Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Menu Recipe Carnival

We had friends over for an absolute summer feast. Thus, summer menus are on my mind. Following is the menu for our dinner and what's on the menu for this week's recipe carnival.

Cooked and Raw Salad ala Lidia
Peaches with Marscapone, Blueberries and Balsamic Reduction
Watermelon Slices
Smashed, Crispy Roasted Potatoes
Brined and Smoked Pork Chops (have to ask the spouse for this!)
Fresh Berries, White Chocolate Brioche and Ice Cream







Ah, Tomatoes

You know, an heirloom tomato variety must have been developed at least 50 years ago to qualify as an heirloom. Fifty years. All that time, just the red ones in the stores. The lies, the ugly, ugly lies.

Let the truth be revealed. Preferably with some fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, a bit of balsamic, coarse sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a drizzle of damn good olive oil.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Okay, I'm a Dumbass

We went out to dinner tonight. Some of the other parents from school, our kids, and us. I really like these parents. One couple holds a charity fundraiser for a women's shelter each year. In fact, the dinner was a place that was collecting food for a charity, kids eat free if you bring food deal. The lady brought a whole case of food.

So, we're at dinner and as usual, food comes up. What our kids eat and won't. All that. Then the web site came up. And I gave the url out for it. Then I realized. Oh hell.

The nice lady? Who does all the cool charity things? She works for one of the largest of the agribusiness companies. And, there you have it. So, I hope my politics here don't lose us a friendship. But, I can't really change these core beliefs either.

These are defining moments. Not only do I have to face up to the fact that my food politics set me apart, but also a great big whack to the side of the head that those monolithic entities are not objects, they are comprised of people. A very few at the top that make some crappy decisions, and the rest of them, moms like me, dads, friends, neighbors.

Big companies, lots of jobs, lots of people. It's ain't all that easy sometimes. But, it would probably have been better if I hadn't shared the url with the nice lady who cares about battered women. Yeah, I'm a dumbass.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Snack Time: Fava Beans with Pecorino Romano

I got that look again the other day. The one like I have two heads. The person giving me this look is one of my child's teachers. The one that doesn't see a problem with giving candy as a reward for good behavior.

I was explaining why I pack my child's milk in her lunch and do not just let her drink what the school provides. I was trying to find a way to address rBGH. Then the glazed over, "Lady, you are just nuts" look appears. It's not easy being the crazy lady sometimes.

Take this whole concept of "snack" foods. For some reason, the processed food industry got a toehold into the convenience food market and while we were munching on 42-percent-potato-58-percent-God-knows-what Pringles, they took over the whole category. If there is one single aisle to skip at the grocery store, "snacks" is the one.

Around the crazy woman's household (me) snacks tend to be nuts (the actual kind), fruit, dried fruit, yogurt and sometimes even vegetables. Like the following dish. Which also makes a great appetizer, by the way.

Now, if you have had canned fava beans, forget those. Those are not fava beans. Fava beans are green, not brown, and the tough outer layer should be removed. Canned beans still have this layer. The texture is awful. If they had flavor, that would be awful as well.

Ah, but fresh favas? This is not an everyday snack. The favas first have to be shelled, then the beans need to be blanched for two minutes and shocked in a bath of ice water. Once this is done, it's easy to remove the tough outer skins, revealing the tender, sweet and very "green" flavored beans. It takes a bit of time, so, no, not an everyday treat.

You can find these fresh in your farmers market early summer in the Midwest and South, and right about now if you are farther north.

Fava Beans with Pecorino Romano
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

And, one that gets eaten by a three-year-old while playing Sesame Street games on Mommy's computer. Served with blanched and chilled fresh green beans as a side. For a snack.

Hey, don't look at me like that. I am not crazy. Not in a bad way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rachel Ray, Terrorism, and the Sins of Omission

Okay, so we've long established that Rachel Ray is not a terrorist. Old news. Further, I cringe every time I hear the word terrorist these days as well. I no longer cringe so much when I hear "Rachel Ray." I barely bristle if I stumble across the occasional y-word. You know the one. I can't bring myself to even type it and have it found on my blog by a search engine. And I have moved beyond any Rachel Ray-bashing. It's just not worth the key punching. Done.


