Friday, February 26, 2010
The basic premise of the book is a journalistic account of her family's decision to abandon city life in Tuscon, AZ; move to a farm in Appalachia, and survive only on local food for an entire year, much of it grown on their own farm by their own two hands.
I find her prose remarkably humble, witty, and just so...true. Like Michael Pollan, she has obviously done lots of research on industrial food production and reports many of the same facts he touts in his books. But Kingsolver gets down into the heart of the matter in a way that Pollan never does in any of his books. Maybe it's because she's a woman charged with the task of feeding her family. Maybe it's because she came of age in an era when processed food was seen as a "gift" to women who wanted out of the house and into the workforce, much to our current demise. Maybe it's just that she's a damn good writer. Nevertheless, I find myself nodding my head vigorously at every chapter, and I just made my husband sit down so I could read him a 5 page excerpt. I'm not even halfway through the thing yet and already I want to get on the rooftops and shout to people "Read this book, it will change your life!".
This is where I get myself into trouble. I tend to get overzealous about sharing my feelings about cooking and food with others. But it's so easy, I tell myself. They should know too! I don't have a knack for humility like Kingsolver. At best, I come off sounding like a snooty, younger (and much thinner) version of Ina Garten. How easy is that?
It's so not my intention. And so I'm going to shut up now and let Barbara Kingsolver do the talking. This will the the first of a couple of installments of her writing that I'm planning to post here:
On the concept of organic/local food as an "elites-only" privilege:
"Even so, a perception of organic food as an elite privilege is a considerable obstacle to the farmer growing food for middle-income customers whose highest food-shopping priority is the lowest price. Raising food without polluting the field or the product will always cost more than the conventional mode that externalizes costs to taxpayers and the future...(she is speaking about the the tax dollars we pay that subsidize the petroleum used in growing, processing, and shipping industrially produced food, as well as the subsidies we pay to this large-scale, chemical dependent brand of farming, the amount of which is increasing each year, not to mention the toll on the environment and the depletion of resources for future generations).
She goes on to say: "Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or heretofore in history. In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify consumption of tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it's cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, hormone-free dairy, and such. Whether on school boards or in families, budget keepers may be aware of the health tradeoff but still feel compelled to economize on food - in a manner that would be utterly unacceptable if the health risk involved an unsafe family vehicle or a plume of benzene running through a school basement."
"It's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled drinking water, for example, even though water runs from the faucets at home for a fraction of the cost, and government quality standards are stricter for tap water than for bottled. At any income level, we can be relied upon for categorically unnecessary purchases: portable-earplug music instead of the radio; extra-fast Internet for leisure use; heavy vehicles to transport light loads; name brand clothing instead of plainer gear."
"How delusional are we, exactly? Insisting to farmers that our food has to be cheap is like commanding a ten-year-old to choose a profession and move out of the house now. It violates the spirit of the enterprise. It guarantees bad results. The economy of the arrangement will come around to haunt you..."
"...the 'Buy Cheap Eats' crusade is assisting in the deaths of our compatriots at the rate of about 820 a day; somebody's bound to notice that."
One more thought from me, Emily: My own grandfather died of obesity at age 65. They actually wrote "obesity" on his death certificate rather than "heart disease" or whatever else they could have written. He wasn't one of those gigantic people that you might stare at, but he probably wasn't comfortable in an airplane seat. I've begun to wonder just how many of our loved ones could have been saved, and who still could be saved - if our food system wasn't controlled by capitalism and an industry that sits around trying to figure out how to shove more corn byproducts into the American people. They literally have meetings like that, and they are succeeding. I think I'm justifiably angry.
The painfully simple truth I spoke about earlier is that we can beat all this, simply by finding the best foods (and by that I mean, whole, real foods) we can afford and cooking them. It can start today, with a meal, at your table, with the ones you love.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
One of my downfalls of this challenge is that I tend to choose complicated, time-consuming recipes. I'm trying to add some quality, quick weeknight meals to my repertoire - but sometimes it's just so satisfying to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen, creating something wonderful, sipping wine, and forgetting completely about the stresses of the day. For me, the kitchen is an escape from all the other crap going on in my life and in the world. Try it sometime - pour yourself a glass of wine, put on a cute apron, and start chopping.
