Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Candies

I made holiday caramel and toffee candies inspired by Food and Wine Magazine over the holiday. It was a fun adventure, as I never made candy before. I wrapped them up and will be giving them out as gifts to help people get through holiday withdrawal over the next week.

Chocolate-Almond Toffee (from Food and Wine)
What You Need:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup salted roasted almonds—3/4 cup coarsely chopped, 1/4 cup finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, crumbled
- 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

What You Do:
1. Line an 8-by-11-inch baking pan with foil.
2. Spray the foil with vegetable oil.
3. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.
4. Stir in the sugar and water and bring to a boil.
5. Cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a deeply golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 300° on a candy thermometer, 15 minutes. Note: if the sugar and butter separate, stir vigorously to blend (this happened to me, pretty scary and not sure the toffee truly recovered!).
6. Remove from the heat and add the coarsely chopped almonds, vanilla and salt.
7. Scrape the toffee into the prepared pan; let cool for 10 minutes.
8. Sprinkle half of the chocolate over the toffee and let stand until melted.
9. Spread the chocolate over the toffee and sprinkle with half of the finely chopped almonds.
10. Freeze the toffee for 10 minutes.
11. Invert the toffee onto a foil-lined baking sheet and peel off the foil backing.
12. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the remaining chocolate.
13. Spread the melted chocolate over the top of the toffee and sprinkle with the remaining finely chopped almonds.
14. Let the toffee cool, then break into shards.

Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels (from Food and Wine)
What You Need:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- Coarse sea salt, crumbled
- 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted (optional)

What You Do:
1. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil.
2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.
3. Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
4. Add the vanilla seeds. (They smell so good!)
5. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245° on a candy thermometer, 1 hour.
6. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan.
7. Let cool and set completely overnight.
8. Lightly oil a sheet of parchment paper and line 2 baking sheets with wax paper.
9. Invert the caramel onto the parchment and peel off the foil. (This is the easy part)
10. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch-wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. (This is the hard part! It took me awhile to get these cut up!)
11. Dip the squares into the chocolate, tap off the excess and transfer to the wax paper on the baking sheets.
12. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
11. Alternatively, wrap the plain caramel squares in wax paper and tie with thread.

Christmas Dinner!

It has been a long time since I've been able to get organized to write a post. I have a backlog of recipes that I want to share. But, instead of going back in time... I'll write up some recipes I used for our Christmas dinner celebration. It was a wonderful feast with good friends, friendly pups, and lots and lots of fabulous food. On the menu was turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, risotto with scallops, stuffed onions, stuffed peppers, butternut squash soup, and butternut squash salad (if you can believe it, I think I may be missing menu items!). I brought over cauliflower gratin and veggie lasagna. Both turned out wonderfully! The lasagna is very time consuming, but work every minute!

Cauliflower and Goat Cheese Gratin (from Food Network)
What You Need:
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese , coarsely grated
- 2 cups grated Parmesan
- 6 ounces goat cheese, cut into small pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Layer the cauliflower, heavy cream, and the 3 cheeses in a medium casserole dish.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and the sauce has thickened slightly. 5. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Veggie Lasagna (from Gourmet Today Cookbook! Go out and buy it! I love this book)
Note: This is a complicated recipe. I made the ricotta a day in advance and then worked through the recipe. I organized it by each of its components.

What You Need (Sauce):
- 3 tbl olive oil
- 1 med onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tbl tomato paste
- 2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice, Italian, drained, juice reserved, and finely chopped
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 tbl chopped basil

What You Do (Sauce):
1. Heat oil in heavy pot over moderate heat and add onion, cooking for 6 minutes.
2. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
3. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, juice, sugar, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, 45 minutes.
5. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

What You Need (Ricotta Cheese):
- 3 cups whole milk ricotta (see my post for how to make homemade ricotta)
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley (flat leaf)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- Pinch nutmeg

What You Do (Ricotta):
1. Stir together in bowl until combined and refrigerate.

What You Need (Roasted Veggies):
- 1 pound eggplant cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch think slices
- 1 pound zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch think slices
- 3 tbl olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper

What You Do (Roasted Veggies):
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Oil two large baking sheets.
3. Arrange eggplant slices on one and zucchini slices on the other.
4. Brush veggies with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Bake, turning once, 20 minutes.

What You Need (Creamed Spinach):
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 3 tbl olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 3 tbl flour
- 3 tbl parmigiano-reggiano
- 2 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed dry
- Salt and pepper to taste

What You Do (Creamed Spinach):
1. Heat milk in a small saucepan until warm.
2. Heat oil in heavy saucepan over moderate low heat until hot.
3. Add garlic an cook, 4 minutes (or less).
4. Add flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes, to make roux.
5. Add warm milk in a steady stream whisking constantly.
6. Simmer sauce until thick 3-4 minutes.
7. Stir in cheese, spinach, salt and pepper.
8. Cook until heated.

What You Need (Lasagna Assembly):
- 1 pound fresh lasagna noodles (Vace is a great source in Cleveland Park, Washington DC)
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese (fresh, from Vace or check out my post on mozzarella), grated

What You Do (Lasagna Assembly):
1. Oil a 13-9 inch glass baking dish.
2. Spread 2 cups tomato sauce into dish.
3. Cover with lasagna noodle(s).
4. Spread ricotta, then cover with eggplant (overlapping to fit).
5. Top with more lasagna noodle(s).
6. Spread 1 1/2 cup sauce and top with spinach mixture.
7. Top with more lasagna noodle(s).
8. Top with zucchini (overlapping to fit).
9. Top with last of lasagna noodles.
10. Spread remaining sauce and sprinkle top with mozzarella.
11. Cover with well buttered foil and bake for 45 minutes at 375.
12. Remove foil and bake additional 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.

