Category Archives: How-to

Dandelion Greens: Nutrition Not Nuisance

When the early Italian immigrants came to the United States, they were criticized for eating foraged weeds such as dandelion. It was thought that they were shorter than average Americans because they weren’t getting the right nutrition–that the meat-and-potatoes diet with plenty of milk was better than the high-vegetable diet of the immigrants. Of course, we now know that is not true, thanks in part to Ancel Keys, who enlightened the world about the Mediterranean diet in the 1950s.

Dandelion is one such weed, rich in so many nutrients.  Since ancient times, in the Middle East and Asia, it was used as medicine.  It’s good for digestion, to strengthen bones, to protect against Alzheimer’s, to protect the eyes or to detox. A great source of Vitamins K and A, it also contains Vitamin C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, folate, and phosphorus.

My earliest memories of dandelion are of the puffballs that we would pick and blow to watch the little wisps fly through the air. Little did we know they were seeds and we were helping new dandelions to grow.  Not that they need help. They are everywhere, and while some view them as a pest, others view them as a treasure.

When I was growing up, my mom had a friend who would bring us dandelion greens from her garden.  We laughed because this friend was fishing for gossip whenever she brought these over, so we associated dandelion greens with gossip.

Besides eliciting gossip, dandelion has many uses.  The greens can be eaten fresh or cooked, the roots can be ground into a coffee substitute, and the flowers can be made into wine, as many of the early Italian immigrants did.

Italians eat the dandelion greens in salads or cooked with garlic and olive oil.  They can be bitter, so it is best to blanch them before cooking, especially the more mature leaves.  We then saute them in garlic and olive oil.

However, I prepared them the way Julie Ann Sageer recommends in her new Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen cookbook, blanched and sautéed with caramelized onions.

To cook dandelions, wash them first.  They are not very dirty like some greens can be.  Chop off the large stems from the bottom.  Then roughly chop them.  Blanch them.  They are kind of like spinach.  You have to squeeze them to get the water out.  You can then saute them with caramelized onions, as in the cookbook, or you can saute them with sliced garlic and olive oil, the Italian way.  Either way, they are a nutritious addition to any meal and definitely should not be overlooked in the garden!

–Dina Di Maio

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The Real Fettuccine Alfredo

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Fettuccine Alfredo is one of the most well-known Italian dishes.  However, most people don’t know the history behind it and what its real ingredients are.  Fettuccine Alfredo was invented by Alfredo di Lelio in 1914 at his Roman restaurant, Alfredo’s.  As the story goes, his wife couldn’t eat after she gave birth, so he created this dish.

Fettuccine Alfredo is fettuccine in a creamy butter and parmesan “sauce.”  At this point in time, this dish was really a basic pasta dish, pasta with butter and cheese, already eaten by Italians on any kind of pasta, and it is still eaten by  Italians and Italian Americans today.  Pasta with butter and cheese is not something one would typically find at a restaurant.  It is something that is eaten at home.  In fact, one can omit the cheese and just have pasta with butter as well.  The typical Italian/Italian American doesn’t use this much butter or cheese when making this dish.  So the novelty of Alfredo’s dish is that it contained a lot of butter–which makes sense because he was trying to nourish his wife who had just given birth and was having digestive problems.

The difference between the Italian and American versions is that in the Italian version, only butter and parmesan are used, and together, they create a silky butter sauce.  Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford ate fettuccine Alfredo at Alfredo’s in 1920 while on their honeymoon and brought the dish back to America.  In the American version, heavy cream is also used to get a more creamy, saucy consistency.  This, however, is not how the dish was intended.

There are a number of ways to prepare fettuccine Alfredo.  I tried Todd Coleman’s version from Saveur magazine.

Fettuccine Alfredo

1 1b. fettuccine (Cook according to package directions.)

2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 lb. grated parmesan cheese (Parmesan from Italy is best here.)

