanced by the generous serving of pecorino.

picata-gamberi

Just so you don’t think everything is a pasta dish at Ventuno, they also offer a fantastic piccata di capesanti e gamberi, or grilled Nantucket sea scallops and wild shrimp, with baby spinach, leeks, cauliflower, pine nuts, caperberry and lemon ($36). Order a small appetizer of salad if you order this one!

For dessert we sampled Bomboloncini ($12), consisting of bittersweet chocolate filled donuts, coffee gelato and chocolate sauce. Since there are two substantial donuts, you could split this one without feeling left out, but we noted they also offered Gianduja Semifreddo ($11) a chocolate cake, hazelnuts and a honey and bay leaf gelato which is pretty spectacular as well.

You are certainly not going to leave Ventuno hungry, and are likely to be more than satisfied with the more than imaginative food and excellent service. We try to get there every year!

Cru Oyster Bar: Nantucket’s newest bar

Cru Oyster Bar: Nantucket’s newest bar

Cru Oyster Bar opened about 5 years ago and received deserved praise from diners and the food press. In fact, Chef Erin Zircher was even invited to cook at a James Beard Foundation meal. The restaurant, at the end of Straight Wharf (site of the former Rope Walk) has a fantastic harbor view through the huge glass windows, some of which open when the weather permits.

We’ve eaten at Cru 4 previous times, and described most of the meals with high praise, as an elegant family restaurant with a terrific view. We remember seeing young people coloring on the provided menu pages with crayons, and seeing our own brood eating from children’s portions.

No more. The menu is simpler than it was formerly, but certainly not cheaper. Three minutes after we were seated at a nice window table, a group of about 8 men (ages 30 to 50) came in and began shouting to their comrades at the bar, which was just behind the window tables. This continued unabated. While this certainly showed a lack of consideration, it was apparently not unexpected, as the restaurant management did nothing to quell this disturbance.

We immediately asked to be moved to another table where we could actually converse, and they did move us to the second, darker dining room, where the noise was still substantial but more diffused. Here we were able to converse by cupping our hands behind our ears. In fact, this racket never really subsided during our entire meal. Cru is no longer a classy restaurant, but a raucous bar that serves some of the same food, albeit with less care.

For starters, we ordered a Blue Crab Cocktail ($23), served over lettuce and a horseradish crème sauce. There was plenty of crab, but it was kind of a dull presentation. On the other hand, the Shrimp Cocktail was priced a $5 a shrimp. (Really? Five dollars each?). It turned out that these shrimp made jumbo shrimp feel completely inferior. Each of them was gargantuan (we ordered 3 and couldn’t finish them). Something a considerate waiter might have alerted us to. Honestly, shrimp that big are just preposterous, and as you’d expect, not as tender as smaller ones would be.

One of our entrees was a really fine Nantucket Lobster Roll on a warm, buttered, toasted brioche roll for $36. There was a tremendous amount of lobster in this roll, and it was tender, buttery and delicious. In fact it was more than one of us could finish. This turned out to be fortuitous considering the other entrée.

Taking a turn away from the Nantucket’s emphasis on fine local seafood, we ordered their Chicken Under a Brick ($36). This is essentially half a spatchcocked chicken roasted under weights to help with uniform cooking, and served over a “summer bean salad.” Here is how Mark Bittman describes this recipe. In this case, it didn’t work very well. While the dark meat was good, the breast meat was tough and dry. When the waiter checked on us, we told him it wasn’t very good and he said he’d “tell the chef.” This did not, however, result in any changes. Fortunately, I was able to eat the rest of my wife’s lobster roll instead.

As soon as we could finish we asked for the check without even considering dessert in that din, and were shocked to find a bill of $171. OK, we had 4 glasses of wine, 2 while we waited interminably for our entrees, but they had offered no price adjustment on the terrible chicken dish. The waiter protested that my wife had “finished the chicken” so we weren’t due a refund. When we set him straight, he went away and eventually came back with a $139 bill. This is still a lot of money for at best middling food with none of its former distinction, and no dessert or coffee, but we paid and left.

