I stumbled upon this article by Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and Omnivores Dilemma) while browsing the New York Times website. It's long, but offers an interesting insight to the evolution American food culture. With the movie Julie and Julia in theaters, the life and accomplishments of Julia Child has been cast into the public eye and the disparities between the message she offered and that of today's "Food Network Stars."
Since I began cooking and sharing my food with others, I've always believed that the reason that the food I make tastes good is not because of talent or skill but because I'm willing to devote so much more time to cooking than the average person. A truly talented chef can develop his of her own recipes at the drop of a hat with just a handful of fresh ingredients. To be gifted with food means to possess carnal knowledge about flavors, textures, and techniques. While I have certainly acquired new skills and have learned a few tricks since I began cooking, my ability to prepare a dish depends on following a well tested recipe. I feel comfortable veering from the preconceived directions only marginally, and not enough to alter the integrity of the dish. What I'm really good at is following directions. Although some have scoffed at this assertion, it's true. Anyone can do it, so long as they care enough, are willing to dedicate time and effort, and militantly follow instructions.
The problem is that most people aren't wiling to do these things. As is discussed in the article, Americans (including myself) spend hours watching cooking shows, but very little hands on time in the kitchen. Food in our culture is considered "good" if it is fast, effortless, and mostly (if not completely) prepared by someone else. Commercials glorify food that simply requires the touch of a microwave button to be ready to eat and fast food chains literally time their employees to ensure that they pass off a messily assembled burger to a customer within a promised number of seconds.
We have all but severed the inherent human connection to the food we eat and the earth that grows it. That's one of the reasons I love to cook. I can prepare a meal with pure ingredients, that are actually found in nature as opposed to engineered in some processing plant, that will nourish my body and those of the people I care about. Knowing where food comes from, how it's produced, and what it has been through to arrive on your cutting board is increasingly significant, as the processes by which most Americans get their next bites is devastating to our bodies, our society, and our environment.
Furthermore, food has an innate power of bringing people together. Families and friends all but instinctively gather for a well made, hard earned meal. It's a beautiful and integral part of the American dream that we have cast aside. I cook because those values are worth it to me. Sharing my food with others and knowing that the choices I've made in preparing it truly can make a difference is one of the most rewarding experiences.
Anyways, do read the article. Pollan explains it all much more elegantly and thoroughly than I have. It is remarkable how much our food culture has changed in the past 50 years and pretty alarming to think about where it's headed.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
So apparently I've become a little drink happy in the 36 hours I've spent in San Diego. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's visions of lounging pool side with a paper umbrella garnished cocktail in hand, maybe it's the plethora of fruit that graces the kitchen counters of my parent's house, but I've made two drinks very worthy of note in one afternoon.
The first was a delicious watermelon lemonade. I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen a few weeks ago and immediately dismissed it since I am food processor less up north, but coincidentally stumbled upon the recipe and half a watermelon sitting in the fridge within minutes of one another. I got to work straight away.
It turned out amazing. It was light, refreshing, tart, yet still sweet, just what you want on a hot afternoon. I think I made around 12 servings, but they're all but gone now. It was a big hit.
The second was a stiff, citrusy margarita from Sam the Cooking Guy. I loved it. It was smooth and tangy with bold citrus flavors. The Grand Marnier brightened the subtle orange flavor. And it was plenty strong, just the way a good cocktail should be.
To successful beverages in one afternoon. I'll drink to that.
Watermelon Lemonade - Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1/2 watermelon (about 3 cups)
5-6 big lemons (about 2 1/2 cups)
Simple syrup (really easy recipe follows)
3 cups water
Scoop out the watermelon (meat? pulp? What word describes the actual edible part of a watermelon) and puree in a food processor. Strain through a course strainer to get out the seeds and such.
Juice lemons and strain through a course strainer. Combine both juices, syrup (I used slightly less than the simple syrup recipe that I've provided makes), and water. Mix well and serve over ice.
Super Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Boil 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 cup cold water. This method makes it so that you don't have to wait for the syrup to cool - by adding the rest of the water at the end, the syrup is cooled down enough to use.
Orange-Lime Margarita - Adapted from Sam the Cooking Guy
This recipe makes one, but since it only calls for part of the orange and lime, it's really easy to make more.
2 parts tequila - I used 1800 Silver
1 part sweet and sour mix
1/2 part Grand Marnier, plus more for garnish
1/4 of an orange (about 1/8 of a cup)
Splash of Rose's Lime Juice
Pour kosher salt onto a plate and mix in the zest of one lime. Rub the edge of the glass with lime juice then dip into the salt to rim the glass.
