Eater Beware: How to Avoid Being Duped by Food Fraud

The shocking New York Times story about alleged sexual harassment and abusive workplace culture at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island overshadowed another serious allegation, that the restaurant committed food fraud by routinely misleading diners about the sourcing of its ingredients. Former employees said that although Chef Blaine Wetzel claimed to only use locally foraged, fished, and farmed products, supermarket vegetables stood in for local beets and broccoli, chickens came from Costco, and Pacific octopus was delivered frozen from Spain and Portugal.

If these accounts are to be believed, the Willows Inn’s substitutions are one of the most high-profile examples of food fraud that’s come to light over the past decade. Seafood, olive oil, certain spices, and even Bagel Bites are among the food products you could have purchased without realizing that what you were actually getting might have been deceptively labeled – or even completely fraudulent.

Did you think something was fishy about your last sushi dinner? You may have been right. A 2019 report by the seafood conservation group Oceana found that 21 percent of the fish samples they tested were deceptive, with 26 percent of restaurants selling mislabeled seafood. Imported fish was frequently passed off as local, and more than half of all the sea bass was actually something else. Italian research published the same year estimated that 15 percent of all swordfish being sold was actually shark. And a 2013 episode of This American Life noted the similarity between fried calamari and hog rectum, alleging that some restaurants were substituting a pork-based product for squid. (However, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service never reported any examples of mislabeled “imitation” calamari.)

Olive oil is another product under scrutiny for deceptive labeling. In a 2010 study by the University of California Davis Olive Center, nearly 70 percent of imported extra-virgin olive oil failed to meet the quality standards required to have that label. The Olive Center suggested that poor-quality oils were often being passed off as extra-virgin, and that cheaper refined oils such as hazelnut oil that are difficult to detect were sometimes mixed in. Later that year, the USDA adopted new standards for grading olive oils, although not all manufacturers follow them.

Spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, and saffron are also rife for fraudulent substitution. Real Ceylon cinnamon, which usually comes from Sri Lanka and elsewhere in southeast Asia, has a more delicate flavor than cassia cinnamon, which is often grown in southern China and contains higher amounts of a harmful toxin called coumarin. In addition, ground cinnamon can contain fillers like coffee husks. If you’re buying vanilla extract, know that it’s sometimes not made from real vanilla beans, but from a synthetic compound called vanillin. And saffron, derived from the flower of a species of crocus and said to be the world’s most expensive spice, has sometimes been forged with dried flowers or corn silk threads.

Of course, not every example of food fraud is found in nature. Just last week, a Wisconsin woman sued Kraft Heinz Foods, the maker of Bagel Bites. She claimed that the company mislabeled the product as having “real” mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, when it’s actually made from a cheese blend and a sauce with “non-tomato extenders and thickeners.”

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to avoid being duped by imitation food. You don’t have much recourse if a restaurant is flat-out lying to you, although the more questions you ask, the more likely you are to discover the truth about what’s happening in the kitchen. (You probably don’t need to find out the name of your chicken, as was brilliantly parodied in the restaurant sketch from the first episode of Portlandia.) Although I can’t say for sure that all of the ingredients used in my dinner at the Willows Inn came from Lummi Island, I did tour the expansive garden near the restaurant, and recognized some of the items, like squash blossoms and nasturtium flowers, that were apparently used in dishes I ate the night before.

For seafood products, your best strategy is to be sure and ask your local restaurant or fish market about their sourcing practices. You can also frequent establishments, such as Mashiko in West Seattle, that are transparent about where their fish comes from and that have shown a commitment to sustainability. And you can avoid ingredients like sea bass that have a higher chance of being something else entirely.

When you’re buying olive oil, look for labeling on a bottle that shows certification from either the California Olive Oil Council or a similar international organization. (Italian olive oils, for example, will have a “DOP” logo showing that the product was prepared using traditional methods.)

For spices, buy only from reputable grocers, and read the label carefully to make sure you’re getting what you think you are. Whenever possible, buy whole spices, like cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans, instead of processed versions. And let price be your guide – for example, an inexpensive container of saffron threads isn’t likely to be the real thing (and if you buy it, you might later realize that you’re mad about saffron). You can also test your purchase by adding a few threads into a container of water. Real saffron will slowly turn the water yellow while maintaining its own red color.

And if you’re concerned about the actual mozzarella and tomato content in your Bagel Bites? You probably have bigger issues than food fraud. I’d suggest making your own version – or, if that’s too much trouble, just order a pizza.

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What I Ate: Squash blossoms and local flowers with nasturtium puree at the Willows Inn

The Willows Inn, where I ate these squash blossoms, has been accused of food fraud

Seattle’s Most Iconic Foods (Besides Salmon)

If you ask people in other cities to describe Seattle, they’ll probably tell you that locals walk around here carrying a Starbucks coffee cup in one hand and an umbrella in the other, on their way to buy salmon at the Pike’s Place Market. Well, anyone who’s spent more than a year in town knows that there’s a ton of better places to get coffee, that only tourists use umbrellas, and that the place where they throw the fish is called the Pike Street market (I’m joking, folks). Still, one of those stereotypes is actually true: there’s a ton of great salmon here. And we’re fortunate to also have a wide range of fantastic fruits and vegetables, seafood, and other food products that are identifiable with the city and surrounding region and that make it an amazing place to eat. Inspired by a recent discussion in the Seattle Foodies Facebook group, here’s my list of 17 of the most iconic Seattle foods.