Onto the food. I made an amazing leek and swiss chard tart at Thanksgiving, so when I saw this Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart on Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to make it. Also, I had some leftover tart dough in the freezer that I needed to use up.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The hubs took the lead on this meal - yes, I married a Greek man who can cook. It's ok to feel jealous. ;)
Greek Meatballs (keftethes)
(adapted from a Greek cookbook my mom bought him for Christmas - it's one of those old church ladies compilation type thingies)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 c dried bread crumbs
1 small onion, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, using your hands to mix thoroughly. Form into balls. Saute in olive oil in a hot non-stick skillet until evenly browned, about 3-5 minutes per side.
My husband is also the homemade french fry champ. They are so easy! - and without the Guilt of the Golden Arches.
Homemade French Fries
(1 potato will serve 2 people)
1 or 2 baking potatoes
salt and pepper
Peel and cut the potatoes into matchsticks. Let them soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes while your oil gets hot in the pan. Use enough oil to completely cover the potatoes, and wait until the oil is just smoking to add the potatoes to the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning several times throughout to avoid burning.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Turns out, baking from scratch is really not all that difficult or time consuming. In his book Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan recommends that you don't partake in any sweets you didn't create from scratch with your own two hands - the thought being that you will then consume less sweets because you won't want to go to the trouble of all that measuring and stirring and cleaning dishes. Well, Mr. Pollan has not met the likes of me yet!
Here is my favorite brownie recipe, taken from Smitten Kitchen, my very favorite food blog. (Her photos are to-die-for).
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch pan (I use butter, of course).
If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.
Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve.
They are seriously so, so good. You'll never go back to boxed mixes. (And you can eat them for breakfast - I give you permission).
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
First, you have to make your pastry shell. I have to admit, I've been using frozen pie crusts for my quiches lately, instead of making them from scratch (SHAME! I'll never be the wife of a French peasant...). It's really not hard to make a crust, though, so I have no excuse for being lazy.
2 cups Flour
.5 tsp Salt
1.5 sticks Butter (6 oz... oh yeah!)
3 oz really cold ice water
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse until mixed. Add the cubed butter overtop and pulse until coarse crumbs start to form. Then drizzle the water over top and pulse until the dough starts to come together. Roll this out onto a floured surface and then transport to your pie tin.
Long live BUTTER!
Note: The recipe in the book actually makes enough for 3 shells. What you see above is that recipe halved.... so, that makes enough for 1.5 shells. You can easily tweak this to make slightly less, but I like have extra and I'll show you way at the end of this post!
Pop the crust into the freezer for 5 minutes, then throw into a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Pull out of the oven and let cool while you prepare the filling.
Now the magic! Leek and Asparagus Quiche:
1 Leek, sliced
Half a bundle of Asparagus, cut into half inch pieces (you want roughly 1.5 cups total vegetables... I usually throw in more)
1.5 cups (6 oz) grated Gruyere Cheese (again, I usually end up using more)
1 3/4 cups Organic Whole Milk (or Half-n-Half, or Cream... low fat milk is for losers)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper (or to taste)
Sauté the leeks in about a tablespoon of butter until they start to get wilty, then throw in your asparagus, and cook until it's all soft, but not mushy, then set aside. Sprinkle half of the cheese into the crust. Then, wisk the eggs until blended and add the milk, salt and pepper. Stir in the veggies and the rest of the cheese. Pour into the partially baked and cooled crust.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and the middle is set. Resist temptation (this is Lent, after all) and wait until it cools before you dig in!
So I said I had extra dough... what to do with it? Make mini-quiches using ramekins, of course! Since I always end up adding more veggies and cheese than I'm supposed to, the filling ends up being too much for the crust. Just make sure you keep an eye on them in the oven, they'll be done faster than the big quiche. With this recipe, I made two extra little guys.
One last note: Nicholas Tonozzi, I need my roller back! I just mushed this dough out by hand and it was a little too thick. I blame you for this.
Friday, February 19, 2010
I ventured out to Gene's Sausage Shop this week, a delightful new butcher shop in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Lo and behold, for $2.99 a pound, they had Amish chickens!
So for $11, I got this 3.5 lb chicken, enough to feed my husband and I for 2 meals. Not a bad deal, if you ask me - sure, you can find cheaper, but after reading the package thoroughly, I felt good about this chicken's origins. These days, many farms have websites that discuss their farming practices and even show pictures of their land and animals, which is a great way to learn more about your food and how it was grown/raised. Of course, the best way to know exactly where your food comes from is to visit a local farm yourself and buy directly from the farmer - more money in the farmer's pocket and you can ask questions first-hand about your food. This is something I'm hoping to do in the near future.