Fill a cocktail shaker about 1/3 of the way with ice. Add the tequila, sweet and sour, orange and lime juice, and Rose's. Shake well.
Pour into glass. Garnish with a sliver of lime, a sliver of orange, and a splash of Grand Marnier floating on top.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I write to you amid the chaos of moving. I hate moving more than anything in the world. It's stressful, it's overwhelming, and when you're leaving your best friend and memories of a great semester behind, it's sad. This blog entry is my 10 minute breather. I can't wait until it's all done.
When I started planning my departure from Berkeley, it soon became apparent that I would miss my roommates birthday. So I decided to celebrate it this weekend, despite my imminent move out date on Sunday. I started her morning with strawberry-Nutella crepes.
They were delicious, of course. Crepes however are deceptively impossible to make. I ended up making smaller ones than i initially intended, just because they were so hard to flip. And they're very tempermental when it comes to heat, it was quite the challenge to get the temperature just right. TIn the end, they turned out to not the most beautiful things, but they sure were tasty.
Strawberry-Nutella Crepes (Crepe batter recipe adapted from Alton Brown)
1 small jar of Nutella
1 basket strawberries, sliced
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons melted butter
Butter for coating the pan
Whisk together eggs, milk, and water. Slowly add the flour, a little at a time, whisking in between until any lumps are gone. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Lastly, whisk in melted butter.
Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat and lightly coat with butter. Pour 1/4 cup crepe batter onto skillet, turning the skillet until the crepe batter is spread evenly across the bottom of it's surface. Flip the crepe when the edges are solid and give easily when scraped up with a spatula, about a minute. Cook the other side until very lightly browned.
Remove crepe from skillet and lay flat on a large plate. While the crepe is still very hot, spread about a tablespoon (maybe more if you like) over the surface of the crepe, leaving a half inch border. Place sliced strawberries on one half of the crepe. Fold the other half over the strawberries and voila. Serve with freshly made whipped cream if desired,
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Moving is such an odd thing. For a moment - a few days, a couple weeks - you are thrust into liminality, the uncomfortable an sometimes vulnerable space between one home and the next. For a short while, you are homeless. I don't mean homeless in the sense that you haven't a roof over your head, but homeless in the sense that your familiarity with a place is uprooted the moment you begin packing your things and doesn't end until you manage to find comfort in your new dwelling place.
Packing your things is like going through old picture books. So many of your belongings carry with them a memory or significance that you might not have realized until you put them in a box, thereby deeming them important enough to take with you to a new part of your life. Others are cast aside.
Eventually your former residence is emptied of your things and there's this strange dissonance. The rooms that you used to live in no longer feel like themselves, no longer feel like the place you had lived and breathed and loved in. Walls become walls, floors become floors, and the room that once meant the world is nothing more than an empty space. You're left to fin that comfort somewhere else.
For me, home isn't home until you feel a sound sense of peace while in it and that peace, that comfort and familiarity, is so vitally important to me. One of the reasons I had such a difficult freshman year was that I never managed to call my dorm room home, it just never felt like one to me. I entered my sophomore year considering transferring from Berkeley and moved into an apartment with some friends. I had a completely different experience, a much more positive one, having had a place I could come back to at the end of the day that felt safe and familiar, a kitchen in which I could unleash my frustrations an quell my concerns, space that was mine. For the first time, Berkeley was a place I could call home.
I'm moving next year into student cooperative housing. I really am looking forward to it, despite the communal kitchen (elch!). But I'll always look back on this year with fond memories and a newly discovered appreciation for home.
This is one of my favorite quick pasta dinners. I think I made it a million times in our house kitchen last year, since I could fit all of the ingredients in my tiny, personal fridge. Even though I love trying out new recipes, I know I can always come back to this and be entirely satisfied. It almost harkens that homey feeling, where things are comfortable, familiar, and safe.
Tortellinis a la Elizabeth
1 package of whole wheat, cheese tortellinis
3-4 artichoke heart quarters (marinated), cut into small pieces
A generous spoonful of julienned sun dried tomatoes
About a tablespoon of freshly chopped basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cook tortellinis in liberally salted water according to package directions. Drain.
Toss with a generous splash of olive oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients on top. Finish with freshly cracked black pepper.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
In general, I consider myself a pretty healthy eater. My diet is pretty low in fat and includes tons of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nutritious food tastes and feels better and so I'm very aware of what I put into my body. However, there is one exception. I have an insatiable sweet tooth.