In addition to salmon, eating like a Seattle local means taking advantage of the abundant seafood in Puget Sound and nearby waterways. According to Cynthia Nims, author of several books about seafood, Washington is the biggest producer of oysters on the Pacific Coast and one of the largest in the country. And there are lots of great oyster bars in town where you can slurp your fill, including The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard, Taylor Shellfish Farms in Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill, and Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor in Ravenna.

Another iconic seafood is Dungeness crab, which can be found throughout Pacific Coast waters but is abundant on the Washington coast. According to Nims, you can find Dungeness crab almost anytime on the calendar, but the greatest supply (and best prices) typically come in the first month or two after the ocean fishery season opens around December 1. And year-round, it’s possible to enjoy a great Dungeness crab roll at places like Seattle Fish Guys in the Central District, Bar Harbor in South Lake Union, and Local Tide in Fremont, as well as at many restaurants along the waterfront.

One more iconic Seattle seafood is the giant saltwater clam known as geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), which is abundant in the inland waters of Puget Sound. A good place to try it is at Shiro’s Sushi in Belltown, where it’s available on the a la carte sashimi menu.

Fruits and vegetables

Washington State produces over 100 million boxes of apples annually, more than any other state. But there’s a lot of other iconic produce to enjoy here, like the sweet golden Rainier cherry, created in 1952 by a Washington State University scientist and named after the mountain. You’ll typically find them only for a few weeks after harvest, in late June to early July.

Another fruit created through a WSU breeding program and named after a local mountain is the Shuksan strawberry, a large, bright-red fruit. It also has a very brief season, typically harvesting in June at farms in the Skagit Valley.

Blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, and marionberries are all prevalent near Seattle and throughout the Northwest, but the most iconic local berry is the red raspberry. Washington State produces over 60 percent of the nation’s raspberries, which is 15 times more than our neighbor to the south. Take that, Oregon!

It’s not surprising considering the Pacific Northwest’s moist climate, but you can find an abundance of iconic mushrooms in the local woods. Species including the Pacific golden chanterelle, morel, and chicken-of-the-woods are among the edible fungi you’ll find on a foraging expedition in the forest, or on a less adventurous visit to your local upscale market.

Teriyaki, pho, and poke

Three iconic Seattle foods that you can eat at dozens of restaurants around the city reflect its large Asian population and diverse culinary influences. According to a 2007 Seattle Weekly article, the first teriyaki establishment in town was Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in what’s now called Uptown. A Japanese immigrant named Toshihiro Kasahara, who opened it in 1976, still cooks at a location called Toshi’s Grill in Mill Creek. Kasahara has defined Seattle-style teriyaki as meat that’s marinated in a sweet soy-ginger sauce, grilled over an open flame, and finished with a drizzle of teriyaki. You’ll find versions of teriyaki in every neighborhood in Seattle, but it’s much less prevalent in other cities.

With around two percent of Seattle’s population identifying as Vietnamese, it’s not surprising that pho is one of the iconic Seattle foods that you can find throughout the city. A few recommended places to try are Pho Bac Sup Shop in the International District, Billiard Hoang in Columbia City, and Pho Than Brothers, with multiple locations in the region (all of which provide a signature cream puff along with your pho).

And although poke is a food that’s native to Hawaii, it’s become ubiquitous enough in Seattle that I’d also include it among the city’s iconic foods. My favorite spot for poke bowls is 45th Stop N Shop in Wallingford, but Poke Square in Ballard is also great, and Seattle Fish Guys in the Central District has a delectable assortment of poke by the pound.

Baked goods

Huge numbers of Scandinavian immigrants settled in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century, and that heritage is still an important part of the city’s DNA. Seattle’s fortunate to have some outstanding bakeries that produce iconic Scandinavian baked goods. Larsen’s Bakery in Crown Hill is known for the Kringle, a buttery Danish pastry in a pretzel shape that’s filled with almonds and raisins. And at Byen Bakeri in Queen Anne, you’ll find a wide assortment of Scandinavian breads and cakes. These include cardamom braids as well as princess cake, a Swedish specialty consisting of sponge cake layered with raspberry jam, vanilla custard, and whipped cream, and topped with green marzipan.

I was surprised to learn that the Dutch baby, a thick pancake that’s typically baked in a cast-iron pan and served in wedges, originated in Seattle in the early 1900s. In 1960, Sunset Magazine credited a downtown restaurant called Manca’s Café as the inventor of the Dutch baby. The owner’s daughter apparently named the creation, perhaps corrupting the German word “deutsch,” since the Dutch baby was similar to a German pancake dish. Around town, you could try one at the Tilikum Place Café in Belltown, or at the Original Pancake House in Bothell.

Hot dogs and hamburgers

The Seattle dog, a hot dog with cream cheese and sauteed onions, has been around for less than 25 years, but has since become known as a regional specialty. According to one account, the Seattle dog was invented in 1988 when a bagel vendor in Pioneer Square added a hot dog to the bialy sticks with cream cheese that were a popular snack for the stadium-going crowd. About five years later, a different vendor nearby added cream cheese to the hot dogs he sold, helping popularize a similar creation. Today you’ll still find Seattle hot dogs in the neighborhood before and after Seahawks, Sounders, and Mariners games, as well as at stands in nightlife hot spots like Belltown and Capitol Hill.