If you’ve ever been hired for a job that turns into quite a different one after a couple of years, you can understand the chef’s predicament. She is doing a huge business with a rowdy crowd not really there for the fine food, but probably making a lot of money. And the waiter assured us that this was a quiet night after Labor Day and that it has been louder than this all summer. But this is not a place for comfortable dining and we won’t be back.

 

Le Languedoc: echoes of past island elegance

tablesWalking into the lovely upstairs dining rooms at Le Languedoc is like walking into a time warp, revealing island elegance we thought long past. In fact Le Languedoc has preserved it in the wonderful service and décor, and apply classic French techniques to dishes made from local or nearby ingredients.

And no wonder! The same partnership: Alan & Ann Cunha, Neil Grennan and Ed Grennan have been running Le Languedoc for an astonishing forty years! The food and service are as elegant as ever, with a warm, friendly staff attending to your every need and request.

The menu at Le Languedoc includes appetizers, main course entrees and “bistro favorites.” At one time, the lower level served only the simpler bistro items, but now you can order any item in either dining room. And that means that you could, if you wanted, order their famous cheeseburger, considered one of the island’s finest anywhere, as well as the more elaborate courses.

We proved that by ordering their fantastic chopped salad ($14) from the bistro menu as one appetizer. It’s a huge salad mixed with blue cheese and buttermilk, and simply delicious, although you may not be able to finish it.

And, in a show of versatility, we were delighted to be able to order the Escargot with Lobster Roe Fettucini, garlic butter and lemon ($18.50) for our other appetizer. Again, this one is also pretty filling, but the flavors in the pasta and sauce were unique, and there were an amazing number of escargot buried in that pasta. You won’t find either of those two dishes anywhere else on the island.

One of our main course items was actually listed as an appetizer, but as substantial as any main course: Pressed Veal Sweetbreads ($18.50) with parmesan, pancetta and pea risotto. Again, a truly creative mix of tastes in an excellent presentation.

Finally, our other main course was quite traditional: Traditional Steak Frites ($29) with watercress, truffle vinaigrette and béarnaise. The steak was as tender as any we’ve had, perfectly prepared (medium rare) and the béarnaise perfect. The French fries were clearly freshly made and very hot, and stayed that way served in the tall paper-lined dish. Just about perfect in every way.

While we could easily have left without it, we were interested in the Duo of Custards dessert ($12.50), where one was a traditional, but perfect, Crème Brulee, and the other a Butterscotch and Sea Salt Budino. They were truly irresistible and vanished in seconds.

custards

Despite the excellent food and service, our bill with 3 glasses of an excellent Pinot Noir was only $142. We’ve been coming to Le Languedoc for 20 years and have never been anything but delighted.

The Ship’s Inn on Nantucket

signLast year, we were pleasantly surprised and pleased with our first visit to the Ship’s Inn on Fair Street, a pleasant basement restaurant which we found elegant and understated.  Perhaps Chef Mark Gottwald had the night off, or perhaps the crowd got ahead of the kitchen, but this visit wasn’t as successful.

We arrived at 6:15pm, when things were still quite quiet, and placed our drink order and our dinner order. The drinks and the starters arrived fairly soon, before the crowds did. But by the time our main courses arrived, the restaurant was packed and deafeningly noisy. Conversation was nearly impossible, probably because of the low ceilings, and the chairs got increasingly uncomfortable during the meal.

The serving staff was professional and courteous, but the food was far below what we had expected from our previous visit. Almost every dish seemed to be accompanied by a similar, somewhat sour brown sauce.

Our order of Oysters Mignonette ($18) was six ample oysters on ice, with a small bowl of mignonette sauce in the middle. Mignonette sauce is just a mixture of red wine vinegar, shallots and pepper, but this one just seemed to be vinegar, and you were misled by the amount in the bowl that you should dip the oysters in it. That is too much vinegar:  the sauce is best drizzled or dropped on the oysters: otherwise it overpowers them and your sinuses.

