04/03/2015 archive

What’s Cooking: Dilled Salmon Tartare

Republished from November 29, 2014.

Although we served this at Thanksgiving, because of its ingredients, it also makes a perfect appetizer for Spring and Easter.

Every Thanksgiving, my daughter includes a new recipe to the menu. This year it was an appetizer, Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grained Bread from Bon Appetit. It was quite a hit. She served it with an oaky Chardonnay and a salad of spring greens with an herb vinaigrette that mirrored the herbs used to marinate the salmon.  She found the whole grained bread slices already toasted at Trader Joe’s. The recipe serves 6 but is easily doubled.

Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grain Bread photo 236498_zpsb6954c74.jpg

Dilled Salmon Tartare on Whole Grain Bread


   1/4 cup honey mustard

   1/4 cup mayonnaise

   1 (1-pound) piece frozen salmon fillet, thawed, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

   1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

   1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

   2 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped

   2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

   2 tablespoons minced shallot

   2 teaspoons olive oil

   3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

   1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

   3 5x3x1/4-inch slices whole grain bread


Mix mustard and mayonnaise in small bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Mix salmon and next 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Spread 1 tablespoon mustard mixture on 1 side of each bread slice. Cut each bread slice into 6 pieces. Divide salmon tartare mixture among bread slices. Transfer to platter and serve.

What’s Cooking: Sweet Potato Mash

Republished from April 24, 2011 for obvious timely reasons.

I love sweet potatoes and not just at Thanksgiving. I like them baked, boiled and mashed and dipped in tempura batter and fried. They are great in breads and baked desserts. They are very nutritional, an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of potassium and vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, copper, pantothetic acid and folic acid. Sweet potatoes are native to Central America, grown in the Southern US states since the 16th century and are in the same family of plants as Morning Glories. The plant is a trailing vine with a large tuberous root.

Sweet Potatoes are often confused with yams which are native to Africa and relate to lilies and grasses. Even though they are both flowering plants, botanically they are different.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, my daughter decided to ditch the “traditional” candied version topped with marshmallow that would put a normal person into a diabetic coma and went “surfing” for something different. The recipe she found now makes it to our table more often than once a year. It is still sweet but not overwhelming. It’s great served as a side with pork or ham, as well as turkey. Nummy as a midnight snack with a little whipped cream, too.

Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash


   4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes

   1/2 cup whipping cream

   6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter

   1/4 cup pure maple syrup

   2 tablespoons bourbon

   1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

   1 teaspoon ground allspice

   3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

   1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°F. Roast potatoes on rimmed baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh into large bowl; discard skins. Mash hot potatoes until coarse puree forms.

Heat cream and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir hot cream mixture into hot potatoes. Stir in syrup, bourbon, and all spices. Season with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD: Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm in microwave. Sprinkle nuts over and serve.

What’s Cooking: Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms

Republished from April 27, 2011

In case you still have a few slices of that ham left and are truly sick of ham sandwiches, don’t let it go to waste. Here’s an easy recipe that can make use of those last few slices.

Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Mushrooms


* 1/3 oz. dried porcini mushrooms or 6oz. fresh button mushrooms

* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, if using fresh mushrooms, plus 6 tbsp.

* 12 oz Rigatoni

* 1/3 cup all purpose flour

* 2 1/2 cups of milk (low fat is fine)

* pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

* salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* 4 oz of Fontina or Swiss cheese, cut into julienne strips

* 6 oz ham, roughly chopped


If using porcini, place in a bowl with lukewarm water ans soap until softened about 30 minutes. Drain. squeeze out excess water and chop finely; set aside. . If using fresh mushrooms, cut off and discard the stems, wipe clean with a towel and thinly slice. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté fir 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

 In a large pot bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook for about 6 minutes; they should be very al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a bowl. Ass 2 1/2 tbsp of the butter and toss well.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. In a sauce pan melt 2 1/2 tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stirring constantly, gradually add the milk. Continue to stir until it thickens and is smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, ass the porcini or fresh mushrooms, sprinkle with the nutmeg and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grease an 8 by 12 inch oven proof dish with the remaining butter. Arrange 1/3 of the rigatoni in the dish. Sprinkle one third of the cheese and ham over the top and spoon on one third of the sauce. Repeat the layers in the same order two more times, ending with sauce.

Place in the oven and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve at once.