As I wrote about in March, Seattle doesn’t (yet) have its own iconic regional burger. But if I had to nominate one iconic Seattle burger, it would probably be the Deluxe at Dick’s Drive-In (with multiple locations around the city). It’s a pair of all-beef patties that are topped with melted cheese, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, and relish. There are certainly better burgers elsewhere in the city. But this one is a touchstone for many locals remembering how good it tasted at 2 a.m., so it deserves to be on the list of iconic Seattle foods.

Sweet confections

Finally, I’ll finish the list of foods that are identifiable with Seattle (and the surrounding region) with a trio of confectionary treats. Similar to Turkish Delight, Aplets & Cotlets are jellied candies that combine fruit with powdered sugar and walnuts. Aplets were first developed more than 100 years ago as a way for Washington State apple farmers to use their surplus crops. (Cotlets, made with apricots, came a few years later.) The candy gained popularity during the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, but they may soon be a relic of history, as Liberty Orchards, the company that makes them, recently announced that they would be shutting down this June.

In 2009, when the Washington state legislature debated whether to make Aplets & Cotlets the official state candy, the bill failed when some politicians wanted to give the honor to Almond Roca. The latter candy, a chocolate-covered toffee with an almond coating, is made by Brown & Haley of Tacoma. You’ll find it in supermarkets and drugstores all over the region, and in many other cities as well.

You might associate this third confection more with Chicago than with Seattle, but the Frango mint was originally created in 1918 at the Frederick & Nelson department store downtown, in the building that later became the flagship Nordstrom store. Frederick & Nelson was soon acquired by Marshall Field’s in Chicago, which changed the recipe and produced its iconic mints for more than 75 years before that company was acquired by Macy’s. Today you can still buy Frangos from Garrett Brands, the Chicago retailer that’s perhaps better known for its popcorn. It might be a bit of a stretch to call this candy one of the most iconic Seattle foods. But if you want to bring along a taste of the city the next time you visit relatives, it’s a lot easier than schlepping along a salmon – or a Dick’s Deluxe.

What do you think are the most iconic Seattle foods? Leave a comment and let me know!

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What I Ate: Kumamoto oysters with classic mignonette

Kumamoto oysters are one of the most iconic Seattle foods

Five Ways to Eat When You’re Eating Less Meat

For about six weeks this winter, I didn’t eat any beef, chicken, or pork, as I experimented with some new flavors and learned a few new ways to cook vegetables. My change in diet wasn’t for any particular health-related or religious reason, and I don’t have an especially strong moral or environmental objection to eating meat. Rather, it was just something to shake up my routine during the late stages of the pandemic. If you’re considering eating less meat, here are five strategies that worked for me. While I certainly might have enjoyed a tasty burger from time to time, these foods helped give me enough variety that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

1) Eat more fish

Most of the seafood I eat tends to come in sushi form, but during my meat hiatus I mixed things up by checking out a couple of fish markets for the first time. Seattle Fish Guys in the Central District offers a wide selection of fresh fish as well as poke bowls and chowder, but also serves up a delectable, if a bit messy, crab sub on a toasted bun with green onion, Japanese mayo, and Sriracha.  I also enjoyed a Dungeness crab roll at Market Fishmonger & Eatery in Edmonds. The sandwich is stuffed with fresh crabmeat, served on a warm Macrina bun, and topped with arugula, house aioli, and brown butter. For a familiar taste, I also visited my favorite poke spot in Wallingford, 45th Stop N Shop, for an always-delightful bowl filled with salmon, izumidai, rice, greens, seaweed salad, Japanese pickles, and more.

Meanwhile, I also used this time to cook more fish at home. For one dinner, I used one of the Omsom starters I wrote about in February to create a delicious Vietnamese lemongrass shrimp stir-fry. Recently, I pan-grilled scallops with a simple miso and mirin glaze. And I also ate some briny Kusshi and Kumamoto West Coast oysters with a classic mignonette.

2) Eat more Middle Eastern food

Falafel is your friend when you’re not eating meat, and Seattle has no shortage of great options. One of my favorite food finds recently has been Yalla in Capitol Hill, which describes its menu as having Palestinian, Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian roots. The falafel there were crispy outside and creamy inside, and the fermented turnip pickles that accompanied them provided a sharp contrast. I also tried the eggplant wrap called batinjan, served on homemade saj bread with tomatoes, olives, greens, and the fermented hot sauce known as shatta. (I tried making my own shatta as well, but the balance of tomatoes and chilies wasn’t quite right on my first attempt.)

Another great spot for falafel is Mean Sandwich in Ballard. In its “Midnight at the Oasis” sandwich, the deep-fried chickpea fritters are accompanied by hummus, harissa beets, and Persian pickles, and come with a side of salt-and-pepper seasoned potato skins. And I also tried the falafel plate at Iyad’s Syrian Grill, a food truck that operates four days a week at lunchtime on Vashon Island, and serves its specialty with hummus as well as salad and pita.

At home, I cooked a few dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, including asparagus and gochujang pancakes, cucumber salad with sumac-marinated onions, and “ultimate roasting-pan ragu” with oyster and dried porcini mushrooms, miso paste, and rose harissa. While I enjoyed the complex flavors in the sauce, this was one recipe where lentils weren’t really an adequate substitute for ground beef. A more successful cooking experiment was shakshuka, which I made from a New York Times recipe featuring avocado, lime, and feta. It’s a Middle Eastern dish which in this preparation has both Mediterranean and Mexican flavors, and stars the subject of my next category.

