Food


Whole Foods for the Whole Family: notice the spiral binding. Classic.

Back in the day, my parents cooked from a certain cookbook quite a lot.  That book, Whole Foods for the Whole Family, was published by LaLeche League International, which, just as it sounds is a still-active breastfeeding advocacy group.

At any rate, many of these recipes have become old standards in our family, and this christmas, my parents got all three of us (that is, myself and my two brothers) copies of the original.

So, to celebrate this momentous occasion, here’s one of the best recipes in the book, for Kima–which appears to be a ground beef curry dish originating in either northern India or Pakistan.  Thanks go out to Rose Isdale of Christchurch, New Zeland for submitting this recipe to La Leche League in the first place!  Enjoy:

The Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef or cubed tofu*.

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced.

1 tbs. butter

1 1/2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. salt

dash of pepper

2-3 tsp. soy sauce

2 potatoes, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 cup peas

1 stalk celery, diced

2-3 tomatoes, quartered

*A note on the tofu: cubed tofu is fine, but if you’re looking to keep the ground beef texture, place a block of tofu in the freezer, allowing it enough time to freeze solid.  Then thaw it out, and crumble it.  It will mimic the look and feel of ground beef quite well.

The Method:

1). Saute onion and garlic butter.

2). Add beef (or tofu) and brown.

3). Add seasonings and vegetables.

4). Simmer 30 minutes.

According to the recipe, “this may be adapted to include any favorite foods.  Mushrooms make a delicious addition.  I’ve found that toddlers love this meal as well as adults because all the food is in tasty, bite-sized pieces.”

Hi All!  Ever since I had the amaranth pancakes at the now-defunct Vella Cafe in Bucktown, Chicago, I’d been meaning to attempt a version of my own.  Here’s what I came up with this morning.  They’re fairly simple, but with a distinct nuttiness, and a depth of flavor that run-of-the-mill flapjacks usually lack.  Plus, amaranth not only sounds cool (I think its up there with coelacanth), it’s pretty good for you!

This recipe serves 2 people, so if you’re planning on feeding any more than that, I’d at least double it!

A note about the amaranth flour:  I made my own, running amaranth through a flour mill a few times, but you can also find it at just about any specialty grocer.

The Ingredients:

A varietal of amaranth in its native habitat. Native to the Americas, it is now cultivated in Europe and Asia as well.

Wet:

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

1 Tablespoon buckwheat honey (any variety of honey is fine)

1/4 Teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon oil (canola, walnut, etc.)

Dry:

1/2 Cup all purpose white flour

1/2 Cup amaranth flour

2 Teaspoons baking powder

A pinch of salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon allspice (depending on taste)

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of nutmeg

The Method:

Combine all of the wet ingredients together and whisk in a mixing bowl to fully combine.  Do likewise with the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix just enough to get all the clumps out.  If you over-mix pancake batter the pancakes will get tough!  Let sit for 5 minutes or so while you heat up your pan or griddle.

Oil the griddle (extremely lightly!) and when hot start frying the pancakes.  Adjust the heat as necessary and continue until all the pancakes are done.  I know I mentioned this before, but this recipe makes only 6 or so, so double it if you’re feeding more than two people!

In the spirit of the season, here’s a great preparation for spaghetti squash that I came up with last night.  We’re right in the thick of winter squash season, and spaghetti squash is one of the more under-appreciated in the clan.

My apologies if the proportions are inexact.  It’s just that I’d rather not commit to any particular measurements given the variations in size between particular squashes.  Just go a little light if you’ve got a smaller squash and vice versa if you’ve got a monster.

Vadouvan Spice is a sort of french take on a classic curry.  If you can’t find it anywhere, and if you’re not feeling ambitious enough to make some yourself, then any good quality curry powder (or equivalent blend of spices) will work just fine!

 

The Ingredients:

Sesame or Peanut Oil (your choice!)

Garlic (4 cloves or so; minced)

White Pearl Onions (between 6 and 10; peeled and quartered)

One Spaghetti Squash (roasted; see below)

Vadouvan Spice Powder (I got mine from The Spice House; it’s wonderful!)

Salt (to taste)

Coconut Milk (approx 1/2 cup, give or take)

Ground Cayenne Pepper (Optional: depending on taste and on the heat already present in your Vadouvan Spice)

For the Topping:

Toasted Sunflower Seeds (or cashews)

Finely Chopped Scallions


Roasting the Squash:

Roasting spaghetti squash is a similar process to any other winter squash.  Just cut it in half from end to end, scoop out the seeds and guts, rub the flesh with oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper, and roast on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan face up in a 375 degree oven for around 45 minutes, or until done.

After the squash is fully cooked through, let cool before scooping out the flesh and mashing it gently.  This will separate the squash into its pasta-like strands.  This you can do ahead of time and refrigerate; I did it the afternoon before.

