Thursday, June 26, 2008

Greens Gratin

Maybe the early bounty of spring greens is starting to fade, but you can find some of the last collards, or even the first of the chard. If that fails, you probably have a few greens hiding in your fridge now. Where? How about the tops of your beets and turnips?

This is a secret two-fer when you are at the market, or those early summer root vegetables make an appearance in your CSA bag. Use them!

Greens Gratin
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm Worth a Million in Prizes

I recently got a hold of some old books I had when I was a child. The volumes are two hard backs, one of Grimm's fairy tales. Now, this is not your Disney version of Cinderella. This is the real version where the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to try and fit into the slippers. And worse. Which probably explains a lot about me since I was around eight years old at the time I was reading all this.

My favorite story in the collection, however, didn't involve any self-mutilation. The story is called "The Fisherman and His Wife." In the tale, a a poor fisherman, living in a hovel near the sea, captures an enchanted flounder, and when the fish talks to him, he lets it go.

His wife sends him back to ask the fish for a favor in return. She asks for a cottage the first time. The fish grants the wish. But it's not enough. She then asks for a castle, to be king, then to be emperor, then to be Pope. Each time, she gets more material wealth, glory, and power. Each time it is not enough. Finally, she tells her husband to ask the fish for her to be Lord of the Universe.

When the fisherman returns home, he finds his wife living back in the hovel by the sea.

I think about this tale sometimes. Once, as I was with my child at the farmers market. After a morning of talking with the farmers, gathering beautiful foods, we sat and listened to music in the community square. Next to us were other families with kids. We parents watched the children play together, dancing and laughing. The woman next to me offers me fresh bread from a loaf she just bought as our kids talk. We are a village, we are sharing, and we have everything that matters most near us; healthy children, gifts of food, music, cool breeze, warm sun. And I am wealthy beyond words in this.

The next day, we go to visit a park and petting zoo we love. It turns out to be a festival day there. There is music, a family with six kids and both parents all playing music and singing. It reminds me a bit of the songs in "O Brother Where Art Thou." We sit and listen, my child is tired, head in my lap. Turns out the family is friends of someone we know. We all talk and laugh and spend the time. It's peaceful. There is nothing more we need in this moment. Here, again, I know am truly rich in this life.

No, there aren't talking magic flounders, but there is definitely much truth to that fairy tale. Of course, with no merchandising opportunities, I am betting Disney will never remake it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perfection, Summer Peaches

We're into the second week of local peaches. There are few finer and more affordable pleasures than a single, perfectly ripe summer peach. You will not get this flavor from a peach that has been picked early and shipped. You will only get this tree-ripened and fresh, just on the verge of soft, the fuzzy skin yielding just barely to the touch. That is your pick. Eat it soon. Use a napkin, and make that incredibly rude, but understandable schhhhlllllerrrrrrrppppp as you bite into it. Ah.

I do not cook Iron Chef. That is, perhaps, a level of complexity that I will never attain as a cook. And there are moments where I absolutely don't care. Where it is nearly a crime to even think of preparing an ingredient with anything more than a rinse under water. Understanding this is a good place to be as an eater. And a lot less stressful as a cook.

Perfect Peach Summer Side
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

(cross-posted at Eat Local Challenge).

We had a lovely surprise in our CSA bag, amidst all the latest news of Salmonella outbreaks: ripe, round, red tomatoes. Ones we can eat without worry. As hundreds get sick from this latest food safety issue, I am pondering things like food supply chain — over a tomato salad.

First (Thanks, Rachel!), has a good overview of how tomatoes can end up contaminated with what has traditionally been a meat-related bacteria. Note that the photos shows green tomatoes. These are not green zebra heirlooms. Tomatoes are picked green, then ripened with gas enroute to the store so that they survive shipping. They look good. They have no flavor. And, now, they can make you sick in some instances.

WebMD also has an interesting visual guide to the latest outbreak, what is Salmonella, and "tomato safety."

