Tag Archives: Mark Bittman

How McDonald’s Ruined Oatmeal

Oh McDonald’s. Is there no food out there that you won’t turn to shit?

Mark Bittman explains:

The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including “natural flavor”).

A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

Here’s what I take from this story. Typically with products from McDonald’s, there’s an argument to be made that they are making a cheaper product, and thus making it more accessible to those who frequent McDonald’s due to financial constraints. “Quality isn’t the issue”, the proponents for McDonald’s state. “It’s calories available for the cheap and convenient.”

Okay, that’s fine for what it’s worth. But as Bittman points out, such an argument can’t be made with oatmeal. It is already a cheap product starting out. No process out there makes it cheaper. With the ingredients added to the McDonald’s product, it makes it more expensive. So that rules out the “cheap calories” argument.

As for the convenience argument? It’s instant oatmeal for god’s sake. You have a packet, you add hot water, you wait a minute, you have breakfast. Outside of toast, it’s one of the easiest meals you can make.

Of course, McDonald’s is not saying that their food is cheap or convenient, at least not in regard to their oatmeal. What they are implying is that it is nutritious. (What they actually say is that it is “Wholesome“, which is little more than marketing speak to which we are to infer it’s nutritious nature).

The problem, as Bittman points out, is that their version has nutrition issues.

Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. McDonald’s? If your listening, please take note. Stop. Just stop. Stop trying to pretend that you sell nutritious products. Embrace your fat filled pies and your calorie laden-burgers. Put the onus of healthy choice upon your customers. Because every time you try to sell a “healthy” product, it comes across as, at best, as lazy and hypocritical, and at worst, cynical manipulation to get people into your stores. As Bittman again notes “…if you buy oatmeal, they’re o.k. with that. But they know that, once inside, you’ll probably opt for a sausage biscuit anyway”.

The Best Recipes in the World

I’ll admit it — one of the better things about having a food blog is the various people sending me their books to plug. As an admitted book fiend, it was difficult for me to come to terms with receiving these books and still maintain a fair amount of “ethical objectivity” that us bloggers are said to be required to maintain.

I’ve gotten over that little hump. I will gladly accept free books. I just can’t promise to read them all, let alone give them reviews.

This leads me to Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, a book that showed up on my doorstep late last week. It’s also a book that’s been getting a fair amount of play on other food blogs, so don’t be afraid to get other opinions about this cookbook aside from my own.

From my own perspective, a cookbook should intially accomplish one thing: Get a person off of their couch and into the kitchen.

Cookbook publishers would disagree with me, because to them, a cookbook should make money. Some cookbook authors would also disagree with my statement, because to them, a cookbook should serve to promote the author of the cookbook — or in some cases, the author’s restaurant. But to me, a cookbook unused is like an unread book in that it’s not fulfilling it’s potential. If a cookbook is unable to get you into the kitchen, it’s not really worth owning.

Luckily for Mr. Bittman, his new release passes this test. Looking through the book made me want to cook. Part of it was the sheer number of recipes, and how thorough he was in ensuring that all continents were covered including Africa, a continent often forgotten when people talk about cuisines of the world. Another reason the cookbook motivated myself was that Mr. Bittman writes in an easy style, readily accessible to those who may be intimidated by their oven. In looking over the book, it was apparent that he is aiming this book at those who are frustrated by the intricacies of “The Joy of Cooking” and other similar cookbooks.

But there are some flaws to this book. As others have noted, he seems to pick and choose which recipes are entitled with how they are known in their native land, while others are entitled with either an English translation or simply the ingredients within the dish. It would have been more engaging to carry both variations of titles on the recipe.

The other flaw found in the book was discovered by chance. In the initial recipe that I had picked to recreate in my kitchen, the recipe missed a small, but I believe crucial, step. When such an error is discovered in a cookbook, it makes it difficult to approach other recipes within it without a fair amount of suspicion. I’m quite willing to concede that it may have been a simple mistake that occurs time to time in publications, but it will affect my future use of the cookbook.

Which leads to the second goal of a cookbook — to be used often enough to be considered a reference book. I think that this is where “The Best Recipes in the World” will fall short. There are several other cookbooks in my collection which will always get the first look. It remains to be seen if this book will make it into that upper echelon of my collection. But in considering all of the above, I’m not sure that it will. Talk to me again in about 5 months or so.

What this means is that this is a good cookbook, but not a great one. Mr. Bittman’s previous cookbook “How to Cook Everything” is a much better resource for the new chef. Once you’ve mastered the recipes in that book, there are better cookbooks out there for foreign cuisines.

Technorati Tags: food, cookbooks, book reviews

Skinless Garlic

Those jars of minced garlic are a waste of time. They are either lacking in flavor, soupy, or oftentimes both. So those of us who cook regularly go about our ways, buying garlic in cloves, the skin still intact. Skin, I should add, that is also difficult to remove at times.

Mark Bittman extols the virtue of skinless cloves of garlic. People have been working on selling garlic this way for several years, but haven’t found a proper way to remove the garlic skins without ruining the garlic.

Until now. A worker was cleaning a warehouse with an air hose, saw a coffee can with garlic in it, and sprayed some of the compressed air into the can. The peels came flying right off. So now high-pressure air is blown onto cloves in stainless steel buckets. That’s it; there are no preservatives, and the garlic is packed in ordinary jars.

Personally, I’m going to with hold judgement on skinless garlic until I get a chance to use it myself. But, garlic freak that I am, this could open up new worlds of cooking. Imagine being able to use ten, twenty, even thirty cloves of garlic in a single dish of, say, roast chicken. Imagine garlic soup! Oh, my heart is all aflutter.