The trick to making fettuccine Alfredo is to have a large platter, preferably warmed under hot water or in the oven a few minutes.  Cut pats of butter all over the platter.

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Drain pasta but reserve some pasta water.  Add the pasta to the platter along with the cheese and 1/4 cup pasta water.

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Toss with forks until the butter melts and all is well mixed–about 3 minutes.  Add more pasta water if you need to.  I used about 1 cup.

I think it is tricky to keep this warm, so if I make it again, I may try doing it in a skillet as recommended elsewhere or the quicker version Coleman suggests.

 

Food-related Halloween Costumes

Not sure what you want to be for Halloween?  Here are some last-minute food-related costumes.  Some of these are funny, some are cute and some are like why?

1.  Trendy costumes:  There are adult donut and burger costumes, so how about making a cronut or ramen burger costume?

2.  Sexy women’s costume:  French fries

3.  Cute and funny kids’ costume:  Lobster in a pot

4.  Adorable costume for dog:  Taco

5.  Funny for men:  Hard salami

6.  If you want to be a walking advertisement, how about a can of Chunky soup?

7.  If you really want an unusual costume, how about an onion?

8.  If you want people to keep asking what you are all night, try this burrito costume.

9.  Cute costume for couples:  Bacon and eggs

10.  Clever diy costume:  Deviled egg

Holiday Party Wine Tip

You know those household hints you see in women’s magazines?  You ever wonder if they work?  Well, I’m going to share one that I used and it actually works.  If you plan to serve wine at your holiday party, you’ll want to know this tip.  If you or a guest spills red wine on the carpet, immediately pour salt on top of the stain.  I’m talking get out the Morton salt package and pour the whole thing on it.  Depending on the size of the stain, if it’s large enough, you will probably need to use the whole carton of salt.  So you may want to keep it out where guests will be in case of an emergency wine stain.

Hanukkah Recipes

I culled these interesting Hanukkah recipes from the web:

Babka–Great article (with old recipe) that won an IACP Journalism Award

Chocolate Marshmallow Dreidels from Martha Stewart

Chopped Chicken Liver from Andrew Zimmern at Food & Wine

Gluten-free Iced Hanukkah Sugar Cookies

Golden Panko Latkes with Sour Cream and Chives from Food52

How to Make Rugelach–an Epicurious tutorial with recipes for different variations

Mexican Hanukkah recipes from Bon Appetit

North Carolina Sweet Potato and Apple Latkes from NPR

Paleo Hanukkah Menu with butternut squash latkes from Elana’s Pantry

Vegetarian Hanukkah recipes from Vegetarian Times

Are Recipes Copyrighted? and Other Legal Concerns for Food Bloggers

Everyone remembers the episode of Friends where Monica tries to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe only to find out it was the Nestle Toll House recipe.  Food bloggers are on edge, wondering if they are opening themselves up to legal action if they reprint published recipes or if they change an ingredient or two and call a recipe their own.  I suspect a lot of grandmas and aunts who were of cooking age in the years preceding the internet used recipes off food packages and from newspaper clippings and called them their own.  In the present day, we live in a litigious society where everyone wants to profit off of everything, so it’s no surprise people are worried that they will get a cease and desist letter for publishing grandma’s banana pudding recipe.  (Did Grandma get it from a Nilla wafer box?)

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright law doesn’t protect recipes that are “mere listings of ingredients.”  It says copyright protection may extend to “substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration” that goes along with the recipe.  So let’s say for example, a famous chef has a recipe for salmon in his cookbook.  The listing of ingredients—salmon, dill, butter–would not be copyrightable.  However, if he includes a paragraph about how he came to develop the recipe, his words may be copyright protected.  How he writes his directions may be copyrighted.  And definitely, a cookbook—a combination of recipes—is copyright protected.

