October 20, 2011

Books on Food – October, 2011

I have started a new blog section called Books on Food, where I plan to review some of the books about food that I read on my own, and others that are assigned as coursework towards my degree in Gastronomy.

For my first Books on Food review I am featuring two personal narratives about meat – the first, The Vegetarian Myth, is a bitter anti-vegan argument for meat, and the second, Eating Animals, is a passionate argument for a vegan diet, completely free of meat and animal products.

The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith – 2009

This book was required reading for one of my classes this semester that focuses entirely on meat – the good, the bad, the ugly – of meat. This is one of six books we were assigned about meat and was by far the most extreme.  It was a dense and disturbing look at our American agriculture system and the environment .

Lierre Keith was a vegan for twenty years which resulted in depression, anxiety, hypoglycemia and degenerative disc disease. Understandably, she is no longer a vegan, and her book advocates eating meat and animal byproducts because, as she claims, it is a better diet for us individually and more sustainable for the planet as a whole. Keith adamantly argues against the moral, political and nutritional reasoning behind a vegan diet, and some of her points I found to be extremely valid and worthy of further discussion.

That said, I think Keith might need therapy. Her rage and regret run rampant throughout the book which distracts from her message. It was almost like she was jumping out to yell at me personally as I turned each page. If I was having coffee with her right now, I would recommend that she step back and address her immense bitterness with some positive thinking, personal reflection and maybe a little yoga.

There, now that you have been warned, I still would recommend this book. Although her suggestions for ‘how to save the world’ are a bit extreme, she makes some valuable arguments and brings to light many important topics that do not get enough attention. One of the biggest takeaways from this book for me personally was the background information on soy. I had no idea that soy was big business or that it is so completely controlled by our government. Soy is marketed as healthy and natural, and yet in reality it is chemically processed and may increase the chance for cancer, other diseases and medical issues. I am not changing my standard thai food order from tofu pad thai just yet, but she has encouraged me to do further research on my own.

Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

I read this book on my own this summer to gear up for the meat class I mentioned above . Eating Animals differs from The Vegetarian Myth because it is less bitter, lighter in content, and easier to read overall. Of course, it is even more disturbing, as Foer takes us deep into the American meat industry describing terrifying graphic scenes that belong in a horror movie not our dinner table.

Foer wrote this book after he had his first child, and began to think deeply about his diet, and how he would explain to his son that we eat some animals, but keep others, like dogs, as pets. The combination of his painstaking research and his storytelling talent blend perfectly to keep the reader entertained, intrigued and appalled.

In contrast to Keith’s argument, Foer believes that we should refrain from eating meat, seafood and all animal byproducts. Like Keith, he makes a valid argument towards his version of the ideal diet as he paints an image of the  atrocity that is our meat industry.

This book had a great effect on me and I would definitely recommend it. Foer did not present  much new information to me; from my degree program and my own personal research I had a pretty solid understanding of how disgusting our American meat industry is, but he provides a fresh look at this issue, a very personal and passionate argument against factory farmed meat. Anyone who is interested in learning more about our meat industry should start with Eating Animals.

I cannot review two books coming from such extremes without explaining my personal thoughts on the ‘ ideal diet.’ I recommended both of these books, despite their drastically different messages, because I think it is important to acknowledge the controversy that is meat. I believe that it is invaluable to take two extremes on a subject, analyze them both, and then decide, where do I stand?

In response to that question, I eat a mostly pescaterian diet. I will never be vegan, because I love seafood and cheese. I eat very little meat, and I stay away from factory farmed meat as much as possible – the more you learn about our meat system the less appetizing meat gets. Awareness of what you are eating, and who or what you are supporting with that decision is very important. I believe strongly in moderation in one’s diet, but at the same time food is a gift, which should be explored, treasured and respected.

October 19, 2011

What’s in Season Wednesday – Butternut Squash

Welcome to beautiful fall!

I think the fall season is the epitome of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote:  ‘Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.’ I am happy to say I have completely resigned myself to fall; crisp and savory foods and an assortment of delicious october inspired  beers make this by far my favorite season of flavors and tastes.

Fall is the peak time in New England for apples, arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, cranberries, onions, potatoes, and squash. Make sure to shop for locally grown produce, you’ll be able to taste a difference (and most importantly will support your local farms!)

