Mmm… Food


Vacation Cooking in Wisconsin
March 9, 2009, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Cooking

Ah.  Vacation.  Last week we spent some time away from home, holed up in a cute little cabin located in Twin Lakes Wisconsin.  We took the time to relax with the dog, make fires, read Harry Potter and of course cook!!!  The cabin was outfitted with a full kitchen which fit our needs quite well.  We planned our meals and brought all our food with us (although we later learned the local Sentry grocery store was well stocked and shopping could have easily been done up there. They even had white asparagus. You can’t find that stuff at most of the local stores!!!)  We did bring some pans with us, and this was good as the mismatched oddness of what was available wouldn’t have suited our needs.  Of course when we told our friends about our trip and the things we brought with us they laughed.  A microplane and a ricer aren’t on most peoples lists, but we took the time to be adventurous with new food stuffs.  Our first nite there I made a sweet potato gnocchi and April made an Asparagus salad with orange, onion and goat cheese.  Scrumptious!!! 

 

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I’ve never made gnochhi before, and while there were a few snags, the finished product was quite tasty.  If you believe Martha Stewart (and I do) a ricer is key to making gnocchi.  It mashes the potatoes and adds an airiness to the batter which is essential to a good final product.  The potato gets pushed thru a fine mesh that mashes the potato into fine bits, that can then easily be mixed with the other ingredients.  The sweet potato (5medium) got combined with 3C all-purpose flour, 1C chopped watercress, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.  The mixture was very sticky (I needed more flour, but didn’t have any extra with us) and was a little hard to work with and form into little balls to cross hatch with a fork as in the traditional method of preparation.  They looked more like lumps.  Little orange lumps.  Toss the lumps into boiling water for a couple of minutes until they come bobbing to the surface.  Then, they needed to be popped under the broiler for another 8 or 9 minutes until light golden brown before topping with Parmesan and parsley.  Serve.

 

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The salad was also super tasty.  The asparagus were blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes.  Just enough to soften them a little bit and bring out the bright green color.  They were tossed with orange slices, red onion and goat cheese and mixed with a dressing made from fresh squeezed orange juice, red wine vinegar and a few other flavourings (I wasn’t in charge, and dont’ have the recipe with me) but ooh ooh ooh.  Asparagus is oh so tasty!!! 

 

Oh vacation. I miss you so much already!!!

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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

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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!!!



This here is one of my favourite things!!!
February 24, 2009, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Foods

MACARONI AND CHEESE!!!

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There are of course millions of variations and this is a variation on a Martha recipe.  I was raised on a rather simple version of elbow macaroni and grated mild cheddar.  Yes that’s it.  That’s my mom’s cooking for ya!  Simple!  To the point!!  I still prefer this 2 ingredient version, but instead prefer the small shell over the elbow macaroni.  But… this time around the recipe included the Ropp Blue Cheddar cheese we purchased at the Winter Farmers Market 2 weeks ago mixed with a more lentilwalnut-012standard medium yellow cheddar from the Devon Market.  I started with one of Martha’s many different recipes (this one from Everyday Food) for Macaroni and Cheese and changed it up by of course swapping out kinds of cheese, using low fat milk, whole wheat small shells, whole grain bread and leaving out the ham.  Results 2.5 stars out of 4.  While flavor was tasty (the blue cheddar gave it a nice pungent kick), it lost that creaminess and had a kind of grainy texture.  😦  Who knows what the exact cause was,  The blue cheddar was a bit more crumbly than moist (as some blues tend to be) so perhaps this was the downfall, or perhaps it was the lowfat milk.  Cooking time.  Reduction of milk.  I dont’ have enough experience to tell you where this went wrong.  Hopefully I’ll have better luck next time.  Do you have a favourite mac and cheese recipe?  Or place to order it?



Martha Martha Martha
February 23, 2009, 11:28 am
Filed under: Cooking

Everyday Food is still the reigning cookbook of choice.  Saturday nite we cooked dinner for J&R and laid out the following dishes. 