I love sweets. Not all sweets, I certainly have standards, but dessert is probably my favorite part of a meal. That's one of the reasons I started to bake, so I could whip up a fantastic dessert whenever and wherever I wanted. After all, what's worse than an unsatisfied sweet tooth?
These cupcakes were the perfect fix. Spending the weekend at Trevor's, I started having dessert pings. So I did what any reasonable foodie would do in such a situation: I made chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.
They were delicious, needless to say. The first time that I made chocolate cake myself (NOT from a box) it came out dry and bitter so I've been wary ever since. These cupcakes with incredibly moist, rich, and sweet. The frosting was very peanut buttery, but still sweet and silky. I used this recipe from Ina Garten, but used half and half instead of buttermilk since that's what I had. Don't even try to eat these without a tall glass a milk or else you'll wind up looking like that dog from the old "Got Milk?" ads. I would make these again in a heartbeat, and they're sure to satisfy even the sweetest sweet tooth.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
There are few times that I'm in the mood for chicken salad. It doesn't usually do much for me, to be honest. But for some reason, I had a recipe for chicken salad brewing in the back of my mind as part of project sack lunch for weeks.I finally tried it out.
It was inspired by my dad's recipe with simple flavors an a lot of texture. He uses walnuts and grapes in his, both of which I knew I could not do without (I made chicken salad with pecans last semester and it just wasn't the same. I added tarragon, celery, and a couple tablespoons of white wine (to thin out that thick, gloppy, mayonnaisey taste and give the dressing more flavor) into the mix. I also roasted bone in, skin on chicken breasts for moist, flavorful chicken pieces.
All in all it was a huge success! It was easy, kept well in the fridge all week, and made for a great lunch. I don't mean to sound entirely conceited, but it did change my expectations of what a chicken salad could be. Try it out and tell me if you agree.
Chicken Salad - Serves 4-6 as lunch
2 bone in skin on chicken breasts
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2-4 tablespoons white wine
2 teaspoons tarragon, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup grapes
1 cup celery (about 4 ribs)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until chicken is done. Let cool slightly (chicken that's a bit warm is good - it absorbs the flavors of the dressing better).
Whisk together mayonnaise, white wine, and tarragon in a large bowl. Set aside.
Lightly toast walnuts. Meanwhile, cut grapes in half. Cut celery ribs into small pieces, running your knife along the length of the rib once or twice to create thin strips, then chopping. Once the walnuts are toasted and cooled, finely chop them.
Add grapes, celery, and walnuts into the bowl with the dressing. Remove skin from chicken, cut off the breast meat from the bone, and cut into bite sized pieces. Add the chicken into the bowl and stir well to coat. Refrigerate, up to one week. Serve on slightly toasted whole wheat bread.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I love baking. Baking is my meditation, my mantra, my quiet place amidst the chaos. Baking feeds my soul.
I had a terrible day at work. I was exhausted from an ambitious weekend of driving to L.A. and back and was in no way mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared to deal with sixteen 7 year olds. It was one of those mornings when the very first thing you think about upon being jarred awake by the incessant buzzing of your alarm is when it is you'll be able to go back to sleep. I tried to stay positive and enthusiastic, but it was no use. I couldn't even fake it today.
On the plus side I got off work early to visit the travel clinic at my school's health center for a typhoid vaccine before heading to Guatemala in a few weeks. Of course the visit wasn't covered by insurance. Nor were the $100 of immunizations, boosters, and prescriptions I needed. Isn't health care fantastic? Plus I can't move my arms past my waist. I hate shots.
Anyways, I don't mean to be feeling sorry for myself. Well, actually I do mean to or else I wouldn't have written all of that, but I don't consider myself a negative person, most of the time, and am convinced that attitude is everything. If I want to feel better I can. It's completely in my control, so long as I have a bag of chocolate chips.
Zucchini chocolate chip cookies. I must have made them a hundred times, last summer alone. They're everything a chocolate cookie should be, plus they're kinda healthy (whole wheat flour, no refined sugar, and of course, zucchini). I found this recipe in Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle" (a book that changed my life, but I won't go into that just yet). Give them a try, if for nothing else, to amaze your family and friends with your weird cookies.
I can't tell you how much better I felt after. Not even from eating them, just the process. Baking is a bit of a paradox: it's both creative yet very rigid, it's making something out of nothing but with very specific ingredients. Baking is calming, collecting, and puts me completely in control, even when the world around me feels like it's falling apart. Baking is my moment of zen.