Let rest and enjoy!

Wish I was a food photographer to get some good shots of the meal. But here are samples of our colorful and full plates:

Holiday Wishes

Friday, December 4, 2009

Eggplant Salad

Here is a recipe from Thanksgiving for an eggplant salad/spread. It is delicious and was prepared by a family friend. One of my mother's friends got the recipe and wrote it down. I'm hoping to see if it turns out as well when I prepare it:

Eggplant Salad

What You Need:
- l large or 2 medium eggplants
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 Tbs Vinegar
- 1 - 2 Tbs olive oil
- Sea salt

What You Do:
1. Fork your eggplants in a couple of places to put some holes in them.
2. Wrap the eggplant(s) in tin foil.
2. Cook eggplants in oven for about one hour. (Anthony says "Cook for one hour on a low flame directly on the "burner" and keep turning to avoid burning-- but I think this can be done in the oven)
3. When it is done (soft) rinse in cold water and scoop out the insides and mix by hand or in a blender and set aside.
4. Take the onion, the cloves of garlic, the vinegar and the olive oil and put in a blender.
5. Blend till smooth.
6. Add the eggplant and salt to taste.

Best served next day.

Still to come... turkey, stuffing, and dessert! Just waiting on some details from my mom!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Part Two: Sides

For the Thanksgiving sides we served brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, cooked carrots, and cranberry sauce. The cranberry sauce was the best surprise of the meal, since it was my first time making homemade sauce. We usually use the Ocean Spray canned jelly. I was determined to find a sauce that would convert many of my friends and family to a homemade variety. And, it was a success!

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnut Butter (from The Bitten Word)
What You Need (I doubled the recipe):
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts (about 1 oz.)
- 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 1-1/2 tsp. lightly chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp. honey
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered or cut into 6 wedges if very large (about 6 cups)
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

What You Do:
1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Put the hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet.
3. Roast in the oven until they are a deep golden-brown (the skins will be visibly splitting), 5 to 6 minutes.
4. Wrap the nuts in a clean kitchen towel, cool for a couple of minutes, and then take the skins off by rubbing the nuts together in the kitchen towel while still warm. (Don’t worry about getting all of the skins off.)
5. Let the nuts cool for about 10 minutes.
6. Finely chop 1/4 cup of the nuts in a small food processor. The nuts should be very finely ground, but not so much that they turn into nut butter.
7. Coarsely chop the remaining nuts and set aside for a garnish.
8. Put the finely chopped nuts, butter, lemon zest, thyme, honey, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl and mix with a spatula until well combined.
9. Set aside or refrigerate if not using right away.
10. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat.
11. Add the Brussels sprouts and 1-1/2 tsp. salt and stir well.
12. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and then more frequently as the sprouts begin to brown, until all of the sprouts are golden-brown on most sides and have lost their raw color (they will still feel firm), 15 to 18 minutes.
13. Add the broth and immediately cover the pan.
14. Cook until the broth has reduced to a few tablespoons, about 2 minutes.
15. Uncover, raise the heat to high, and boil off most of the remaining liquid, 1 to 2 minutes.
16. Take the pan off the heat and add the hazelnut butter in spoonfuls; toss well. Season to taste with salt.
17. Transfer the sprouts to a warm serving dish and garnish with the reserved hazelnuts.

Sweet Potato Casserole (from Southern Food)

What You Need (I triple the recipe and make one batch without the nut topping):
- 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- Marshmallows

What You Do:
1. Combine first 6 ingredients.

2. Pour into a buttered 1 1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish.

3. Mix remaining ingredients together and sprinkle over top.

4. Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes, until hot and browned.

Here is a look at the carrots while they are cooking. I'll have to get the recipe from my mom to post.Most important of the sides (although they were all delicious), was the cranberry sauce. A happy new addition to our Thanksgiving dinner.

Honey-and-Spice Cranberry Sauce (from Epicurious)

What You Need:
- 1 12-ounce bag cranberries
- 1 3/4 cups apple cider or juice
- 3/4 cup honey
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
- 6 whole cloves (for next year, I'm going to use less cloves for a more mild flavor)
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of salt What You Do:

1. Combine all ingredients in heavy large saucepan.

2. Bring to boil over medium heat.

3. Simmer until berries burst and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. I ended up simmering for a bit longer than this to get the right thickness, maybe 20-30 minutes.

4. Remove cinnamon sticks, cloves and bay leaf.

5. Refrigerate sauce until cold. (Note: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Stay tuned for the most important part of the meal, stuffing, turkey, and desserts!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Part One: Starters

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was a tremendous success (despite the 7.5 hour drive from DC to NJ). Since we were arriving in NJ on Wed. night, I had to do some of the Thanksgiving preparation in DC on Tuesday evening and bring it along with me. My sister and I prepared the sweet potato casserole and butternut squash soup in advance. Similarly, my mother prepared the stuffing in advance and went to pick up the turkey on Wed. Thursday morning, we woke up at 7 am to get ready for the meal. I will organize my posts around the meal, starting with the starters.


Our family friends (a family that comes each year to Thanksgiving) brought over the appetizers. A fantastic collections of Mediterranean favorites: hummus, pita, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant salad, and chickpea salad. We also had a soft brie, Havarti, and cheddar cheese with crackers and grapes. We started snacking at 2:30 with the arrival of our first guests.


