Mmm… Food


Week 10: Heat by Bill Buford (Where’s Week 9 you ask? I’d like to know too)
March 12, 2009, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Books, Restaurants

It happens every year.  I should come to expect it, but it still trips me up.  I’ve fallen behind on my reading.  I made it to Week 9.   The redeeming part is that I fell behind on my Food reading.  While I did not complete my food book (I was on vacation remember) I did finish the second half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and also listed to Chokeby Chuck Palahnuik on CD.  So two books in one week really… just not food related.  I do hope to make up for lost time and back read for Week 9, but…

 heat

Week 10 – Heat {An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany} By Bill Buford

Ilana is my reigning champion for book recommendations.  SHOUT OUT!!!  This is the third on the list of ones she suggested and she has chosen a winner.  I guess when your friend is a Creative Writing Grad Student who left the culinary world of catering and restaurants though, recommending good food books comes naturally. PROPS!!

This book was very entertaining, and while focusing on a wide variety of experiences, he strings them all together in a cohesive manner that keeps the reader interested.  Never having worked in a professional kitchen (Taking orders on a pre-printed pad at Rollies Hot-Dogs when I was 17 doesn’t really count) I am still amazed at the incredible effort, blood sweat and tears that go into churning out food at a restaurant.  In Heat, we get a glimpse into the inner working of Mario Batali’s Italian restaurant Babbo.  We witness the madness of learning to work the grill station.  Moving up from prep work to want to make the Pasta.  What a task.  Overwhelming really.

In addition to all the effort and work Bill puts into learning food and cooking at Babbo, he also makes incredible efforts to complete training that Mario Batali completed, by traveling to Italy and learning pasta from the same woman that Mario did, and then travelling to Tuscany where Batali’s father learned butchery from Dario and the Maestro.  Super fascinating.   

My love for Italian food too makes me love this book even more.  The day I finished it I met up with my old roommate Stacia for dinner, where we dined at Spacca Napoli on these fine pizzas. 

pizza-stacia-002

pizza-stacia-001

The menu there is all in Italian and the waitress helped us out with explanations adding “The owner is the only one who speaks Italian, the rest of us have to figure it out along with you”  HA!  But it seemed so fitting in a pizza place where the owner spent a great deal of time in Italy learning pizza and then imported his crazy expensive wood-burning hand crafted stove to replicate the tastes for here in Chicago.  Cheers to you!!!  And to any others out there like Bill Buford who go to the source to learn the original. 

4 Stars.  Read this book.



Week 8: Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee By: Bee Wilson
February 25, 2009, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Books

swindled

Swindled: The Dark Hisotry of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee.  By Bee Wilson

What a read. Nowadays in the the U.S. some of the biggest “swindles” seem to focus on organic food as an escape from the “adulteration” of our foods with pesticides. (There are of course all the additives, flavourings, colorings and preservatives in processed foods, but that’s a whole other story) The book talks about this kind of adulteration but also gives us a rich background of adulterations of food with things like arsenic, plaster of paris, bark and clay. Things that have no nutritional value and some things that will kill you. While they don’t occur very often in the US they aren’t completely gone. but there are still food scares that happen nowadays that are more like some of the historic examples in the book. Panics like the melamine in milk coming from China being one of the most recent.

The book gives a great history of the swindles that have been carried out over the histories of England and the US. Bee Wilson argues that worries about swindles arose as societies moved from an agrarian to an industrial culture. As people became further and further distanced from their food stuffs they were more and more and liable to be given something false, of lower quality, substitutions in general crappier products. Really to be living in this day and age in the US where food Nutrition labels are on most everything, detailing out ingredients, calories, fats, proteins, sugars. It really is amazing. You used to get something and have no idea what they might be putting in it. Coffee laced with chicory, bark and acorns. Bread made with alum (to make it whiter and more desirable). Candies coated with lead and copper compounds which gave them bright green yellow and red colors.