Over the past few years I have really begun to love squash – butternut, spaghetti, acorn – there are so many varieties and each can be used in so many different ways. Technically, there are two types of squash – winter and summer. Butternut is considered a winter squash which means it is harvested in the early fall for use in during the late fall and winter months. The most popular variety of butternut squash is actually the Waltham Butternut so this squash has roots just outside Boston!

Think of squash like a potato, the cooking methods are endless, so you might as well get creative. It can be roasted, baked, or mashed, and the subtle sweetness of squash pairs so well with many other flavors and textures. To celebrate squash and fall I made one of my favorites – butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells with homemade vodka cream sauce.  And of course, there is lots of cheese… ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan collectively bring a perfect level of savory to the sweet squash.

I  made A LOT of this dish so I’d have leftovers for a week and could share with my hungry friends :-) so the recipe below has actually been trimmed down for 1 butternut squash worth of stuffed shells ( I realize most people don’t cook enough food for 20+ servings on a normal day).

Butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells:

1 medium sized butternut squash
1 box of extra large shells (you will probably only use 1/2 to 3/4 of the shells)
1 big bunch of spinach (my farmers market bunch was extra big)
1 8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella
16 oz. container of part-skim ricotta cheese 
about 1.5 cups grated parm cheese
1/3 cup of light cream
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Cut open butternut squash (I quartered mine) and scrap out the seeds and mush from the belly of the squash (I forgot to do this until after I baked it, as you can see in the photo, and it worked out fine doing it after). You can use all of the flesh from the butternut squash. Once cut open, place flesh side down on a baking sheet with a small layer of water. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350.
2) Meanwhile, prepare shells as the box instructs and place aside once cooked al dente.
3) Lightly steam the spinach, place aside.
4) Once the butternut squash is soft to the touch (and your kitchen smells marvelous), take it out of the oven and let them cool.
5) After they’ve cooled, scrap the flesh of the butternut squash skin into a big bowl and mash with a fork. Add spinach, light cream, ricotta and half of the parm to the squash and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
6) Stuff mixture into shells, and place into greased baking dish. Pour vodka cream sauce (recipe below) on and around shells. Chop the mozzarella into small pieces and add on and around shells. Finally, sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top.
7) Bake about 20-25 minutes at 350 – don’t bake for too long or you will dry out the shells. Broil for 3-5 minutes at the end for a crispy textured top.

Vodka Cream Sauce:
This recipe is adapted from Trattoria, by Patricia Wells. This is a spectacular book, I highly recommend it.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 large can crushed tomatoes (I got the largest the store had)
1 nip of vodka
1.5 cups light cream
chives, chopped
lots of parsley, chopped
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Add oil to a large sauce pan, then add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook on low-medium heat carefully, it is very easy to burn garlic!
2) After a couple of minutes add chopped tomatoes and stir. Let ingredients cook for about 15-20 minutes to achieve the right consistency of the sauce, stirring occasionally.
3) Add vodka to sauce.
4) While stirring, add light cream slowly. You might need to add a little more than 1.5 cups, depending on how much sauce you want on your shells (it will be absorbed by the shells so add extra if you really want a sauce-heavy dish).
5) Add parsley and chives, stir a bit more and salt and pepper to taste.
*This sauce is really, really good. It is a wonderful match for the sweet squash, but it is also delicious on penne pasta, where it really shines as the main part of the dish… it is much better than any jar of vodka sauce you’ll find and worth the effort, I promise. :-)

September 22, 2011

The Greenhorns Film Premiere – Cambridge, MA – September 28, 2011

If you love food, you love farms.

Growing up in central/upstate New York I had a great appreciation for the local farms scattered just outside my hometown. Fresh just-picked produce is one of mother nature’s greatest gifts. My personal favorite is locally grown corn on the cob, always best in mid to late August. I tend to eat it raw, right off the cob – it’s just so sweet and fresh.

With our modern reliance on quick and convenient food products, the food, and the path it took to get to you, are often lost. Remember, your fruits and vegetables were once connected to the ground, watching the skies, just like you, for signs of rain and the promise of sunshine. And even those processed and packaged foods, although “created” in a factory, often have ingredients that originated on a farm. Farms are incredibly important. Farms are food.

If you are not already familiar, The Greenhorns, a national nonprofit organization composed of, and in support of, young American farmers, is attempting to bring farming back to the center of our foodscape, where it deserves to be. Often perceived as an old-fashioned and outdated profession, farming today is actually the opposite, as their highly anticipated film, “The Greenhorns,” proves.