Serves 6

My daughter says to increase the sauce by half for a creamier dish

What’s Cooking: Ham Bone

Republished from April 25, 2011

The holiday is over, besides the candy, you most likely have a refrigerator full of leftovers and one of them may be a ham bone. Don’t throw it out just yet, there is still another use for it, soup. Served with a salad and a hearty bread, these soups make a hearty, nutritional meal meal that is also budget conscious. Accompanied by a good beer, this is real comfort food on a chilly Spring evening.

One soup recipe that uses a ham bone has been served in the US Senate for over 100 years. The current version does not include potatoes but I like tradition in this case. I also would add a cheese clothe sachet of bay leaf, parsley, peppercorn and thyme for flavor. I also use chicken broth in place of the water. You can play with your own seasoning to taste.

United States Senate Bean Soup

1 lb. dry navy beans

1 ham bone with meat

Soak beans overnight in 3 quarts water. Drain. In a large soup pot put ham bone and beans. Add 2 quarts cold water and simmer for 2 hours. Add:

4 cups mashed potatoes, minimum (more makes soup thicker)

3 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic buds, minced

2 stalks celery, chopped

4 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

1 tsp. salt (optional)

1/4 tsp. pepper

Simmer all for 1 hour more.

And then there is the real traditional that has been around forever. There are numerous versions of this recipe, this one uses ham hocks but the left over ham bone can be substituted.

Split Pea Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons


  2 meaty ham hocks (1 3/4 lb total)

   16 cups water

   4 large carrots

   1 large onion, chopped

   2 celery ribs, chopped

   5 tablespoons olive oil

   1 lb dried split peas (2 1/4 cups), picked over and rinsed

   1 teaspoon table salt

   1/4 teaspoon black pepper

   5 cups 1/2-inch cubes pumpernickel bread (from a 1 1/4-lb loaf)

   1 teaspoon kosher salt

   1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)


Simmer ham hocks in 16 cups water in a deep 6-quart pot, uncovered, until meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Transfer ham hocks to a cutting board and measure broth: If it measures more than 12 cups, continue boiling until reduced; if less, add enough water to total 12 cups. When hocks are cool enough to handle, discard skin and cut meat into 1/4-inch pieces (reserve bones).

Chop 2 carrots and cook along with onion and celery in 2 tablespoons oil in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add split peas, table salt, pepper, ham hock broth, and reserved bones and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peas are falling apart and soup is slightly thickened, about 1 1/2 hours.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

While soup simmers, toss bread with remaining 3 tablespoons oil and kosher salt in a large bowl, then spread in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool croutons in pan on a rack.

Halve remaining 2 carrots lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove bones from soup with a slotted spoon and discard. Add carrots and ham pieces to soup and simmer, uncovered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, stirring, until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.

Serve soup with croutons.

Cooks’ notes:

· Croutons can be made 3 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

· Soup is best when made, without frozen peas, 1 day ahead (to give flavors time to develop). Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Reheat and, if necessary, thin with water. Stir in frozen peas while reheating.

What’s Cooking: Baked Ham

Republished from Mar 29, 2013

Easter Ham photo 20HAM_SPAN-articleLarge_zps59ec90b5.jpg

Ham is salty. Whether its smoked or just fully cooked ham is salty. Since many people are trying to reduce the daily intake of salt, this is away to have your ham for Easter and eat your fill. I use chef Julia Child’s method to reduce the salt by boiling the ham first.

  • Remove all wrappings from the ham and wash it under cold water.
  • Place ham in a pot large enough to hold it and the boiling ingredients.

Add to the pot

  • 2 onions, pealed and quartered;
  • 2 carrots, cut in large chunks;
  • 12 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 12 peppercorns, 3 cloves tied in cheesecloth to make a sachet d’épices.
  • Pour in one 750 ml. bottle of dry white wine and one quart of cold water.

Bring it to a boil skimming away any impurities off the top. Simmer 20 min per pound. Ham is done when internal temperature reaches 140ºF

Once cooked, removed from pot and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before pealing away the skin, leaving the fat. With the tip of a very sharp knife, score the fat creating a diamond pattern. Keep warm by tenting with foil and a thick towel.

Pre-heat the oven to 450ºF

I don’t decorate the ham with anything, but I have used this recipe to glaze the ham while it bakes.


  • 1 cup of bourbon
  • 1 cup of cola, preferable Kosher Coke (no high fructose corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme tied in cheesecloth to make a sachet d’épices

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan, simmering gently to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the liquid until thick and syrupy and liquid coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Place the ham fat side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour and brush the glaze over the ham. Place in the oven on the lower rack; roast 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. If using glaze, brush on more after first 10 minutes of cooking.  When done, remove from oven, tent with foil and a thick towel. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing.