Perhaps the most interesting story on the subject, however, was on NPR today. The interview by Melissa Block with David Acheson who heads up the Food and Drug Administration food safety division. In the interivew, Acheson explains how difficult it is to track the source of the outbreak with the current food supply chain and distribution process. He mentions in the interview that the FDA may never be able to find the actual source.

Well, I think, if I get sick from a tomato, it's a whole different situation. I've just got one phone call to make directly to the farmer who grew it. And that's nice to know.

For consumers who are looking to farmers markets for tomatoes this season, be sure to only buy from a reputable farmer who actually grows the produce he is selling. Many vendors at farmers markets, if not regulated, sell wholesale produce that is the same stuff that ends up on the grocery store shelves, inclusive of the risks and convoluted path to arrive there.

If you can find homegrown, or locally-grown tomatoes. This salad, with caramelized onions, green beans and tomatoes, is a perfect summer meal. Here's the recipe.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bacon, Bacon

I've been cooking a lot with bacon. One more for the strange bacon recipes I seem to keep finding (or getting sent). Hmm. What other surprising things can you do with bacon — keeping it in the kitchen, dressed and legal? The Google search is immense. Here are some intriguing dishes:

Candied Bacon Ice Cream.
Pecan Brown Sugar and Bacon Ice Cream
Maple Bacon Cupcakes
Bacon Vodka
Bacon Caramel
Parmesan-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon
Bacon-Salt Popcorn
Apple and Bacon Pancakes
Pizza with Winter Squash and Bacon
Bacon Brittle and Gummy Bacon (yuck, gotta keep the crisp, man).
Bacon Brownies
Bacon S'mores

World Refugee Day

It's World Refugee Day. You can help by placing this facebook application on your profile.

If you want to read more, here is a good story about just a handful of refugee camp survivors who are making a new start.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Whole Hog: Zucchini Bacon Fritters

I used the rest of our local, natural bacon, sauteing the last three slices with turnip and beet greens. I liked the bacon-wrapped asparagus pretty well, though it could use some kind of sweet-tangy sauce to complete the dish. The thick-cut bacon is tough to wrap, but well worth the effort.

My favorite recipe from this pound of bacon was a fritter I threw together using the first of the summer squash in the CSA bag. Zucchini is like the vegetable version of kudzu vine, you can't eat them faster than they grow. The one in last week's pickup was of the size and shape to inspire rude comments, and a bit of fear. Looks like I will be making some more Chocolate-Zucchini Bread with Pistacios.

The fritters are another great way to use up a much smaller zucchini.

Zucchini-Bacon Fritters
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This is the bacon that makes me understand why people love bacon. It's so good, I am thinking I will gift wrap a pound of it for a friend's birthday. Now, not everyone can appreciate a raw slab of bacon for a gift, but this friend will. Especially if I include a few salmonella-free homegrown tomatoes for a BLT.

Friday, June 13, 2008

More on Bacon, Other Posts

Bring Home the Bacon (Lollipop)
Recently, I was contemplating the taste that is natural pork (Pork Chops Taste Good, Bacon Tastes Good). In the post, I remarked about the Bacon chocolate bars by Vosges. So, if those are your thing, here's one even more out there — Maple Bacon Lollipops. The bacon used is even raised sustainably. Now, that sure beats the standard pop.

Bento Recipes and Tips
I also posted a bit about packing a Bento box lunch for my kiddo. For those Bento fans, here is a cool site with recipes for unique looking "box lunches." Recipes and tips included.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What Do South Koreans Know That We Don't?

Today an estimated 24 million Americans stopped off at McDonald's, even in the wake of Downergate and record beef recalls due to E. coli contamination.

On the exact same day, record numbers of South Koreans gathered in the largest protest in some 20 years over the lifting of a five-year ban on American beef imports to the country.

Do they know something Americans don't? Or just don't want to? I mean, where were the hordes of angry Americans over the downed cow scandal?