3) Eat more eggs

According to French legend, a chef’s hat known as a toque is said to have 100 folds, representing a hundred different ways to cook eggs. And the versatility of eggs that I wrote about last week is incredibly helpful for people who are eating less meat. I won’t recount all of the suggestions from that post, but it’s possible to eat different preparations of eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, and never run out of ideas. Over the past six weeks I’ve particularly enjoyed the deviled eggs at Junebaby in Ravenna, which were part of an Easter takeout feast,  and khachapuri, the Georgian bread boat topped with a barely-cooked egg, at Skalka downtown.

4) Eat more Asian food

Seattle is fortunate to have an incredible diversity of Asian restaurants, and all of these cuisines have plenty of options that cater to diners who are eating less meat. Over the past six weeks I’ve enjoyed the royal biryani (with shrimp) and mango curry (with tofu) from Taste of India in the University District, a catfish banh mi from the Vietnamese Le’s Deli and Bakery in Rainier Valley, and fancy rolls from Sam’s Sushi in Ballard. And on weekend excursions outside of Seattle, I’ve also eaten a handful of Chinese and Thai dishes without feeling like I was giving anything up by not including meat as my protein.

I’ve also made good use of Asian flavors in a few recipes I’ve cooked at home this winter, including two dishes from Christopher Kimball’s new cookbook called Cookish: green beans with ginger and coconut milk, and rice pudding with star anise and cinnamon.

5) Eat more fresh produce

One final suggestion to expand your dietary repertoire is to cook dishes that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, using seasonal produce and fresh herbs whenever possible. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made risotto using a technique by Kenji Lopez-Alt that featured mushrooms, as well as a spectacular asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon tart, and a tangy, fresh mango gazpacho. And I topped my homemade pizza with fresh basil and lots of mozzarella.

You might have noticed that during my recap of six weeks without eating meat, I never mentioned trying the Impossible Burger or other fake-meat substitutes. While these might be great choices for some people, I never felt like I was lacking for options for delicious things to eat, even if they didn’t look or taste like beef or chicken.

Now that my meat hiatus is over, I’m sure that I’ll continue to regularly incorporate fish, eggs, produce, and Middle Eastern and Asian flavors into my diet. But I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a plate of fried chicken, a grilled pork banh mi, and a juicy burger. I’ve missed my tasty, meaty friends.

What are your favorite ways to change up your diet by eating less meat? Leave a comment and let me know!

To get updates on new posts, you can follow me @seattlefoodhound on Instagram, or @seafoodhound on Twitter.

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What I Ate: Asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon tart

When you're eating less meat this asparagus and goat cheese tart is a great recipe to try

How to Eat a Dozen Eggs

Oh, no! So you bought too many cartons of eggs for the neighborhood Easter hunt. What are you going to do with all those extras? Here are a dozen ideas, with suggestions for new ways to cook eggs and tips from a few master chefs, as well as a couple of Seattle restaurants worth checking out. Now, let’s get cracking!

The first egg: Start your day as Chef Thomas Keller does, with a pair of boiled eggs. He cooks his for just five minutes once the water starts to boil, resulting in a creamy yolk and perfectly set white. But be sure not to boil your eggs too long, or you’ll get an unappealing green band around them from the iron in the yolk and sulfur in the white reacting to the long cooking time. Even at home, Keller also employs another handy tip that he learned during his training: If you’re boiling more than one egg, crack them into individual bowls in case you accidentally drop a piece of shell. It’ll make it a lot easier to fish it out.

The second egg: Deviled eggs are a classic Easter treat, but you can hard boil your eggs without ever having to put a pot on the stove. In this genius technique I learned from a recent article on Food52, just bake them in the oven at 325 degrees for about 28 to 30 minutes, which will give your eggs a firm texture without being overcooked. Talk about new ways to cook eggs!

The third egg: A classic bechamel sauce, made with butter, flour, and milk, is a great starting point for some hearty mac-and-cheese. But in Chef Wolfgang Puck’s version, he adds a couple of egg yolks into the bechamel to make it even richer. If you want to turn your bechamel into a Mornay sauce, just add some grated cheese, like cheddar, fontina, or mozzarella.

The fourth egg: Make a perfect poached egg with the help of tips from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s phenomenal cooking resource The Food Lab.

The fifth egg: Turn those poached eggs into eggs benedict by serving them on an English muffin, topped with Hollandaise. To make the sauce, whisk egg yolks with water over a double boiler to create an emulsion. Then mix in lemon juice as well as warmed, clarified butter. Sometimes, the sauce will “break” and separate as it’s cooking. Keller explains that this can happen if the heat is too high or there isn’t enough water. But you can fix it by starting with a new egg yolk, and then slowly incorporating the broken sauce.

The sixth egg: There’s no wrong way to scramble an egg, but Keller advises that a common mistake is cooking it in a pan that’s too hot. “I can’t stress enough the importance of treating eggs gently,” he says. Once the egg is fully scrambled, you can stop it from overcooking by mixing in some butter or crème fraiche. And a bonus – it will make your breakfast even richer.

The seventh egg: Sure, you can always make an egg scramble at home, but when I want a hearty omelette I head to Pete’s Egg Nest in Greenwood. I’m partial to the bacon, avocado and cheddar scramble, but you can mix it up with any of your favorite proteins, including gyro meat, chorizo, and country sausage.