The Method:

Once the squash is roasted and mashed, this recipe moves fast: be ready!

Heat up a heavy cast-iron skillet or wok, and add a couple tablespoons of oil.  Once that’s hot, add the minced garlic and quartered pearl onions. (You can definitely use a small, normal-sized onion here, but I really like the sweetness and delicate texture of the little ones.)  Saute for a couple minutes and add the squash.

Mix well, and cover for a couple minutes to let the squash heat through.  Now, just add the Vadouvan (or curry) powder a little at a time and taste, until you’ve got the right amount of heat and depth of flavor.  This is when you’d add the cayenne as well, if you’re looking for a little boost. Cover for a couple more minutes to let the spices incorporate.

Finally, add around a 1/2 cup of coconut milk; more or less depending on how much squash you’ve got.  It should be just enough to thoroughly coat the squash, and deglaze whatever has stuck to your pan.  We’re not going for a soup or a stew here–the coconut milk is just added for some richness and depth of flavor.

Salt to taste, pull it off the heat and serve, topped with the toasted sunflower seeds and chopped scallions.  Enjoy!

Of all people skeptical of the backyard chicken fad, I’m sure I come across as an unlikely one.  So it is with great shame that I have to recommend this article in the New York Times from a few days ago:

“When Problems Come Home to Roost”

The author, Kim Severson, rightly characterizes the backyard chicken craze as a fad, like the potbellied pigs of a decade ago.  Like any fad, many people jump in head first without acknowledging the risk, commitment, or education and skill involved.  Severson rightly points out that a lack of attention to these issues by unprepared and inexperienced owners–as well as the unavoidably strange and unique biological climates that urban and suburban areas contain–often lead to some bumps in the road.  In the case of San Francisco, new diseases and other persistent health problems have emerged, and many unprepared chicken owners have begun abandoning their hens and roosters at animal shelters.  These unprepared and overly hasty owners have unfortunately given the movement a bit of a black eye.  No offense to the people featured in the article–I’m sure they meant well–but they are far from the victims in this story; the abandoned and sick chickens are.

Seriously adorable backyard hens in Toronto, Canada. Photo from torontochickens.com via http://www.blogto.com.

Personally, I grew up around chickens: picking them up from the post office at 5:00 AM in a loudly chirping, warm cardboard box, raising them, collecting their eggs, cleaning them, and butchering them.  I (with my younger brother) even won best in show for the Grant County Fair two years in a row, and have the trophies to prove it!  These were, in fact, the only two years we entered, marking a short and impressive reign in Southwest Wisconsin.

At any rate, I love chickens! They’re wonderful, intelligent, even affectionate creatures, and if I ever have the time and space to care for them, I’d do so in a heartbeat.  I do have an apartment with a private backyard in Brooklyn, and its physically able to handle a few chickens, but still I’d never attempt it here for a few reasons.

First, I’m a renter and I seriously doubt my landlord would approve.  Elena and I looked at an apartment in Red Hook where the landlord lived downstairs and had chickens in the backyard, but as the chicken owner also owned the building, the situation there was much more friendly.

Second, I’m more than a little worried about the microclimate that these chickens would be living in.  Brooklyn soils contain a lot of lead and other heavy metals, and anyone who knows chickens and has been around them knows that chickens spend a lot of time with their beaks in the dirt.

Granted we all have to start somewhere, and as far as chickens in backyards, go I’m all for this movement gaining ground.  It’s a spectacular and sustainable trend, and as soon as I am in a place to participate, I’ll do so!  Online communities such as Backyard Chickens and The City Chicken do a lot to encourage responsible urban chicken ownership, and more and more cities are realizing that they are beneficial creatures that should be legalized.

It’s clear that we’re headed in the right direction, and this I applaud!  But clearly, more education is necessary.  We saw this in tomatoes as well, just this year. The blight that affected the tomato crop this year was partly blamed on too high a demand for seedlings by too many amateur gardeners growing heirloom varieties for the first time.  This problem, I would surmise, has partly the same roots as the chicken diseases we’re seeing emerge.

So, please, if you’re planning on gardening or getting chickens for the first time next year, do your homework! Do more than you think is necessary, or even sane!  I’ve seen far too many tomatoes planted in the hard soil of full-shade tree pits in New York, and it really does sadden me every time. There are plenty of skilled gardners and urban farmers dying to warn you about that kind of thing, and you have to listen to them.  Thanks!

Three prominent films have emerged in the last few years on the subject of food: more specifically on the subject of industrial food production.  Each has taken a deliberately different approach, and I’ve arranged them in order of optimism, with FRESH (the most optimistic of the three) at the top.

Each film is definitely worth seeing, particularly Our Daily Bread, the hardest of the three to find.  You might vomit about two thirds of the way through, but, honestly, its worth the punishment.  Watch the films, tell your friends, and start discussing.  Until people get outraged and start talking about these issues, nothing is going to change.

