Christmas in my family has always been something of a big deal. Even with us kids in our mid to late (ahem) twenties, we still all gather around the tree in our pajamas on Christmas morn to share gifts and empty our stockings. The warmth of my parent's home welcomes us as we travel in from different ends of the state to share the season with each other.
On Christmas Day, extended family and friends arrive to partake in a feast with their own dishes to add to the table. Recently, my dad and I have decided to get a little crafty with the menu, and the meals have turned out, if I do say so myself, simply amazing. And the best part? Nothing came from a box or a can.
In a repeat performance of last year's Christmas dinner, we served a Bourbon and Molasses glazed ham. This glaze alone is enough to get mouths watering, but caramelized onto the ham is just short of heaven. The glaze would be good drizzled over an old Birkenstock, that's just how delicious it is.
Oh, yeah, that ham was good. Not wanting to complicate things too much, the next dish was a menagerie of vegetables, tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted in the oven until the veggies were soft and the balsamic had caramelized. It is such a simple recipe that produces an outstanding result. We combined zucchini, acorn squash, carrots, pearl onions, bell pepper, asparagus, and even a couple of hot peppers into a giant orange bowl and got to work. For anyone wanting to give this a shot for their next dinner party, I advise you to eliminate the hot peppers from the recipe. They permeate the entire dish, and give it unnecessary heat. Unless you're into that sort of thing.
While the veggies were in the oven, my dear sweet mum and sister were busy preparing another holiday favorite: Deviled Eggs. Bless her heart, but this is the only thing my sister knows how to cook. Using our grandmother's secret recipe, she and my mother boiled, shelled, halved, mixed, and filled the eggs that would soon quickly disappear from the egg plate.
And once the egg-prep station had moved off the table, it was time to make the dough for my Angel Biscuits. If you remember, I made these for Thanksgiving dinner as well, and they were a big hit.
Three batches of biscuits were reduced to a half dozen by the time dinner was over. Served with freshly home made pomegranate jam, these light, airy biscuits were perfect with the rest of the meal. And who doesn't want to load up on carbs on Christmas?
This Christmas dinner was fantastic. The best part truly was spending the day in the kitchen with my wife, sister, mom and dad while we put this feast together. The food was amazing, but the company made it perfect. I hope everyone was able to spend this Christmas and holiday season enjoying delicious food with the people that you love. I wish you all a very, very happy new year. Enjoy!
Pictured are me, my lil' sister, and my dad. My mother is off somewhere fussing about the dinnerware. Mrs. Rosewater is behind the camera, as always.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I'm a Damn Yankee, born and bred, and worse than that, a Californian. I make no apologies for these things; the Left Coast is my home and it probably always will be. Even so, I will take any excuse I can get to head to the South and see how gentile folk live. It is always a chance to see new places, meet great people, and eat amazing food.
So when Mrs. Rosewater and I were invited to take part in my bff's college graduation festivities in Charleston, South Carolina, we didn't waste much time booking our flights and reserving our room at Chez Gump. I'd never been to Charleston, and knew very little about the actual city. Turns out we were about to be impressed. Before we ever got on a plane, we were promised a Lowcountry Boil after the graduation ceremony, so I knew it was going to be a good weekend. But first I had to figure out what a Lowcountry Boil was.
Charleston is an amazing city with a story that dates back to before the beginning of our nation. It is quite simply history we do not have out here on the Pacific. It is where the Civil War began, where early refugees escaping religious persecution sought sanctuary, and owns it's own very unique culinary history. One of the many regional delights to come out of the hundreds of years of South Carolina history is the Lowcountry Boil. A tradition started as a way to feed a large group of people quickly and easily, the boil is quite literally a huge pot of sausage, vegetables, potatoes, and seafood (usually shrimp) seasoned, boiled, and dumped onto a long table covered in newspaper.
The word you are looking for is "yummy". Once the boil was dumped out onto the table, we piled our plates high and tucked in. This is real finger food.
Our gracious hosts treated us to this fantastic meal, coupled with some beer from America's oldest brewery and some grilled linguica to snack on as the party wore into the wee hours.
The boil was a great introduction to South Carolinan cuisine, and a perfect way to celebrate a great friend's special day. (That and the beer. We may have put away a couple of pints of that as well.) The day after the party, it was time to do some sightseeing, at least as much as we could pack into one day. We drove out to Sullivan's Island, a touristy beach community and home to Fort Moultrie, notable mainly because it is where Edgar Allan Poe was once stationed during his stint in the military. (Notable for that reason to me. Probably notable to others for various reasons, some of which may include the Civil War.)