The other starter was their seafood chowder ($12), the only non-brown dish, and it had ample pieces of some kind of seafood in it. But, while it also had a lot of potatoes and was made with cream, the chowder was thin (more soup like) and, oddly, included pieces of tarragon, imparting an unexpected flavor. It didn’t seem to really be a chowder.

salmon

One of our entrees was Paillard of Wild King Salmon ($39) with balsamic and Malbec reduction. It was served with two little warm lettuce leaf towers with carrots, celery, lettuce pieces and a few mushrooms. Really lovely presentation, but low on actual flavor. Likewise, the accompanying brown sauce was pretty nondescript, and didn’t really seem to go with the salmon. The salmon itself was very tender and not at all over cooked, but also oddly flavorless.

 

vealFinally, and brownest of all was the veal scaloppini citron ($34) with house made spinach and egg fettuccini. The ubiquitous brown sauce went a little better with the veal, which consisted of a 3 huge sautéed slices of veal, relatively tender, and served with a carrot puree and a spinach or perhaps kale puree. The downside of this dish is the visual effect of these huge brown veal slices and only a limited amount of the very good fettuccini. The plate presentation was simply off-putting.

Finally, we let the waitress up-sell us a chocolate soufflé ($12.50), which was delivered soon after our meal was cleared. It was a perfectly standard, undistinguished soufflé that any of us could make in our kitchen, with nothing to recommend it.  The waiter poured the sweet cream sauce into the soufflé as expected and we dug in. It was fine, but nothing exciting.

While there was nothing really wrong about our visit other than the deafening noise, there was nothing really right either. Everything was sort of bland and OK. With two glasses of wine and tax, but before tip, the bill was $164. We found that kind of high.

Toppers at the Wauwinet: superb island dining

We had the great pleasure of again dining at Topper’s restaurant, which is part of the Wauwinet hotel in Nantucket. Chef Kyle Zachary has put together a superior , creative menu and the dining room has far away the best service on the island. You can order from the menu a la carte, but you will do better if you order the prix fixe 3-course menu for $90: appetizer, entrée and dessert. You also have the option of the 6-course tasting menu for $125, and can order $105 in wine pairings to go with it. In either case, you will be eating the finest food on the island.

map

The Wauwinet is some distance from downtown, with Wauwinet Rd off Polpis Rd about ¾ of the way to ‘Sconset. You can drive there, take the shuttle from in from of the Federal St Information Center, or in good weather take a free motor launch across the harbor.

Since we last visited, the Wauwinet has expanded the dining room, serving both on a new covered patio and added a glassed in dining area. You now enter through the patio dining area and can dine inside or on the patio itself. While Nantucket dining has become quite informal in recent years, Topper’s is one of the few places where you would be comfortable wearing a jacket. It’s an elegant white-tablecloth restaurant with a host of staff to tend to your needs.
Soon after we were seated and had placed our drink order, the waiter arrived with an ice bucket containing two screw cap vials. Not shades of Walter White, but a small sampling of a delicious gazpacho. You just unscrew the cap and chug the tube of soup.

Then right after that, a waiter brought two “eggs” of butter, one plain and one salted to use with the basket of delicious breads he brought with him.  All this before we’d even placed our order!

We chose the $90 prix fixe menu, and while there were 5 first courses (vegetables, risotto, foie gras terrine, poached egg and cured King Salmon) and 5 main courses (butter poached lobster, Wagyu Beef,  Milk Fed Pork, grilled halibut and roasted eggplant) we both ended up ordering the same two items risotto and Wagyu beef.

risotto

The risotto is formally described as “Carnaroli Rissoto “Fruits de Mer”; Maine Sea urchin, Jonah Crab, wild Gulf Shrimp, Bottarga, and Brown Butter emulsion. But the description doesn’t do justice to the beautiful presentation of risotto rice full of pieces of seafood, partly covered with a creamy sauce and decorated with chives. Carnaroli rice used in this dish is firmer and longer grained than the usual Arborio rice used in risotto and made the texture much more interesting. Every bite was exquisite.

For our main course, we ordered the 7X Ranch Wagyu Beef: Sirloin and Short ribs, with swiss chard, chanterelle mushrooms,  cipollini onios and potato “gratin.” This elegant dish had a $15 supplemental charge, but was well worth it as the short ribs wrapped in chard were meltingly tender and flavorful and the sirloin fresh and tasty.

wagyu

tapiocaBefore dessert, they brought us a complimentary pre-dessert: a tiny bit of a delicious coconut tapioca pudding topped with apricot jam, served in a little egg cup.