The eighth egg: Italian chef Massimo Bottura says that preparing sole with tomatoes, lemons, and olives is a tasty way to create a Mediterranean-style dinner. To steam your fish properly, try cooking it en papillote, or in parchment paper. But make sure your wrapper has a tight seal by using an egg wash and pressing the seams together. The same technique works well if you’re making dumplings.

The ninth egg: Cook some perfect fried eggs using a technique I learned in a video by the French chef Jacques Pepin.

The tenth egg: Try the Georgian specialty known as khachapuri at Skalka in downtown Seattle. Their dish called adjaruli is a buttery bread boat that’s filled with melted cheese and topped with a runny yolk.

The eleventh egg: For dessert, how about a crème anglaise? Keller shows how you can make this creamy custard by tempering, or slowly cooking, egg yolks with sugar, warm milk and cream. If your heat gets too high and the eggs start to curdle, you can fix your sauce by running it through a blender and then straining it through a fine-mesh sieve. Crème anglaise is often flavored with vanilla beans and can be served over ice cream, cake, or fruit – or just eaten with a spoon.

The twelfth egg: With your leftover egg whites, try making some delicate, crispy meringues. Beat your egg whites with sugar and vanilla over a double boiler, then whip them in a stand mixer with confectioners’ sugar for about 15 minutes. Then, spoon your meringues onto a baking sheet and cook them in a low-temperature oven for about 45 minutes. I don’t think the egg-sact cooking time is critical, but make sure the interiors are soft and that they have an almost marshmallow-like texture. But don’t worry if your dessert doesn’t come out right. Just reach into your Easter basket and eat the eggs that are foil-wrapped and made of chocolate.

What are your favorite new ways to cook eggs, and where do you like to eat them when you’re not at home? Leave a comment and let me know!

To get updates on new posts, you can follow me @seattlefoodhound on Instagram, or @seafoodhound on Twitter.

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What I Ate: Eggs benedict at The Lemon Tree in Bend, Oregon

Try new ways to cook eggs like making a delicious Hollandaise sauce for your benedict

The Great Nanaimo Bar Controversy Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing it Wrong

The decadent dessert known as a Nanaimo bar, named after a city in British Columbia, is composed of three layers – a crumbly base, a custardy middle, and a chocolatey top. You might think that stereotypically polite Canadians would all agree that no matter how they’re made, that Nanaimo bars would be universally honored as a delicious national treat. But you would be wrong.

The New York Times reported last week that Canadians reacted with outrage after its Instagram account posted a photo of some unconventionally looking Nanaimo bars along with a link to a recipe. One commenter called it “an insult to Canadians everywhere,” while another said that “you’d be laughed out of the bake sale with these counterfeits.”

What was the shameful transgression? According to some Canadians, the proportions of the layers were wrong: the base was too thick, and there wasn’t enough custard. And the top layer of thick chocolate ganache wasn’t smooth, but (egads) rippled.

This isn’t even the first time that Nanaimo bars have generated outrage in Canada. In 2019, Canada Post released stamps featuring five regional desserts, and the Nanaimo bar stamp was quickly criticized for its middle layer appearing too thick. One commenter even made the shocking suggestion that the filling appeared to be less like custard than – wait for it – peanut butter.

Related: The Spicy, Crunchy Condiment That’s Also an Ice Cream Topping

In our highly polarized world, there are plenty of other cases in which someone with a strong opinion about food decides that someone else’s version is wrong. CNN reported last year about a Malaysian comedian called Uncle Roger who went viral after posting a video showing that a BBC presenter making egg fried rice drained her rice through a colander after boiling it, and that she had rinsed it with tap water. “This rice cooking is a hate crime,” one outraged writer tweeted.

And in the most recent example I’ve learned about, the city of Bologna, Italy, has decreed what should be the proper dimensions of the long, flat pasta known as tagliatelli. Its chamber of commerce even keeps a solid gold replica of a piece of tagliatelli showing how wide the dough should be before cooking. The official recipe the city keeps on file states that when cooked, authentic tagliatelli should be 8 millimeters wide, and that 12,270 strands of it should be as tall as the Torre degli Asinelli, a Bologna landmark. “Any other size would make it lose its inimitable character,” the deed says.

I’m here to reassure you that you’re not doing it wrong, whether you like your Philly cheesesteaks with cheez whiz or provolone, or you prefer your North Carolina barbecue sauce to be made with vinegar or ketchup. It’s great to be passionate about what you like and what you don’t, but that doesn’t mean you should restrict others from experimenting and finding out what they enjoy. And if you let your palate be your guide, you might learn that finding a new way to prepare a recipe might lead you to a pleasing result.

Of course, if you stray too far from what’s generally accepted as the ingredients of a particular dish, you might want to call it something different. A carrot cake probably shouldn’t be called a carrot cake if it’s not made of carrots. (Go figure, I just found a whole bunch of recipes in which you can make carrot cake with pumpkin, butternut squash, zucchini, or even pineapple. Thanks, Internet!)

But I can’t think of a good reason that a slightly thicker piece of pasta, some rice that’s been drained through a colander, or even a cookie bar with a different proportion of layers should be castigated by people who believe that they’re the true arbiters of taste. So go ahead, make a Nanaimo bar with a deeper layer of chocolate or a dollop of extra custard. Instead of being mocked on social media or laughed out of a Canadian bake sale, you just might find yourself getting the nation’s stamp of approval.