What I will rant a bit about is the Great Sin that is perpetuated to excess in our culture at large and the very thing that made Rachel Ray a success in the first place. What I am referring to here is The Sin of Omission.

Roll tape. Rachel Ray is doing her "big carry" from the fridge to the counter. She is preparing the recipes, just setting things out and starting to chop. As she does this, she tosses off a quick "Oh, I do all the clean and prep when I bring everything home from the store." And then launches into the rest of the 20-minute meal segment, making three dishes that magically arrive on the table in record time. Wasn't that easy, folks?

Wait. Stop. Rewind. What was that bit about clean and prep? Uh huh. So, the 20-minute meal is only a 20-minute meal if you've already done part of the work? So, do 20 minute meals really exist?

I would hazard a generality here and say, no, not 20-minute meals that have any fresh ingredients. We eat a lot (LOT) of produce around here. I decided to time my own efforts at clean and prep when I arrive home from the market. Ready? TWO HOURS. Give or take depending on the types and how much produce you buy. Averaged out over the few cooking sessions I do in a week (I DON'T cook every night. Leftovers, baby.). That time adds from 10-30 minutes to each meal.

Thus, 20-minute meals with fresh produce do not really exist. But, 20 or 30-minute meals with some advance prep certainly do.

This whole "20-minute meal," "Ten Easy Steps," "Top Five Quick Tips," phenomenon is like a rampant disease in our culture, as discussed in this excellent post by environmentalist Simran Sethi. (It's a great read.)

You know what? It's not easy. It takes effort to slow your life down in order to make room for lost arts like real food and family meals. Sustainable is not a marketing label. It's a state of balance that requires constant effort.

If I lie to you, if I tell you it's easy to fix real food every day with a full time job and a small child, well, rightfully you would be pissed. Because I would be lying. Because it takes time to change your approach in order to make it manageable.

Here are a couple posts where I tried to share strategy on making this whole real food for dinner thing possible:
The Myth of the Super Kitchen Goddess
Do 30-Minute Meals Really Exist?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Humbled, But Not By Pie

I am sitting here eating my leftovers for lunch. 'Cause brown-bagging (actually re-usable blue flowered bagging) is a great way to save food money. Why, packing my lunch almost saves me enough to buy a gallon of gas. Hey, it counts. Boy, does it count.

Today's leftovers include Eggplant Caponata. Which is pretty tasty, but not my recipe. You see, nowhere in my tiny brain have I ever wondered, "What if I put cocoa powder, red chili flakes, eggplant and RAISINS together?"

Nope. I had to consult Mario Batali for that genius. I've never had eggplant as good. I have so far to go as a chef. Yet, that's a good thing. There is so much to be discovered yet.

Other things to do with Eggplant (which is now in season):
Stuffed Peppers with Eggplant and Zucchini
Vegetable Parmigiano

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Issues and Updates

Can Scum Save the World?
No, not Dick Cheney. He's too busy censoring scientific reports on health impacts of global warming. I'm talking about pond scum. Plant biologists are researching pond scum, otherwise known as duckweed, as a solution to global warming, pollution from agricultural runoff, AND world hunger. Scum, anyone? (Science Daily).

Selling Sweet Lies
Debra Eschmeyer guest posts at Ethicurean on the Corn Refiner's Association multi-million dollar PR campaign to promote high-fructose corn syrup. (Ethicurean).

Where's the Beef?
The search for tainted beef expands as the 500,000 pounds of beef recalled by Nebraska firm gets expanded to 5.3 million. The usual suspect, E. coli 0157:h7 is the issue. (Green Guide).

And Now, For Something Completely Different. The Quote of the Week:
"Maybe Bush's brand of frighteningly inept politicking has been just the right kind of sociocultural emetic to induce a true purge of our congested system, just the thing to finally snap us out of our lethargy. Hell, sometimes you gotta go deep into the darkness to realize just how much you need the light." (Mark Morford).

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Revolutionary Plan for Universal Health Care

So, over in the UK, there was a court case over Pringles chips. It seems the chips were subject to a 17.5 percent "value add" tax similar to other potato foods, except that Pringles are only 42 percent potato. The ruling allowed the chips to be tax exempt.