After the finishing touches on the turkey, gravy, and salad as well as debate, discussion, and catching up, we moved to the table and served the soup. The soup was a butternut squash soup I prepared in advance in DC on Tuesday. The recipe for Butternut Squash Soup came from Flavor Diva, and is available here. I tripled the recipe and had a bit of trouble, when I tasted the soup-- it tasted more like garlic than like butternut squash! Turns out that the squash I used were not very flavorful, while the garlic was strong. I had to throw away 1/3 of the soup and replace it with two new butternut squash and an apple. After adding in these additional ingredients, the soup turned out wonderfully.

I made this fall salad last year as well. It is delicious and a good compromise because the recipe I had picked out for this year had goat cheese in it (which my mom is convinced she won't like). While I am going to work on the goat cheese with my mom over the next year so that we can hopefully have it next time, this salad with candied pecans hit the spot. I tripled the recipe for a ton of salad!

Fall Salad (from the Food Network)

What You Need:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup raw pecans
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head endive, separated leaves
- 2 hearts frisee, hand torn
- 1 large radicchio, torn leaves
- 1 red pear, sliced
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan

What You Do:

1. To make the candied pecans, set a nonstick pan over medium heat.
2. Add the butter and sugar and once it has melted toss in the pecans and continue to toss to coat and cook evenly, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer to a sheet tray lined with waxed paper (use 2 forks to separate pecans) while you prepare the salad.
4. Make the dressing by combining the chopped shallot, Dijon and balsamic vinegar in a large mixing bowl.
5. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you whisk to emulsify.
6. Add the maple syrup and season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
7. Assemble salad by tossing greens and pear slices in a large mixing bowl with maple-balsamic dressing.
8. Top with shaved Parmesan and candied pecans.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Animals

I just finished Jonathan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals. I picked it up on Sunday morning after a trip to the Dupont Farmer's Market. I finished it in just three days (Sunday afternoon and after work Monday and Tuesday). I couldn't put it down. Jonathan's use of language, straightforward description, and incredible personal narrative is compelling and impactful. He provides enough details to make you uncomfortable but, as he mentions in the beginning of the book, are conservative. While I already knew much of the information he outlines regarding animal processing methods and abuses, the book made my stomach churn.

Jonathan probes the reader with very pointed philosophical and personal questions. He challenges readers to look at their own stories (which define our identities and relationships) and evaluate what our dietary choices mean. He asks how our dietary choices define us. He argues that choices about what we eat and how we eat it matter most. The voice of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, echoes throughout the book, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

This is an important book to read. I am going to read it again, more carefully, so that I can really evaluate what Jonathan has written.

Ultimately, however, the solutions he offers to the host of issues and complexities he presents regarding eating meat, current animal agricultural methods, and the factory farming industry revolve around personal choice, specifically, vegetarianism and veganism. He writes, "It might sound fantastic, but when we bother to look, it's hard to deny that our day-to-day choices shape the world." I agree with Jonathan, individual choice is important. It does matter.

But, how can we confront the overwhelming economic, political, and social forces presented in the book? These forces remain unknown. Also, Eating Animals introduces different characters, many entrenched in the fight against the factory farm, but how can they work together when they do not agree on the end goal nor the means? Goliath is poorly defined but omnipresent; David is splintered and may not be equipped for the fight.
Personal choice is only a part of the solution. Political advocacy and social change are needed on a much larger scale. But with what goal and how do we get there?

Jonathan argues that his book is “an argument for vegetarianism, but it’s also an argument for another, wiser animal agricultural and more honorable omnivory”. What he means by “honorable omnivory” is presented mainly in anecdotes about the few “compassionate” and “sustainable” farmers left in the United States. I am left wondering how this is possible and what steps need to be taken to get there.

Read this book. I’m going to read it again. I have not yet decided on what his challenges mean to me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Barbeque Meatloaf

In testing recipes for Thanksgiving sides, I also decided to make one of my cool weather favorites: meatloaf. The recipe I use is adapted from Paula Dean's Barbeque Meatloaf. It is fantastic, moist, and homey. I'm going to be eating it tonight with my Thanksgiving butternut squash soup and brussels sprouts hopefuls (recipes to come with later Thanksgiving prep posts, after I know that they are a go).

Here is the recipe that has worked for me whenever I need a good comfort food:

Barbeque Meatloaf (adapted from Paula Dean's)

What You Need

- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground turkey
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons vinegar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup water, to thin sauce if necessary (I very rarely use this)

What You Do

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Saute chopped onion and bell pepper for 5-8 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes.
3. Mix together the beef, bread crumbs, onion, bell pepper, egg, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
4. Form this mixture into a loaf and place it in a shallow pan.
5. Stir together the remaining tomato sauce, vinegar, sugar, mustard, Worcestershire and the water (if too thick, which it rarely is).
6. Pour this sauce over the meatloaf. (This will look pretty scary. The meatloaf is swimming in the sauce, but don't worry! It will absorb and the sauce will no longer be there at the end.)
7. Bake for 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes with the pan juices. If there still are a lot of juices and sauce, let go another 15 minutes.
8. Enjoy!

Leftovers should be eaten on English muffins for a fantastic sandwich. Yum.