But I digress, as usual. Here is the recipe for Emily's Easy Roast Chicken (adapted from ATK, of course). While this makes a wonderful Sunday dinner, it's simple enough to make on a weeknight, especially since it's not very labor intensive.
1 3.5-4 lb whole chicken
4 TBSP butter, softened (unsalted)
fresh or dried herbs, whatever you like best
1 lemon, quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the gizzard from the inside of the bird (this is usually in a little baggie) and discard. Trim any fat you see hanging around. Stuff the garlic cloves and lemon quarters inside the chicken. Mix the softened butter with 1 or 2 TBSP of the herbs and some salt and pepper. Use your fingers to gently work the butter under the skin of the chicken, then distribute it by massaging your fingers around the outside of the bird. Brush the outside of the chicken with the remaining butter (you can just use your fingers).
Note: If you have a rack to place in your roasting pan, it is good to use it. We don't have one, so we use potato wedges to get the bird off the bottom of the pan, which make a delicious side dish.
Roast for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Turn up the heat to 425 and roast until the chicken reaches 170 degrees (use an instant read thermometer - if you don't have one, I highly recommend getting one, they are super cheap and a lifesaver when cooking meat), about 30 minutes. Cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes before cutting.
You will feel like Martha Stewart when you pull your beautifully roasted chicken out of the oven. On a day when you may feel like you accomplished nothing else (like the sort of day I was having when I made this meal), it can all be turned around by this chicken. Thank you, kind chicken!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
So Tuesday night, I set about to make Eggplant Parmesan. Now, I would not recommend you make this on a weeknight. It is a tad time-consuming, but oh so worth it in the end. I had made it once before, and had somehow forgotten how much time I spent on it - my husband remembered though. This is a great dish to make for Sunday dinner - heck, I think it's wonderful enough to serve to dinner guests - and perfect for vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Anyways, onto the recipe (and lovely pictures of course, all taken by my talented husband, whose hobby is photography):
Eggplant Parmesan (serves 6-8, reheats beautifully)
from America's Test Kitchen
For the tomato sauce in this recipe, they recommend making their Quick tomato sauce - which is what I did. The recipe for that follows as well. If you're in a time crunch, you can use jarred - but it's so easy to do it yourself - and cheaper.
2 globe eggplants (2 lbs), sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs
4 cups plain dried bread crumbs
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups tomato sauce
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded (2 cups) (I used fresh mozz and just cut it into small pieces, it worked well).
Note: Since I haven't had time to make bread this week, I've been using this pita in its place: it's locally made and has only a few ingredients:
I decided to try to make breadcrumbs out of it for this recipe and it worked beautifully! For 4 cups of breadcrumbs, just tear up 4 pitas, toss into your food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumb consistency!
1. Toss the eggplant with 1 tsp salt (easiest if done in 2 batches) and let it drain in a colander for about 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, adjust two oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack, and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flour and 1 tsp of pepper in a large zipper lock bag and shake to combine. Beat the eggs into a shallow dish. Combine the breadcrumbs, 1 cup of the Parmesan, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a second shallow dish.
3. Spread the drained eggplant over paper towels. Wipe away as much salt as possible and press firmly on each slice to remove as much liquid as possible. Working with about 8 eggplant slices at a time, place them in the bag with the flour, seal, and shake until thoroughly coated. Remove the eggplant, shaking off any excess flour, and dip it into the eggs. Remove the eggplant from the egg, allowing any excess to drip off, and coat evenly with the breadcrumbs, pressing them to adhere. Lay the breaded eggplant on a wire rack. Flour, dip in egg, and coat the remaining eggplant with breadcrumbs in the same manner.
4. Remove the pre-heated baking sheets from teh oven. Pour 3 tablespoons oil onto each sheet, tilting to coat the sheets evenly. Spread the breaded eggplant in a single layer over the hot sheets. Bake until the eggplant is well-browned and crisp on the first side, about 20 minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over. Switch and rotate the baking sheets, continuing to bake until the second side is browned, about 10 minutes longer. (Do not turn off the oven).
5. Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Shingle half of the eggplant slices over the tomato sauce. Distribute 1 more cup of the sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Shingle the remaining eggplant in the dish and dot with another cup of the sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so that it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup the Parmesan and the remaining 1 cup mozzarella.