To get updates on new posts, you can follow me @seattlefoodhound on Instagram, or @seafoodhound on Twitter.

What I Ate: Diablo cookie with chocolate, cinnamon, and cayenne from Tacofino on Vancouver Island, Canada

Tasty desserts in British Columbia include Nanaimo bars and these spicy chocolate diablo cookies

The Easy Way to Make a Perfect Poached Egg

The quintessential poached egg has a firmly set white that surrounds a barely cooked yolk. Use a fork to gently pierce the surface of the neat round package, and the yellow will ooze all over your plate, ready to be sopped up with the edge of your toast, English muffin, or bagel. It’s a nice alternative to scrambling or frying your eggs, even if you use Jacques Pepin’s nifty technique that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

But how do you get the poached egg to keep its shape and come out perfectly? The egg’s journey from the safe harbor of its shell to a simmering pot of water to your plate is a treacherous one. Some chefs think that adding vinegar to the water can help the egg stay intact. Others advise wrapping it in plastic, or using a sous vide cooking method that poaches it more gently.

I’m certainly no eggs-pert, but as usual I turned to Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab to get his advice. Lopez-Alt says that an ingenious trick for getting the poached egg to hold its shape is to crack it into a dish and then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer. That will cause the egg whites that aren’t held tightly to the yolk to drain away. When you’re ready to start cooking, simply immerse the strainer in the pot and slide your egg out into the water.

Lopez-Alt offers these additional tips for improving your poached egg technique:

  • Use eggs that are as fresh as possible. He says that the freshest eggs have the strongest membranes that hold the white together, so an older egg is more likely to spread when it hits the water.
  • Turn your burner off once your water comes to a boil. The more agitated your water is, the more likely it is that your egg will fall apart. It will only take about 4 minutes for eggs to poach in simmering water.
  • Swirl your eggs gently once they start cooking, which will help them poach more evenly and keep a more rounded shape.
  • Don’t bother adding vinegar to the water. Although this might help your eggs set a little bit faster, it’s more likely to make them come out tough.
  • Do add salt to your water. This won’t affect the cooking process, but a little seasoning will make your eggs taste better.
  • If you’re making breakfast for a crowd, feel free to poach eggs in advance, cooking them a few at a time. Store them in cold water on your counter for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight. Then you can simply reheat them in hot water for a few minutes before serving. Just be sure to transfer the eggs carefully when you’re moving them from one dish to another.  

Try out these tips and see if they help improve your poaching technique. But to get perfect results every time, I’m sorry (not sorry) to say that will only come with … eggs-perience.

And what if you need an accompaniment to go with your poached eggs? Someday I’ll have to write about the sauce I learned to make during a long weekend in the Netherlands. I really enjoyed my Holland days.

What I Ate: Poached eggs on a bagel with Yotam Ottolenghi’s shatta chili sauce

A perfect poached egg has a firmly set white that surrounds a barely cooked yolk.


Six New Ways to Cook Vegetables and Bring Variety to the Table

Regular readers to this blog may know that I’ve been trying to eat less meat and reminding myself that once-hated vegetables taste great when they’re properly cooked. But when you’re spending a lot of time in the kitchen, it’s far too easy to fall into the same ruts of blanching broccoli, grilling asparagus, and steaming green beans. That’s why I was excited to come across Thomas Keller’s series of instructional videos about new ways to cook vegetables on MasterClass. Keller demonstrates a few less familiar techniques for working with carrots, parsnips, eggplants, zucchini, beets, and more, using methods that help bring out the best flavor and texture from each ingredient.

Keller explains that it’s worthwhile to select vegetables when they’re at their seasonal peak, especially while they’re young (i.e., newly picked), and to use the cooking method that’s most appropriate for each one. For preparations like roasting zucchini or baking beets, the cooking process aims to remove moisture from the vegetable, which helps concentrate their flavor. Keller also discusses how different methods of preservation can make good-quality vegetables available to you even when they’re not in season.

Here are few of the new ways to cook vegetables that I’m looking forward to inserting into my rotation:

  • Glazing carrots: This method highlights the vegetable’s natural sweetness. Cook your carrots over high heat, with just enough water to cover them, and a teaspoon each of butter and sugar. The water will evaporate as the butter emulsifies and the glaze reduces. Don’t overcook the carrots or you’ll start to caramelize the sugars instead of leaving the vegetable shiny.
  • Pureeing parsnips: For this root vegetable, as well as others like rutabaga or celery root, Keller suggests simmering it in a pot with cream and water. Once it’s fully cooked, transfer the vegetable and its cooking liquid to a blender. Add butter and process until it’s completely smooth.
  • Roasting zucchini: First, slice the vegetable in half, score it with a crosshatch pattern, season it with salt, and let it sit for half an hour to draw out the moisture. Then, sear the flesh in a hot pan with neutral oil for about five minutes. After the zucchini is well-caramelized, roast it in a hot oven for another 25 minutes, which makes the interior come out soft and creamy.
  • Baking beets: This technique is preferable to boiling beets, but it may take a while, depending on the size of your vegetables. After you clean them, season, and sprinkle with oil, wrap them in foil and bake until you can insert a knife and feel very little resistance. Then, peel the beets while they’re still warm (using gloves to protect your hands from stains and parchment paper to cover your cutting board). Season with salt and dress with your favorite vinegar.
  • Preserving eggplants: Similar to a preparation you might use for duck, you can confit this vegetable by slow-cooking it in oil at a low temperature. First, as with zucchini, it’s best to score the eggplant and season it before cooking to draw out as much moisture as possible. Place it in a baking pan, cover with warm, neutral oil, and cook at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes. You can add flavor to the dish by using the same technique to preserve garlic. The vegetables will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week if they’re stored submerged in oil.
  • Pickling radishes: You can endlessly vary this preservation technique by using different vegetables and flavor profiles for your pickling liquid. In one preparation, just combine water, sugar, white wine vinegar, garlic, thyme, and mustard seeds in a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Then pour the hot liquid over your vegetables (radishes, peppers, onions, and cauliflower all work well) and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