OK, let’s get to the legalese.  In order for something to be copyrightable, it has to be original.  How many recipes really are original?  It’s the age-old question of where does pasta come from—Italy or China?  Just about every part of the world has some kind of food in a pastry pocket—think empanadas, calzones, samosas, dumplings, knishes….  Who came up with chocolate chip cookies or brownies?  What about pasta sauce?

David Lebovitz wrote for the Food Blog Alliance that “basic” recipes are “fair game” because the basics aren’t likely to vary much.  But how do you define a “basic”?  At one point, chocolate chip cookies were novel.  Now, they are a dime a dozen.  So are chocolate chip cookies “basic”?  Cake pops are all the rage, but is a standard recipe for cake pops “basic” (and a key lime pie cake pop or red velvet cake pop “original”)?  (An aside—is anything red velvet “original” given that it’s the most popular comfort food right now?)

When attributing recipes, Lebovitz outlines three food world rules to follow:  Use “adapted from” if you’re modifying a recipe, use “inspired by” if you used someone else’s recipe for inspiration or use the recipe as your own if you change three ingredients.  He mentions this last one with caution.

Steven Shaw, a lawyer, from eGullet, would like to see a system where recipe creators get licensing fees.  He thinks that “serious recipes really are a form of literary craftsmanship.”  I disagree.  I would say recipes that are online, in magazines,  in cookbooks and in newspapers are lists of ingredients followed by standard directions.  Unless you’re making quail in rose-petal sauce with the same emotion as Tita, I don’t see the literary merit in a recipe.  I don’t want to see the food writing/restaurant world become like the music industry.

From a professional standpoint, I have read that chefs often borrow from one another, taking on one idea, tweaking, adding to or changing it to make it their own.  I would like to poll chefs in the industry and see what their thoughts are.  I suspect most chefs would not want to copyright recipes because I suspect most chefs get inspiration from each other.  I think they would find dealing with licensing fees for recipes a nuisance.

Now, I think there is a different issue between recipes and food creations, that is, food as art.  Some chefs are protective of their creations.  I remember Francois Payard’s Payard restaurant and the lovely dessert creations in the front bakery.  Customers were not allowed to take photos of the cakes.  I’m guessing this was Payard’s way of protecting his food creations, creations that looked like artwork.  There are chefs like Payard that create edible works of art, like Jesus Nunez of Gastroarte.  (Chef Nunez was recently on Iron Chef.)  Can Payard’s cakes and Nunez’s food creations be copyrighted?  Not yet, but maybe they should be.  In order for the “food art” to be copyrightable, it has to be original and “fixed in a tangible medium.”  Unfortunately, because food spoils, it usually doesn’t pass the “fixed” test unlike other media that are used for art.

Before I close the discussion on copyright law, I do want to mention that copyright is one branch of intellectual property law.  There are also trademarks, patents and trade secrets.  Trademarks exist to identify the source of goods or services, and a trademark must be used for commercial activity or it will lose protection.  Food products, even the name of a recipe, can be trademarked.  As I mentioned in another blog post, the Doughnut Plant trademarked the blackout cake doughnut.  Trademarks also include trade dress, like the shape of the Mrs. Butterworth bottle.  Patent law protects inventions.  With the popularity of molecular gastronomy and food science, patent law does come into play.  Chef Homaro Cantu patented edible paper.  At his Chicago restaurant, Moto, he specializes in product development, and his patented inventions appear at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  The innovative chef appears on the Discovery Network’s Planet Green show Future Food.  Trade secrets are things that companies want to keep secret like the formula for McDonald’s secret sauce or Coca-Cola.

I think David Lebovitz’s guidelines are good ones to follow on your food blog if you are adapting a recipe from a cookbook or another food blog or if someone’s recipe inspires you to create something similar.  I wouldn’t worry too much about old family recipes, as I’m sure the same recipe for tuna casserole appears in every church and fundraising cookbook across the country.  Yes, there is a chance it comes from the back of an egg noodle bag.  As far as titles of recipes–titles are not copyrightable, and they can only be trademarked if they are being used in commerce, so chances are you could have a similar title for a recipe.  Photographs are definitely copyrighted, and I would ask permission to use someone else’s photo.