Thanksgiving Planning

With less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, my mother and I are in prep mode. I ordered the turkey and now we are sharing recipes and discussing the menu. Appetizers and wine will come from the guests. Pies this year will come from a nearby farm market (pumpkin and multi-berry). Although I am tempted to make my own pumpkin pie again this year (it came out really well last year). My mother always has a great strategy to cook the turkey and stuffing (there always needs to be traditional items on the table).

Otherwise, the remainder of the meal is open for discussion. My ideas so far:

Soup: Butternut Squash Soup (with apple)
Salad: Asian Pear and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese
Side 1: Sweet Potato Casserole (with pecans and marshmallows)
Side 2: Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnut Butter
Cranberry: Honey-and-Spice Cranberry Sauce

After a lot of reading and searching, I have the recipes picked out. I sent them over to my mom and sister for review. Most of the above are new to me with the exception of the sweet potato casserole. I have two potlucks coming up in the next week, and hope to have some friends over for dinner as well. I will attempt to do a trial run of most of these recipes before the big day. As I cook and finalize the recipes I will use, I will be sure to share.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Colorful Cauliflower

Can you believe that cauliflower comes in all these amazing colors? (The above is not my picture by the way, I found it off a google search.)

At the farmer's market this morning, I was able to pick up some purple and orange cauliflower. I love this veggie and will probably eat most of it raw. I may also include it in a veggie saute with other yummy items.

Just thought I would share my excitement!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Having achieved moderate success with mozzarella cheese and yogurt, it is time to try another adventure with milk. While I was looking through old magazines for recipes (starting to brainstorm about Thanksgiving and also a company pot luck), I found last November's Food and Wine. In it, I saw an article about Maria Helm Sinskey and her ricotta cheese and associated recipes. Unfortunately, I don't have a camera at the moment to take pictures to show you how cool it is to make ricotta (so you will have to just take my word for it). If you are really interested on the appearance, it does not look much different from mozzarella while you are making it.

Below is the recipe (from Food and Wine's Creamy Ricotta recipe), it makes 3.5 cups of ricotta and can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

What You Need:

- 2 quarts whole milk, preferably organic
- 1 cup heavy cream, preferably organic
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

What You Do:

1. In a medium pot (or bigger), warm the milk and cream over moderately high heat until the surface becomes foamy and steamy and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the milk registers 185°; don’t let the milk boil.
2. Remove the pot from the heat.
3. Add the vinegar and stir gently for 30 seconds. Maria says that "the mixture will curdle almost immediately." And it really does! This is so crazy to watch. Take a look at the mozzarella pictures if you are curious on how this looks.
4. Add the salt and stir for 30 seconds longer.
5. Cover the pot with a clean towel and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
6. Line a large colander with several layers of cheesecloth, allowing several inches of overhang.
7. Set the colander in a large bowl.
8. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the colander.
8. Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth and close with a rubber band.
9. Let the ricotta stand for 30 minutes, gently pressing and squeezing the cheesecloth occasionally to drain off the whey.
10. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl and use at once, or cover and refrigerate.

With this delicious cheese, I'm going to try Maria's Baked Penne with Sausage, but I have to make some adaptations due to what was available at the market and store.

Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy Ricotta (adapted from Food and Wine)

What You Need:

- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- One 28-ounce can tomato puree
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon ground anise seed (substitute for fennel)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound penne
- 3 cups ricotta (homemade is best!)
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (post about mozzarella here)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

What You Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
3. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
4. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes.
5. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and anise.
6. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
7. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes.
8. Remove the garlic, mash it to a paste and stir it back into the sauce; discard the bay leaf.
9. Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
10. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
11. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
12. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat the penne.
13. Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
14. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top.
15. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don’t overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta.
16. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
17. Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top.
18. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Decisions... and Spaghetti Squash

So, my mother and I have decided on the Thanksgiving bird from Goffle Road Poultry Farm (see previous post for the debate). I will have to keep working on my sell for the Red Bourbon. I think by next year I can come up with a convincing menu that relies less on the turkey and includes additional sides. Or, I will get some money saved up so that I can by the bird myself. Either way, I'm happy with our decision and I'm just waiting on the size request before placing our order.

After some crazy weeks, I'm back at home and recovered from a nasty cold. I don't have much in my fridge. But I do have a Spaghetti Squash from some weeks back that still looks good. I'm going to give it a try.

Here's what I'm doing:

Spaghetti Squash

What You Need:
- 1 spaghetti squash.
- Large sharp knife
- Baking pan
- Kitchen fork
- Pasta sauce, herbs, butter, or pesto (I'm going to put some butter and tomato sauce on it to try it out, but there are other good ideas like Herbed Spaghetti Squash from the Food Network)

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Poke holes in the whole squash with a sharp knife.
3. Place whole squash in a baking pan.
4. Bake squash for one hour.
5. Remove from oven and let cook.
6. Cut squash in half.
7. Remove seeds and pulp.
8. Use fork to scrape the edge of the spaghetti squash to shred the pulp into strands (this looks like spaghetti, so they say).
9. Serve with a sauce, butter, pesto, and/or herbs.

I'm going to give this a try tonight! We will see how it goes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Turkey Hunting

It is time to start planning and prepping for Thanksgiving. Barbara convinced me in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I should start eating heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. I was horrified that conventional turkeys are unable to breed without human assistance. I was also shocked that 99% of the turkeys in the US are this Broad Breasted White Variety, and that all other varieties of North American turkeys are becoming increasingly rare. So, last year around this time, I started my search for the perfect local, organic, heritage turkey. Since I spend Thanksgiving with my family in New Jersey, I have to plan for a bird and pickup there. This has complicated the situation further. Last year, after discussion with a member of Slow Food Northern NJ, and debate with my mother, I opted against the heritage bird (because of price) but ordered a local, organic bird from South Jersey and picked it up at The Health Shoppes Local and Organic Market in Morristown, NJ. The bird was fabulous.

