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Vaca Entera: Grilling an entire cow, butterflied

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I really want to go to Argentina at some point. Years ago I read “Argentina on two steaks a day,” which whetted my appetite. And now Gastro Obscura has this note:

In Argentina, beef is a way of life, and a stroll down most any street will yield a parilla(a term that refers to both the grill and the meat-serving establishment) hawking freshly grilled steaks and other prime carnal bits. It only makes sense that a country this passionate about beef would mastermind the vaca entera—a whole, thousand-pound cow splayed and suspended over an open fire.

Grilling an entire cow is equal parts cooking project and construction project. It begins with a massive grilling cage and a dozen or so people heaving the enormous bovine into the apparatus, strapping it in tight, and lighting fires underneath. The full-day or all-night process is all about controlling the fire and using brute strength to manually rotate the grilling cage like a rotisserie. With scalding fat dripping from the flesh, a blazing fire, and searing metal grates, this part requires concentration and finesse.

The shopping list for this recipe is brief: a butterflied cow and a pound of salt. Accoutrements such as a gallon of chimichurri, the Argentinian green herb sauce, are nice but not entirely necessary. The real challenge lies in the non-edible supplies: incredible amounts of wood and a heavily reinforced pulley system. Lastly, tackling a vaca entera requires around a dozen loyal and robust insomniacs willing to wait out the night while tending the beef and (in rural areas) fending off foxes or other animals, all for the love of beef.

A small number of chefs hold grilling sessions that double as performances. Try following chef Dante Ferrero for an announcement of his next vaca-entera event. When you attend one, be sure to try many different cuts of meat, which is part of the payoff of grilling an entire cow.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Low carb

Why obesity has increased so drastically

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I’ve added a link this Guardian article by George Monbiot to my (rather lengthy) post giving my current diet advice. The article begins:

When I saw the photograph I could scarcely believe it was the same country. A picture of Brighton beach in 1976, featured in the Guardian a few weeks ago, appeared to show an alien race. Almost everyone was slim. I mentioned it on social media, then went on holiday. When I returned, I found that people were still debating it. The heated discussion prompted me to read more. How have we grown so fat, so fast? To my astonishment, almost every explanation proposed in the thread turned out to be untrue.

Unfortunately, there is no consistent obesity data in the United Kingdom before 1988, at which point the incidence was already rising sharply. But in the United States, the figures go back further. They show that, by chance, the inflection point was more or less 1976. Suddenly, at around the time that the photograph was taken, people started becoming fatter – and the trend has continued ever since.

The obvious explanation, many on social media insisted, is that we’re eating more. Several pointed out, not without justice, that food was generally disgusting in the 1970s. It was also more expensive. There were fewer fast food outlets and the shops shut earlier, ensuring that if you missed your tea, you went hungry.

So here’s the first big surprise: we ate more in 1976. According to government figures, we currently consume an average of 2,130 kilocalories a day, a figure that appears to include sweets and alcohol. But in 1976, we consumed 2,280 kcal excluding alcohol and sweets, or 2,590 kcal when they’re included. I have found no reason to disbelieve the figures.

Others insisted that the cause is a decline in manual labour. Again, this seems to make sense, but again the data doesn’t support it. A paper last year in the International Journal of Surgery states that “adults working in unskilled manual professions are over four times more likely to be classified as morbidly obese compared with those in professional employment”.

So how about voluntary exercise? Plenty of people argued that, as we drive rather than walk or cycle, are stuck to our screens and order our groceries online, we exercise far less than we did. It seems to make sense – so here comes the next surprise. According to a long-term study at Plymouth University, children’s physical activity is the same as it was 50 years ago. A paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology finds that, corrected for body size, there is no difference between the amount of calories burned by people in rich countries and those in poor ones, where subsistence agriculture remains the norm. It proposes that there is no relationship between physical activity and weight gain. Many other studies suggest that exercise, while crucial to other aspects of good health, is far less important than diet in regulating our weight. Some suggest it plays no role at all as the more we exercise, the hungrier we become.

Other people pointed to more obscure factors: adenovirus-36 infectionantibiotic use in childhood and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. While there is evidence suggesting they may all play a role, and while they could explain some of the variation in the weight gained by different people on similar diets, none appears powerful enough to explain the general trend.

So what has happened? The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed. As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue.

The shift has not happened by accident. As Jacques Peretti argued in his film The Men Who Made Us Fat, food companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.

They hire biddable scientists and thinktanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.

