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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the revolution will not contain high-fructose corn syrup

"There was a time when people said grace and I think that there are people who bemoan that we no longer say grace. And to me, it's not about thanking God, it's the fact that I don't think we could thank God anymore, we'd have to say, like, 'Bless us, oh Dow Chemical, for these food-like substances in front of us.'"

when i was a kid, we did a lot of food preserving. i remember bags and bags of frozen summer corn, tomatoes, butter beans and field peas, and one of my favorite childhood treats, my grandmother's pickled watermelon rinds. i especially remember blackberry jelly day, when the berries my brother and i had picked from the overgrown hills behind our house would be cooked into jelly by our parents. i remember vividly the cheesecloth filled with the desiccated berries after my dad had squeezed the ever-livin' bejeezus out of them, running our fingers along the sides of the pots to get as much of the warm and sticky mixture as we could before the pots got washed, and the sound of those jar lids popping all afternoon as they sealed while my mother took a little nap on the couch.

it was work, but i suspect that my family preserved food then for one of the reasons i do now-- because it's only good when it's in season. i'm just wrapping up two weeks of doing my own preserving of the summer bounty, and while i don't yet have the courage to start canning, the 18 cubic foot freezer my mother funded as an early birthday present is almost full.

preserving what's in season is one thing, but i've got other motivations as well. over the last several years there have been countless articles, books, movies, documentaries, news spots, radio shows, and bumper stickers dedicated to this subject-- we no longer know what is in our food. it's a sad and scary subject that is constantly on my mind. i moved away from processed foods years ago because i found them soulless-- i'd far rather make my own vegetable soup than open a can from campbell's. but i've learned that soulless is just the beginning. there are greater insidious consequences of our industrialized food system, damaging our environment, our livelihoods, the living conditions of people in other countries, and our health.

this is a hard post to write simply because there is so much to say. i'll try to keep it as uncomplicated as i can, though the situation we're in is anything but uncomplicated. i'll also try not to be a michael pollan parrot, but his book the omnivore's dilemma is the jumping off point for most of what i've got to say.

consider this:
  • our food is full of chemicals-- preservatives, additives, what-have-you, meant to extend the shelf life, preserve the bright color, etc. there's plenty of research to be done, for sure, but even scratching the surface, things turn up-- as one example, a quick web search for "polysorbate 80" yields results saying it contributes to infertility.
  • ingredients travel great distances, sometimes to and from other countries, for production and processing. the more ingredients in a product, the more fossil fuels were burned to move those ingredients around.
  • our system depends on a monoculture of subsidized corn. growing nothing but corn year after year is killing our farmlands, has removed diversity from our diets, and has erased many of our food traditions.
  • speaking of corn, according to michael pollan many american kids get 20% of their daily calories from high-fructose corn syrup. twenty percent! and, lest we suspect we can identify products containing corn by name, here's a list from pollan: lecithin, mono-, di-, and triglycerides, citric acid, modified and unmodified starch, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, crystalline frustose, ascorbic acid, dextrose, lactic acid, lysine, maltose, MSG, polyols, caramel color, xanthan gum-- all are, or can be, derived from corn.
  • corn (unnaturally, and with sickening results) feeds the animals we eat. even the wax coating on fresh produce-- corn. we're all pretty much bipedal ears of corn at this point.
  • the corporations in charge of our food supply are riddled with infractions, from human rights violations to environmental destruction and more. not only that, they appear to be happy to strip our food of nutrition and flavor in order to provide the cheapest possible calories in the interest of their own bottom line, all the while paying farm workers a pitiful sum for their labor.

when thinking about this post, i decided to conduct an experiment. i pulled out some dried fettuccine and a jar of pasta sauce. a pasta dinner-- should be harmless, right? one ingredient in the pasta is ferrous lactate, an additive for color retention and iron fortification, if wikipedia is to be believed. the first page of results from a google search on "ferrous lactate" is heavy with chinese suppliers. do i really need an ingredient to travel from china for my pasta dinner? not to mention the allowable trace amount of arsenic...