Nearby, some enterprising restraunteur is cashing in on the name of Fort Moultrie's famous literary resident at Poe's Tavern. Situated in a converted beach house, the casual restaurant is a big draw for tourists during the summer. They serve a pretty simple menu, burgers and sandwiches and the like, but with some tasty little twists that make it much better than your average burger joint. We had a great lunch out on the covered wood porch before heading back into downtown Charleston for a walking tour of the city.
One last thing we discovered while in Charleston: Our friends introduced us to Firefly, a locally made firewater (vodka) infused with the flavor of sweet tea. If you are looking for something new and fun to serve at your next party, this should be it.
This trip was a blast, thanks to some of the best friends anyone could ask for. So to Eric, Amy, and Bryson, thanks for everything. We can't wait to come back.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I've been away for a while, taking a short respite from blogging to work on some other writing projects. It is also nice to occasionally enjoy cooking and eating without having to document every moment of it. I am sorry if any of you missed me.
But today, also known as "Black Friday", is all about Thanksgiving Day, quite possibly the biggest food day of the year. (At least in the number of calories consumed.) This year, Mrs. Rosewater and I hit the road and traveled to Eureka to visit her side of the family for a Thanksgiving Day feast. With the family gathered at Grandma's house, a team of us converged on the spacious kitchen to prepare the carb-charged delights that are a staple of Thanksgiving.
Each of us grabbed a station, slicing and dicing and mixing, sauteing and baking the enormous volume of foods that will certainly last into the new year. My hope was to make as many dishes as possible from scratch, and minus the roast and the dressing, we succeeded. Oh, did I forget to mention that tryptophan was not on the menu? Yes, we opted to stay away from the cumbersome and difficult bird of the season and went with a smaller, and easier to cook, roast from Harris Ranch. A few words about Harris Ranch: Harris is the large plot of foul-smelling land stocked wall to wall with cattle and their mountains of cow-pies situated on Interstate 5 about an hour south of Fresno. If you have ever driven past it, you know what I am talking about. I typically avoid products from Harris Ranch, as their cattle rearing practices are dubious at best. However, this not being my kitchen, it was not my place to put my politics in front of family.
The Dressing, (Stuffing not cooked within the cavity of a large bird) started with the basic Stove Top stuffing mix, was mixed with sauteed chicken apple sausage, onion, apple, water chestnuts, celery, carrot, ground turkey and chicken stock. We peeled, sliced, boiled and mashed some organic Yukon Gold potatoes, mixed of course with butter and buttermilk. Yeah, super-healthy.
I brought my recipe for garlic & almond green beans to share with everyone, along with a fantastic recipe I found for Angel Biscuits. These biscuits, a favorite in the South, were light and airy and went perfectly with the rest of the meal. They are incredibly easy, making a very strong argument against buying the dry, tasteless pre-made tubes of frozen biscuits.
It was a great evening of food and family. We all had fun working in the kitchen together, creating a fantastic meal for everyone to enjoy. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with whatever delights you prepared and whoever you spent it with. Right now, left over dressing and biscuits are calling my name. Enjoy!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I'm lumping the third and fourth weeks of this Eat Local month because quite frankly I don't have enough to talk about. Whether it is just a lack of motivation over the stretch, or just an inability to make this eating local thing to happen in a practical way, the food entering our bodies has been just shy of "local". Ok, way shy.
I don't want to embark on a long diatribe about how tough the Eat Local Challenge was this year, or how much or how little effort I ended up putting into it. I did what I could, and managed to come out ok, Challenge wise. I certainly earned a new level of respect for those who are diligent and creative enough to source each of their meals from local producers. I didn't believe it would be as difficult as I found it to find locally produced foods for each meal, or even a majority of meals, for each day.
We did manage to end the month on a high note. Thanks to fellow foodie Stacey Snacks, we put together this delicious Autumn Pasta with Butternut Squash & Italian Sausage. I borrowed this recipe from Stacey, and I am sure glad I did. Thanks, Stacey! Here is the recipe, as I found it. All of the ingredients, save the pasta, were locally produced and purchased either at Andronico's Market or were already in my kitchen. Here we go.
Autumn Pasta With Italian Sausage and Butternut Squash
1 Butternut Squash, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Italian Sausages, casings removed
2 Cloves of Garlic, Chopped
3 tbsp of chopped, fresh Sage
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup white wine
8 oz. penne pasta (about 1/2 box)
Coat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil. Cook the butternut squash on high, not moving around too much, until edges begin to caramelize, about 5 min. Remove from pan. Now, add your sausage, and break it up in the pan. After that has browned, about 5 mins, add garlic, sage, and white wine and simmer for 3 minutes or until liquid is evaporated.