And finally, the dessert. We ordered a Chocolate Parfait they describe as Maracaibo Chocolate Bavarian, Hazelnut Crunch, Mascarpone Ice Cream and Hot Chocolate Sauce. But in this case, the presentation is everything. They bought out a parfait class covered with a white disk, which turned out to b white chocolate. The waiter poured the hot chocolate sauce on the disk, causing it to dissolve and collapse into the parfait, in a clever piece of culinary theater. Needless to say, every bite was worth it: a crunchy mixture of chocolate, cake and ice cream that you hoped you would never get to the bottom of.

But this wasn’t the end. Before the check, they brought out a plate containing squares of a raspberry gelled candy and crunchy pecans covered with chocolate.

treat

Clearly there are very few restaurants like this: it is considered the top restaurant in New England and one of the very best in the country. It also has a Grand rating from Wine Spectator.

The bill, as you might expect was about twice what we paid at other restaurants so far this year. For two meals, 3 glasses of wine, one  coffee and one tea, the check with tax but before tip was $282.50. The Wauwinet illustrates what a truly fine restaurant should be like, and also how few of them there are.

 

Mark Bittman is a blithering nincompoop

amish paste
Amish Paste

Mark Bittman is a well-respected food writer. While he did not, as far as I can tell, ever attend culinary school, he took the time and trouble to inform himself in detail about all aspects of cooking and explain it to his admiring readers.

This does not apply to his views on biotechnology and agriculture, which he seems to have gathered from propaganda releases from the Organic Consumer’s Association, and his current employer, the extremist Union of Concerned Scientists. On these issues he is woefully uninformed, and should not be taken seriously.

In today’s blatherfest in the New York Times, he fantasizes that the S.764- National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard   signed by President Obama in July could spark additional consumer movements to give consumers “more information,” whether or not it is accurate or useful.

He starts by claiming that “Big Food and its allies” spent $100 million to counter the movement to label GMO foods. Of course, he does not mention how much the anti-GMO propagandists spent to fill Congress’s ears with pseudo-scientific nonsense.  In fact, as we have already explained.  The bill says that labeling is required for

“…a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques.”

It also says that labeling can be a barcode, a QR code, a URL or a phone number where you can get further information. He bemoans the fact that not everyone has a smartphone. Not everyone has a price code scanner either, and most supermarkets provide price code check scanners throughout the store. This is not a serious issue.

What is a serious issue is Bittman’s continuing insistence that you “have the right to know what’s in your food.” This seductive slogan (sort of like the “death tax”) makes people believe that GMO foods contain different and dangerous ingredients. They do not. “GMOs” are not an ingredient: they are a breeding process that allows farmers to grow better crops. They are nutritionally identical to the non-GMO version or they WOULD have to be labeled.  There is no there there, as he sheepishly admits in paragraph 9. The foods are the same, and after over 20 years on the market, not a single illness has been found that can be attributed to biotechnology.

But he then goes on to claim that our system for declaring products safe “leaves much to be desired.” Really? Years of feeding trials and FDA-mandated testing doesn’t count? Where’s his evidence? I venture to suggest he has none other than the usual ignorant left fearmongering.

He suggests that using GMO crops has encouraged the growth of weeds that are resistant to herbicides.  Overuse of a single herbicide can indeed lead to weed resistance, but this is a farming problem, not a biotechnology problem, than can be solved with crop and herbicide rotation. In fact, pulling weeds by hand can lead to weeds evolved to look mimic the crops. “Superweeds” are just weeds that are hard to kill, as Porterfield explains and result from overuse of a single herbicide.

BIttman further sloganeers about the “fertilizer and pesticide dependent monoculture that is wrecking our land and water.” Citation please? Here’s one:  Klumper and Qaim in PLOS One.