Our national food system is facing a number of crises, one of them is the oligarchy developing within farming, as more and more small and independent farms lose their battle against giant food corporations and governmental entities. Another is the massive amount of farmland being lost to environmental destruction and development. For example, New York State, my home state as mentioned above, is losing a farm to real estate development every 3.5 days. “The Greenhorns” is an inspirational and uplifting film that reminds us all is not lost. As young and innovative farmers begin to  influence the national farming scene we can only hope it will encourage a return to the farms, and we can get back to eating that delicious and locally farmed food we love.

In support of farms, please plan to attend the screening of “The Greenhorns” on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 7 p.m. The premiere will take place at the Brattle Theater and tickets are $5.00. More information is below.
All proceeds from this event will support the projects and outreach programs of the Greenhorns nonprofit organization
.

September 21, 2011

At the buzzer!

With only days to spare I am going to get this Gazpacho post up while it is still in fact summer! Gazpacho is one of my absolute favorite things about the summer season… there is something about it that is just so refreshing. Cool, fresh and delicious, it is the perfect way to beat the summertime heat.  I also love eating a dish that is completely raw – no cooking required!

I have been meaning to post this since July, prime Gazpacho time, but things got crazy. Don’t despair, there is still time to enjoy this wonderful summertime soup one more time before the highly anticipated transition to heartier soups. I cannot wait for fall soup season!

This is the kind of ‘recipe’ that all you recipe-lovers hate, because it isn’t one. Everytime I make gazpacho I do it a wee bit differently and adjust ingredients to taste. So what you’ll need are the ingredients below and a good food processor to smush it all together! Add, remove and adjust ingredients to your liking! Mine typically includes extra bell peppers, scallions, and some fresh jalapeno.

Ingredients:

lots of ripe tomatoes, cored (seeds and guts removed)
colored bell peppers – chopped
scallions – chopped
red and white onion – chopped
cucumbers – peeled and chopped
fresh jalapeno – diced
garlic – diced
stale bread crumbs – chopped, included to add texture (not necessary)

I blend all of the above in a food processor and then add (to taste):

olive oil
hot sauce
parsley
cilantro
tomato juice
fresh lime juice
salt and pepper – very important with gazpacho!

Also important, let the gazpacho sit at least 12 hours, if not a full 24 hours. The flavors really need to blend together in order to come out perfect!

July 12, 2011

Allandale Farm

Having access to fresh and local produce is always important, but it is an absolute necessity in the New England summertime. Sunshine and hot days make me run from heavy, hearty dishes, and turn instead towards fresh salads, crisp vegetables and perfectly ripe fruit. Is there a meal more refreshing meal than mixed greens, chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, fresh Vermont goat cheese and delicious vinaigrette dressing? I don’t think so.

A few weeks ago I visited the Allandale Farm in Brookline, Mass, and found an abundance of fresh local and delicious produce. A visit to the farm is a must for anyone in the Boston area this summer, although you can easily rack up quite an expensive tab! The majority of the produce is locally grown at the 30 acre farm in Brookline, or at a satellite farm in Groton, Mass. The farm also partners with other local food crafters to sell coffee, tea, honey, cheese, salad dressings and marinades, bread and ice cream. Everything seemed of the highest quality, and was well worth the extra cost (when compared to the mega grocery stores in Boston). In addition, there are nine greenhouses on the property that grow a wide variety of  herbs, flowers, plants and shrubs for sale.

I even got to hang out with some chickens!

The Allandale Farm is located at 259 Allandale Road in Brookline, MA, and is open 7 days a week.

http://www.allandalefarm.com/

June 29, 2011

Southern Tier Double IPA Cheddar Soup

If you remember this fabulous beer dinner I went to at Garden in the Cellar in Cambridge, this dish may look familiar. I have not been able to get this soup (or the entire meal) out of my head since March, and I finally decided to try and re-create it.

As with other times that I have re-created something I loved from a restaurant or other event, I don’t really have a recipe. Although this drives some people crazy, I prefer to adjust, experiment and change the ingredients as I am cooking, and tasting. Enjoy, this is a perfect meal for a rainy day – the flavors are incredible!