I have so much to write about. I've found the time to be cooking up a storm but no time to blog about it. But I have pictures. And stories I want to tell my captive audience (crickets?) about the food I've been making. So we begin.
After my delicious 4th of July Caesar salad sandwich, I had a bit of a problem. Day old bread. This is a problem that I feel I, am many others encounter somewhat often. Okay, so bread is still passable when it's a day old, sometimes, but anything beyond that and it's only useful as a paperweight. It just so happens that I had been intrigued by panzanella salads for quite sometime and thought my half loaf of day old ciabatta would certainly fit the bill.
For those of you who don't know, panzanella salads are pretty neat. They're essentially bread salads, with tons of fresh veggies. I've been swooning over this recipe for spring panzanella salad on Smitten Kitchen for weeks and knew I had to give it a go.
It was delicious! Definitely not a main course, although I had it for lunch and dinner a couple of times. The other thing is it doesn't keep very well at all. The bread was soggy the next day, I fact I readily ignored as I ate the left overs, due my college student budget. The dressing was the best part. It was fresh and tangy, the perfect compliment to the crisp veggies and dense bread. I loved the white beans too; they added creaminess and protein without being overwhelming. And I loved the leeks. Parmesean cheese was a nice salty touch as well. It's a perfect way to use up old bread and would be a great side dish at a barbeque or picnic.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
When one thinks of 4th of July food, images of barbequed ribs, potato salad, and cherry pie usually come to mind. You know, real down home, all-American stuff. But 4th of July was a bit different for me this year. It's the first time I had celebrated without my family, I certainly don't have a grill in my tiny apartment, and on top of that, Trevor and I were planning to go up to the top of the hill to eat and watch the fireworks all across the bay. So I had to think a bit more creatively about what to pack for dinner.
I landed on chicken caesar salad sandwiches that I saw Ina Garten make and they were a home run. As I've mentioned before, Trevor and I have very different tastes and I'm always looking for ways to reconcile them. I typically hate caesar salad while he loves it. But when I saw these sandwiches, I knew we would both enjoy them. The have chicken (which was incredibly moist and delicious the way Ina suggested to prepare it), pancetta, peppery arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and big shards of parmesean cheese, all pilled on big slices of toasty ciabatta bread. Instead of making the dressing, I just bought a nice brand (on sale!) from the grocery store. Really, this sandwich was absolutely fantastic. Here's the recipe. Except for the dressing, I followed it exactly.
For dessert, I thought it would be fun to play with some of the summer fruits that are finally falling into season. I made a peach and blackberry crostata, which I thought would be great for a picnic dinner. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I could hardly move it from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool without destroying it, let alone get it into some travel proof storage system an actually go somewhere with it. Luckily, police blocked off the entrance to the top of the hill, the marina (where the fireworks were) didn't allow cars to come through after 7:00, and the rooftop of my apartment was closed off so we ended up curling up on the couch and watching fireworks on TV.
I served the crostata with fresh whipped cream. The fruit was sweet and juicy and the crust was light and flaky, an excellent way to celebrate the flavors of the season. I followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen nearly exactly, except I used peaches instead of nectarines and apricot preserves instead of peach. I probably should have actually read her article and not ust looked at the picture, because while I had much more luck with the pate brisee than she, I did have an excess of berry juices in my crostata.
Nevertheless, the evening turned out to be a very delicious 4th of July picnic dinner in my living room and it couldn't have been more perfect.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Admittedly, posting on the fourth of July makes me a huge loser. Googling the word "admittedly" because I didn't know how to spell it probably makes me an even bigger loser, but no matter. In my defense, I just got back from a barbeque (which was oddly filled with Mexican food and drinks for the 4th of July), have laundry going and pate brisee chilling in the fridge, and my boyfriend is driving up to spend the rest of the holiday with me. I have a few minutes before the rest of the food preparation begins, so here's my 4th of July food post.
Guacamole. Delicious under almost any circumstances but made about a gazillion different ways. Here's one of my favorite ways to prepare guacamole, which I learned from a cooking club demonstration my freshmen year.
4 ripe avocados
1/2 of a white onion (I rarely use white onions because I like red and yellows much better but the clean crispness of whites cuts through the richness of the avocados really nicely), finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cores and water removed and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch (about a cup) of fresh cilantro, chopped
Lots of salt and pepper to taste
Mix together onion, tomatoes, and cilantro (reserve a small handful for garnish). If you were to add a jalapeno, this would make a fine salsa fresca on its own. Let the salt season the tomatoes and onions for a few minutes.