Now, you can wonder about a couple things here. First, exactly what is the other 58 percent of the chip? But more importantly the concept of taxing a certain food. I like this concept.

Are you ready? Deep breath, and here is the rant:

Because with all the subsidized ingredients going into these items, perhaps there should be a tax that somehow offsets the ultimate price of junk food consumption on all of us taxpayers.

That's right, kids. Tax the Baconator, The Big Gulp, The Biggie with Fries. Tax the crap out of the crap. That way, every time I see an obese four-year-old being pushed in a stroller while sipping a 32 oz. coke, at least I know that a buck was put back in investments for that kid's future battle in 40 years with Type II Diabetes.

But wait. There's more. Half of the funds raised off every chip, trans-fat laden donut, tater tot, chili fry, Whopper, soda, and sugar-packed cereal box goes toward nutrition education and making healthy foods accessible to those who can afford them least. Half for prevention, half for the aftermath. None of the burden on taxpayers unless we are eating those foods. Better foods for those who cannot afford them now. It's a big win. Unless you are a food manufacturer or fast food chain.

Think about it. Think about the funds raised daily from this kind of tax, based on what Americans eat, and just how much that would fund for public health care. It's staggering, isn't it?

I'm not crazy. I'm not out of line. They did a similar tax with another harmful product to try and cut consumption. This is, of course, cigarettes. Crap food is every bit as much of a threat, possibly more because at least they don't start pushing cigarettes to kids at age two through Cartoon Network.

Because, maybe, just maybe that kind of tax is what it will take to get food manufacturers to think about what they are selling. Or, to at least fund the impending health crisis in which 40 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys will have Type II Diabetes by middle age.

End rant.

On Onions

Few vegetables make it into as many dishes as the humble onion. Too often, their role is just a background player, a walk-on part. Add a bit of heat, and a bit of sweet, however, and this ubiquitous root aromatic turns a starring role.

Caramelized onions are pretty easy to make and offer a huge payoff in flavor. I posted recently on how to use these and just a few other ingredients to make a week's menu. Here are a couple more easy, yet incredibly good recipes that start with the caramelized onions.

Usually dishes with greens are your tough sells to kids. The first bite of this is the hardest obstacle. It was met with a "Mmmm! Good!" Then, "More Cheese!"

Well, cheese is tough competition. Especially when you just don't have any filters like "Oh, greens are good for me, I need to eat these. I'd be all over the cheese, too. I never even touched greens until I was an adult. I figure, we're way ahead here.

Caramelized Onions and Chard Saute
Guinness-Cheddar-Caramelized Onion Burgers
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Another recipe with caramelized onions:
Cooked and Raw Salad ala Lidia

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cherry Wine (Turnovers)

Stone fruit is in season; everything from peaches and plums to apricots and cherries. While just cranking open a can of pie filling and dumping it into a pre-made crust may come out of the oven looking like you made cherry pie, well, sorry kids, that’s not good cherry pie. Besides the surreal color kind of frightens me.

Maybe the easy way out would be okay if it weren’t so easy to make it better from scratch. Grab your cherry pitter and a jug of wine. Forget the crust for now. Besides, if you give the cook some wine, pastry work and drinking are not a good combination. This one is do-able even for the partially inebriated. Or, if you drank more than a taste of wine, you can skip the crust and serve it over ice cream. And that’s good. Because it’s been a long week and a jug of wine is sounding embarrassingly good. Too good.

Alright. Let’s make dessert.

Cherry Wine Turnovers

Now, let’s fold this kind of like a flag. See? I am still sober so I have created a nifty folding diagram to show you what the hell I am talking about here.

Don't be too hard on yourself if the folding thing isn't perfect. Your guests have likely been at the wine jug as well.

Repeat with rest of fillo and filling. Brush tops again with the butter. Sprinkle with some sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes until filling is hot and fillo is golden brown and flaky.

Serve with ice cream, of course.
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

One of many recipes feature in the week's Carnival of Recipes.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Be Sure to Cook Those Burgers Well Over the Fourth

Over a half million pounds of beef have just been recalled. This time, the meat was from a plant in Nebraska. The key problem is the meat left the plant and was headed for further processing (and distribution) in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

So far, 35 individuals have been sickened with E. coli O157:H7. These cases occurred in Michigan and Ohio.