Ingredients:

butter
celery, carrots, onion, coarsely diced
vegetable broth – a lot
3-4 yukon gold potatoes
extra-sharp cheddar – go for high quality for this recipe
jalapeno cheddar – I happened to have this in the fridge, not necessary, but awesome!
2 bottles of Southern Tier Double IPA, or any other delicious IPA
scallions
sour cream
bread,  for croutons

Directions:

1) heat 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan over medium-low heat
2) coarsely dice carrots, celery and onions – about 1 lb of carrots and celery, and 2-3 white onions. sweat in large saute pan and add a healthy pinch of salt
3) once vegetables are softened and translucent (about 8-10 minutes), put them in a large sauce pot – this will be the home of your soup
4) add vegetable broth, I used almost all of a 32 oz. container (you can add chicken broth for a more savory soup, but I preferred it to be vegetarian, and more healthy)
5) meanwhile, peel and chop 3-4 small-medium potatoes and add to boiling water
6) once potatoes are cooked thoroughly, add to soup. stir ingredients well, and season to taste with salt, pepper and chili powder
7) cook soup (which should be brothy at this point) cook on medium-low for about 30 minutes
8) add IPA! I added about 2.5 bottles, and you could really taste the flavor of the beer
9) grate extra cheddar cheese, I used about 12 oz – do not buy pre-shredded!!
10) add soup mixture to a blender or food processor and mix until smooth and creamy
11) transfer soup back to stove top at low heat and add cheese in small amounts, waiting for each amount to melt.
12) let simmer on low for a few hours
13) garnish with chopped scallions, sour cream and homemade croutons, and enjoy!

June 11, 2011

In bloom

 

 

Rain and sunshine have left their beautiful mark all over Boston and we are in bright bloom! 

June 6, 2011

Cheddar Jalapeno Buttermilk Biscuits

Three things I love: bread, jalapenos, and cheese! These biscuits are on the heavier side so they are wonderful combined with a light, healthy dinner, as a snack on their own, or even for breakfast (think hearty breakfast sandwich!)

I like this recipe because it is all natural, as biscuits should be. They were warm, a little spicy, cheesy, flaky – an ideal side dish at dinner. Those refrigerated croissants/rolls/biscuits in a can are easy to make and good enough, but we all know that there is something not quite right about bread that has ingredients I can’t pronounce.

Cheddar Jalapeno Buttermilk Biscuits:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 cold extra-large egg
  • 1.5 – 2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 medium-sized fresh jalapeno peppers

1) Add flour, baking powder and salt to electric mixer and mix until combined.
2) With the mixer on low add butter slowly by tablespoon, until the butter is reduced to small marble-sized pieces.
3) Combine buttermilk and egg, whisk together and add to mixer until dough is moistened.
4) Add shredded grated cheese (it is always better to grate your own, more flavor and texture) and mix very briefly, so dough is roughly combined.
5) Put dough on a well-floured cutting board and knead for about a minute.
6) Slice two fresh jalapeno peppers, remove seeds, and chop into small pieces. Fold into dough until distributed. Feel free to add extra jalapenos for more spice!
7) Roll dough out with rolling pin, cut into desired biscuit size and brush with egg/water wash (not necessary, but gives them a nice shine). Sprinkle some pepper and salt across top of biscuits.
8) Bake in pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for about 20-25 minutes until top is lightly browned.

May 27, 2011

Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree


I am officially obsessed with scallops.

I do not know exactly when this obsession started, but I feel like I could cook them every single night and it is impossible to order anything else if I see scallops on a menu. Literally, impossible. Although I eat scallops year round, spring and summer heighten my obsession of this perfect, sweet and rich shellfish.

I spent much of the winter eating Trader Joe’s frozen scallops – a quick, inexpensive way to get my fix. Now that is warmer and seafood is constantly my mind, I have been splurging on only the best scallops. I am weary of Shaw’s and Stop and Shop when it comes to seafood – everything always looks so old and tired and off-color. Enter the newest aspect of my scallop obsession: Wulf’s Fish Market. This place is all about fresh and local seafood, and the scallops I have been getting there, although pricey, have been absolutely delicious and fresh, and well worth the extra cost.

Last week I wanted to keep the scallops simple and sweet. I recommend trying the recipe below with high-quality DRY scallops (as opposed to evil wet scallops treated with phosphates, which results in them absorbing more water – so you pay more per pound – which then evaporates during cooking leaving you with shrunken, dry and tasteless scallops – I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare you).