Add chicken stock and butternut squash and simmer for 10 minutes, until squash is tender. While the squash is simmering, boil your pasta in salted water and drain. Add squash to pasta and serve. For a nice finish, add some shredded Parmesan cheese over the top.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Ok, so here is where we are at so far: Lunch during the work week is still a struggle. When you only have two eateries nearby your office, one that serves up reliably good sandwiches and chicken teriyaki, and the other who's cleaning regimen is rather suspect, you are not left with many choices. Subway? No thanks.
This week did afford us a beautiful day to visit the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market, where we gathered some great local produce like organic fingerling potatoes and some late season Early Girl tomatoes courtesy of Dirty Girl Farms. We even found some amazing white cheddar cheese from the people at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Lunch on those off days is pretty simple: A good baguette from Acme Bread, those incomparable Early Girls, and maybe some buffalo mozzarella Cowgirl Creamery.
The search for local food gets a little harder when you step into your grocery store. We managed pretty well on our last visit to Andronico's in the Sunset, walking out with Strauss Family Creamery non-fat milk, chicken breasts from Petaluma Poultry, and California-grown green beans. With a few other ingredients purchased at the Rainbow Coop earlier in the week, we fixed up a Tiny Kitchen favorite that has yet to make it onto this blog, until now. (I can't give away all of my secrets, at least not all at once, right?)
Rosemary-Garlic Chicken with Sauteed Almond & Garlic Green Beans
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 head of garlic
1 Lb. organic green beans, washed with stems removed
2 handfuls of sliced almonds
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped fine
3 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Pinch of dried Red Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, crush two garlic cloves using a garlic press. Mix 2 Tbs. of olive oil and chopped rosemary with the garlic. Add chicken breasts, pushing them around the bowl until they are covered with the olive oil mixture. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
After the chicken has marinated, heat a skillet on medium-high heat and pre-heat the oven to 375 deg. Add the chicken to the skillet to sear. After a couple of minutes, flip the chicken breasts to sear the other side. Pour in the wine to loosen up the yummy bits stuck to the pan. Once the breasts are browned on both sides, remove from heat and move to a oven-safe dish lined with foil. If there are still bits of rosemary-garlicky goodness stuck to the pan, add a little more wine to loosen them, allowing time for the alcohol to burn off. Pour remaining juices over chicken, cover with foil, and put in the oven for about 30 - 40 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, peel about 6 - 8 cloves of garlic. Using a vegetable peeler, cut thin slices of garlic so they resemble the almond slices. When the chicken is about 5 minutes from being done, heat about 1 Tbs. of olive oil in a wide skillet, and add red pepper flakes. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced almonds and sliced garlic. Stirring constantly with kitchen tongs, cook almonds and garlic until they start to brown.
Add the green beans. Stir the beans into the almonds and garlic so they are coated with oil and are sizzling. The almonds and garlic should still be browning, but not burning. After about 2 - 3 minutes of stirring steadily, remove from heat. The beans should be cooked, bright green, and not burnt at all.
Empty the skillet onto a plate covered with a paper towel to help soak up left over oil. Serve up the beans making sure to get plenty of the sauteed almonds and garlic into the mix.
These green beans have been one of our favorites for a while now, and the chicken was nice addition to an already great dish. Even better, it is a quick and easy dish for those of you out there without a lot of time left in your day for cooking.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
If you are a resident of California, then you have probably heard amongst all of the election-day hype that there is a measure on the November 4th ballot that calls for the ethical treatment of our farm animals. Proposition 2 effectively demands that all farm animals are given enough space to move around and stretch their limbs/wings, instead of being confined to small cages, sometimes a half dozen at a time.
The language of the ballot initiative is pretty basic, and it is a wonder that this hasn't been a standard in California for a long time. Essentially, it states that animals must be given room to move around and stretch their limbs for most if not all of the day. The massive corporate interests opposing the measure state that except for a few isolated incidents, farms adhere to the regulations set forth by their industry in regards to the confinement of their animals. Another argument against Prop. 2 is that it will drive most animal farmers, and in particular egg farmers, out of California because it will increase the cost of caring for the animals and cut into their profit.
Yes, Prop. 2 will increase the cost of caring for the animals, because farmers will have to invest in larger cages to give the animals more room. And yes, Prop. 2 will probably cut into their profit margins because they will not be able to keep as many animals confined in one space, and will therefore lose production. But prop. 2 isn't making farmers let their animals sleep in the farmhouse with them or frolic in the sunshine all day; all it does it allow these animals the freedom to move around in their cages.