next, the sauce. a jar of classico sun-dried tomato sauce with an old-world label resembling a cracked fresco and a silhouette of italy on the lid. the back of the label reads, "In the seaside villas of Capri, sauces made with sun-dried tomatoes have the rich intensity of the Mediterranean sun." that may be true, but i doubt it has any bearing whatsoever on what's in the jar. but i digress. the label also reads that the sauce is distributed by international gourmet specialties company in pittsburgh. turns out their parent company is h.j. heinz, and it didn't take long to find people who think heinz is causing some problems in the world. responsible shopper rates them here, and lists some of the issues with heinz here.

i'm not saying that i know that heinz is making life miserable for indonesians, or that my fettucine has an additive from china. what i am saying is what i started with-- we don't know what's in our food.

thus, i preserve. i started with tomato sauce, something i first tried last year with terrific results. it freezes well in quart-sized containers, ready to stand in for that jar of classico in my winter pasta dishes. and i know where the ingredients came from.

the sauce has carrots from rob's mother's garden. the oregano and thyme are from our herb patch.

the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil are from an organic farmer named
don hilario alvarez in yakima valley. alvarez got most of my money this summer, second only to our landlord, and i was happy to pay him directly for his hard work without some impertinent middle man.

i'm thrilled that alvarez had dried beans available-- i've cooked and frozen pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzos to have ready for chili, soups and stews this winter.

i've frozen bags of fresh peas, corn, bell peppers, and green beans. i've frozen peeled and diced tomatoes, and tomatoes stewed with peppers and onions. i wish i'd been keeping a log of how much i'm putting away, but i calculated over the weekend that i'd already processed about 70 lbs of tomatoes, and should still get 10-20 more from the garden in the next week or so.

as an experiment i've also frozen chopped walla walla sweet onions (my favorite, other than georgia's vidalia onions!), and jars of salsa. i'm not sure that the textures will hold up, especially with the salsas, but it's certainly worth a try.

my goal is to seriously reduce the purchases i make at the grocery store. no cans of beans, no frozen peas-- just what i've saved from the summer. i live in an area that takes it's local food seriously. if i didn't, there's not a chance i could even entertain this idea. for this, i am thankful. i know not everyone has access to a farmers market twice a week, or anything close to the time it's taken me to get all of this done. (i wish i could do it for everyone!) but i do hope that the rising interest in being able to source one's food, to know what's in it, and to eat locally, continues to shape food production across the country. everyone deserves clean and healthy, not to mention delicious, food.

if you haven't read these, give them a try. really great stuff.

the omnivore's dilemma by michael pollan. (dense but amazing-- i'm only about a third of the way through.)
animal, vegetable, miracle by barbara kingsolver.
in defense of food by michael pollan. (haven't read it, but i most certainly will.)

also, food-related movies, a list from warren etheredge (i haven't seen any of these!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

chanterelle mushroom feast!

i've learned over the last couple of years that when fall comes to the pacific northwest, saying you're going for a hike might be met with, "are you going mushroom hunting?" there are quite a few forageables in this part of the country, and a fair-sized population of people interested in finding them.

i've been intrigued by the idea of a mushroom-gathering expedition for a while now, but lacked two pieces of critical information: 1) where to go, and 2) what to look for. you have to go with someone experienced, and as i understand it, mushroom hunters who have their own trusty spot are reluctant to share such treasure with others. thankfully, i have a couple of friends who are clever enough to have recently gotten themselves invited on a hunt for chanterelles, and who also happen to be spectacular cooks.

dinner monday night with b and v was an incredible chanterelle feast. first up, the mushrooms were sauteed in sherry and mixed with a little creme fraiche, served on crostini. unreasonably delicious. next, we had them roasted with asparagus, cooked with bacon and tossed with boiled new potatoes, and made into a stroganoff-style sauce which was served on rare beef. there was so much amazingness on that table it was overwhelming. at the end of the night they sent us home with a couple of pounds of our very own chanterelles. awesome!

chanterelles are one of about 30 edible, forageable varieties in this part of the world. they are difficult to cultivate since their growth depends on a symbiotic relationship that takes place at the root level of certain trees. they are, as are all mushrooms i've learned from the most recent issue of edible seattle, actually the fruit of a larger organism called the mycelium that makes it's home in the soil. because they have to be hand picked from the forest floor, chanterelles are quite expensive. but if you know where and how to find them, you've got a goldmine on your hands.

