Sunday, June 26, 2011

What to Bring to a Crawfish Boil

A funny thing happens when people know you like food and you publish a few recipes. Well, the not-so-funny thing is that first, many of your friends will no longer invite you over for dinner. I understand this. The better thing is that with your freer time you can take up some of those unusual invites that come your way because you are into food.

This invite came by way of my brother-in-law. Mostly the instructions we were given were 1) that it was a crawfish boil, and 2) we should bring a dish, 3) there would be some chef types around. Since I don't have a whole lot of Top Chef Masters on speed dial, I consulted my overloaded cookbook shelves. There. John Besh's My New Orleans.

What I love about this book is that the recipes are all organized around New Orleans' holidays and traditional events, such Chapter 1, Crawfish season. The only non-crawfish side dish listed was Red Beans and Rice, a basic, classic recipe using pretty much just beans and smoked ham hock and the trinity of Cajun food; onions, green bell peppers and celery.

I also love the personal photos and stories in the massive cookbook. No wonder it won an IACP award.

I followed the recipe other than a couple ingredients and one twist: I used a pressure cooker. Once you get over the fear that you are going to explode hot liquid all over your kitchen (been there and done that, no pressure cooker required), it's really not difficult. Plus, it cooks recipes like this in about third of the time. Here's my version:

1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tbs. lard (yes, I have a tub of lard on hand at home, after our tamale fest.)
1 pound dried red kidney beans
1 smoked ham shank or two hocks
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbs. dried savory
Salt and black pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
3 cups cooked rice

Ideally, you soak the beans overnight, then drain and rinse. Or, you can be like me, forget, then have to put the beans in water, bring to a boil and then cover. Turn heat off and go do lawn work for a couple hours before you can cook. I think I will remember to soak those beans next time. Drain and set beans aside.

Have spouse step in and do the next few steps while you shower the weeds and dirt off. Later, get poison ivy on your wrists, both feet and your nose. Again, you should really skip this step and move to the next one.

Okay, so heat up that lard in the pressure cooker pot, lid off. Sweat the trilogy (If trilogy threw you a curve, that means you skipped to the recipe and did not read the post! Onions, green pepper and celery) about 10 minutes. Add beans back in, hocks or shank, bay leaves, and cayenne. Add water to cover by two inches.

This is the step where you return from the shower and add savory in even though Besh's recipe does not call for it. Savory is heaven with a pot of beans.

Now, I'm going to guess you read the cooker manual and you have checked your gasket and all the safety tips, right? Right. Bring all the above to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Lock on the lid. Make sure that (however yours is set up) it makes the right seal and you have the safety lock all set. Again, that manual thing is helpful for a rookie like me.

Twenty-five minutes later, start the rice. Another 20 minutes later(45 minutes total), your Red Beans should be done. Follow the instructions for releasing the pressure. Then, check the beans for doneness. If they are not done, just simmer on stove for a while longer, they should be very close (or the dry beans were too old). Taste and adjust salt, pepper and tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce depending on your preference.

Remove the bay leaves and discard the leaves. Take the hocks or shank out with tongs and put on a cutting board. It should be easy to use the tongs to pull the meat right off the bones. Chop the meat and return to the pot. Rice should be ready by now, too.

Show up at the crawfish boil, looking like you know what you are doing. Even if you don't. Realize on the way home from the party that you kind of itch in many places including your nose.

Which brings me to the final step, never itch your nose while you are weeding the lawn.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foraging and Finding More Than Food

I keep reading articles and posts about foraging and hunting. I pre-ordered Hank Shaw's Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. I have to admit, I also got a bit of a laugh over the road kill dinner with trendy San Francisco urbanites at the table. Laughter aside, I felt the pull to go do a bit of gathering myself.

This is, of course, the moment I got The Call. Not the call of the wild; the call of Dutch, one of my best friends. During the months my father was in ICU, I once called Dutch at one in the morning. “I just can’t make it home,” I said. “Can you come get me?”

Dutch drove an hour to come get me. I was a mile from my house when I called. That’s a best friend. I’ve been blessed enough to have him in my life for over 30 years. To this day, I still walk into his parents’ house through the garage door, without knocking. Front doors are for company.

Through all these years, he still manages to show up right when I need him most. “Hey, are we still meeting up this weekend? Let’s take all the kids up to the farm and go mushroom hunting.”

It doesn’t take a second request to get the kid ready for a trip “home.” I’m deeply grateful for this. While most moms may worry about their little girls learning dance and wearing dresses, I love seeing mine learn to get over a barbed wire fence, navigate in the woods, cross a creek, and catch frogs.

As our gathering party of five kids and two adults headed into the woods, Dutch’s son — the same age as my daughter — was stopping along the path to show her what the different animal tracks look like. This is something his father taught me. There is something deeply moving about watching moments in my own childhood with my best friend repeat themselves with our children.

Just a couple steps past the tree line, Dutch spots the first morel. He’s an avid hunter and has that uncanny skill of seeing things in the woods that most folks would miss completely, myself included. My kiddo happily raced over to pick her first wild mushroom. Just six, she has now surpassed my foraging skills.