6. Place the dish on the lower middle rack of the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and well-browned, about 15 minutes.
3 TBSP olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 TBSP fresh basil, chopped fine
1/4 tsp sugar
Saute the garlic in the olive oil on medium-low heat for about 2 minutes until fragrant but not brown. Pour in both cans of tomatoes, stir to combine, then bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Stir in the basil and sugar and remove from heat.
How easy is that? :)
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
While I won't be refraining from sugar, eggs, and fruit this Lenten season, I will be forgoing any sweet treats that aren't produced by my own two hands. My husband and I happen to live in close proximity to one of the best bakeries in Chicago, the Swedish Bakery, and we are frequent customers. We stopped in on Monday and happened to get the very LAST paczki with fresh strawberries and cream (much tastier than the jelly-donut style). It was a delicious.
What are your Fat Tuesday food traditions? Hope you enjoyed some sort of yummy treat in preparation for your Lenten journey or just for the fun of it!
The so-called “Western diet” was brought to our attention by the writing of Michael Pollan and is somewhat complex. The “food-like substances” that constitute this diet can be described as the commercial, profit driven, nutrient deficient, highly processed, environmentally unsound, artificial chemical-filled, and brutally cruel (when it comes to animal treatment). For more information, we highly recommend his books including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.”
Since reading these incredible books, we have both made changes to the way we think about where our food comes from and how it ends up in our bodies. But we wanted to take an extra step… we both love a good meal prepared at home by our own hands, but could we do it every day? We’ll be using the framework of the Christian Lenten season to test our abilities in the kitchen and test our willingness to make an extra effort when to comes to really knowing where our food comes from. This will include omitting all processed foods from our diet, eating only “whole foods”, or foods that remain as close to their natural state as possible, seeking out humanely and healthfully produced meat and dairy products (i.e. no growth hormones, no anti-biotics, animals that were not raised on industrial feed lots), wild-caught fish, and most importantly, cooking from scratch with high-quality ingredients.
Drawing from Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”, we will be avoiding any food that: a) contains High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
b) contains unpronounceable ingredients
c) does not rot (with some small exceptions for canned items such as canned tomatoes and canned beans)
Eliminating processed foods from our diets will take care of most of these items, but we will be using discretion with each food we bring into our kitchen and into our bodies – the industrial food system is far reaching and has a hand in practically every item you find in the supermarket today.
Not only do we hope to improve our own health and well-being, we hope to improve the health of the environment and dispel the myth that cooking from scratch is difficult and time consuming and expensive – in fact, we believe it will save you money! (And it will certainly save you money down the road in health care costs). If you’re willing to give up just a couple of hours of time per week (and who doesn’t spend a couple of hours a week aimlessly surfing the net or watching television), we think you can change your life by avoiding the “Western diet” and taking control over what goes into your body!
It is not our intention to alienate ourselves from our friends or families, neither is it our intention to deprive ourselves of the basic necessities (and by that we mean coffee and alcohol), and we will allow ourselves one meal out a week (we’re certainly not going to become creepy shut-ins, after all). In addition, we plan to host some fun “cooking parties” at home with friends – which can be just as enjoyable as going out to dinner (and certainly more economical). We plan to explore and share various ways to “get out of the supermarket” and buy quality food from local producers and businesses.
This all being said, we will have some ground rules for the experiment. We are, after all, human beings with jobs and families and friends and lives - busy ones! We will not be making our own dairy products, but we will be seeking out dairy products that are locally produced and do not contain additives (many dairy products that are made to be “low-fat” contain many additives to give them proper consistency, not to mention all those products out there with artificial sweeteners and myriad unpronounceable ingredients – but more on that later).
We will be baking our own bread and making our own stocks. If we want a brownie – we have to bake it ourselves – from scratch. No box mixes, spice packets, canned soups, or pre-made anything. Sound challenging? We know it will be – but we believe that the rewards will be wonderful meals, an enhanced quality of life, a greater sense of our connection to the natural world, and better relationships with our friends and family through meals cooked and enjoyed together.
Why ‘fallible foodies’? We’re going to make mistakes. Who doesn’t? This is about learning how to eat well in a way that will both benefit our bodies and have a more sustainable impact on the environment; creating a positive relationship with food beyond the American "fast food" culture; it’s not about becoming holier than thou perfectionists in the kitchen. So we’ll see what happens…. Let the games begin!