This year, I am confronted with the same challenges: Heritage bird, or not. Certified organic, or not. Really local, or "local". And, how long should I really drive for "local"?

I found myself researching on some of the same sites:

I also have a romantic ideal of buying my Thanksgiving bird directly from the farm. This year, it seems that my urge to connect to the farm trumps all the other concerns. After some Internet searching, I came up with two alternatives:

With both these options, my turkey will be farm fresh, processed the week before Thanksgiving. I will also be able to pick up the bird from the farm directly, or from a farmer's market nearby. Both are free range and and "natural", but neither claim to be "organic". The difference, Griggstown has Red Bourbons! The downside with the Red Bourbon in the $8 a pound price tag and 2 hour drive to get it. With the $2 price and location in Bergen County (close to my mom), Goffle Road Poultry has an appeal of its own.

I have posed the question to my mother and we will continue to debate for a few days. My hope is to place an order on one of these birds in the next week. Then, we begin menu and recipe planning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Back into the Kitchen

Great news! I finally have a working oven. I can go into the kitchen without wanting to cry. Hopefully that means a lot more cooking and blog posting. I'm going to be making Red Beans and Rice this evening, adapted from a food network recipe by Robert Irvine (found here):

Red Beans and Rice

What You Need:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced (I love garlic and always use more)
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 3 stalk celery, diced
- 2 green bell pepper, diced
- 2 (1-pound) cans red kidney beans
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (more or less depending on your taste, I've also done 1-2 tablespoons chili powder instead)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock (water will do)
- 1 cup white rice
- 1 tablespoon butter

What You Do:
1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan.
2. Saute garlic, onion, celery, and bell pepper until tender.
3. Stir in kidney beans, onion powder, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
4. Reduce heat to low and let mixture simmer slowly while you cook the rice.
5. Bring the chicken stock to a boil and stir in rice and butter.
6. Return to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes without removing the lid. 7. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
8. Fold rice and beans gently together and transfer to a serving dish.

Yay! Look at the new stove!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mac and Cheese

I'm getting ready for a fall cook out tomorrow with co-workers and preparing baked mac and cheese. I was really looking forward to a Sunday of cooking but, this is going to be a challenge because my oven is broken.

Yesterday at 5:30 in the morning I started to hear a constant clicking sound. I was very confused by this and thought it was coming from my window. An hour later, I realized it was coming from the kitchen. My stove was acting like it was trying to light all four burners at one time. Since this had never happened to me before, I panicked-- worried that my oven was going to explode into a ball of fire. Thankfully, I talked to my mom and consulted the-google and found that it was not life threatening, just incredibly annoying. Maintenance in my building came first thing in the morning and unplugged the over (the clicking is caused by an electrical malfunction), I was also promised a new oven next week.

So, I can use the stove top by lighting it manually. But no such luck with the oven. I'm supposed to be bringing apple pie and mac and cheese to the cook out tomorrow. I'm going to have to be resourceful and do all the prep here, and then steal an oven from someone for an hour or so. We'll see how it goes.

Recipe for the best mac and cheese I've ever had:

Adaptation of Alton Brown's Baked Mac and Cheese

What You Need (I always double it):
- 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon powdered mustard
- 3 cups milk
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 large egg
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
- 6 ounces monterey jack, shredded
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh black pepper

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
3. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps.
4. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf. 5. Temper in the egg. This involves putting the end in a separate bowl and then mixing in a little of the cream sauce mixture bit by bit. This gets the egg hot without getting a poached egg in the middle of your mac and cheese mix.
6. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese.
7. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.
9. Top with remaining cheese.
10. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

I have had great success with this recipe and love making it! Now, off to find an oven.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ratatouille Alternative

As promised, the Ratatouille alternative (heavier on the tomato flavor) from the Silver Palate Cookbook:

What You Need:
- 2 cups best-quality olive oil
- 4 small eggplants, about 4 pounds in all, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 pounds white onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 7 medium-size zucchini, washed, trimmed, sliced
- 2 medium-size sweet red peppers, stemmed, seeded, chopped
- 2 medium-size green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 cans (16 ounces) tomatoes
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- freshly ground black pepper to taste

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Line a large roasting pan with foil and pour in 1 cup of the olive oil. Add the eggplant, sprinkle it with the salt, and toss well. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes, until eggplant is done but not mushy. Uncover and set aside.
3. In a large skillet or in 2 smaller skillets, heat remaining oil. Saute onions, zucchini, red and green peppers and garlic over medium heat until wilted and lightly colored, about 20 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, dill, basil, oregano and black pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add eggplant mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste and correct seasonings.
6. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Apples Apples Everywhere

I made the first pie out of the apples I picked last week. It turned out well, but I will be trying it again with my own crust this weekend and will post again at that time. I thought I'd share the success on this one though:

It smells amazing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ratatouille: The Last of the Season

My second ratatouille of the season was not quite as nice as the first, but turned out pretty well. I adapted the recipe from Joy of Cooking. I was thrilled to still see all these delicious veggies at the market, given how late we are in the season (particularly the tomatoes). I'll describe what I did here, but also provide the alternative recipe (which I thought was better) for you to choose from.