With each of these techniques, make sure you have the right amount of seasoning to bring out the best flavor of each ingredient. And to make your vegetables taste even better, it’s often worthwhile to complement them with additional fresh herbs. Or, for many preparations, you can’t go wrong with some extra melted butter.

What are your favorite new ways to cook vegetables? Leave a comment and let me know!

What I Ate: Roasted zucchini garnished with parsley

Roasting zucchini is one of my new favorite ways to cook vegetables

The Surprisingly Effective Way to Organize Your Recipe Collection

When a company called Recipeasly launched a new product this week, it might have seemed like a dream come true for home cooks drowning in information overload and struggling to organize recipes. Product manager Tom Redman announced on Twitter that he and two friends had created a solution to “fix online recipes,” making it easier to collect your favorites from the Internet but “without the ads or life stories.”

Within hours, Recipeasly received a torrent of criticism from food bloggers and others, arguing that the company was violating copyright laws and robbing content creators of their income streams. In a tweet that’s been liked over 1,000 times, Kat Kinsman, senior editor at Food & Wine magazine, responded to Redman, “Wait, so you are just stealing content, eliminating context and creator revenue, and diminishing the labor that is the only way these recipes exist in the first place because you have decided the humans behind them are annoying?”

Recipeasly quickly took down its website and apologized, suggesting that its intentions were to help content creators. But by removing the introductory notes, it erased what many consider to be the heart of the recipes, what one food writer, Jessica van Dop, said on Twitter “tell the stories of generations of families who created dishes that represents a culture.”

Redman claimed that imported recipes could only be viewed by the person who did so, just as if they had printed a recipe or copied it into a document. But in an article about the controversy in the Washington Post, several bloggers disputed this, adding that the site could have created revenue streams that benefit Recipeasly rather than the people who originally published the recipes.

Dubious ethics aside, because of the intricacies of copyright regulations, Recipeasly may not have technically violated the law. According to the U.S. Copyright office, “mere listings of ingredients” are not subject to copyright protection. (Whether or not the blogs themselves included a copyright symbol or were registered with the copyright office is irrelevant.) In a 1996 lawsuit involving recipes from a book of Dannon Yogurt recipes that were copied by another publisher, the court ruled that the lists of ingredients and directions for preparing the dishes were excluded from copyright protection.

Regardless, Recipeasly’s design would have run afoul of the standard practice for recipe attribution that has been neatly summarized by well-regarded food writer David Lebovitz. He says that if you’re not substantially changing a recipe and rewriting it in your own words, or if you’re simply copying a recipe, the right thing to do is link to the original source and give proper attribution in your text. Although Recipeasly did include a small link back to the original recipe, it failed to give credit to its source.

Of course, Recipeasly isn’t the first company to attempt to solve the problem of organizing online recipes. Sites like Copy Me That, Pepperplate, Paprika, and Big Oven all have various ways for you to bookmark, save, and organize recipes from around the Web, or to add your own recipes. And even the New York Times Cooking app offers a similar capability to paying subscribers.

But none of these sites would help you organize the deluge of recipes that you may have collected from your grandmother’s file box, clippings from magazines that you may have stashed away in a drawer, or your favorite cookbooks that may be festooned with Post-it notes. So what’s a home cook to do?

I’m here to offer two solutions – one that may be right for the highly organized person, and one for everyone else. Here’s what I do: Because I frequently cook from recipes that I’ve found in the New York Times, I organize recipes in the Times cooking app. But I also keep a master spreadsheet with an alphabetical list of every recipe I’ve recently cooked, as well as a second file with a list of recipes I’d like to make. Ideally, I’d have a note listing the source of every recipe (a website link, or the page number of a cookbook or magazine) so I can easily find it again. But even a detail-oriented home cook like me finds that system hard to maintain. Clearly, it won’t work for everyone.

The second solution is a “radical suggestion” that I’m borrowing from Christopher Kimball, from a recent episode of his Milk Street Radio podcast. Kimball’s surprising advice was to try cooking without using recipes at all. Instead, he suggests that you try cooking differently, by mastering a small number of basic dishes that you can vary endlessly. “You’re going to discover that you don’t need recipes as much as you think you do. It’ll make life easier,” Kimball said.

When you cook without recipes, or use them only as a rough guide, you gain confidence in the kitchen, by trusting your own experience rather than following step-by-step instructions. This technique might not work as well for baking, or when you’re making dishes that require a specific ratio of ingredients to turn out properly. But often, you can cook just as well using your instincts and your tastebuds. And that way, you can rely on cookbooks and food blogs not for directions, but for inspiration. And perhaps even more importantly, you can allow yourself time to savor the life stories that didn’t need to be fixed in the first place.