Oh yeah, in the drive-thru.

Got Real Milk? You've Got More Nutrition

I like milk. I like dairy in general. But, when we started buying milk from a local farm that has all grassfed cows, I rediscovered just how good milk can taste. It even tastes different with the seasons. My favorite? The lush grass from early summer seems to offer up the richest tasting milk.

Interestingly, this exact "summer milk," milk from grassfed cows, has now been proven to be significantly higher in beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than their conventional ‘high input’ counterparts. Further, the fatty acids in milk contain a higher ratio of "good" fatty acids like Omega-3 to less desirable fatty acids like Omega-6. Industrial-farmed milk has a more even ratio, which is not as beneficial.

I'm not sure why this study should be a surprise. It's just logical, isn't it? A healthy animal eating a healthy diet produces better milk.

And it tastes better.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pork Chops Taste Good, Bacon Tastes Good

Yep, I dig on swine. I don't love bacon plain, though. I'm not even sure that I love it enough to try it in a chocolate bar, either. But it offers a certain salty, smoky, and yes, fatty something to any dish you are preparing. Which, in moderation, is really fine. In fact, natural bacon, from pigs raised on a natural diet in the old school way offered up some Omega-3s in their fatty content.

Which, to me sounds a lot better than "healthy" bacon from a cloned transgenic pig carrying a worm gene. Seems kind of an extreme solution when all you have to do is feed the animal its real diet, huh? (shudder).

So, we got some real pork from a couple local farms. It tastes good. Which is to say, it has a taste. Grassfed meats are, well, meatier. Personally, I won't ever go back. I'll go vegetarian before I give up grassfed meats. It's that good.

I got about two pounds of collard greens from the farmers market. I've had to condition myself to try cooked greens again. My only history was overcooked greens served at the rest home where I worked in high school. In fact, the very first experience involved stringy greens, an old guy with no teeth, me, and the Heimlich maneuver. I won't expand on that.

But, you don't have to overcook your greens. Not even tough ones like collards. Just give them a quick blanch by steam (5 minutes) or boil for just a bit (2 minutes) then set aside in a colander to drain. Now, you can just saute them and have texture and flavor left. And bacon. Collards and bacon are like soul food mates. It just works.

Collard Greens and Bacon
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Recipe Carnival for June 9

Wow, 36 posts for the carnival this week, give or take some spam and off topics ones! Some of you I recognize from posts in the Farmers Market Fare weekly! Good to see both familiar and new sites in the list.

Ah, Summertime
Crockpots and Comfort Food
File These Away for Fall and Holiday Season

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kohlrabi, What to Do With Something New

Trust me, I've had my share of culinary misadventures. I've learned. One important lesson? If you are going to try somethings new, sometimes it's better to cook it yourself.

This rather odd vegetable is one of two new items I picked up at the farmers market. I like to buy the unique items because it supports farmers who are willing to grow these things.

Kohlrabi is not too challenging really. The name is a hybrid of German and German Swiss words that mean "cabbage" and "turnip." The flavor is right in that ballpark. Somewhere between radish and jicama would be another accurate description.

I racked my brain trying to figure out how to fix it. Funny thing, the answer is usually the same, look at the other items in season. I got a huge head of Savoy cabbage at the market as well, and red onion. Add a few carrots and dressing, and you get a tangy slaw.

I took a light hand on the mayo as well as the sugar. I didn't want to overpower the flavor.

Tangy Kohlrabi Slaw
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging: Dill

Dill, like coriander, is used as both an herb and a spice. The seeds are used as a spice, the dried leaves are referred to as dill weed, and herb, and of course, the best of these, fresh dill as an herb.

The best known use for dill, of course, is the pickle. But the other summer classic dish, potato salad would not be the same without a bit of dill. Okay, a lot of dill. I like a lighter approach to the dressing, myself. So, I cut the standard mayo in half, use a 2:1 ratio of mayo to vinegar and add a whole lot of herbs.