Ratatouille (Heavy on the eggplant, less on the tomato)

What You Need:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 small eggplants, chopped in 1 inch cubes
- 2 medium zucchini, sliced
- 2 onions, sliced
- 2 red peppers, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (less of this or replace with basil depending on how you feel about parsley)
- Salt and pepper to taste

What You Do:
1. Chop the eggplant into 1 inch cubes.
2. Saute eggplant, on high heat, in a dutch oven with 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil for 10-12 minutes.
3. Chop onions and mince garlic while eggplant cooks.
4. Remove eggplant from dutch oven and set aside.
5. Reduce heat to medium high and cook onions and garlic until onions are soft.
6. While onions are cooking, slice and chop the remainder of the veggies.
7. When onions are soft, add in the bell peppers and zucchini and cook for 8-12 minutes.
8. Season veggies with salt and pepper as they cook.
9. Add in the tomatoes and the tomato paste with additional seasoning.
10. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
11. Add in the eggplant, stir, and cook another 20 minutes.
12. Serve with some bread and Parmesan cheese.
13. Enjoy!

Ratatouille makes a great left over, and you will have a lot of left overs if you follow the recipe above. I like to eat it on pasta or on its own in a bowl with some cheese and bread. I've heard that it makes a great topping for a pizza, but I haven't tried this yet. The recipe above, like I mentioned, disappointed me a little bit at first. However, the next day, it tasted great. I would still say that the first attempt this season was a greater success but I hope following the steps above will not disappoint those looking for a great way to end the veggie-fest of the season.

Homemade Applesauce

This past weekend was perfect for apple picking. The weather was glorious and sky was clear. I was interested in trying my own applesauce. It was fun and smelled amazing!

I combined two recipes I found online: Sarah's Applesauce and Homemade Applesauce.


What You Need:

- 12 apples - peeled, cored and quartered
- 2-1/4 cups water
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 4 strips of lemon peel
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (or more, depending on your sweet tooth)
- up to 1/4 cup of white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
What You Do:
1. Put all ingredients into a large pot and bring to boil.
2. Lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and remove lemon peels.
4. Mash with spoon or potato masher (if you should have one, I do not).
5. Enjoy and share with friends this fall!

I shared this post with Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday. Please check out all the posts there for lots of SOLE, real food!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Photo of celeriac for those who don't know what it is after reading the last post: Ugly but delicious.

Brisket: Sweet and Sour

Another great holiday meal is brisket. As we get into the fall, this sweet and sour brisket recipe is a great one to keep warm, full, and happy! Below you can see my sister and I getting ready to dig in before the holiday fast last week:

Sweet and Sour Brisket
What You Need:
- 1 3 pound brisket (most fat trimmed off)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 large sweet onions sliced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons honey (or a bit more!)
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 4 sprigs parsley
- 4 celery stalks chopped
- 4 carrots chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- Optional: potatoes or celeriac cut up into perfect sized pieces

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Dust roast with salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour.
3. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil, brown the roast and remove.
4. Brown onions, garlic, and celery in remaining oil.
5. Return meat to pot and add remaining ingredients.
6. Cover and place in oven and bake for approximately 2 hours.
7. Remove bay leaf and serve. (Or cool dish and remove bay leaf. Refrigerate for several hours, then remove grease on top. Slice meat and cover with sauce. Reheat and serve.)

Remember that brisket shrinks a lot in the cooking. My mother (who gave me the recipe) reminds me to make sure to start with enough meat. She orders a 5 -6 lb brisket for parties of 8 and always has a perfect amount for left overs!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Year

The past two weeks marked a new year in the Jewish calendar. It is a fantastic time for reflection and renewal. After a very busy summer, full of traveling for work and new life challenges, I am committed to spending more time cooking and enjoying meals with friends. I hope that this will result in a renewed enthusiasm and engagement with Adventures in Container Gardening (and local eating)!

What better way to start off the new year with our Yom Kippur break fast meal. Here are the photos:

My mom came down to celebrate the holiday with me and my sister and brought NJ bagels down with her. Served with heirloom tomatoes, lox, and onion slices, these bagels are the best way to end the fast day. I also prepared cheese blintzes served with apple sauce. On the side we had an Israeli salad and green salad. The Israeli salad is a great way to celebrate the end of the summer, using the best of the tomatoes and cukes. Here is how to do it:
Israeli Salad
What You Need:
- Three delicious tomatoes (I used three different heirloom varieties)
- 2-3 cukes (depends on their size)
- 1 white onion
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
What you do:
1. Chop up all the tomatoes and mix together.
2. Peel and seed the cukes and then chop up and mix with tomatoes.
3. Chop the onion and add into the mix.
4. Mix in olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I love this salad, and it is very easy to adapt to your tastes (you can change around the measurements of what you put into it based on what you like).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bison Burgers with Goat Cheese

Another perfect summer meal: bison burgers with goat cheese served with brandywine tomato and arugula with a side of steamed white corn and grilled zucchini. Delicious.

The burgers on a grill pan (for two):
What you need:
-1/2 pound bison ground meat
-1/2 medium onion chopped
-teaspoon or less hot sauce
-1 egg
-sprinkle of fresh herbs (we often use rosemary)
-anything else that looks good to throw in there!

The burger itself is a bit of a mystery to me. The burger master of the house whips together the above ingredients and makes the mixture into two perfectly formed patties. These are tossed on the heated grillpan for about 4-5 minutes a side. Do not fuss with the burgers while on the grillpan.

With the burgers on the grill, we put the four ears of corn (already cleaned off) into a pot with about 1 inch of water. Let the boiling water steam the corn for 10 minutes.