How do you organize recipes in your own collection? Leave a comment and let me know!

What I Ate: Mushroom risotto, adapted from The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt

Organize recipes like this mushroom risotto from Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab

Why a Dish Invented in Finland Has Become Everyone’s Favorite Dinner

You might not have heard of uunifetapasta, but you’ve surely seen pictures of it. This pasta casserole with a block of feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic, created by a Finnish food blogger and known by the hashtag #fetapasta, now has over 600 million views on TikTok. And its viral popularity has created a ripple effect in the food world, with empty feta shelves in some grocery stores and tens of thousands of videos with variations on the dish – some of them gone horrifyingly wrong.

The pasta recipe is easy to make, which is one of the ingredients that may have helped the dish go viral. You simply take a block of feta, cover it with olive oil, and surround it with cherry tomatoes and, if you like, some garlic cloves. Season it with salt, pepper, and chiles, and bake it in the oven for 25 minutes. Then cook some pasta and mix it with the cheese and some basil leaves. The result is a creamy, pinkish sauce in a casserole that seems appropriately comforting for the dark days of a pandemic winter. And it’s visually arresting too, which is surely another factor in the recipe’s popularity. “The visual just draws you in — the top-down shot of this big brick of oven-melted cheese and colorful tomatoes,” brand consultant Zach Weiss told Vogue.

But not all versions of the dish have turned out as well, and not just because it can be difficult to find great-tasting tomatoes at this time of the year. Some cooks have tried using low-quality canned tomatoes, or have gone with low-fat feta, which won’t create the creaminess that makes the dish appealing. And the Wall Street Journal reported that others have attempted some weird substitutions, like using boursin instead of feta, or strawberries instead of tomatoes. One woman said that people who watched her TikTok video of the fruit-and-pasta concoction “threatened to report her to unspecified authorities for a crime against cooking.”

Meanwhile, a Michigan food blogger, Yumna Jawad, who helped popularize the recipe in the U.S. and whose TikTok for the recipe has over 10 million views, told the Journal that many people have contacted her complaining that their versions of the dish didn’t turn out well. She says that using Roma or beefsteak tomatoes won’t create enough juice, and that crumbled feta won’t melt properly.

But in some places, as feta sales have skyrocketed, that may be the only option. Harris Teeter said that demand for feta was up 200 percent at its stores, according to the New York Times. And at the height of the dish’s viral popularity, Fresh Market, a chain of grocery stores in the Midwest and Southeast, was said to have temporarily run out of blocks of the cheese. One TV journalist in Charlotte reported that local supermarkets Food Lion and Trader Joe’s were also out of feta.

While I haven’t noticed any TikTok-related feta shortages in Seattle, I haven’t yet added uunifetapasta to my cooking routine. Perhaps I’ll wait until fresh, local tomatoes are available during the summer. Or maybe I’d just rather use my time in the kitchen to prepare something a little more complicated, like the ricotta pasta with zucchini I cooked last week. But it could be that I’m just not someone who needs to follow what’s trending on the Internet. Before I decide to make uunifetapasta, I think I’ll wait until this viral moment has reached its Finnish.

Have you made #fetapasta? Add a comment and let me know how it turned out!

What I Ate: Pasta with zucchini, ricotta, and basil

Uunifetapasta may be trendy, but I prefer pasta with zucchini, ricotta, and basil

Why You Need to Give Brussels Sprouts Another Chance

I can’t think of a vegetable more people grew up hating than the lowly brussels sprout. They would usually go straight from the freezer into a pot of boiling water, from which they emerged in a grayish, overcooked clump without any distinct flavor except one. Bitterness. The brussels sprouts of the 1970s and 1980s weren’t typically prepared well, and they didn’t taste good.

Fortunately, many adults today have learned how to properly cook and season vegetables, and there are more options for fresh produce than many people had access to in decades past. But there’s an even more important reason that brussels sprouts aren’t as horrible as they used to be – the actual sprouts themselves are much less bitter, and much, much tastier.

What happened? In the 1990s, a Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn, who was working at the company Novartis (which at the time included a seed division) was able to isolate the chemical compounds that made brussels sprouts taste bitter. Dutch seed companies then cross-bred old varieties of sprouts that had low levels of those chemicals with modern high-yield varieties. After several attempts in test plots, they discovered some crops that weren’t as bitter. Eventually, this resulted in varieties of brussels sprouts that became significantly more popular.

When you start with a less bitter vegetable, it’s much easier to cook it in ways that bring out its pleasing qualities. One technique that works wonders is to halve the sprouts, toss them with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then, pop them into the oven to roast at a high temperature, which makes their leaves brown and crispy. (Cooking them in an air fryer would also work well.) To add a touch of sweetness, toss the roasted sprouts with balsamic vinegar and either honey or maple syrup.

The result is a well-seasoned, flavorful vegetable that, even with the salt, oil, and sugar, is still relatively good for you and will disappear from your dinner table like candy on the day after Halloween. But if you want to make sure that there won’t be any leftovers, there’s one easy way to make your brussels sprouts taste even better – just add bacon.  

What I Ate: Roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic and honey

Brussels sprouts are much tastier than they used to be, thanks to science