To judge by the debate the 1976 photograph triggered, it works. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 3:31 pm

Sugartime: The impact sugar has had on our culture

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Ruby Tandoh writes in Eater:

In a romantic oil painting by Will Cotton, Katy Perry lies naked on a cotton candy cloud, a whisper of pink spun sugar draped over her butt. The landscape bulges and billows with emphatic softness, dominating the painting except for a hint of blue sky. Perry offers a look both languid and post-orgasmic, lips parted, her hair nostalgically curled like a 1950s pinup. When the painting made its debut on the cover of Perry’s 2010 album Teenage Dream, it sat somewhere between commercial pop and high-art comment on all of the above. The uncomfortable excess of Cotton’s work was used to sell uncomfortable excess. And it all hinged on sugar.

Sugar is sprinkled everywhere in our language. When children are good and happy, they are cutie pies. Cool stuff can be “sweet, man.” Our crush is a sweetheart, and our sweetheart might be our honey. “A spoonful of sugar,” as Mary Poppins croons, is a bribe, something to help “the medicine go down.” Sugar is leisure and celebration — what British birthday would be complete without the stickiness of cake frosting on fingers? It is, according to Roland Barthes, an attitude — as integral to the concept of Americanness as wine is to Frenchness. In the 1958 hit song “Sugartime,” to which Barthes was referring, the sunny, smiling McGuire Sisters harmonize sweetly, filling their mouths with honey: “Sugar in the mornin’ / Sugar in the evenin’ / Sugar at suppertime / Be my little sugar / And love me all the time.”

And like anything pleasurable, sugar is often characterized as a vice. The flood of industrial sugar into packaged food has real public health consequences, but predictably, the backlash has taken on a puritanical zeal far beyond reasonable concerns. Sugar is “America’s drug of choice,” one headline claimed. “Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?” wondered another. Even those selling sugary food winkingly parrot the language of addiction — consider Milk Bar’s notoriously sticky, seductively sweet Crack Pie. A drug that decimated predominantly poor, black American communities is now a punchline for middle-class white indulgence.

For black Americans, sweetness was an essential ingredient in Jim Crow-era stereotypes designed to keep newly emancipated people from their rights. Those stereotypes persist — and even generate profit — today. The racist trope of watermelon-eating African Americans, popularized in this era, framed black people as simpletons and children craving nothing beyond a sweet slice of melon. Aunt Jemima, a character derived from minstrel shows, is the apotheosis of the happy, nurturing “mammy” stereotype, empty and filled with sweet syrup, her smile used to sell sugar for PepsiCo. “The shelf on which i sit,” reads Lucille Clifton’s poem “Aunt Jemima”:

between the flour and cornmeal
is thick with dreams
oh how i long for

my own syrup
rich as blood
my true nephews my nieces
my kitchen my family 
my home

And sugar’s history is brutal. The artist Kara Walker tackled a profoundly different collision of femininity and sweetness than Katy Perry on a candy cloud when she conceived of a 35-foot sugar sphinx inside the former Domino Sugar Refinery in 2014. Titled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, Walker’s sculpture was the single largest piece of public art ever shown in New York City. A crouching black woman made from 40 tons of glistening white sugar, surrounded by life-sized figurines of black boys carrying bananas or baskets, she hunched forward on her toes, knees, and forearms, her lips, breasts, butt, and labia swelling round in cartoonish extravagance — an uneasy reflection of the fetishization of black women’s bodies and the commodification of their flesh. The sugar sphinx, the artist wrote in the work’s full title, was “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Sugar is survival. It is a respite for palates swept clean of childish joy for too long. It is sexual desire and pleasure, and also temptation and sin. And it is a commodity, one historically produced with some of the most brutal labor practices on the planet. In the Western imagination, sugar is pleasure, temptation, and vice — and in modern history, it is original sin.


Sweetness is a primal pleasure, like warmth or softness. Our desire to find, taste, and consume it is profoundly natural, but our quest to make more of it, to cook, bake, caramelize, and fry our way to sweet — that is profoundly human. Our love of sugar is shaped when we’re gummy infants, and follows us through adulthood into gummy old age. One study found that when sweet solutions were injected into the womb, fetuses, whose nutritional needs are entirely met by the umbilical cord, swallowed more amniotic fluid. When bitter solutions were injected, less was swallowed. Another study found that anencephalic infants — babies born with much of their brain mass missing, and who rarely live longer than a few hours — reacted positively when a sweet substance was placed on their lips, and grimaced when given something bitter, even though they lacked the part of the brain typically responsible for taste.

In the current age of abundant, industrial food, this sweet tooth is considered hedonistic. But our love of sugar is about survival: Where food was scarce, sweetness offered a clue it contained a large number of much-needed calories, just as an aversion to bitterness kept us away from many toxic plants. Even the breast milk that humans produce is sweet.