You will be amazed at how tender and tasty this ham will be and nowhere near as salty.

Passover Desserts

Passover begins on Friday evening. Like all Jewish holidays it’s focus is on community, family and food, especially the food. I was born Jewish and raised in an ecumenical household that celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays. I never kept a kosher home, although my first and current mothers-in-law did.

My favorite part of most meals is dessert. I’ve been the desert lady since I started a catering company some years back as a hobby. Here are some recipes for Passover deserts that I recently found and I’m trying this year.

Chocolate Caramel Macarons

Chocolate Caramel Macarons photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQk4mvSAVJHrPbzMijJ6_zpsc660d142.jpg

Instead of the typical buttercream or ganache filling, there’s a crunchy caramel candy layer in between the cocoa layers. These are fudgy little confections more like candy than cookies. They also happen to be both gluten-free and can be kosher for Passover, if you use kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar.

Matzo Toffee With Candied Ginger

Matzo Toffee With Candied Ginger photo 09APPE1_SPAN-articleLarge_zpsb6ca2f26.jpg

Traditional matzo toffee – a Passover-friendly spin on saltine toffee – is an addictive three-layer confection of crackers, brown sugar toffee and melted chocolate. In this version, the chocolate gets a spicy boost from the addition of both fresh ginger juice and chewy candied ginger.

Hazelnut Citrus Torte

Hazelnut Citrus Torte photo 09APPE2-articleLarge_zps3094b755.jpg

A touch of quinoa flour gives this hazelnut torte an underlying smokiness that makes it more complex than most. It also makes it both gluten-free and kosher for Passover.

Double Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream & Raspberries

Double Chocolate Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream & Raspberries photo z9oMgKrr9OxT3WAtDIF2ZjenCwNhwxDPs6g.jpg

Created by a hotel chef in the 1920s in honor of the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova during one of her tours to Australia or New Zealand, a pavlova is a cake-shaped meringue with a soft and marshmallowy center and crisp outer shell, usually topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

In this gorgeous chocolate version, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate are folded into the meringue – which makes it deliciously fudgy – and mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese) is added to the whipped topping. It’s a wonderfully light, gluten-free dessert.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: A Promising Nuclear Deal With Iran

The preliminary agreement between Iran and the major powers is a significant achievement that makes it more likely Iran will never be a nuclear threat. President Obama said it would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” [..]

By opening a dialogue between Iran and America, the negotiations have begun to ease more than 30 years of enmity. Over the long run, an agreement could make the Middle East safer and offer a path for Iran, the leading Shiite country, to rejoin the international community.

The deal, if signed and carried out, would vindicate the political risks taken by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and President Obama to engage after decades of estrangement starting from the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Paul Krugman: Power and Paychecks

On Wednesday, McDonald’s – which has been facing demonstrations denouncing its low wages – announced that it would give workers a raise. The pay increase won’t, in itself, be a very big deal: the new wage floor is just $1 above the local minimum wage, and even that policy only applies to outlets McDonald’s owns directly, not the many outlets owned by people who bought franchises. But it’s at least possible that this latest announcement, like Walmart’s much bigger pay-raise announcement a couple of months ago, is a harbinger of an important change in U.S. labor relations.

Maybe it’s not that hard to give American workers a raise, after all.

Most people would surely agree that stagnant wages, and more broadly the shrinking number of jobs that can support middle-class status, are big problems for this country. But the general attitude to the decline in good jobs is fatalistic. Isn’t it just supply and demand? Haven’t labor-saving technology and global competition made it impossible to pay decent wages to workers unless they have a lot of education?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: What Everyone Should Know About the Student Debt Crisis (in 4 Charts)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings, who co-chair an initiative called the Middle Class Prosperity Project, are holding a forum this afternoon (Thursday, April 2) at the University of Massachusetts in Boston on “Tackling the Student Debt Crisis” (more info here).

If the word “crisis” seems dramatic to you, you haven’t been paying attention. The Federal Reserve recently released new data on student debt, and it shows that the situation is even worse than many people realized. There’s a lot of new information available, but here are four things every American needs to know:

1. Student debt is soaring in this country.

2. The debt burden is disproportionately falling on younger Americans.

3. An alarming number of student loans are delinquent.

4. Student debt is ruining credit scores — and keeping young people out of the consumer economy.

Excessive consumer debt is another economic problem, of course. But these figures are an indication that student debt is keeping young Americans from forming households and purchasing homes, from buying cars, and presumably from other types of purchases as well.