so, what to do with my paper bag o' delicacies? i decided to stretch them as far as i could, and make several different dishes. first was homemade pappardelle with chanterelles in a creamy tomato sauce. i essentially followed a recipe for pappardelle with wild mushrooms, rosemary, and light tomato sauce from the summertime anytime cookbook by dana slatkin.

it was... good, but not amazing. the pasta was good, the sauce was good, the mushrooms were good, but at the end of the day, it was pasta with mushrooms in a tomato sauce-- not the most exciting way to show off the flavor of such a coveted ingredient. the next night i changed direction.

on a back episode of top chef i was re-watching for the 3rd time tuesday morning, a chef made a gnocchi dish with lobster, bacon, corn, and chanterelle mushrooms. heck yeah! i'll just leave off the lobster, make up a sauce, and it'll be great! i had made a couple of pounds of gnocchi earlier in the month and frozen it for just such an occasion, so this would even be a relatively quick meal. it was uncomplicated and delicious! if it had been served to me at a restaurant, i'd have only been disappointed that there wasn't twice as much of it on the plate.

gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, and bacon
(serves 2)

1 lb prepared gnocchi
2 slices bacon
1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife
1/2 - 3/4 lb chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, small ones left whole
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
pat of butter
olive oil
salt and pepper

cook bacon over medium heat and remove to drain on paper towels. crumble or cut into bits. drain off most of bacon grease and return pan to heat.

add mushrooms to pan. when they hit the heat, they will lose a lot of their liquid pretty quickly and cook down a bit in their own juices. when they are softened and golden, remove from pan and reserve, reserving also the mushroom liquid in a separate bowl to be used in the sauce later.

saute the onions and garlic in the same pan with some olive oil or butter. cook until onions are transluscent, or caramelize if you want. (i usually add the garlic at the last minute to sweat it but not risk burning). add corn to pan. cook a few minutes more until corn cooks through and the mixture begins to marry. it smells really good at this stage...

add white wine to pan and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. cook 2 minutes or so until the wine reduces and the mixture thickens. add chicken stock and cook a few minutes more, again, reducing and thickening. repeat with reserved mushroom liquid. stir in a pat of butter for added richness.

add mushrooms and crumbled bacon to the sauce and warm through. season to taste with salt and pepper.

serve on gnocchi. i boiled and pan fried mine in butter to give it a little texture. note: if using frozen gnocchi, do not thaw before cooking.

it's just dirt, it won't hurt anybody, but i don't like gritty meals and chanterelle mushrooms are filthy! to clean, remove the part of the stem that was underground and brush or scrape off as much of the rest of the dirt as possible. they're pretty robust, they can take it. wash under running water, paying attention to any trapped dirt in the gills. clean only just before use, though-- don't clean and store wet or they will, um, i don't know what they will do, but it might not be pretty. they will last several days in a paper bag in the fridge.

just a handful left! what to do tonight?

Monday, September 21, 2009

last day of summer...

dear summer,

how i will miss you. please hurry back.

your adoring fan,

Friday, September 18, 2009

captain caveman zucchini, day 2

where the day before had revolved around cilantro, day 2 of getting through the monster zucchini was driven by basil. i had a bit of goat cheese in the fridge from the farmers market, and decided to roll it up in slices of grilled zucchini with a leaf of basil and a sliver of squash blossom for color. i had overseasoned the squash slightly, but this was still a delicious dish! it would be great to serve at a party, and has the advantage of being something that can be prepared ahead and broiled at the last minute.

zucchini and goat cheese rolls

zucchini, sliced longways about 1/4" thick
goat cheese
basil leaves
squash blossoms, sliced (optional)
olive oil
salt and pepper

rub zucchini slices with olive oil and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper. grill a couple of minutes on each side until softened and grill marked.

add about a teaspoon or two of goat cheese, a basil leaf, and a piece of squash blossom to the middle of each slice. roll squash slices around filling and broil just a few minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melted.

to accompany our rolls, i revisited the zucchini parmesan idea from earlier in the summer. however, this zucchini is so freaking big around that i couldn't find a pan that would accommodate the slices gracefully. so i built two zucchini parmesan towers.

they look like giant burgers, don't they? but they are just breaded and pan fried zucchini slices, layered with parmesan, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, topped with some silly flair. i mean, food is lots of things and FUN is certainly one.