Classic Potato Salad
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tbs. chopped fresh chives
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. honey
1/2 tsp. pepper

2 lbs. red-skinned new potatoes (or you can use reds and Yukon gold both)
2 large spring onions, chopped with about 1-inch of green parts

Wash potatoes, skin on. Place in large pot of salted water. Boil until potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart. Drain and cool. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Mix dressing ingredients together. Add to the potatoes and the onions and toss gently. Let the flavor marry for a couple hours while the salad chills.

Just a serving suggestion, but if your spouse can grill up a slab or two of these, it goes well with the ribs. I don't have the recipe. I don't get to play with the grill much.

We said goodbye to the last of spring's spinach crop last week. I had quite a lot of it and needed to figure out a new way to prepare it, other than the dish we all love around here, spinach sauteed in butter and Parmesan. Funny how what's in season solves these issues. I had a ton of herbs ready, and spring onions. And spinach. Sounds like, yep, spanikopita.

I have not made this since before I got married. The reason is, we decided to prepare most of our own rehearsal dinner. (Don't do this, really.) Weeks ahead of the wedding, I spent hours with help, making little tiny appetizer triangles. So many, indeed, that the following recipe DOES NOT involve individual servings. I also added lemon and tons more herbs for a fresh take on the dish.

Herbed Spanikopita (Spinach and Cheese Pie)
2 lb. spinach
1 small bunch dill
1 small bunch parsley
zest of 1 lemon plus 1 tbs. juice
1 tsp. chopped mint
2 tbs. chopped chives
4 large scallions
2 eggs
8 oz. feta crumbled
8 sheets phyllo
1 tbs. olive oil plus more for brushing
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash and chop the spinach. Dry well in a salad spinner. Chop the scallions (spring onions) including some of the green parts, chop herbs. Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions and saute for a couple minutes. Add the spinach and toss with tongs until it just starts to all wilt. Take off the heat and place in a bowl. Do not include any liquid in the pan, and even squeeze any extra out of the spinach.

Mix the spinach with the herbs, lemon juice and zest, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Spray a baking sheet with pan coat. Lay a sheet of phyllo out (make sure the stuff is room temp, or it will fall apart on you). Brush with olive oil (or use olive oil spray to coat) Lay on another sheet of phyllo. Repeat with four more sheets.

Add the spinach mixture in the center of the phyllo. Fold the sides in, then roll tightly (like a big burrito) with the filling inside. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve in slices.

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this week by Maninas from Maninas: Food Matters.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bento Lunchbox Notes

Ah, school. No time off in the summer for preschoolers. So, we have school days all year. The Kiddo does her best to convince me otherwise. Daily, my morning greeting consists of, "Mommy, school is closed."

"Nice try, Kiddo," I say. "Not today." Though, I have to wonder if she would not be safer at home. I dropped her off this morning out where they all were playing. A small pack of boys were playing the preschool ad-hoc rule approach to football. This mainly means tossing the ball up, then five of them piling on top of whoever grabbed the ball. And fighting. Over and over. Tears. Boys.

I went around the corner, and nearly got run over by two more boys on trikes. They were pulling the trikes to the top of an incline. Hopping on, pedaling as fast as possible, then crashing into the side of the building at the bottom.

I am not too worried about the football game, or the trikes or the stone building. But, the frontal lobe damage could be tricky. Guess it's good that one boy was the owner's son — saves on law suits. Since none of the teachers did anything. I stepped in.

"Hey! You are going to bash your heads. Stop that." See, this parent-taking-charge thing makes the teachers step up. Sure, they hate you, but they step up. I'm used to pissing off the school.

At this point, I am sure of two things:
  1. It's time to have another chat with the management (oh joy).
  2. Damn, it's good to have a girl child.
I mentioned that I pack my kid's lunch every day after giving up in frustration on trying to change her school menu for the better. I also mentioned it's one of those cool Bento-style lunch boxes that is fair-wage, safe plastic, made in US things.