The slightly spiced scallops pair extremely well with the butternut squash puree which is sweet and savory, and adds a little texture. Also served with grilled asparagus and sauteed spinach with fresh lemon juice. This meal was light and extremely delicious!

Pan Seared Scallops

  • around 1/3 to 1/2 pound of scallops for each person
  • chili powder
  • paprika
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • sea salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1) remove extra moisture from scallops by placing them between layers of paper towel on a level surface and put something on top to add a little pressure – I use a cutting board.
2) meanwhile, mix a little more than a teaspoon of each of the spices above together on a small plate
3) add butter to a large saute pan on medium-high heat.
4) after they chill in the paper towels for about 5 minutes,  put both sides of each scallop in the spice mixture and add to buttered pan and don’t move them around! It can be hard not to move them/check on them, but if you want the nice pan-seared crust you must leave them alone! Also, do not overcrowd the pan or you will steam, not sear the scallops.
5) cook for about three minutes, then flip to the other side (pans/stoves are different, so peek before flipping to make sure you have a brown/golden crust)
6) cook the other side 2-3 minutes depending on size. Don’t overcook your scallops – it is easy to do. When they are done they should be springy to the touch, and have a light translucent center.

Butternut Squash Puree:

  • 1 medium-large butternut squash
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp light cream
  • fresh chives
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

1) pre-heat oven to 350
2) slice squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and flesh and place on a baking sheet, skin-side down
3) bake for about 35 – 45 minutes, or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork
4) scrape flesh out of squash and add to food processor and puree for a minute or two while adding ingredients above. You do not have to add all of the above ingredients, the puree will be sweet and smooth on its own, but I think the extra ingredients make it even more delicious. Especially the fresh chives, salt and pepper.

note: to make this an extra veggie filled dinner I grilled some asparagus, and sauteed some spinach in a bit of olive oil and then squeezed some fresh lemon juice on top. The lemon brought some needed acidity to the dish so I recommend it.

nutritionally speaking: 
excellent source of potassium, selenium,  protein, folate, omega-3,
vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E, K

May 23, 2011

Kale and Broccoli Pizza

Yes, kale even makes a wonderful pizza topping!

Boston has seen nothing but rain for what feels like weeks and weeks, so at the end of a particularly dreary and rainy day, homemade pizza was the perfect dinner! Whole wheat pizza dough topped with fresh mozzarella, grated parm, broccoli and crispy oven-roasted kale chips makes for a nutritious meal that still fulfills the cheese quota so needed after a cold and rainy day. The pizza was served with a mixed greens salad with lots of veggies.

To make the pizza:

  • Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough
  • Trader Joe’s pizza sauce (I added chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried oregano)
  • fresh mozzarella, 8 oz
  • shredded Parmesan cheese, I didn’t measure… about 3/4 cup or so?
  • chopped broccoli
  • minced fresh garlic
  • kale, chopped into small pieces

1) roll out Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough on a cutting board with lots of flour, I made two smallish (about 8 inch) pizzas. With enough time I would have preferred to make the pizza dough from scratch- my dad makes an amazing sourdough pizza dough, but Trader Joe’s had to do on a work night.
2) chop broccoli crowns into small pieces, steam lightly in a vegetable steamer
3) chop kale and toss (lightly) with olive oil, salt and pepper. place on a cooking sheet and cook at 375 for about 10-12 minutes or until crisp. They will turn a darker green… my kale chips ended up getting a little extra crispy (almost burned), but were still delicious, they literally melt in your mouth.
4) add pizza sauce to pizza dough and top with chunks of fresh mozzarella and shredded parm cheese. Then add broccoli and fresh chopped garlic.
5) bake pizza for about 15 minutes, until edges of crust are lightly browned and crispy. Add kale for last 1-2 minutes of baking just to re-heat.

For the salad:

  • romaine lettuce and fresh spinach
  • grape tomatoes
  • cucumbers, chopped
  • shredded fresh Parmesan
  • stale bread for homemade croutons (or fresh if necessary, hamburger buns, rolls, etc. work too)

1) toss lettuce, spinach, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and parm together
2) take bread and cut into bite size pieces. Coat lightly in olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and any extra spices – I used dried oregano and parsley- bake in oven or toaster oven until crunchy, about 5 minutes.
3) for a salad dressing I recommend a to-taste combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, pepper and fresh chives… a simple dressing works for this relatively simple salad, and the end result was fresh and delicious!

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