FRESH:

FOOD, INC.

OUR DAILY BREAD
In German

Happy eating!


(cross-posted on Dirt-Farmer)

My last few food posts have been more anecdote than recipe, so for this post my goal is to keep the story short and sweet, and get to the food as soon as I can.

This story begins with my grandfather Leo, who despite being born in the United States, grew up speaking German in a small area of east central Wisconsin called “The Holyland”.  Dotted with minuscule farming communities all centered around (and named after) Catholic churches, this area persisted as an autonomous German-speaking region well into the twentieth century. My grandfather was from Johnsburg; my mother was born in Marytown, a mere seven miles away.  Other towns included Mt. Calvary, Jericho, and St. Cloud.

St. Marys Church in Marytown Wisconsin.  My mother and her siblings grew up down the hill. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

St. Mary's Church in Marytown, Wisconsin. My mother and her siblings grew up down the hill. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid he spoke English exclusively, but frequently mixed German words, phrases, and idioms into his speech.  A hangover was a “katzenjammer” (pronounced kah-tzen-ya-mer), and from a very young age he called me “Hannes-wurst” which means, literally, “John-sausage”.

The Holyland was for a long time a very insulated German Catholic community.  As a result, the people there created their own slightly modified version of the language over time.  And my Grandfather was third or fourth generation, so his German was anything but “hoch”, that is to say “high”, proper German.  So when we’d go to visit Leo and my grandmother, we’d eat “shtumpus”: a mix of left-over sausage (usually bratwurst), sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.  It was delicious, but for years afterward I always assumed that “shtumpus” was Holyland-German for “leftovers” or “mash” or some such thing–something delicious, but decidedly humble.

However, as I found out while reading Sanford D’Amato’s column in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week, I learned that shtumpus has noble origins.  D’Amato is unquestionably Milwaukee’s finest and widely respected chef and a James Beard Award winner, so when he writes about shtumpus (or as he calls it, “stoemp” or “hutspot”), I feel that my grandfather’s cooking has been exculpated.

However, D’Amato’s version lacks many of the elements of the shtumpus that I was raised on, so last night I thought I’d create my own version: keeping in mind D’Amato’s technique, my grandfather’s love of “speck” (Holyland-German for “fat”), and my own love of root vegetables.  What follows is the delicious result of this effort. This shtumpus may be used as a side dish, or topped with any variety of meats; D’Amato recommends short-ribs, and I used eggplant, pepper and olive ravioli (from the Italian grocery off First Avenue at 11th Street) with toasted pine nuts.

Also, if you’re looking to make this vegetarian,you can just make up for the bacon by adding more butter.  Though there’s so little bacon in this dish, I’d recommend cheating and having a little meat!

The Ingredients:

A 2-3 pound mix of root vegetables, cubed.  Less than half potatoes! (For mine, I used three medium sizes red potatoes, a large parsnip, two medium large turnips, and half of a celery root.)

1/2 pound bacon, diced

One medium onion, diced

1/4 to 1/2 head of cabbage (depending on size), chopped

Milk (no less than whole), a generous splash.

1 to 2 Tablespoons of Butter

Fresh Dill

Salt and Pepper, of course.

The Method:

Start by peeling the root vegetables and chopping them into similarly sized cubes.  Place in a pot, cover with water, add salt,bring to a boil, and simmer until the vegetables are completely done.  Drain into a colander and immediately add back to the pot.  The heat of the pot will help to evaporate the remaining water.  Save about a 1/4 cup of the root vegetable water to steam the cabbage.

While the vegetables are coming up to a boil, dice the bacon, and add to a medium hot skillet with a little butter.  Brown the bacon (not too crispy) and transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towel to drain most of the fat.  Pour out (and reserve) almost all of the bacon fat, but save back a few tablespoons.

Add the onion and saute for a couple minutes in the bacon fat before adding the cabbage, the 1/4 cup root-veg-water, pepper, salt, and a large pinch of minced fresh dill.  Toss in the skillet to combine and cover: to let the cabbage steam (it’ll cook a lot faster this way). Once the cabbage is nearly done, remove the lid to let almost all of the liquid cook off and remove from heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the root vegetables, along with a generous splash of milk, and a bit of the reserved bacon fat (what the hell, right?).  Mash to desired consistency; I prefer a chunky mash, myself.  Add the cabbage onion mixture, the bacon, and a generous amount of fresh dill to the pot, and stir to combine.

Whether Flemmish or German, Alsatian  or Belgian, this dish is delicious!  Next time you’re going to make mashed potatoes, make this instead!

Before anyone jumps to any rash conclusions, I’d just like to preemptively announce that, in terms of food, I’m like Chipper Jones–a great switch hitter, with power from both sides of the plate.