After reading this book the drive to eat more “whole foods”, things that come from nature and have an easy name like chicken, peppers, apples, asparagus, eggs and milk is even stronger. (These items still have the ability to be swindled in the way they are grown and raised but they still rate much higher than any processed foods). We have been doing this quite well for a while now, and it just makes so much more sense to me. Eating this way makes grocery trips so much easier, and reasons out why I like small markets like Devon Market and Harvesttime foods. When you eat more “whole foods” you end up doing most of your shopping in the produce and meat and dairy sections. The exceptions for other aisles include getting items like olive oils, beans, pasta and rice. But really that’s only 2 additional aisles I need to travel down. In general when you buy and eat this way you know what you’re getting. There is of course processing for milk and yogurt and there are additives in these foods, but the lists are much shorter than what you might find on the side of a box of oreos. I mean really, what is in an Oreo?? You would be hardpressed to make something like it at home, although, as the book points out, there is a website where people try to make giant at home versions of processed foods. The results are strange and kind of mystifying. Check this one of giant Oreo at www.pimpthatsnack.com.

Four Stars. Read this Book!!!



Week 7: The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What we Eat by Charles Clover
February 19, 2009, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Books, Random Facts

endfotheline1The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat By: Charles Clover 

Excellently researched and written book about, well about what the subtitle declares it is about.  The amount of information packed into this book is a little overwhelming, but the way it is all crafted together in an incredibly persuasive argument here is something to be applauded.  It has been by newspaper like The Independent which calls this book “The maritime equivalent of Silent Spring“.  If you don’t know Silent Spring, originally published in 1964 it was the book that helped spur the public’s interest and awareness in environmental issues, specifically that DDT pollution was wreaking incredible havoc on the world.  But even if you question any of the rebuffs of the information being presented here as being taken out of context, or missing the bigger point even if you could disprove 50% of his information (and I doubt you could) this book is giant slap in the face. 

Now.. as I’ve already discussed this book with friends who accuse me of having a prior disposition to want to find reasons to not eat fish (I have never been a fish lover.  As a child my mom tried to pass of fish to me as “white steak”, my response? “This white steak tastes a lot like fish!”) I want to try to come out and defend myself.  I want to like fish.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about fish as a health food, and it doesn’t (at least the wild stuff)  have any of the inhumane treatment problems that a lot of cattle, swine and chicken have nowadays, and there’s a ton of different varieties.  There seem to be so many positives.  I just can’t get used to the taste.  I need to experiment more.  Try more things.  Try more seasoning, but I want to try those new things with a slightly different take which is wildly influenced by my reading of this book. 

The abuse of the worlds oceans and taking fish out at an alarming rate have reduced fish populations and he talks more about breeding populations than seems possible.  In some areas the fish population has been reduced by 50%, 75%, 90%.   Newfoundland used to be a hotbed for cod.  Now there is none to be had.  The fishing industry for cod there is dead!  There are countless examples in the book.  All shocking.  There seems to be so much greed on the part of fisherman, taking more and more from less and less.  Using technology to locate what’s left and taking it too.  There is also greed in part on the consumer, not caring to know or think about where the fish came from.  How it was caught, what else died so that we could eat it and if it was old enough to have reproduced or removed from an already depleted ecosystem.  And many poor countries in Africa especially whose governments sell fishing rights to other countries (such as Spain) because they are so poor and they need the money, yet their own citizen who then fish for sustenance on their own shores go hungry as all the fish is taken up by large boats and shipped off to more wealthy countries. 

Without reading the book and having all the convincing arguments put in your brain that way, check this out.  Fishbase.org which is an all around smorgasbord of information on fish, links to 36 different organization that all publish lists for consumers.  While there are variations on each site, and each one includes separate sets of factors and updates their lists independently they all say similar things.  There are fish that can be eaten in good conscious and there are fish that you shouldn’t be eating.  Check one of them out.  Charles Clover seems to think the WWF (which has been an advocate for animals for a very long time) publishes one of the best lists.    I printed it for our fridge.  So that I can work on trying new fish, but making sure we are trying something that we can feel good about.  As the organic market which includes vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat moves off land and into the ocean and begins to apply more and more to fish and seafood I agree with the author that it is coming.

This was a very interesting read and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in knowing more about the fishing industry.  It was an eye-opener on more than one occasion, and has definitely influenced how I will think about fish in the future.



Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce
February 19, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: Books, Cooking

vday-013

I’m sentimentally attached to my Everyday Food: Great Food Fast cookbook by Martha Stewart.  It was one of the first real cookbooks I ever purchased and I’ve made quite a few recipes from it, and was therefore happy when April picked several recipes from it to cook this week.  One of our new tries was these Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce.
April roasted the last pie pumpkin for the food share for the recipe, but after I pureed it I found we only had a little more than a cup and the recipe calls for 15 oz.  What to do??  Like in the pumpkin pie recipe we used from Cooks Illustrated April had the good idea to add in sweet potato.  By cutting it into small pieces she was quickly able to cook the sweet potato on the stove top to add to our pumpkin so we would have enough for the sauce.  I think it was a really great addition.  Pumpkin and sweet potato go really well together. 

While I continue to feel and internal pressure to follow the recipe I do think I’m learning to color outside the lines a bit more.  Besides the switch out with sweet potato and pumpkin we made a number of other tweaks to this recipe. 

We used a 9X13 pan instead of the 8×8 Martha recommends.  As April started assembling it became quickly obvious that not everything was going to fit into the small 8×8.  There was so much more sauce than could fit in that tiny area.

We used 6 8inch whole wheat tortillas instead of 8 6inch corn tortillas.  Other people on Martha’s site complained about the corn tortillas completely falling apart.  Not so with the whole wheat flour 🙂 

And one bit of amazement was the adding of 2 1/2 cups of water.  Both of our intial thoughts were, that is going to be way too much water.  But  not so.  It thinned the sauce down just enough. 

We also added sour cream, some left over avocado creama and tomatoes on top.  This will happen again when we repeat, which we both agreed should be done again.  Also, we’ll probably add a little cilantro if only for garnish 🙂



Week 6: Diet for a Small Planet by France Moore Lappe
February 11, 2009, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Books

dietplanet1Diet For a Small Planet : Frances Moore Lappe

One of the first things to know (which may be obvious by the look of the cover) is that this book is not a current title. Originally published in 1971, I read a 20th Anniversary Edition, which while still adds some updated and revised information via 1991, that’s still 18 years ago!!! I wanted to add this book to the list because it does feel like one of those pivotal food books that has ever been published, especially in recent memory. While trying to remain open minded, I admit I went into it thinking everything would sound outdated and not applicable to the world we currently live in where the new food push seems to be all about organic and local. I thought this book would be all about vegetarianism. While some of my preconceived notions were true, I was more surprised at the things that weren’t true, and those things that felt like they could have been published now! It doesn’t feel like an old outmoded movement as a way of eating. Kind of scary.

First, she isn’t trying to promote vegetarianism. She wants a return to a more “natural” way of eating, where the majority of our food consumed is plants and meat appears only briefly as a supplement. She wants people to eat whole grains and vegetables and fruits. Un-processed foods. The further we get away from the initial starting ingredients the worse our food becomes and it become less and less about food, and more about profit margins for corporations and power over the food supply and therefore the people. The return to natural grains echoed what I had read in the South Beach Diet. The thing that continually gets me, is it seems so obvious! Whole grains have all the fiber and nutrients that your body needs. You feel full. And there are so many different kinds of foods to eat you can hardly believe it at first.

So much of the book actually seems to focus on power. And the lack of power by many people to control the foods available to them. Why are there starving people when there is so much food? We feed so much grain to livestock to provide meat for an elite world class while millions starve and don’t have enough sustenance to live. Lappe argues people to do starve because there is not enough food. The solution is not ramping up our production. The solutions lie in what food gets to what people. Can we forget the masses and only think of ourselves?? Lappe feels that choosing to eat in the reduced meat way that she provides is responsible and a start to addressing the real problems involving the needs of the powerless. Starting here will you get you interested there, learning more, becoming informed, no longer turning a blind eye, doing something about it. Change can happen. She wants it to happen. We can make it happen.

Here’s a little video she’s got on the website http://www.smallplanet.org

2.5 stars. Interesting informationt that helped push me more to think about where the food movement has been and where it is now to where it is going. But no revolutionary new information that you can’t find in something newer and perhaps more relevant to today’s food systems (such as “The Omnivores Dilemna” which I read a couple years ago, or what I am guessing will be “In Defense of Food“. (which I plan on reading soon) Michael Pollan seems to be the new mass media published voice for a new way of thinking about our food).

Ooh, this quick articleMichael Pollan published in 2008 in Newsweek sums up a lot of the ideas from this book which are still a problem today!!!



