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Why Cooking Matters

We need radical thinking, but we don’t need a revolution. We don’t need an overthrow of capitalism. Nor do we need to become vegetarians. We need not become spartans. We’re just going to have to learn how to cook.

It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of good farming for safe and nutritious food. But the campaign for food democracy needs to start with boning knives and cast-iron skillets. A lack of technique behind the stove is, in the end, as complicit in harming human health and the environment as the confinement pig or the corn-fed steer.

Yes, that sixteen-ounce rib-eye takes precious resources like water (approximately 2,500 gallons) and grain (about twelve pounds) away from feeding the poor, and the environmental havoc associated with raising beef most often affects the disenfranchised. By 2050, if we continue this gorging, livestock will be consuming as much as 4 billion people do.

These horrors of conventional animal husbandry are tied to the amount of meat we eat, which is intimately linked to the parts of the animal we choose to eat. That is, choosing the rib-eye–as opposed to choosing, say, the brisket–determines how many animals are produced.

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XXXL –Why are we so fat?

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Brains are calorically demanding organs. Our distant ancestors had small ones. Australopithecus afarensis, for example, who lived some three million years ago, had a cranial capacity of about four hundred cubic centimetres, which is roughly the same as a chimpanzee’s. Modern humans have a cranial capacity of about thirteen hundred cubic centimetres. How, as their brains got bigger, did our forebears keep them running? According to what’s known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man’s cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power. The result of this self-reinforcing process was a strong taste for foods that are high in calories and easy to digest; just as it is natural for gorillas to love leaves, it is natural for people to love funnel cakes.

Although no one really knows what life was like in the Pleistocene, it seems reasonable to assume that early humans lived, as it were, hand to mouth. In good times, they needed to stockpile food for use in hard times, but the only place they had to store it was on themselves. Body fat is energy-rich and at the same time lightweight: when the water is taken out, a gram of fat contains 9.4 kilocalories, compared with 4.3 kilocalories for a gram of protein, and when the water is left in, as it is on the human belly, a gram of fat still contains 9.1 kilocalories, while a gram of protein has just 1.2. As a consequence, a person with a genetic knack for storing fat would have had a competitive advantage. Power and Schulkin are both researchers at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and they argue that this advantage would have been especially strong for women. Human infants are unusually portly; among mammals, only hooded seals have a higher percentage of body fat at birth. (Presumably, babies need the extra reserves to fuel their oversized brains.) Tellingly, humans, unlike most other animals, have no set season of fertility. Instead, ovulation is tied to a woman’s fat stores: those who are very thin simply fail to menstruate.

Of course, for early humans putting on too many pounds would have been a significant disadvantage; it’s hard to chase down a mastodon or track through a forest if you’re tubby. Thus, there would appear to be a Darwinian argument against obesity as well. Power and Schulkin get around this problem by noting that, as a practical matter, opportunities for eating too much were limited. Austerity was the rule for hunter-gatherer societies, and that didn’t change when people started to form farming communities, some ten thousand years ago. In fact, human remains from many parts of the world show that early agriculturalists were less well fed than their Paleolithic forebears; their skeletons are several inches shorter and often show signs of nutrition-related diseases, like anemia. Genes that controlled weight gain wouldn’t have been selected for because they simply weren’t needed.

In America today, by contrast, obtaining calories is very nearly effortless

Rotten Shark

Food bureaucrats of Brussels rejoice. There is new exotic food on the way, just begging to be banned!

The recipe* (Traditional method):

Take one large shark, gut and discard the innards, the cartilage and the head. Cut flesh into large pieces.Wash in running water to get all slime and blood off. Dig a large hole in coarse gravel, preferably down by the sea and far from the nearest inhabited house – this is to make sure the smell doesn’t bother anybody. Put in the shark pieces, and press them well together. It’s best to do this when the weather is fairly warm (but not hot), as it hastens the curing process. Cover with more gravel and put heavy rocks on top to press down. Leave for 6-7 weeks (in summer) to 2-3 months (in winter). During this time, fluid will drain from the shark flesh, and putrefication will set in.

When the shark is soft and smells like ammonia, remove from the gravel, wash, and hang in a drying shack. This is a shack or shed with plenty of holes to let the wind in, but enough shade to prevent the sun from shining directly on the shark. Let it hang until it is firm and fairly dry: 2-4 months. Warm, windy and dry weather will hasten the process, while cold, damp and still weather will delay it.

Slice off the brown crust, cut the whitish flesh into small pieces and serve, preferably with a shot of ice-cold brennivín.

The modern method for curing shark relies on putting it into a large container with a drainage hole, and letting it cure as it does when buried in gravel.

*Don’t try it at home, even if you find a ready-dead shark at your doorstep.
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Soupe de petits pois, brochette de reblochon

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Ingrédients

* 450 g de petits pois bio surgelés
* 1 oignon (de 80 g)
* 30 cl d’eau
* 20 cl de crème liquide bio
* 10 g de poudre de bouillon de volaille
* 5 g de sel
* 2 cuillères à soupe d’huile d’olive
* du reblochon

Préparation

1. Pelez et émincez l’oignon. Faites-le cuire pendant 2 minutes sur feu moyen dans l’huile d’olive. Mélangez de temps en temps.
2. Ajoutez les petits pois surgelés et versez l’eau, la crème et le bouillon de volaille. Salez. Mélangez. Portez à ébullition puis laissez cuire 8 minutes et mixez. Reversez la soupe dans la casserole et maintenez-la au chaud.
3. Ecroûtez le reblochon et détaillez-le en 12 cubes pas trop gros. Piquez-les sur 4 petites brochettes.
4. Répartissez la soupe dans 4 bocaux ou dans 4 assiettes creuses et posez dessus la brochette de fromage.

*Le reblochon

Roasted aubergines with capers

* 2 aubergines
* 4 tbsp olive oil
* 30g Grana Padano, roughly chopped or coarsely grated
* 2 tbsp capers, rinsed and dried
* Handful fresh mint leaves

Click here for the recipe.

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Caper (Capparis spinosa) – Origin and name etymology

Capers can today be found growing wild all over Medi­terranean, and are frequently cultivated (e.g., in France, Spain, Italy and Algeria; furthermore, Iran, Cyprus and Greece produce significant amounts); their origin is, though, supposed in the dry areas of Western or Central Asia.

Caper and its relatives in several European tongues can be traced back to Classical Latin capparis “caper”. Latin capparis, in turn, was borrowed from Greek kapparis [κάππαρις], whose origin (as that of the plant) is unknown but probably West or Central Asia. Another theory links kapparis to the name of the island Cyprus (Kypros [Κύπρος]), where capers grow abun­dantly.

Names of capers in most European languages share a common origin and are indeed quite similar, for example, Italian cappero, French câpre, Estonian kappar, Swedish kapris, Czech kapara, Russian kapersy [каперсы] and Greek kappari [κάππαρη]. In English, the word appeared first as capers, which was, however, later interpreted as a plural, and the new singular caper was backformed.

Spanish tápana and related names of the Western Mediterranean also derive from Latin capparis, although I do not understand the details. Provençal tapeno lies behind the name tapenade for a famous French appetizer

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(Hat tip: Mary L. for pointing me to Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.)