*This does not serve as legal advice.  For your particular situation, see an attorney.

Food Artistry Law

So you want to brand your homemade jam?  Or are you a chef and you just got a cookbook deal?  Or maybe you’re a foodie who took a cheesemaking class and now you’ve perfected the craft and want to slap a label on your own cheese?  Or perhaps you’ve bought a truck and want to make your version of fusion street food?  The only problem is you’re clueless as to what to do about the legal issues involved with all these ventures.  Don’t worry; it’s no problem for Brian Mencher and David Beame.  The pair own an entertainment law firm with a focus on Food Artistry.  What is Food Artistry law, you ask?  It’s much more than applying for a liquor license.

The food lawyers represent clients in matters such as public appearances on TV, at cooking demonstrations and online blogging; publishing contracts for cookbooks and food writing; branding, with business planning, intellectual property issues and registering trademarks; help with starting their business; sponsorship and endorsement deals and much more!

Partner Brian Mencher, with a background in restaurants and cooking, understands the unique needs of clients in this area.  While living in San Francisco, he fell in love with the food scene there.  “There are gorgeous farmers’ markets,” he says.  When a cooking school was opening there, he bartered his legal services for cooking classes.  Here, he learned things like knife skills and sautéing.  When they opened a wine bar, Mencher was asked to work the front of the house.

Brian Mencher–photo used with permission

When he moved back to New York, he got a job staging at Bouley and was soon offered a position cooking on the line as possonnier entremetier (assistant fish cook) where his job was handling the garnish and the accompaniment to the fish dishes.  After about four months, he reconnected with David Beame, who was a classically trained musician, to open a law firm focused on music law.  “I represented mostly people in the music industry all the time having a huge passion in food,” Mencher says.

David Beame–photo used with permission

Food law typically entails assisting with liquor licenses, purchasing agreements and distribution agreements for purchasing food.  “We wanted to focus on the entertainment aspect of food,” says Mencher.  “People in the food industry are the new rock stars.”

Indeed they are and with this new celebrity comes the need for legal help.  According to Mencher, food artistry comprises three things:  business start-ups, contracts and intellectual property.  “Whether it’s a food project at Brooklyn Flea or a food product–like ice cream delivery, it’s a business at the end of the day,” Mencher says.  So his firm helps by handling state filings and internal documents, like licenses for home cooks.  Contracts include book publishing and film agreements.  Intellectual property issues come into play with specialty products and food trucks and carts.  It includes the less obvious aspects of food artistry.  “Like when restaurants create their own silverware,” Mencher notes.

Mencher and Beame created a Songwriters Law Seminar that they deliver in cities like Nashville and Los Angeles.  Together, they created the Legal Smorgasbord, a seminar on the business and law of culinary artistry, that they gave at the James Beard Foundation.

“My vision has been a food law practice that specializes in this because we know the business; we’re passionate about the industry.  I’d want the people who work for me to be passionate about what I do,” says Mencher.

And Mencher is passionate about the current food scene.  He’s excited about Eleven Madison Park’s new concept.  “I want the Broadway experience in food, but I also want to get Grimaldi’s pizza and sit by the Brooklyn Bridge,” he says.  One of his favorite places is Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  He says, “We’re connecting farms and chefs, celebrating farmers that are bringing heirloom seeds back.”  He likes rooftop gardens.  He appreciates the trend at Momofuku Ko and Brooklyn Fare where “the food is highlighted above everything else.”

To those in the culinary arts, Mencher encourages, “Find a trusting team.  As a chef or someone who is creating constantly, you don’t necessarily have to know everything about the business.  Find a team you can trust–people who can steward the business–while you work on the creative.”