Okay, for those of y’all who are not baseball fans, I probably should offer a more comprehensive explanation.  I grew up alternating between farm and city, and when I was on a farm, I was exposed at a very young age to the “potential” (or from my perspective: “self-evident reality”) of the humane treatment of livestock in small scale agriculture.  Between the farm that we lived on and the farm that my father was raised on, we raised shorthorn beef cattle and excellent chickens (for both eggs and meat), as well as a couple goats (as pets and as weed control).  As a result, I am most definitely an appreciator of all products animal.

However, after spending a few weeks in Indonesia (and spending a lot more time with a seriously indefatigable vegetarian), I really began to appreciate the methods and ingredients of serious vegetarian cuisine.  This has resulted in a kitchen where we cook with far more tempeh than bacon, and more soymilk (always unsweetened!) than whole milk: though I try to keep both on hand. In short, I love cooking both meat and vegetarian food, and I see no reason why one must pick one or the other.

Why have both soymilk and cow’s milk, you ask?  Its simple: each milk has its pros and cons depending on the situation.  Regular milk is much better for baking, in coffee (most of the time), and for use in egg-based dishes.  However, there’s nothing better with oatmeal (in my opinion) than the nutty richness that is soymilk.

But I digress.  This post is about breakfast, and its about time I started writing about it, because it was ungodly delicious!  Like most of my breakfasts, this one was spontaneous.  I woke up with two thoughts in my head: fried eggs and cornbread.  A good, simple combination methinks…but after a half-cup of coffee, I got ambitious.

My first big idea came quickly: poached eggs.  I had a pretty good aged cheddar on hand, and was running low on butter–butter than I would need for “skillet-ing” (*see note) the cornbread .  I could survive without the butter by poaching the eggs, and the cheese would make a good topping paired with the cornbread.

By this time I was moving in a more southern direction.  I had thrown a couple tablespoons of Spice House chili powder (if you’ve ever had Spice House spices, you’ll understand why I bothered to mention the brand!) into the cornbread batter, as well as a bit of cayenne and dried parsley.  And it was then that I had a second idea: hollandaise.

I’ve never made a hollandaise before and despite my now cup and a half of coffee I wasn’t ready to go down that path this early in the morning.  I had seen an episode of The French Chef with Julia Child where she made one from scratch, and all that I can remember is a lot of butter, egg yolks and cream.  Regardless, I was out of butter–having used the last of it to prep the skillet for cornbread–and all I had on hand was soymilk: not good for this purpose.  So that was a dead end.  Back at square one, I saw a can of pintos in the cabinet, and thought: “this could work.” I already had a southern theme going on, so I could just mince up some shallots and garlic, and saute them with the beans and a few spices; that could make a nice pinto bean topping for the eggs.

So, I’m poaching the eggs (farmers market: the yolks are almost orange they’re so good!), the cornbread is just starting to brown in the oven, and the beans are tasting good, but they’re just beans: uninspiring, and not at all saucy (I was still pining for a hollandaise at this point).  And then I remembered an amazing fact:  I own an immersion blender!

Let me repeat that: I own an immersion blender!

Yes! I grabbed the blender, added a touch of water to the beans, and blended the pintos right in the saucepan until they were a rich, creamy sauce.  Let’s call it a vegan pinto hollandaise.  Brilliant!  So I cut the cornbread into wedges, split it, put the pieces crust-side down, added a layer of the cheese, two poached eggs, and literally covered the whole thing with the pinto-hollandaise.  My god, was it tasty!  My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture.

If this sounds a bit dramatic, believe me it was!  So if you’ve got a blender, I’d recommend making this yourself, as soon as possible.  And when you’re baking cornbread, the simpler the recipe the better: so long as cornmeal makes up at least half of the ingredients.  This is not the time or the place for cakey cornbread!

Finally, be sure to get your timing down right.  Poached eggs can really get overdone quickly, and cornbread must be served immediately.  It’ll start to loose moisture as soon as it leaves the oven.  So get some boiling water ready for the eggs, but don’t poach them until just before the cornbread is done!

*Note: “Skillet-ing” is a phrase that I use to describe the process of prepping your cast-iron skillet for baking proper cornbread, and yes you need a well seasoned cast-iron skillet.  First of all, your skillet should be hot.  Put it in the oven for a couple minutes.  You don’t want it blazing hot.  Just hot enough for a tablespoon or so of butter to immediately start to melt and sizzle (but not brown).

See where I’m going with this?  Yeah, I thought so.  Pull the skillet out of the oven and drop a tablespoon of butter or so (maybe a little less) into the center.  And put the skillet back in the oven to let the butter melt.  Then pour the cornbread batter into the skillet and throw it into the oven.  Pouring it into an already heated skillet with the melted butter makes all the difference, I promise!

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