If large numbers of young people are prevented from fully participating in the consumer economy — if they’re not able to buy things — that doesn’t just harm them personally. It hurts the entire economy — which means it affects almost everyone.

Robert Reich: The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich

Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”

In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes sixty or more hours a week — yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others.

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them.

The rise of these two groups — the working poor and non-working rich — is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded.

Why are these two groups growing?

Jared Bernstein: March Jobs Report: First Impressions

Payrolls rose only 126,000 last month in a surprisingly downbeat reading on the state of the labor market. Unemployment remained unchanged at 5.5%, but the closely watched labor force rate fell a tenth in another sign of weakness.

Contributing to the disappointing report, job gains for the prior two months were marked down by a total of 69,000. Thus, the average monthly gain over the first quarter of the year fell slightly below 200,000, as shown below.

Average weekly hours ticked down slighty as well in March, the first such decline in over a year. [..]

Has the job market really downshifted, or is this month a temporary blip? While there’s evidence for both sides of that argument, I’d give more weight to the 260K bars in the above figure than the lower first bar. The underlying trend, both for overall GDP growth and for job gains has been steady and moderate, productivity certainly hasn’t accelerated (which would suggest employers could meet demands with fewer workers), and the unemployment rate has generally fallen for good reasons — more jobseekers finding work — than for bad ones — more jobseekers giving up the search and leaving the labor market.

Jason W. Murphy: Big oil is pressuring scientists not to link fracking to earthquakes in Oklahoma

For some time now, scientists have wondered whether fracking-related activities, such as wastewater injection, might be the source of increased seismic activity in Oklahoma. In May of last year, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, an affiliate entity of the University of Oklahoma, released a statement in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey, saying that wastewater injection was a “likely contributing factor the increase in earthquakes”.

Not long after this statement, David Boren, president of the university, summoned the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s lead seismologist Austin Holland, who was also one of the authors of the statement, to a meeting with Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas exploration and production companies. Boren facilitated the meeting despite the fact that he also serves as a member of the Continental Resources board of directors.

In July 2014, Continental Resources released a presentation

positing an alternative theory for the seismic swarms and downplaying the influence of induced seismicity. One can only imagine the pressure this meeting must have brought upon Holland and his team of scientists.

That’s why state policy makers like myself are concerned that industry pressure conveyed through the highest levels of academia could compromise the deliberative and fact-based response by which state officials are attempting to put an end to the seismic swarms.

The Breakfast Club (The Times They Are Changin)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

This Day in History

Martin Luther King Jr. gives speech before assasination; Bruno Richard Hauptmann electrocuted for kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son; President Harry Truman signs Marshall plan; Jesse James shot to death; Pony Express begins service; Marlon Brando is born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

Bob Dylan

On This Day In History April 3

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 3 is the 93rd day of the year (94th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 272 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1948, President Harry S.Truman signs Foreign Assistance Act.

President Harry S. Truman signs off on legislation establishing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, more popularly known as the Marshall Plan. The act eventually provided over $12 billion of assistance to aid in the economic recovery of Western Europe.

In the first years following the end of World War II, the economies of the various nations of Western Europe limped along. Unemployment was high, money was scarce, and homelessness and starvation were not unknown in the war-ravaged countries. U.S. policymakers considered the situation fraught with danger. In the developing Cold War era, some felt that economic privation in Western Europe made for a fertile breeding ground for communist propaganda.

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was the large-scale economic program, 1947-1951, of the United States for rebuilding and creating a stronger economic foundation for the countries of Europe. The initiative was named after Secretary of State George Marshall and was largely the creation of State Department officials, especially William L. Clayton and George F. Kennan. Marshall spoke of urgent need to help the European recovery in his address at Harvard University in June 1947.

The reconstruction plan, developed at a meeting of the participating European states, was established on June 5, 1947. It offered the same aid to the Soviet Union and its allies, but they did not accept it. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948. During that period some US $13 billion in economic and technical assistance were given to help the recovery of the European countries that had joined in the Organization for European Economic Co-operation. This $13 billion was in the context of a U.S. GDP of $258 billion in 1948, and was on top of $12 billion in American aid to Europe between the end of the war and the start of the Plan that is counted separately from the Marshall Plan.

The ERP addressed each of the obstacles to postwar recovery. The plan looked to the future, and did not focus on the destruction caused by the war. Much more important were efforts to modernize European industrial and business practices using high-efficiency American models, reduce artificial trade barriers, and instill a sense of hope and self-reliance.