On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

Doesn’t sound too bad. And clearly the land is not being ruined or this would not continue. And as Katiraee explains, a “monoculture” is just a big field of the same crop: whether corn or spinach. That’s how agriculture works: they grow a lot of food. This is not harmful and it has nothing to do with “GMOs.” And pesticides are part of large scale agriculture: they are not overused, because that would be wasteful, but you can’t grow a lot of food without controlling pests, as Jenny Dewey Rohrich explains.

Bittman says consumers should now be demanding even more information on agriculture, such as whether traces of pesticides remain. They don’t. The level of pesticide applications permitted by the USDA leaves far lower amounts of pesticides than can ever be harmful to humans, even if eaten every day. And again, we need to go back to Bruce Ames’ research on pesticide residues that found that the carcinogenic pesticides that plants themselves make to defend themselves occur in concentrations 10,000 times higher than any farmer-applied pesticide residues. They are so small that they simply don’t matter.

We take the time to talk with you about having a pest control expert remove a possum and establish a plan to keep unwanted pests out of your home and businesses.

He then asks if we should want to know how well the workers were treated and paid. Were they unionized? Some are, and there are in fact already union labels on such foods. Look for them.

 

American Seasons: reliable quality dining

facadeThis is Neil Ferguson’s second year helming American Seasons and things are going fairly well. The menu is somewhat smaller than under prior management, but covers a broad range of well prepared dishes.

However, when we arrived, they had clearly lost our reservation despite the fact that they had called the day before to confirm it.The hostess had just a handwritten scrap of paper with names on it, and ran back to allegedly consult a master list. She immediately offered us a table in the patio area right by the door and behind the hostess station which we declined. They eventually found us a table inside.

The starters last night included farfale pasta with confit chicken, beet salad,  rabbit terrine, heirloom tomatoes and melons, sea scallops, roast carrots and puree and hamachi and grapefruit.

The entrees included pork chop, cod filet, ribeye of beef, lobster salad, roast chicken breast, summer squash casserole and halibut filet.

For our appetizer we chose the beet salad with gem hearts, candied walnuts and homemade yoghurt dressing  ($16), which was one of the better ones we’ve been served recently, and Rabbit and Foie Gras Terrine ($20) with spiced pickled plum and hazelnut pesto. This was excellent and the spiced plum made an excellent accompaniment.

For entrees, we pulled a switcheroo and ordered the scallops appetizer, Roast Sea Scallops ($!8) with field greens and Vinaigrette Antiboise. This turned out to be a real bargain, since we were served 3 scallops, which is a full meal by most measures. They were tender and perfectly prepared.

And, for our second entrée, we had Cod Filet ($36), with Roast Lemon Puree and a fennel bulb, and a brown butter whey dressing. The waiter delivered the perfectly prepared cod and poured a little pitcher of the brown butter dressing over top. While it was excellent, the portion seemed a bit skimpy, especially compared to those scallops, but it was absolutely delicious.

dessertFinally, we sprung for one dessert to split: Chocolate custard, caramelized banana and chocolate bouchon (basically a cylindrical brownie) for $15. This was a lot of dessert, and we each got a share.

For a Thursday evening, American Seasons was very busy. By the time we left every table was taken and the staff was running to keep up. This may be because it was right before Labor Day,  but it is certainly an endorsement of the quality of Ferguson’s cooking and the staff’s service, both of which were excellent. The sudden influx resulted in some delay before out dessert arrived, and the waiter was most apologetic.  The bill, with 2 glasses of wine and tip as $144.50 and a far better bargain than many island restaurants. Oh, and bread was provided for free, and without asking.

table setting

 

Oran Mor: a long way to go

facadeThe Nantucket restaurant scene was abuzz when Chef Chris Freeman sold foodie destination restaurant Oran Mor to popular island local Ned Claflin and his sommelier partner Jon Tacinco this winter. Both are graduates of the Culinary Institute, and Claflin had worked at several island restaurants previously.

The new Oran Mor opened in May, and by June had finally put their menu on line. With all entrees in the mid to high $30 range (the Angus Beef Duo is $50) this is not an inexpensive restaurant. Starter courses range for $14 to $21.