In nature, sweetness often accompanies ripeness, in just-picked peapods and baby corn cobs as well as melon slices and punnets of late-season cherries. As chef and author Samin Nosrat explained to me, “At the farmer’s market … one of the highest compliments is to say that something is very sweet.” Unlike the sledgehammer thwack of candy, natural sweetness is in constant flux, according to Nosrat, receding from the moment the fruit or vegetable is picked. “Peas,” she said, “can taste totally different from one day to the next.”

Cooking unlocks sweetness in wondrous ways, and we’ve become experts in harnessing that power: Red bell peppers are sweet when they’re roasted, and onions yield to a sticky, caramelized tangle if cooked slowly. Entire meal courses are devoted to candies, chocolate, cakes, ice cream, and pie. These foods — from sticky slabs of ginger cake to root beer floats — are joy that unfurls across the tongue. Molecules responsible for sweetness fit with protein receptors on the taste buds like pieces of some honeyed jigsaw puzzle.

It is also a pleasure contained in its own little box. For American and western European palates, sweetness occupies its own lonely niche in our cooking, sequestered and scrutinized. We have steaks and lobster rolls and quiche and potatoes and pizza … and then dessert separately, afterward. We eat vegetables and milk and bread … and then ice cream as a treat. Sugar is craved one moment, and controlled the next.

We’ve not always had such polarized tastes. Capon (a type of castrated cockerel, bred for eating), blanched almonds, rice, lard, salt, and sugar were the cornerstones of a medieval blancmange, or blank mang, as it was written in the 14th-century The Forme of Cury, one of the earliest-known collections of English cookery writing. The blancmange Brits are familiar with today is a sweet milk custard, set like a jelly, often in a decorative mold. The medieval version is a jarring admixture of sugar alongside meat. And this was in no way an unusual dish. Sweet courses were interspersed throughout a meal, and dishes such as frytour of erbes, or honeyed herb fritters, whose recipe is also archived in The Forme of Cury, straddled the sweet-savory divide. With such a strikingly different culinary grammar, the idea of a monolithic, wondrous, dreadful sugar would hardly have made sense to medieval cooks. Sweetness was not a behemoth category in itself, but a seasoning, no different than salt, or a pinch of spice.

In many cultures, this sugar-salt symphony is still foundational. “The food I grew up eating every night — that is to say, Persian home cooking — is all about balancing the plate with sweet and sour, salty and rich, crisp and soft,” says Nosrat. “Fresh and dried fruits — pomegranates, sour cherries, dates, raisins — all regularly found their way onto our dinner plates. So I have always been drawn to a little sweetness in my food.”

Food writer Yemisi Aribisala explained to me that Nigerian tastes demand sweet with an acidic counterbalance: “There won’t be any kind of dessert accompanying meals in most homes. People will snack on star apples (which are very tart) or cashew fruits, almond fruits, or guavas. I can’t even bring to mind one common fruit that is like the European apple, with considerably more sweetness than tartness.”

Some vestiges of this approach to flavor remain in Western cooking — sugar coaxes out flavor in everything from ketchup to honey-glazed ham — but these happy harmonies are largely erased by rigid taxonomies. In a 2016 article in the Charlotte Observer, Kathleen Purvis documented the disdain that white Southerners often hold for their black neighbors’ cornbread: light, cakey, and sweetened with sugar, compared to the paler, more savory cornbreads that cater to white tastes. Food writer Ronni Lundy once commented that, “If God had meant cornbread to have sugar, he would have made it cake.” Rather than finding value in the million ways that good taste can manifest, we are drawn into a polarized debate, where blackness is sweetness and excess, and whiteness is tasteful restraint.


How has sweetness — something we are evolutionarily programmed to like, for survival — come to stand in for sex and escapism and hedonism? Humans are metaphor machines, and our mouths are liminal places where food and words mingle, where hot dogs, tagliatelle, and Nigerian puff puff meet “my name is,” memory, and “I.” True synesthesia — the blurring between one sense and another — is relatively rare, but its logic pervades our language, so that trumpets might sound hot, or sadness taste sour. One study found that honeycomb toffee tastes less sweet when eaten whilst listening to a “bitter” soundtrack than when eaten whilst listening to a “sweet” soundtrack. And our senses don’t just crisscross randomly — “How come silence is sweet but sweetness isn’t silent?” one paper asked.

No sugared association is stronger than that between sweetness and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 11:25 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Memes

Tasty and filling 3-point lunch

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I am hitting hard the cold-water fish, and I bought a little can of mackerel in olive oil, which (when drained) is 3 points, assuming it’s the same as sardines in olive oil. (Weight Watchers doesn’t have canned mackerel in their food list). If I had used sardines packed in water, the lunch would have been 0 points.