Also, we sliced the zucchini and put them on the grillpan with the burgers. These need to be flipped a couple time to make sure that they grilled as you like them.

When the burgers are finished, let them rest on a plate and toast the burger buns. With the buns toasted, spread a layer of goat cheese on each side. Layer the bun with the burger, then giant slice of tomato and finally a bunch of arugula.

Admire the burger and plate full of summer joy. And then, dig in.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Goats and Eggplants

The best part of traveling for work is coming home. I was back in town from a week in Texas and was able to get to the Dupont farmer's market on Sunday. There, I happily found all the fruits and veggie joys of the summer season. I was really excited to see goat sausage! Eager to try it, we made the goat last night with Mediterranean couscous and sauteed eggplant and tomatoes.

We simmered the sausages in some water while the eggplant cooked and the seared them in the pan. It was a perfect meal. Here is how I prepared the eggplant (adapted form M.Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian):

What you need:
-2 small eggplants (I used two of different varieties)
-1 medium onion
-5 garlic clove (you can use less if you aren't a huge garlic fan)
-2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used green heirlooms ... yum!)
-1/2 cup olive oil

What to do:
1. Chop the onion and garlic.
2. Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes (I left the skin on)
3. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on medium heat and add all the onion and most of the garlic (save about a teaspoon for later)
4. Cook the onion and garlic on medium heat for 5 minutes until soft.
5. Add in the eggplant and stir for 5-10 minutes.
6. Chop the tomatoes.
7. After another 10 minutes (when the eggplant is tender), add the tomatoes and the remaining garlic.
8. Continue stirring and cooking for another 20 minutes or so until the eggplant is soft and yummy (I advice a taste-test)!
9. Season with salt and pepper.
10. Enjoy!

Additional good news: I wrote this post from my new phone! I think this means that I will be able to post more frequently.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summertime Living

Last Sat. we got together for a cook out and enjoyed some more of the delicious fruits of our gardening labor including a cuke and some tomatoes.

Even though we have been eating many of them, there are still many more on the way. Here are some pics:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tomato Development

Updated photo of the tomatoes as they ripen:

Cukes... Yum!

I was so happy to get a chance to enjoy the first of our cukes from the garden. It was delicious and HUGE! Take a look:

I put the comparison shot in there for you to demonstrate how fantastic this cuke turned out. With all the excitement, we started to pull out the seeds as we ate the chopped up cuke (to plant next year).

Unfortunately, I found out later from Home Hort Hints, "Cucumber seeds at the eating stage are not ripe and will not germinate if saved. You must allow the fruit and seed to fully mature."

After looking into it a bit more, I found out how complex it will be to save these seeds from It will involve allowing the cucumbers to ripen on the vine until they turn yellow and the vines die. Then, allow the cucumber to get soft before scooping out the seed mass and letting the seeds ferment in a jar of water. Then, you have to dry the seeds out.

The good news is that if you are able to get through this process the seeds will last for 8-10 years. I'm not sure that we will have enough cukes to decide to save one for seeds, and we still may have seeds left over from the beginning of the season. But it was truly an exciting evening.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bring on the Harvest

Dare We Declare V-I-C-T-O-R-Y?

More than 3 months after our first intrepid steps into the wide world of urban gardening, our containers have come a long way. Over the course of this journey we've [on numerous occasions] wanted for soil, space, sunlight, and time, and questioned whether we would ever reap the benefits of our labor. But just as the torrential rains of May and June have passed on to a sunnier July, so have our doubts given way to the sweet satisfaction of the evidence of our success.


baby tomatoes...

and watermelon, oh my!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

Recipe: Beer Can Chicken

Here’s an innovative way to guarantee a flavorful, juicy chicken roasting experience, with minimal work involved! I tried this recipe out recently for a friendly chicken cook-off, and was very pleased with the outcome. While it would have been even more delicious had I been able to cook the chicken on a grill (alas, an upright chicken requires quite a bit of head room- which most small hibachi grills do not have, and further- I don’t own a grill myself), the result was still delicious.


  • 2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken
  • 1 (12-ounce) can beer


  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  • Mix the spice rub ingredients in a medium bowl until they are well blended.
  • Rinse your bird, pat it dry, and rub it all over with olive oil (I know, it feels a bit like rubbing tanning oil all over an eager beach-goer).
  • Rub your bird with the dry-rub, covering it all over, inside and out.
  • Crack open the beer, and empty out about a third of it. Poke a few holes in the top. Pour some of the dry rub – if you have any left - into the can.
  • Place the chicken on top of the can. This involves some somewhat awkward finagling, and the result should look like your chicken is perched, legs on the bottom and wings on the top, quite naturally.
  • Place the chicken (on the can) on a baking sheet with sides, and bake for about one hour. For crispier skin, broil the chicken for the last 10 minutes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

We Have Some Tomatoes.... Almost

Our rooftop tomato plants are looking fantastic and even have some little tomatoes growing. Take a look at their photo shoot:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

4th of July: Food Independence Day

HR 2749: Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted in favor of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Now the bill is headed to the House floor for consideration. You can read a draft of the bill here.

Take a look at a post on La Vida Locavore about some of the merits of the bill and additional ways to support it. La Vida Locavore also points to important deficiencies and issues regarding the bill, particularly the impact on small farmers.

To read another point of view, take a look at Food Freedom's post on Totalitarian Control of the Food System. Food Freedom argues that giving additional power to the FDA will in fact hurt organic and small farms. Food Freedom writes: "The bill would impose a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme on small farms and local artisanal producers; and it would disproportionately impact their operations for the worse."