Prop. 2 by no means intends to put farmers out of business or take food off of anyones table. It is a small step to changing those "industry regulations" that the farms adhere to that allow them to confine chickens 4 or 5 to a cage or pigs to a tiny wire enclosure. So to take that small step, to tell the massive industrial farming complex that we're paying attention now and we don't like what we see, vote YES on Proposition 2. And if you won't do it for me, do it for this little guy:
I know. Heartstrings. Being. Tugged. It came as a huge shock to yours truly that our esteemed news outlet, the San Francisco Chronicle, endorses a NO vote on Prop. 2. C'mon guys, really? To help everyone realize what is actually at stake here, please watch this report from ABC 7 aired on Monday, October 13th. It is hard to watch, as it should be, and demonstrates rather harshly why this bill needs to pass.
Thanks for voting!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Friday night, the Litquake festival brought us to the newly rebuild California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park to sit in on a conversation with Raj Patel, food activist and author of "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle For The World Food System". Patel was in conversation with Molly Watson, a contributing editor to Sunset Magazine and local foods editor for about.com.
The event could not have been held in a better place; the design of the new Cal. Academy is not only green, but was built using revolutionary sustainable technology and know how, a centerpiece of ecologically friendly building. The conversation focused on Patel's findings as he has researched the dire state of the global food system, and what should be done to fix it for his book, Stuffed and Starved.
According to Patel, one of the biggest culprits in the global food crisis are the mega grocery chains such as Safeway, Costco, and of course WalMart. To wit: Farmers grow and bring their produce to market in order to earn a living selling their goods at stores both locally and around the country. When those stores are so large as to be able to dictate what price a farmer is paid for his goods on the open market, like WalMart, they force those farmers to cut those prices so low that they are barely able to scrape by. The price, it seems, is based not on the value of the product or the labor involved in producing it, but on a farmer's ability to produce large volumes of goods quickly, cheaply, and year round. This in turn demands that the farmer find ways to cheaply produce his goods in order to stay competitive and have any shot at making a living. (As a side note, WalMart, the worlds largest grocer, owns the worlds second largest computer used to process the vast mountains of information that flows in from around the world. The first largest computer? It belongs to the Pentagon.)
The biggest question many of us had for Patel was "What can we do?". It is not as though we all can live on farming communes in an idyllic existence where food grows in harmony with nature and is planted, grown, harvested and enjoyed by everyone equally. While such an egalitarian existence might sound perfect to some, it is not exactly practical for the rest of us. Patel suggests that while most of us make our statement with our pocket books, this tactic will not be enough. Joining food activism groups and letter writing campaigns to policy makers, according to Patel, will be the most effective way to institute change in the way our country deals with the global food system. Here, at least I slightly disagree, however naively, with Patel. While voting by how and where we shop, we may not affect political policy, but will certainly affect what ends up on the shelves of our stores. If enough of us refuse to buy feedlot beef or asparagus from Chile, those massive grocery chains will no longer make a profit on it and remove it from their stock orders.
But the point, I suppose, should be not to stop those grocery chains from selling unsustainable food, but to take the power away from these chains all together, and put it back into the hands of the farmers and the consumers who want real, wholesome food on their table.
Patel is brilliant, and the conversation with Molly Watson got my outrage boiling again about the state of the global food system and what should be done to turn it around. More important than Patel's book, his research or his ongoing work is continuing the dialogue about creating a sustainable food system that is better for the environment, for the farmers who produce the food, and ultimately for all of us who find the food on our plates.
Raj Patel's book "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle For The World Food System" is available from Amazon.com.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the magnanimous, bodacious, and omnivorous people at Foodbuzz have officially launched their Publisher Community. It has been nothing but sheer delight to work with these folks over the last few months to help build Foodbuzz into the premier foodie blogging community on the Web. I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with this community, and if you still haven't checked us out, well here is your big chance. Read on for the official press release.
Contact: Allison Costello
LAUNCH OF GLOBAL FOODBUZZ BLOGGER COMMUNITY
LEVERAGES REAL-PEOPLE, REAL-TIME POWER OF FOOD PUBLISHING
San Francisco – October 13, 2008: Foodbuzz, Inc., officially inaugurates its food blogger community with more than 1,000 blog partners, a global food blogging event and an online platform that captures the real-people, real-time power of food publishing in every corner of the world. At launch, the Foodbuzz community ranks as one of the top-10 Internet destinations for food and dining (Quantcast), with bloggers based in 45 countries and 863 cities serving up daily food content.