Slice avocados in half, then slice down and across the face of each avocado, making half inch squares. Scoop the avocado out of its skin with a spoon and add to the tomato onion mixture. DO NOT mash them. Gently incorporate the avocado pieces, they will begin to break down a bit. However, you're after actual chunks of avocado in the guacamole, not avocados that have been mashed up like baby food.
Add garlic, lime juice, and more salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Let sit for about 20 minutes, then serve with tortilla chips or with carne asada. This makes plenty of guacamole to feed a crowd.
Friday, July 3, 2009
I'm not a snacker. When I eat, I prefer to eat a meal. It's silly to waste part of my daily caloric intake on snacks, which seem trivial and meaningless while a meal is thought out, prepared, and purposeful. I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather satisfy my hunger with a giant burrito or a big bowl of risotto rather than eating a granola bar, a bag of chips, and an apple throughout the day.
But my job has taught me that snack time indeed has its place. Working with kids for 10 hours a day is just about the most exhausting thing I've ever done and there is snack time worked into the schedule for a reason. Snack is literally refueling your body and by 10:45 in the morning, I'm just about running on empty.
Granola bars are the perfect solution. They're nutritious, full of protein and fiber, and pretty darn tasty. But I didn't really want to spend my money at the store on second rate granola bars that are loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Since I'd been interested in making my own granola bars for a while, I thought this would be a perfect excuse.
They were delicious! Packed with tons of fruit and nuts, sweet and chewy with a slightly salty bite. They're not the easiest to make, and mine look a bit rustic to prove it. The only problem is, they are ridiculously expensive. All those fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains are what make granola bars so delectable in the first place, but they add up. Unfortunately, I think I'll be reverting to whatever's on sale at Safeway next week.
Anyways, here's the recipe I used. They really were tasty and definitely worth giving them a try.
Fruit and Nut Granola Bars - Adapted from this recipe, which I found online
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup almonds
1 tsp. salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 325. Combine the oats, coconut, seeds, and almonds in a large bowl and mix with oil and salt. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper such that the parchment paper hangs over the sides of the pan. Just before the oat mixture is done, heat cinnamon, vanilla, peanut butter, honey, and brown sugar in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. When oat mixture is finished, return it to the bowl and mix well with liquid ingredients. Press into the parchment lined baking sheet and create a smooth, even surface with the back to a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cool completely.
When cooled, remove granola by lifting it out with the parchment paper edges. With a sharp knife, cut into bars. Package individual bars in saran wrap if desired or store in an airtight container.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I debated whether or not to share this with you. I mean, how much more boring can you get than pasta salad? It's nothing special, nothing fancy, and it has no bells or whistles. But nothing says summer to me quite like a pasta salad does. It's cool, light refreshing - perfect for a hot summer day - and filled with tons of vegetables and goodies. I think best of all is it's great picnic (or sack lunch as the case may be) food.
I really don't have a recipe. I'll tell you what I put in it but the proportions are up to you. Enough to make it feel colorful and festive I'd say. I like a pasta salad packed with veggies but some people prefer a gentle scattering. Feel free to mix and match veggies (I personally don't like fresh tomatoes until late August when they're at their peak so I used sundried tomatoes instead, but if you do, go for it). Sometimes I'll throw in cooked chicken if I've got it. And pasta salad is one of the only things that I'll dress with premade stuff from the store. Use whatever dressing you like, there's a really nice Safeway brand Tuscan Herb one I use, but really, you make the call.
Pasta Salad - Serves a lot, maybe 8 as a meal, 12 as a side
One box of whole wheat or multigrain rotini, or any other twisty pasta
2 zucchinis, chopped
2-3 orange bell peppers, chopped
Marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
Sundried tomatoes in oil, julienne cut
Kalamata olives, pitted
Sheep's milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes or crumbled
Your choice of store bought or homemade salad dressing
Fresh basil (optional)
Cook the rotini according to the package instructions in well salted water. Drain well.
Gently saute the zucchini in a bit of olive oil. You're objective here is not to cook the zucchini, you want it to taste fresh and crunchy, but to remove the chalky taste that completely raw zucchini has. While this didn't work when I tried it with fennel in my whole wheat, feta, and olive salad, it works really well here. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Do not dress the pasta salad unless you plan to eat it right away (it keeps better without dressing). Dress individual servings as needed. Garnish servings with fresh basil if desired.