I dumped the mackerel into a fairly large bowl, broke it up with a fork, and then added:

1/2 white onion, chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 Persian cucumber (like an English cucumber—thin-skinned, minimal seeds—but smaller), diced
juice of 1 lemon
large dash of pepper sauce
dash of Worcestershire sauce
Maldon sea salt
ground black pepper

I stirred that well to mix, and it was very tasty indeed. Zero points for everything except the 3 points for the mackerel.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2018 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Beef tendon again, but with photos

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At the right is the tendon as purchased. The recipe I used calls for twice as much tendon but since I’m the only tendon-eater in the house, I used less. I did use full recipe for broth and sauce, though.

Beef tendon is pure protein: no carbs, of course, and negligible fat. Just protein—and thus the broth from cooking it gels well.

Here’s the tendon in the pan, ready to go (covered) into a 200ºF oven to cook for 12 hours (overnight). At the bottom of the pan is a round of parchment paper, which will make clean-up easier and also prevent the tendon from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

I am in effect using oven and covered pan as a slow-cooker: 200ºF corresponds (usually) to “Low” on a slow-cooker control; “High” is 300ºF.

Here the dish after 12 hours cooking. It’s extremely soft and tender at this point, and easily cut with the side of a fork.

I put the tendon in a dish and then strained the cooking liquid (which had no fat floating on it: pure protein) into a storage container to be refrigerated. I have eaten it simply as an aspic, but I think today I will use some of it for a broth as I steam vegetables and the herring I got yesterday (for omega-3 and as a treat).

Here is the final result with the fried garlic and chopped scallion, plus the sauce. It really is quite tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2018 at 9:48 am

Great dinner: Chicken hearts and veggies

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You don’t have the use the veggies I used.Just use some allium (I used garlic and long green onion and scallions, but regular onions would work, as would leeks or shallots. For the yu choy sum and Shanghai bok choy, just use other leafy vegetables: red chard, regular bok choy, kale (red or green). Use a plain zucchini, or summer squash if you can get it. It’s your food: cook to suite your taste. But this really tasted good to me.

I used my large 4-qt All-Clad sauté pan.

1 Tbsp duck fat (or extra-virgin olive oil—I had duck fat, so I used it)

When fat is hot, add

1 lb chicken hearts
salt and pepper

Sauté chicken hearts for a few minutes. The rest of the dish will in effect be steamed, so if you want the hearts to be browned, now’s the time to do it.

Yu choy sum, about 6 little bunches, chopped
3 Baby Shanghai Bok choy, chopped
1 yellow zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
2 long green onions, chopped (this is a Chinese vegetable)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
10-12 stalks thinnish asparagus, chopped
10 San Marzano cherry tomatoes, sliced
about 1.5 cups oyster mushrooms, caps and stems, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped small (including core and ribs)
2 cloves of the giant garlic, minced
salt, Aji-no-moto, fair amount of black pepper

I had never even heard of yu choy sum, but it looked very fresh and nice, and hey! it’s greens. I know how to cook greens. And it turns out to be quite yummy.

I cooked that 15 minutes with top on, 15 with top off. I served with topped with pickled red onions from my butcher (where I got the duck fat, in fact).

Really extremely tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Food notes: Pork belly; herring

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First, the herring. I found fresh herring at Fairways market and brought home 3 of the little guys (CDN$1.85 total, so they’re inexpensive). They’re a little larger than fresh sardines I used to buy in Monterey, but you can easily fillet them the same way: cut open belly, remove guts and innards, cut off head, then run your fingertip along either side of the spine and remove it.

I sautéed a long green onion, an enormous garlic clove from the whole garlic (head, stem, and seeds) that The Wife brought me from a fair, a yellow zucchini, a jalapeño, a large handful of oyster mushrooms, and 8 cherry tomatoes, all chopped or sliced or minced as appropriate, in 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (thus 4 points for this dish) with salt, pepper, and Aji-no-moto, then stirred in the herring fillets cut into chunks and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I covered and cooked for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then put it into a bowl and sliced a hard-boiled egg on top for a very hearty (and rather late) breakfast. It will serve as lunch today as well.

The herring was really tasty and since I’m on an omega-3 kick, I’m going to return and buy more for while The Wife’s away.

The pork belly (580g piece): I used a sharp utility knife (a disposable one) to score the skin, then sliced the piece lengthwise into two pieces, which I’ll cook separately (since I’m unsure how good leftovers will be). I plan to use this recipe.

Update and lessons learned. Cook a wide piece of pork belly. A narrow piece will fall on the sides and the meat, lacking the basting of fat from above, becomes dry and tough. Get a piece at least 10cm wide—and that’ probably a good width. Note that pork belly is basically pure fat.

Cook’s Illustrated‘s final step is something I’ll adopt when I get a wider piece. The skin really dores require another step. Very sticky and chewy without that step.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 11:05 am

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