“Food bloggers are at the forefront of reality publishing and the dramatic growth of new media has redefined how food enthusiasts access tasty content,” said Doug Collister, Executive Vice President of Foodbuzz, Inc. “Food bloggers are the new breed of local food experts and at any minute of the day, Foodbuzz is there to help capture the immediacy of their hands-on experiences, be it a memorable restaurant meal, a trip to the farmers market, or a special home-cooked meal.”
Foodbuzz is the only online community with content created exclusively by food bloggers and rated by foodies. The site offers more than 20,000 pieces of new food and dining content weekly, including recipes, photos, blog posts, videos and restaurant reviews. Members decide the “tastiness” of each piece of content by voting and “buzz” the most popular posts to the top of the daily menu of submissions. Foodbuzz currently logs over 13 million monthly page views and over three million monthly unique visitors.
“Our goal is to be the number-one online source of quality food and dining content by promoting the talent, enthusiasm and knowledge of food bloggers around the globe,” said Ben Dehan, founder and CEO of Foodbuzz, Inc.
The Foodbuzz blogger community is growing at a rate of 40 percent per month driven by strong growth in existing partner blogs and the addition of over 100 new blogs per month. “The Foodbuzz.com Web site is like the stock of a great soup. The Web site provides the base or backbone for bloggers to interact as a community, contribute content, and have that content buzzed by their peers,” said Mr. Dehan.
Global Blogging Event
Demonstrating the talent and scope of the Foodbuzz community, 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs offered online food enthusiasts an international, virtual street festival of food and diversity. The new feature showcased blog posts from 24 Foodbuzz partner bloggers chronicling events occurring around the globe during a 24 hour period and included:
· Mid-Autumn Festival Banquest (New York, NY)
· The "Found on Foodbuzz" 24-Item Tasting Menu (San Francisco, CA)
· Aussie BBQ Bonanza – Celebrating Diversity (Sydney, Australia)
· The Four Corners of Carolina BBQ Road Trip (Charleston, SC)
· Criminal Tastes – An Illegal Supper (Crested Butte, CO)
· From Matambre to Empanadas: An Argentine Dinner (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
· A Sweet Trompe l’oeil (Seattle, WA)
“24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs” captures the quality and unique local perspective of our food bloggers and shared it with the world,” said Ryan Stern, Director of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community. “It illustrates exactly what the future of food publishing is all about – real food, experienced by real people, shared real-time.”
About Foodbuzz, Inc.
Based in San Francisco, Foodbuzz, Inc., launched its beta Web site, foodbuzz.com, in 2007. In less than a year, Fooduzz.com and its community of over 1,000 exclusive partner food blogs have grown into an extended online property that reaches more than three million users.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
For this, the first week of the Eat Local Challenge, we're not doing bad so far. But I have to admit, after the first few days of trying to dine on mostly local fare, well, it's harder than I thought. First off, there are those days that you can't help but not eat locally because you have to go to a friends birthday party or a benefit dinner. But hey, that is what those exceptions are for, right?
The hardest part for me has been lunch during the week, hanging in that gulf between breakfast and dinner. Without taking steps to bring the raw materials for lunch from home, I am faced with two choices: Bring a frozen meal or eat at one of the less than exceptional (and less than local) eateries near work to stave off hunger until dinner comes around. In addition to tasting better than the food sold nearby, the vegetarian meals we keep frozen in the Tiny Kitchen can actually be considered local. Produced by Amy's Kitchen of Santa Rosa, the company states on their website that over fifty percent of their vegetables are grown within 200 miles of their facility.
And what do you do on those nights when you don't get home until 8:00 and have no time to cook an actual dinner? Well, there are always leftovers, provided you had anything left over, or you can turn once again to those handy pre-made meals. (I know, for someone who loves to cook, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot going on in the kitchen, but don't worry, I'm getting there.) The handy ready made meals we have been foraging on recently were all made locally, however I cannot vouch for their ingredients. Two of our staples are tamales from Primavera of Agua Caliente, California and papusas from Casa Sanchez in San Francisco. These delights can be found at local gourmet markets such as Rainbow Coop and Andronico's.
Dinner, on those nights where cooking is actually an option, has been an adventure. Finding locally grown produce has yet to be difficult this fall, and so in keeping with needing options for workday lunch I wanted to make something that would provide plenty of leftovers. The frittata, or "man quiche", is a mix of potatoes, tasty veggies, sausage and egg cooked into a delicious, gigantic savory pie. Here goes nothin'.
