Archive for October, 2011

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.

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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. :-)