naturally, the towers slumped in the oven and looked like they'd met a wrecking ball when they came out. no worries. we just laughed at it and scooped the top two stories on a plate, saving the bottom floors for seconds. as before, it tasted great!

about a third of the zucchini remains. fritters? risotto? shredded as a salad? this is gonna take some creativity. and, yikes, full confession-- i actually brought home 2 mondo zucchinis from the garden... at the end of this, i do believe i will have had my fill.

captain caveman zucchini, day 1

we spent last week with rob's family in southern washington. everyone was there under very sad circumstances, and for some of us a daily (or two or three times daily) trip to the garden was like therapy. his mom has corn, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and zucchini growing, all of which were ready for harvest. we had many a garden meal that week.

knowing zucchini's reputation as a speedy producer, a couple of us decided to measure one and see if it could impress us with it's ability to double in size every five minutes. it was less than 6 inches long when we started. the day after we measured was anti-climactic. however, 6 days later the squash had grown to 15 inches and weighed 3 pounds. monstrous!

the afternoon we left i went down to the garden one last time to pick a few vegetables for us to bring home. i know, zucchini is best enjoyed as young little courgettes, but this squash was symbolic of the week, and i refused to see it end up as compost. so i carried it up the hill like a club, and joked that it would need to be buckled in it's own seat for the drive home.

i decided to let herbs drive the menu, and day 1 was cilantro. bon appetit (via provided a zucchini, potato and cilantro soup which i served with a corn and zucchini quesadilla with green zebra salsa.

zucchini, potato, and cilantro soup
bon appetit, may 2007

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) chopped jalapeño chile with seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) fennel seeds
  • 1 (7- to 8-ounce) Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 16 to 18 ounces zucchini (about 4 medium), trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) fresh lime juice

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chile and fennel seeds; stir 30 seconds. Add next 3 ingredients; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Purée soup in batches in blender, adding cilantro and 1 teaspoon lime juice to first batch. Return puree to same pan. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired. Rewarm, if necessary, and serve.

the soup was delicious! i left out the fennel seeds, but otherwise made as written. i'm often inclined to make a cream-of-seasonal-vegetable soup, but the potatoes in this one replaced the cream beautifully. it was creamy and thick and yummy, with cilantro to brighten it up. it definitely needs homemade chicken or vegetable stock, however. the boxed/canned stuff would have completely masked the flavors.

for the quesadilla, i cut the kernels off of an ear of corn and pan sauteed them with zucchini cut into matchsticks. i cooked them 5 minutes or so, just enough that they were still fresh but no longer raw, and used them as filling with monterey jack.

the show stopper was the green zebra salsa, however. just my usual formula of sweet onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, and salt, but with a green zebra tomato. green zebras are tart, almost citrusy, and the combination was really out of this world.

thus was consumed about a quarter of the captain caveman zucchini. stay tuned...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

canned chicken stock is way more gross than chicken feet

it's probably because they look like human hands. sinister, gnarled, four-fingered witch hands. that's what makes chicken feet so creepy, and what makes a pot of them simmering on the stove look downright horrifying. but chicken feet make the BEST stock.

last january, while we were still living in portland, i traveled to kookoolan farms in yamhill for some cheesemaking supplies. they were selling chicken parts for stock at a great price, and since i could see from the window that their birds live happy chicken lives, freely roaming the huge property and eating bugs as chickens should, i was happy to take advantage of the opportunity.

if i'm a snob about anything, it's chicken stock from a box. the stuff is completely overpowering and makes everything taste like a salty campbell's condensed soup-- bleck. homemade, on the other hand, is silky and light and is a perfect base for other flavors to be showcased. i've been making stock for years from the bones leftover from whole roasted birds, but hadn't ever started with raw parts. feet, necks-- i was creeped out. i braved it, though, chuckling uncomfortably the whole way through, and now believe there is no better way to go. the resulting stock is lean and rich with a creamy texture and a clear, golden color, and is absolutely worth any discomfort experienced during the preparation.