Tiny Kitchen Frittata
4 Chicken Apple Sausages, sliced into rounds (Aidell's Sausage Co.)
2 Large or 3 small bell peppers, chopped
2 Large red potatoes, chopped into large chunks
1 Red onion, chopped into chunks
1 Poblano pepper, chopped
8 - 10 large organic eggs (Rock Island Eggs, Sonoma County)
1/2 Tbs. fresh Rosemary, chopped fine
1 Tbs. Olive oil (Bariani Olive Oil)
2 - 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt & pepper to taste
(Vegetables were purchased at Rainbow Coop)
Mix 1/2 Tbs. olive oil with the potatoes and rosemary and set aside. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large, high walled, flat bottomed skillet, add the potatoes and cook for a few minutes until aromatic. Add the sausage and the rest of the vegetables and stir. Cook the mixture until it begins to brown.
Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl, and add to the mixture. As the egg filters through the vegetables, move them around gently with a spatula to allow the egg to cover the mix as completely as possible. Remove from the stove and place in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the top of the frittata is browned and the egg is fully cooked.
The varieties and generous portions of vegetables can be adjusted as you see fit; it's one of the great things about this dish. I may have been a little over zealous with the amount of veggies in this preparation, but it was yummy none the less. If you do use fewer vegetables, adjust the amount of egg accordingly. It's also an easy way to get rid of those extra veggies or eggs that are about to expire sitting in your refrigerator. This frittata will keep you stocked in leftovers for several days, making a great lunch for work or a quick no hassle dinner.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
This week is Banned Books Week, and in the spirit of controversial words and rallying against censorship, I accepted an invitation from the Haphazard Gourmet Girls to pair a banned book and a recipe that would (hopefully) reflect a theme of said book.
One of my all-time favorite books, and one commonly banned or challenged, is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. For those out there who were born without the gift of sight or maybe never learned to read, Fahrenheit 451 is a story of a not-so-distant future when electronic media entertains the brain-washed masses and books of all kinds have been made illegal. (Starting to sound eerily familiar?) In this dystopian existence, firemen are tasked not with the duty of saving lives and property by extinguishing fires, but instead searching out the owners of illicit literature, confiscating it, and setting it ablaze, "for the good of humanity".
The novel's lead character, Montag, is a fireman who's world is flipped on it's head when on a routine book-burning mission his curiosity awakens and he decides to save one of the books for himself. This curiosity, and Montag's realization that people have been turned into zombies by not being able to think for themselves and enjoy literature, causes his whole world to quickly unravel. He soon finds himself on the run, fighting to save what he once used to destroy.
I won't ruin the whole story for both people out there that have yet to read this classic. The irony of banning a book about censorship should not be lost on anyone out there, especially when information is being thrown at us from all directions via electronic media, and books (in their traditional form, at least) are being carried out with the tide. If anything, this book should serve as a warning that our voracious appetite for instant-gratification entertainment and byte-size information could quickly take the place of education and intellect; a warning even more relevant now than in 1953 when the book was published.
So in honor of our need for curiosity, imagination, and the comfort of a good book, I decided to set fire to my kitchen. Ok, not really, but I did prepare a dish that made use of one major element of the novel: Fire. I don't know if my handy brulee torch burns at 451 degrees, but it certainly did the trick. So without further ado, I give you my Burnt Books Brulee, inspired by Fahrenheit 451 and the great Ray Bradbury. Better stand back, there's a crazy man with a hand torch in the kitchen.
Burnt Books Brulee
1 Cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
6 to 8 Teaspoons fine granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 300 deg. F. Put cream in a saucepan and stir over medium heat, just to the point of boiling. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until blended. Into this, add the hot cream a little bit at a time, stirring constantly to temper the eggs so they don't scramble. Place 4 ramekins in a hot water bath and fill them evenly with the mixture. Bake for about 35 minutes. The custards should be mostly set, but the centers should still jiggle slightly. Remove the hot water bath from the oven and let cool until the ramekins are cool enough to handle. Remove ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours or up to 2 days.
Before serving, sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the fine granulated sugar on the surface of each custard and torch until caramelized.
Note: No books were harmed during the preparation of this dish. I promise.
"...the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They're about nonexistent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction. And if they're nonfiction, it's worse..." -Beatty to Montag, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Monday, September 29, 2008
It is time once again for the Eat Local Challenge, a full month of devoting oneself to sourcing local ingredients for your culinary creations, discovering eateries that share the same passion you do for local and sustainable food, and of course for developing relationships with the food you put on your table and the people who produce it.
One could certainly argue that this devotion to eating locally produced foods should not be limited to a month long challenge, and should be incorporated into our daily lives as much as reasonably possible. But any forward motion in the right direction is a good thing, and if this month of eating locally inspires one more person to pay attention, then the challenge is a success. This month gives us all a opportunity to open a conversation about our food, where it comes from, and how it is produced.