I actually want one myself, but the little boxes are not big enough to handle the ginormous amount of salad greens I pack these days in order to try and lose the extra pounds. My long weekend workouts are a thing of the past with a kid around. And I like food. A lot. Good thing I like salad, too.

You know, fresh, local salad greens are just Spring's way of saying, "Wow, those swimsuits are TINY this season. Uh, you? So. Not. Tiny."

But, I digress.

It's also come to light that said lunch box is a thing of wonder at school. That teachers from other rooms gather to see what the Kiddo brought (got stuck with) that day.

Today's lunch featured; cottage cheese, Cheese Tortellini with Sundried Tomato Pesto, Roasted Asparagus in Balsamic Vinaigrette, and pitted cherries.

When other moms ask me for advice on what to put in the lunch box, I was all stoked to create lunch box recipes. I tried this whole concept of cooking yet more in a week on top of dinners. What I figured out is that the same dinner leftovers I eat for lunch work just great for the Kiddo too. Adding extra cooking work to the workload is kind of setting myself up for failure. Over the course of the week, it does mean making a few extra dishes to make sure we all have lunch AND dinner food. But, it's a lot easier to just cook more of something than to cook more somethings.

Things like the tortellini dish taste great hot the first night, and work well cold the next day. Even lasagne tastes good cold. Many schools have microwaves now as well. But, if you are looking for lunch box-friendly dishes, this site definitely has them. Here's a few recommendations:
Red Cabbage Slaw (in season late spring, summer)
Apple-Cider Sauce (fall)
Red Grape, Blueberry and Almond Chicken Salad
Mac and Cheese with Ham and Broccoli

As far as food safety goes, you should look for the insulated lunch boxes that take an ice/cold pack to keep food chilled. The general rule on food safety (from culinary school text) is keeping food at 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F for LESS THAN four hours. I would lean toward the three-hour mark to be on the safe side. Items that require special care are meats, eggs, mayo, dairy.

If you are looking for creative Bento Lunch box ideas, here are some.

As far as trike safety, well, I'll be having that chat with the school.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Catching Up on News

Hmmm. Just a few hundred links in the RSS reader. Here are a few of note.

What do wheat, corn, global food prices and Enron have in common?
A very detailed post at IATP explains how market speculation helped create both Enron and a sizable piece of the global food crisis. It's not just corn-based ethanol and gas prices. Farmers are on the line as well here despite the record crop prices. The final quote from a farmer is haunting, "We're commoditizing everything, and losing sight that it's food, that it's something people need," he said. "We're trading lives.

The Farm Bill is Done. For Now.
Well, at least until we try again in a few years. No major subsidy reform. A bit of veto threats and override drama on Capital Hill. And, now what remains. A good debate of pro and con can be found over at Grist.

Food Stamps Contribute to Obesity?!
I thought the blog post was some opinionated blogger, but no, the url shows USDA in the string. This study examines the relationship between obesity and food stamp program participation. The article actually states "One hypothesis of how food stamp participation causes weight gain is that benefit amounts are too high, causing participants to spend more money on food and, thus, consume more food than they otherwise would."

Up top, the benefit level for each month in 2007 was $96 per person and $215 per household, which translates roughly to $3.20 per person per day or $7.16 per household per day to spend on food. Not sure how that amount could be construed at "too high." Especially these days.

Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, in the article does it tie the fact that the lowest-nutrition, most calorie-dense foods happen to be the cheapest. And, that these foods are all based on what used to be artificially-cheap subsidized crops (now, they are artificially-high prices, see first link.). But you don't think the USDA would point fingers at its own failure with our agriculture policy and food supply?

Even so, suggesting food stamp recipients are doing too well on their allowance is ludicrous. Here is an article by one food editor about the week she tried to feed her family on a food stamp budget. It's up for a James Beard award. Kudos to her.

Ah, only 258 most RSS reader links to go. Maybe later.