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Lentil Walnut Burgers.  We’ve made them a couple different times and this may have been the best yet.  Even with substitutions!!!  We didn’t have enough walnuts, so we used pecans for additional nuttage.  Also, they seemed really moist so I added an additional 1/3 cup of bread crumbs to the mix.  I think the added moisture came from the fact that we had leftover lentils in the freezer which were defrosted just prior to being used.  They had more water content than fresh cooked ones would have.  And this is part of what I’m going to say helped!!!  In previous versions, the patties have been drier and at times, difficult to flip in the pan, for fear of crumbling apart.  This mix was much more moist and hung together better while they were frying.  I want them back on the menu sooner than later.  I hate to call them veggie burgers, because as a meat beef eater, a veggie burger sounds like it is just trying to imitate a burger for people who don’t want to eat meat.  This is way better than any “veggie burger” in that regard, in that I love a juicy beef burger, but I love a good lentil walnut burger, so veggie or not, you need to try these!!!

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Spinach salad with Shittake Mushrooms and Quinoa.  This is a super tasty very easy salad to throw together.  The mushrooms get cooked on the broiler, while the quinoa cooks on the stovetop while you wash and prepare the spinach.  Where it all comes together in the end is a tasty salad mix.  While we did use this as a side salad it can also be featured as a main course, as Martha notes quinoa contains protein and helps balance out the nutrients in this meal. 

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Sweet Potato Fries.  Okay, these aren’t actually Martha they’re Bon-Appetit, but they were quite tasty.  Tip to making good sweet potato fries seems to be 1. Keeping the fries thin.  The recipe says 1/2 inch, ours were more like 1/4 inch
2. Spreading them out on the cookie sheet. Don’t crowd them together, so they each have plenty of room to be tossed.
3. High heat. These suckers cooked at 500 degrees!!!

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And we weren’t the only ones eating dinner that nite.  Emerson just started eating Rice Cereal!!!  Solids!!! Bravo 🙂   



Valentines Day: Disappointments and Rewards
February 20, 2009, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Restaurants

For Valentines day we contemplated several restaurants.  Lula was offering a fixed menu and was actually taking reservations, but it seemed a little seafood heavy and came at a cost of $75.  We could go to Francseca’sthe little Italian place we had tried last year.  The food was delicious and I always loved an order of pasta.  But no, we decided to forgo the dinner nite out and instead treat ourselves to a splurge of Hot Dougs hot dogs!!!  We’d been talking about going there for what feels like forever and had never made it.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity.  They only make their duck fat fries on Friday and Saturday so that too worked well into our plan.  So… on Saturday after planning our weekly food menu, walking the dog and doing some grocery shopping we set out a little late around 1:45 to get a belly full of goodness only to be greeted when we got there with this!!!! 

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A line, and not just any line, it stretch a block down such that you couldn’t even see the restaurant anymore. 

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Now perhaps I should have expected this as we had just watched Anthony Bourdain’s Chicago episode of No Reservations where he goes to Hot Dougs and also finds a line, but he went in summer!! and it wasn’t Valentines day!! when I thought most people would step it up and not just get hot dogs like us.  We were sadly mistaken.  Estimating the line to be at least an hour long, and having only eaten 2 eggs for breakfast (so in order to be fully hungry for this tasty treat) we left Hot Dougs behind and headed to Evanston to get our hot dog fix at

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Weiner and Still Champion.  And here is the reward. 

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Country Fried Bacon.  What is it you ask?  Glorious battered deep fried bacon served with an Argentinian Herb and Garlic Mayonnaise and a spicy bbq sauce, like what you might find with hot wings.  OH MY GOD!!!  It was salty fatty heaven!!! Accompanying this mound of goodness we each chowed down on two Chicago dogs and cheese fries and a Coke!!! 

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Heaven.  We enjoyed ourselves thouroughly.  Stuffed to the brim we rolled ourselves out of the small restaurant and poured ourselves into the car to go watch Coraline(which was awesome).  So Hot Doug’s  we’re sad we didn’t get to enjoy what has been famed but Weiner and Still Champion, thanx for coming thru and letting us know there’s more than one great hot dog stand in this fine city.  (Well a close suburb, but still) 

Weiner and Still Champion is located on Dempster just west of Chicago in Evanston.  Check them out tonite!!!



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

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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 🙂