For more info on the Eat Local Challenge 2008, visit their website here. For more info on eating local, sustainable foods, check out these sites:
100 Mile Diet
Eat Local SF
My Eat Local Challenge Pledge:
1: For me, local is Northern & Central California. I live in San Francisco but grew up in the Central Valley, and still consider it home. (Sometimes.) Plus, the Central Valley is the richest agricultural valley in the world, and I will gladly support those hard working farmers who labor each day to keep it that way.
2: Exemptions - Coffee. Although not local, I will continue to purchase coffee grown in sustainable conditions, by farmers who are paid a fair wage and given the working conditions they deserve. Spices, also, should I not be able to find a local source.
3: My goal for this challenge is to up the ante from last year, and discover new ways to make sure my food dollars stay local. It should be mentioned that no body is perfect, and while I will do my best to eat local in my home and at restaurants when I can,there will be times when it just won't be feasible. I won't insult anyone who is sharing their food with me by hoisting on them my own agenda or declining their meal because it may not be locally produced. I truly hope to challenge myself to find new ways of sourcing local food, and start thinking like a true Locavore. Most importantly, I hope to help spread the word about the values of eating locally through conversations with friends and strangers, and of course this here blog.
So, if I have enticed any of you to take the plunge and start eating locally, if even for a month, a week, a day, whatever, then I have done my job. I hope you all will join me. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Alright, enough lagging already. I haven't been writing recently quite honestly due to a vicious bout of the lazies. I haven't really even been cooking. I know, shame, shame. What with a long drive home after a crappy day at crappy work, I just haven't felt like turning on the stove. Even though I have been quiet, there has been plenty happening in the world of food, especially if you have been paying attention to great sites like The Haphazard Gourmet Girls. There is the milk recall in China, and of course the 2008 Global Food Safety and Quality Conference, strangely enough also in China, where the heads of our esteemed food quality agencies are working hard to ensure tainted meat can still be shipped around the world.
But I digress. I recently posted how terrified I was of making risotto, as I tend to turn it into a form of aromatic industrial paste. With some gentle prodding from my lovely wife, I decided to try it again, and with very little help from the missus. Risotto is, in theory at least, pretty simple; in practice not so much. It really does have everything to do with adding just the right amount of liquid at the right time, and not over doing it. So, anyway, here we go.
Spinach & Asparagus Risotto
2 cups Arborio rice
1 - 2 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 qts. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, warmed in a separate pot
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Lb.(ish) spinach leaves, washed
1 Bundle of asparagus
Handful of Parmesan cheese
Chop the asparagus into 1 inch lengths. Set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan, and add rice. Stir to coat rice in butter as it cooks and turns slightly translucent. Add some olive oil or butter if it appears too dry. Once the rice is coated and turned slightly translucent, add the pieces of asparagus. Stir rice and asparagus for a few minutes until the asparagus begins to brown. Add the white wine and wait for it to be absorbed. Once absorbed, begin to add the stock 1 - 2 ladles at a time.
As the rice absorbs the liquid, watch it carefully. Add more liquid, 1 ladle at a time as it is absorbed. Taste the risotto periodically to check its consistency. Once it is just al dente, add the spinach leaves. Stir the spinach leaves into the risotto as they reduce. Once the spinach is incorporated, remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
For a quick side, slice up a few early girl tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. If you are feeling frisky, add a few pieces of Orange & Wild Fennel Salame from Boccalone for a meaty contrast.
And, guess what? The risotto was a success! I didn't screw it up! One small step for man...
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Anyone who has opened a newspaper or read a food blog recently knows that the majority of the beef we buy comes from industrial feed lots, or CAFO's, that cram thousands of head of cattle into tiny metal sheds and stuff them full of a hearty blend of corn silage, animal tallow, and of course delicious antibiotics. While this completely undigestible blend of chemicals and genetically-enhanced grain has been a standard in the industrial cattle industry for decades, the rising price of food, and by food I mean corn, has been skyrocketing, and these industrial feed lots have had to get creative in finding cheap and fattening commodities to replace the now too expensive corn.
So to all of you I present a report filed by the Wall Street Journal Online on August 27th, 2008, about what CAFOs are doing to inexpensively fill the void left by the corn they are no longer able to afford. Apparently, not only is it easier and cheaper to feed our kids junk food, but our feedlot cattle as well. Please enjoy.
Video-Farmers feeding cattle potato chips, M&M's
In the spirit of fairness, this report only interviewed one industrial feed lot owner, so it might be possible that this is an isolated case. But...Let's be realistic. It seems as though these feedlots are intent on feeding their cattle with ANYTHING except the grasses they were born to eat. Oh, but don't worry. They still get to snack on all of those tasty antibiotics. Thank goodness those are still so cheap.