Not just Hummus!
February 5, 2009, 11:36 am
Filed under: Books, Cooking

While we do love the hummus, and make it almost weekly for a snack or appetizer, I upped the Mediterranean anty last nite by making  a cannellini bean salad and chickpea and goat’s cheese felafel.  My success varied between very tasty (the salad) and needing to learn more about correct frying methods (the felafel).

mediterranean

Both recipes are from a cookbook called “Off the Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry” by Donna Hay.  This book is pretty superb.  But one of the things that can throw you, is the measurements.  Here’s the recipe for the cannellini bean salad.  See if you know what I mean.

Cannellini bean salad

Combine 2 x 400g (140z) cans drained cannellini beans, 200g (7oz) blanched and halved green beans, 200 (7oz) halved cherry tomatoes, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 cup chopped mint, 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup (2 fl oz) lemon juice, cracked black pepper and sea salt.  Serve with grilled flatbread.

 

Do you spot what I’m talking about?  400g?  200g?  Just where was this cookbook published.  Australia!!  That does it.  Metric rules most everywhere except for here in the US, and yet…  Not everything is metric.   1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons.  These are odd measurements in themselves that only seem to apply to the cooking world.  Are there non-food products sold in such increments?? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.  Hmm…  Anywhoozle, super tasty salad.  Healthy.  Try it.

So along with the salad I also tried to make chickpea and goat’s cheese felafel.  The problem was not in making the felafel.  The problem was in the frying of it.  April came home in the midst of my cooking and she was set to the task of frying.  She got out the candy thermometer, (cheap piece of crap that it is, we need to find out and upgrade to the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen) but it was not going to cooperate with the pan.  So we had no idea what temperature the oil was.  Just that it didn’t work.  When she added the felafel to the peanut oil, it’s like the patties started to dissolve.  The outside layer would get crunchy and fall apart in the pan, coating the bottom with a fine brown sand.  Pull them out, try them in the broiler.  Helped some, but really there is some technique that needs to be researched to try and improve the end result.  So…  if you want to try and let me know what the secret is…

Chickpea and goat’s cheese felafel

Place 2 x 400g (140z) cans drained chickpeas, 1/2 finely chopped red onion, 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup each of coriander (cilantro) leaves, mint leaves and flat-leaf parsley and 2 teaspoons ground cumin in a food processor and process until the mixture is finely chopped.  Shape into rounded patties with a small piece of goat cheese inside, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Shallow-fry in hot peanut oil until golden and drain on absorbent paper.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon with drinks.



Week 5: How We Eat by Leon Rappoport
February 2, 2009, 2:43 pm
Filed under: Books

howweeat1How We Eat: Appetite, Culture and the Psychology of Food. 
By Leon Rappoport 

I was on a roll.  Enjoying all the food reading I was doing.  And now there’s this.  I finished, I didn’t give up (in past years, some of my entries for books start out as such… “Tried.  Tried Again.  This book just sucks!!! Made it to page 54.” Followed by a list of reasons why I couldn’t even make it through.) but I didn’t really enjoy.  I will attribute part of it to the fact that the book is shelved in the Social Sciences Division.  Perhaps it is the lack of pop culture focus that left me wanting more.  But no, I will take that back immediately.  This book wanted to be so much better than it was.  It wasn’t trying to be shelved in the Social Science Division.  Just look at the cover.  Look at the Headings “A Half-Baked Notion”, “From Myths to MacAttacks”, “The McDonaldization of Taste” and “The Road to Wellville”  It was trying to be the next informative guide to eating.  It tried and it failed.  I found myself lost amidst paragraphs that drifted from topic to topic so frequently I found it hard to remember just what it was he was talking about the page before.  And I found myself disagreeing with the book.  It just seemed out of touch.  Yet…  I found myself marking pages with items of note.  True that many of these tags were for items I strongly disagreed with, but there were some ideas of note.  The major concern is the lack to bring all these ideas together into a cohesive whole.  The author acknowledges that when he started the research he was looking for an answer and found a mess of information and no distinctly defined answers.  He almost tries to use this lack of easily defined reasons for people to eat the way they do as an excuse for why the book seems so disjointed.  My opinion?  He just didn’t find a good way to pull together his information. 

Don’t bother with this one.  It’s not worth the time.