By 1952 as the funding ended, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels; for all Marshall Plan recipients, output in 1951 was 35% higher than in 1938.[8] Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity, but economists are not sure what proportion was due directly to the ERP, what proportion indirectly, and how much would have happened without it. The Marshall Plan was one of the first elements of European integration, as it erased trade barriers and set up institutions to coordinate the economy on a continental level-that is, it stimulated the total political reconstruction of western Europe.

Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee concludes the Marshall Plan was a “great success”:

   “It gave a new impetus to reconstruction in Western Europe and made a decisive contribution to the renewal of the transport system, the modernization of industrial and agricultural equipment, the resumption of normal production, the raising of productivity, and the facilitating of intra-European trade.”

George Catlett Marshall (December 31, 1880 – October 16, 1959) was an American military leader, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, and the third Secretary of Defense. Once noted as the “organizer of victory” by Winston Churchill for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II, Marshall served as the United States Army Chief of Staff during the war and as the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Secretary of State, his name was given to the Marshall Plan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Great Moments in US Foreign Policy

The Great Game in Afghanistan: The US Is Losing Out

By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch

Wednesday, 01 April 2015 00:00

Call it an irony, if you will, but as the Obama administration struggles to slow down or halt its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is performing a withdrawal operation of his own. He seems to be in the process of trying to sideline the country’s major patron of the last 13 years — and as happened in Iraq after the American invasion and occupation there, Chinese resource companies are again picking up the pieces.

In the new foreign policy that Ghani recently outlined, the United States finds itself consigned to the third of the five circles of importance.  The first circle contains neighboring countries, including China with its common border with Afghanistan, and the second is restricted to the countries of the Islamic world.

In the new politics of Afghanistan under Ghani, as the chances for peace talks between his government and the unbeaten Taliban brighten, the Obama administration finds itself gradually but unmistakably being reduced to the status of bystander. Meanwhile, credit for those potential peace talks goes to the Chinese leadership, which has received a Taliban delegation in Beijing twice in recent months, and to Ghani, who has dulled the hostility of the rabidly anti-Indian Taliban by reversing the pro-India, anti-Pakistan policies of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

As an official of the World Bank for 11 years, Ghani had dealt with the Chinese government frequently. This time, he left Beijing with a pledge of 2 billion yuan ($327 million) in economic aid for Afghanistan through 2017.

The upbeat statements of the two presidents need to be seen against the backdrop of the twenty-first-century Great Game in the region in which, after 13 years of American war, Chinese corporations are the ones setting records in signing up large investment deals. In 2007, the Metallurgical Corporation of China and Jiangxi Copper Corporation, a consortium, won a $4.4 billion contract to mine copper at Aynak, 24 miles southeast of Kabul. Four years later, China National Petroleum Corporation in a joint venture with a local company, Watan Oil & Gas, secured the right to develop three oil blocks in northwestern Afghanistan with a plan to invest $400 million.

In stark contrast, 70 U.S. companies had invested a mere $75 million by 2012, according to the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. What Washington policymakers find galling is that China has not contributed a single yuan to pacify insurgency-ridden Afghanistan or participated in the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in that country, and yet its corporations continue to benefit from the security provided by the presence of American soldiers.

Former Blackwater gets rich as Afghan drug production hits record high

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Tuesday 31 March 2015 17.13 BST

In a war full of failures, the US counternarcotics mission in Afghanistan stands out: opiate production has climbed steadily over recent years to reach record-high levels last year.

Yet there is a clear winner in the anti-drug effort – not the Afghan people, but the infamous mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater.

Statistics released on Tuesday reveal that the rebranded private security firm, known since 2011 as Academi, reaped over half a billion dollars from the futile Defense Department push to eradicate Afghan narcotics, some 32% of the $1.8bn in contracting money the Pentagon has devoted to the job since 2002.

The company is by far the biggest beneficiary of counternarcotics largesse in Afghanistan. Its closest competition, the defense giant Northrop Grumman, claimed $250m.

According to the US inspector general for Afghanistan “reconstruction”, the $569m Academi got from US taxpayers paid for “training, equipment, and logistical support” to Afghan forces conducting counternarcotics, such as “the Afghan National Interdiction Unit, the Ministry of Interior, and the Afghan Border Police”.

Far from eradicating the deep-rooted opiate trade, US counternarcotics efforts have proven useless, according to a series of recent official inquiries. Other aspects of the billions that the US has poured into Afghanistan over the last 13 years of war have even contributed to the opium boom.

Academi and its former Blackwater incarnation have an infamous history in Afghanistan. It once set up shell companies to disguise its business practices, according to a Senate report, so that its contracts would be unimpeded by company employees’ killings of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

Load more