The rest of the day was magic even though we found only a few morels. Dutch showed me how to find May apples. I picked wild onions to go with the morels. We planted persimmon trees and seed under an oak tree to feed the deer. The same deer will likely end up on Dutch’s table this fall.

To end our adventure — and solidify his rank as the Best Uncle Ever — Dutch puts my kiddo up in the cab of his backhoe and lets her drive the massive thing including digging a giant hole in his farm and then filling it back in. My best friends never excluded me from anything because I was a girl. It’s good to see the tradition continue as they spoil my child rotten. Next trip up, he promises, she gets to drive the bulldozer.

The only adventure was to eat what we’d killed, er, caught, well, gathered. More like uprooted. But this, oddly enough, is where I hesitated. It’s easy enough a six-year-old can spot a morel if she knows what she’s looking for. Wild onions look and smell just like their domesticated siblings. Knowing what I know about food recalls and food safety issues at countless manufacturing facilities … I ought to trust this humble gift from nature far more than one of those plastic-wrapped chemistry sets sold as food.

Have I been domesticated like the onion? So dependent on a food system to provide that I can’t recognize actual food in nature and fend for myself? I brought the knife down hard as I pondered this. Whack! Too hard for just mushrooms. Whack! Nope. Not going to go out like that. Whack. I know what food is — and isn't. Whack.

One morel and Swiss with wild onions on whole wheat coming up.

Morel and Swiss Sandwich

3 oz. morel mushrooms, sliced
1 slice Swiss cheese
1 bunch wild onions, minced
1 tbs. butter
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole wheat bread
Salt and pepper

First, gather your ingredients. Find a bit of yourself you thought you lost.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Saute the mushrooms for a few minutes until they soften. Add the onions. Saute for another couple minutes. Mix in the mustard and balsamic. Season. Remove from pan.

Add bread to hot pan and top with cheese. Place mushroom mixture on top of cheese. Flip the two halves of the sandwich together.

Eat with unchecked passion that is impossible with, say, a Twinkie off the rack at QT. Live to tell about it. Then go drive a bulldozer.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Seven Reasons Eating Right During Pregnancy Helps Your Child Have a Healthy Lifetime

In our book, we explain a lot about the amount of influence you have over your kids’ diets. In fact, you are the primary influence for things like how many fruits and vegetables your child likes and you determine about 72 percent of your child’s diet — even when it feels like a no-win struggle.

But, what you eat while pregnant may also influence your child’s health than most women realize. As scientists begin to focus on epigenics — the relationship between genetics and environmental factors on how those genes are expressed — new, compelling research shows your diet while pregnant can be a predictor of your child’s IQ, risk of autism, and future risk of obesity and her long term health including how well she ages as an adult.

Six top reasons to eat healthy while you are pregnant:

Lower Risk of Type II Diabetes and Age-related Diseases
According to research funded by the BBSRC and the British Heart Foundation, your diet regulates your baby’s development of a gene called Hnf4a. This gene is related to pancreas development and a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A poor diet during pregnancy increases the rate that this gene is altered in your child as he ages. In related research published in the Journal of Lipid Research, a high fat diet during pregnancy is increased the likelihood of not just your child developing Type II diabetes, but your grandchildren as well.

Lower Risk of Obesity in Children, and Heart Disease as Adults
Mothers who consume junk foods high in fat and sugar while pregnant, give birth to infants with elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Research published in The Journal of Physiology showed that these kids were not only more likely to be obese as adolescents, but may have lasting alterations to their metabolism, including liver damage, and an increase in their tendency to gain weight and overeat. Conversely, if a mother’s diet is high in healthy antioxidants, a child’s risk of obesity is decreased.

Decreased Risk of Autism
Babies born from a mother who is obese, has high blood pressure, or has diabetes — type I, type II, or gestational diabetes — have a 60 percent increased risk of developing autism. For all these women, it’s advisable to seek a high-risk obstetrician and for diabetics, keep blood sugars well-controlled through a healthy, managed diet to minimize this risk.

Higher I.Q.
Consider eating more organic produce while you are pregnant. Three separate studies, funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, point to a relationship between pesticide exposure for pregnant moms and a significant decrease in IQ for their children. For every 10-fold increase of a mother’s exposure to organophosphates — the class of pesticides studied — her child had an average drop of 5.5 I.Q. points. Researchers compared the impact of pesticide exposure to the similar discovery of the effects of lead on children’s I.Q.s.

Lower Risk of Early Onset Puberty
A high fat diet during pregnancy may also be linked to early-onset puberty in girls. Early puberty is a risk factor for obesity, insulin resistance, teenage depression, and breast cancer in adulthood. The study, from The Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, also indicated that the mother’s diet had more influence on the risk of early onset puberty than the child’s own diet after birth.

Less Picky Eaters
Before your child was old enough to demand mac and cheese, the foods you ate during pregnancy already set some taste preferences for your child by “flavoring” the amniotic fluid, according to research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Think of pregnancy as the easiest time in your child’s life to get them to eat their vegetables!