Thanks are owed to the good people at We Like It Raw, where we first stumbled upon this story.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
By mid-day on Saturday, the sun was beginning to poke through the bay fog, Slow Food Rocks was in full swing, and I was back on assignment for Foodbuzz, reporting back on another fantastic taste workshop. This time around, instead of sipping amazing coffees from around the world, I would be sampling several selections of prosciutto paired with hard apple ciders from around the country. Yep, it's a rough life.
The ciders, arranged in four wine glasses at each seat in front of our first selection of cured meat, varied in origins from Oregon to Massachusetts, and were a perfect and startling pairing with the prosciutto. The idea behind this workshop was to bring together these two unique items and demonstrate how well the flavors played off of each other. Apparently, this is not a typical matchup, and certainly not one I would have ever discovered on my own. But the flavors went together very naturally, with the acidity and sweetness of the ciders contrasting and highlighting the rich saltiness of the prosciutto.
The four varieties of prosciutto each came out in succession as the owner of La Quercia and the producer of these fine artisan meats, Herb Eckhouse, described what pig the meat came from, how it was raised, what it was fed, and ultimately how it spent it's life. La Quercia, based in Iowa, sources pigs from around the midwest that are humanely raised in either pasture or large covered areas where they are given the freedom to move around. Like all of the participants at Slow Food Nation, La Quercia uses only natural ingredients in their curing process; and very few of them at that. Salt, maybe a little spice, and of course pork. All of the pigs they source are fed on organic grain, corn and soybeans.
Each prosciutto had it's own distinct flavor, and each was light years beyond anything you will buy in a supermarket. Instead of being over-salted and dry, these freshly cut meats were rich and, well, meaty. Strangely enough, they actually tasted like animal they came from, something that should not be such a big shock but never the less was. Everyone in the room seemed to agree that the third selection of La Quercia's offerings was the best: Sweet, not too chewy or dry, just the right amount of salt, and the perfect flavor of rich, cured meat. It was a 10 month old variety, sold under the La Quercia Green Label.
The ciders, while not a highlight for me over the amazing varieties of prosciutto, did pair nicely with the meats. Each had it's own distinct flavor; some more acidic and dry and others bright and sweet. I will admit something here and tell you all that I did not realize that these were going to be hard ciders, and so was expecting something along the lines of a real, regional artisanal apple cider. The alcohol diminished some of the taste in the ciders for me, especially when being paired with the rich flavors of the prosciutto. It was not enough though to take away completely from the pairing, and overall I really enjoyed tasting both the artisanal meats and the hand crafted ciders.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Saturday, with Slow Food Nation waking up along the San Francisco waterfront, I was on assignment for the good people at Foodbuzz. I had two workshops to cover that day, so I hit Fort Mason armed with a voice recorder, digital camera, and a clean palate. My first stop was the Presidum Coffee Cupping Workshop, which promised to tease my tastebuds with amazing coffees from exotic locations brewed with scientific attention to detail.
As the speakers discussed the process of "coffee cupping", a method of tasting coffee similar to wine tasting, we were introduced to two distinct coffees from the regions of Sierra Cafetalera in Dominican Republic and Huehuetenango in Guatemala. Farmers from these two regions each took a moment to tell their story, talk about their coffee and their farms, and the struggles they have faced getting their coffee produced and put on the market. Through Slow Food and the Italian government, these coffee farmers have received help developing their farms in ways that guarantee social and environmental sustainability and highest quality taste in their final product.
These Presidiums were developed to help these small, rural communities not only improve their standard of living, but strengthen the production process, promote the products, and establish sustainable coffee cultivation. These small farms were chosen by the presidiums for the high quality of coffee beans they grow at altitudes above 1500 feet. The essential key to the partnership between Slow Food and these small family farms is developing sustainable farming practices that not only help ensure the ongoing health of the land, but the higher quality of life for these poor rural farmers.
The coffee these farmers produce is spectacular; the difference between this coffee and the brown water you purchase at your corner Starbucks is like night and day. It is full of robust, interesting flavors that taste nothing like your average morning coffee. These coffees were light, slightly acidic, tasting of chocolate and citrus fruits.
While I always try to purchase sustainably grown, "Fair Trade" coffees, what I will take away from this workshop is to look harder to find those high quality coffees grown by small, family farms and cooperatives that will help develop these communities and promote sustainable farming. So next time you brew a pot or stop by your neighborhood coffee house, think about where that cup came from: who picked the beans, who washed and dried them, bagged them and loaded them into a truck to travel thousands of miles to end up in your hands. And don't forget to enjoy your coffee.