Monday, September 29, 2008

Eat Local Challenge 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
Local Harvest
Food Routes

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

Spinach & Asparagus Risotto

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

What the %*^& is going on?

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

Assignment Slow Food Nation: The Apple In The Pig's Mouth Taste Workshop

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

Assignment Slow Food Nation: Presidium Coffee Cupping Taste Workshop

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.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

One of my favorite types of food in this great big world is Cajun food, yet living so far away from the heart of Cajun country, it is hard to find a reliably good and authentic taste of this cuisine. I will readily admit since I grew up in California, I am not a genuine authority on all things Cajun, so take this review with that in mind. I have, however, spent some time in the Crescent City, and even enjoyed a few traditional, home cooked meals while there. So it is with the memories of my visit to that city and the amazing food that I enjoyed there that I have sought out a place right here in my own back yard to once again experience those unique flavors.

So when the missus and I stumbled upon a small Cajun restaurant deep in the Sunset district, we knew we may have found something special. Cajun Pacific, a restaurant space no larger than our small city apartment, is shrouded in the fog of the Sunset at 47th Avenue on Irving. As they operate mainly as a catering company, Cajun Pacific is open only on weekends, and not necessarily every weekend of the month. The limited days they are open and the very limited seating, (the dining rooms seats about 20 people) are just a couple of the reasons this hidden gem draws such a loyal following. The main reason, of course, is the food, prepared and served with care by a staff of three. The menu changes weekly, so to find out what's for dinner and make your reservations, sign up to be on their mailing list from their website.

On the night we went, our party of three was seated at a small table next to the open kitchen, which is a relative statement considering the front door is only about fifteen feet from the kitchen proper. From the menu, we ordered the fried blue cheese soft shell crabs with bourbon brown butter, crab stuffed strudel with herbsaint cream, and pork tenderloin medallions with allspice oil to start.

(Please forgive the quality of these pictures... the restaurant is quite dark, and we only had an iphone to snap the pics. You make due with what you have, right?) Our starters were amazing, each with a perfect balance of spice and flavor. My starter, the fried soft shell crab, left me wanting more. But we had our entrees coming. Around the table, we ordered the creole crawfish and pasta, the chicken ala king on herb biscuits, and the New Orleans barbecue shrimp.

The flavors in our respective entrees were fantastic. The missus really enjoyed her chicken ala king, and I for one could have kept shoveling more of the crawfish pasta into my maw if not for my pesky stomach getting so full. Mrs. Rosewater's father, our third diner, kept raving about his shrimp. Even though we had stuffed ourselves to the bursting point with fried crab, crawfish, shrimp, etc, we all dug deep and made room for dessert: A bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

Each of us agreed that this bread pudding was the highlight of the meal. The bread had a crunchy, toasted exterior and a soft, sweet interior, and the whole thing was drowned in a sweet and tangy whiskey sauce that was far too good for words. It was one of the best desserts that I have experienced in some time, and would even consider making the trip back to this restaurant for nothing else but another service of this bread pudding.

This tiny little restaurant tucked deep in the Sunset of San Francisco is very quaint and unassuming; indeed you probably wouldn't notice it if you didn't already know it was there. The service is a little slow, but is surely worth the wait. It is a very intimate setting, so be prepared to get cozy with the people at the tables next to you. The staff is very friendly, especially Stacy, the co-owner and sole waitress of the restaurant. I strongly recommend getting reservations, especially for any party larger than two people, as the restaurant fills up fast and they rarely have room for walk-ins. Lastly, if you have been aching for true cajun flavors right here in our fair city, I see no reason to look any further than Cajun Pacific. This place is as close as you are going to get to New Orleans cuisine without actually going there. Bon appetit!