most excellent chicken stock

2lb chicken parts, or carcass from a roasted chicken
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped with leaves
1 yellow onion, quartered, skin left on
3 cloves garlic, smashed
5 or so sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 bayleaf
kosher salt

in large stock pot (2-3 gallons), add all ingredients except the salt and cover with filtered water to the top of the pot. bring to an easy boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours or more, occasionally skimming any accumulated scum from the top. do not stir! stirring will emulsify the fat into the stock and make it cloudy and, well, fatty.

after about an hour, start tasting the stock. it's usually weak and watery. add about a teaspoon of kosher salt, working it into the liquid from the surface with a spoon, but not aggressively stirring. taste again at the 1 1/2 hour mark, add another teaspoon salt. taste every 15-30 minutes, adding salt in small amounts (if necessary) until it tastes sufficiently flavorful. don't over season, since most recipes calling for chicken stock also call for additional salt.

remove from heat and strain through a double layer of butter muslin or cheesecloth into a large bowl. when it's cool enough to refrigerate, chill overnight.

skim off any fat that solidifies on the surface.

this recipe makes 3-5 quarts, depending on the size of the stock pot and how much it cooks down. i freeze in quart containers, 2 cup portions in freezer bags, and ice trays so i'm ready for recipes that call for small amounts.

  • most farms with chickens, unless they are making and selling their own stocks, have stock parts for sale. farmers markets are a great place to find them.
  • leaving the skin on the onions helps it develop it's golden color.
  • since everything is going to be strained out, the veggies can be choppped in rough chunks.
  • if you use organic produce, it needs to be washed well, but not peeled.
  • other herbs and vegetables would work in this recipe, too. turnips, thyme, maybe even rutabagas...?
  • you can add salt at the beginning or at any point during the cooking process, but i do it slowly towards the end since flavors, including salt, intensify the longer something cooks. this is just the method that works for me.
  • the butter muslin or cheesecloth can be washed and reused.
  • there's plenty of meat left on the necks which can be carefully pulled off and fed to a very happy kitty.

since making soups is one of my favorite things in the whole world, i go through this process 5 or 6 times a year and i LOVE it. it's therapeutic, really-- the comforting aroma, the steamed-up kitchen windows, the knowledge that i'll be prepared for so many soup, sauce, and risotto possibilities... it is not as time consuming as it might seem-- throw some stuff in a pot and walk away for a few hours. the clean up is the hardest part, honestly. let's face it-- if those feet were kinda gross going in the pot, they are decidedly worse coming out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

lemon rosemary sorbet

i've always been a low-tech girl. i remember in college almost begging my professors to let me handwrite my papers since i had no use for the computing machines that everyone else seemed to find soooo necessary. i've come a long way, even in the kitchen. there was a time when a cutting board, a casserole dish, and a dull 8" chef knife were all i needed. then i met rob...

rob is captain gadget, as any self-respecting mechanical engineer would have to be. i quickly learned that browsing a kitchen supply store with a gizmo guy had changed the experience forever. i'm still not taken in by all of the toys, but i do at least now own a chopper, and the bread machine we picked up at goodwill has been one of the best $13 investments we've ever made.

another of our favorite tools, especially this time of year, is the ice cream maker. i've used it once or twice, but rob has made all manner of treats, from vanilla bean custard ice cream to orange sherbet. nothing beats the sorbets, however. after having dinner with his family a couple of weeks ago at a restaurant that served water in pitchers with lemons and rosemary, we had a new plan-- lemon rosemary sorbet.

this is all rob-- the recipe, the execution, even a couple of the photos. i'm just the proxy. ;)

lemon rosemary sorbet

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 sprig mint
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp vodka (optional-- this keeps it from freezing solid)
1 1/2- 2 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon (couple of Tbsp)

bring water and sugar to boil over medium high heat.
reduce to simmer on low for 5 minutes or until all sugar is dissolved.
remove from heat, add rosemary and mint, cover and steep 10 minutes.
strain out rosemary and mint, add lemon zest, chill in fridge until cool.

stir in lemon juice & vodka and freeze in ice cream/sorbet machine according to mfg directions.

we've found that after it's done all it's going to do in the ice cream maker, it still needs a couple of hours, or even overnight, in the freezer to not turn back into syrup the instant you scoop some into a bowl.

this sorbet is wonderful! you definitely have to like rosemary, but the flavor is not overpowering at all. we tried a similar recipe last summer using basil, and it, too, was incredibly good. next on the list-- blackberry!