For many years, this was one of the island’s finest restaurants. With the new owners, it has a long way to go to reach those heights. The décor of the restaurant is much the same, but the table tops have been refinished in a more appealing lighter color. Other than that, even the paintings are the same.

We visited Oran Mor Wednesday night, when they weren’t particularly busy, it seemed. We were greeted by a young man in a white T-shirt, who hopped down from the high table where he was typing into his Macbook. He went to the reservation stand and told the hostess which table to seat us at. We quickly ordered 2 glasses of wine ($15 each for a pretty good Pinot Noir), and placed our food order when the wine arrived. And then…nothing. We sat at the blank table looking at our wine glasses for nearly 20 minutes, wondering if there was going to be any bread or other little amuse bouche. Nope.

Finally we asked the busboy if there wasn’t supposed to be bread. This led to a piece of Kabuki theater we’ve decided to call the “Catch-22 Bread Policy.” The busboy explained that there was bread, and it was free, but that we had to ask for it. “And we were to know that, how?” That question went unanswered. Soon after that, our waitress came by and we again suggested that there should be bread provided. She stonewalled, saying that it was restaurant policy that you had to ask for it. Shortly after that our first course arrived followed by the busboy with the bread.

The bread was 5 tiny slices of cold, dryish bread cut from a baguette, and one warm roll that was actually very good. They even brought butter. We split the warm roll, since there was only one. Shortly after that the young man in the white T-shirt came to the table to explain their bread policy. It turns out this was Tacinco, and he said that they were throwing most of their bread away uneaten, so they decided to only provide it on request (but not tell anyone)!  We believe if you price your entrees in the high $30s, you can afford to include the fricking bread!

We ordered the Beet Rosace ($16), made up of smoked beets, pickled beets, hazelnuts, dandelion, parmesan, yogurt and mizuna. It was colorfully presented, and mostly rather good, but had some patches that were extremely sour, perhaps the mizuna.

Our other starter was a half portion of Lobster Gemelli ($19) with chanterelles, corn, leeks, lobster cream and tarragon. It also seemed to include some shaved parmesan. While you may think Gemelli is a Smurf villain, it is actually a twisted tubular pasta, and probably designed to soak up sauce. Not here, though, since the gemelli was tough and undercooked, and the lobster a bit tough. And somehow, this was a really colorless dish that could have benefited from a colorful veggie or herb. As it was, it had all the eye appeal of a tuna noodle casserole! Except for the tough pasta, the flavor was quite good with a rich and interesting taste.

duck

For our entrees, we ordered the Honey Peking Duck ($38) and the Roasted Berkshire Pork Chop ($39). The duck was actually duck breast with duck confit, farro salad, peaches, sweet and sour cabbage and glazed Hakurei turnip. We didn’t find but a bit of confit, but the duck was delicious and went well with the peaches and cabbage. The white crunchy turnip was an outlier.  The only trouble is: this isn’t Peking Duck. Peking Duck comes with crispy skin, moo shi pancakes, scallions and a sauce, usually hoi sin based. This was none of that. It was just roast duck breast, although very good, just not Peking.

porkchop

The pork chop was another story. It was tough, dry and overcooked, and except for a bit of meat near the bone just wasn’t very good.  It was served with fresh corn polenta, formed into a buttery little cake, roasted carrot, spring onion and supposedly mustard jus, but it wasn’t apparent.  It simply was not marbled sufficiently to cook as a chop, and it dried right out. It was served cut into long rectangles, and the chef should have know it was really tough when he cut it up. There were some weird black crunchy things under the pork, and we asked the waitress what they were. She said “rhubarb,” but we didn’t think that was likely, so she took my roll plate with one on it and ran off to the kitchen to ask. She came back to tell us they were purple carrots. Maybe so, but with no carrotiness about them.

If you look at the pictures of the meal, all the platings suffer from really dull presentations and overall colorlessness. In the case of the ill-fated chop, the whole plate was black and brown. Needless to say, we didn’t order dessert. The check with 3 glasses of wine ans tax but before tip was $168.

Overall, this was a pretty disappointing meal, and we think you’d better give them a year or so before going there, so they improve their cooking and service.

table setting