While the bill is far from perfect and there are concerns for the impact to small farmers, food safety is an important issue that requires attention. One of the best parts of the bill is that it empowers the FDA to issue mandatory recalls of food. This is key, as we have seen with the recent food recalls this summer.

I hope that this bill helps to turn some focus onto food issues. While we are hearing a lot about the new energy bill as well as health care reform, we need to address the integral issue that impacts energy use, the environment, and health. This important linkage is, you guessed it, food.

I am concerned that the restrictions in the bill will disproportionally impact small farms/operations, as large companies/operations will not feel the squeeze from the fees and fines associates with the bill. But, on the other hand, it is essential that we empower the government to stand up to large companies regarding food safety!

For the time being, I think the best we can do is encourage Congree to change the bill to ensure the security of small, organic farms and artisanal producers, but also support Food Safety for all of us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Local" Grocery Shopping

Since I was traveling back from a trip to a friend’s in North Carolina this weekend, I missed the Sunday farmer’s market. Sadly, I was left to do my big weekly grocery at Whole Foods. Not only is it less fun to shop at the grocery store, I find it very frustrating to shop in Whole Foods, which claims to stock “local” products and find only fruits and vegetables from California (with a dash of Mexico and Florida). Looking around at all the nice looking food, all I could see was: California, California, California.

The only produce I could find that was actually local was two heads of VA lettuce, two VA heirloom tomatoes, and a container of NJ blueberry’s (still pretty far away, but I’ll take what I can get). I also noticed that there was very limited selection of local meat or cheese.

I’m going to go to another farmer’s market Wed. or Thurs. this week, since I am lucky enough to live somewhere that has multiple farmers’ markets during the summertime. But, I think that we ought to challenge our grocery stores to do better and actually stock local food—maybe they could shoot for as many local items as they have signs and posters claiming to be “local”. Especially considering all the fantastic farms in the area.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food Inc.

Saturday started out as another rainy day in DC, so I met up with a group of friends to see a matinee showing of Food Inc. I went into the movie with high expectations, especially since many of my heroes, Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin among them, are the "stars".

The movie was fantastic. It was well organized and easy to understand. The filmmaker, Robert Kenner, did an excellent job presenting complicated and interconnected concepts. Even after presenting the horrors of the current industrialized food system, Kenner was able to change the tone at the end to empower consumers to make new choices for themselves and their families and change the food system. The movie tells us: "You can vote to change the system, three times a day.”

The presentation of Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and his growing business with Walmart was spun to exemplify how consumer choice can help power change in the food system. And, although there was a segment on workers' rights in the film (as it relates to big agribusiness and food processing plants), Kenner was able to avoid a trap that most documentaries fall into... trying to take on too much. It is hard to mention Walmart in a film that advocates for workers' rights without chasing Walmart down the rabbit hole as well. This was just one example of how Food Inc. was successful in keeping the viewer on target.

For those of us who have read Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, the movie does not cover any new material. You do realize, however, how similar Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan look when Pollan takes off his glasses.

I think that the movie is perfect for a broad audience and would encourage all to go see it (although it is a hard sell for those non-foodies out there). Also, check out the website, which has many resources and some ideas about how to get involved (including a great book list).

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in the NY Times on Sunday titled, Lettuce from the Garden, With Worms, inspired by the movie. It is definitely worth reading if you haven't. Kristoff also followed this article up with a post on his blog titled Eating Up Food Inc in which he goes on a fact finding mission about the "fact" mentioned in the movie that the number of FDA food safety inspections had fallen from 50,000 in 1972 to 9,164 in 2006. He finds that while the number of inspections has fallen, these "exact" numbers are not exactly accurate. This small issue, to me, does not discredit the movie in the slightest but does point to how difficult it is to get good, accurate information regarding some of these issues.

There are many great reviews of the movie worth checking out and lots of robust discussion. But my recommendation is to go and see it for yourself. Also, try to bring a friend who hasn't heard of Michael Pollan. While I'm happy I was able to see the movie with my foodie friends, it really is preaching to the converted for us. Proving to us what we already know. I'm hoping to turn at least one new person on to this movie before it leaves the big screen for DVD (and maybe sending the DVD out for the holidays).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Side of Snap Peas

Maureen Dowd wrote a great article in yesterday's NY Times titled Hold the Fries in which she describes the confusing messages sent by the Obamas regarding food. While we can celebrate the work of the First Lady with the organic White House garden and the words (and frequent personal eating habits) of the President in support of healthy lifestyles, the President often uses his time on the television to show Americans he is "just like them" by eating fries and cheeseburgers.

Obama Foodorama has great coverage of the food-life of the Obamas, including an interesting article yesterday regarding the role of the First Lady in the food debate. You can also see the First Lady's comments on eating healthy and locally on the White House website. But with all this great publicity for healthy lifestyles and good food, Dowd challenges us to ask why we are so jazzed to see the President feeding himself, guests, and staff fries and burgers.

The article got me thinking about why the President often has to avoid talking about and eating arugula (or other fresh, organic fruits & vegetables) in public. I love talking (or blogging) about my attempt to change my eating habits by shopping at farmer's markets, supporting CSAs and local farms, eating organic, growing my own food, and cooking and preparing meals from scratch. I happen to love arugula. But, there is an important aspect of the "local/organic/sustainable/etc. food movement" that is highlighted by the President's ambivalence towards his love of healthy food: accessibility.

Raj Patel's book Stuffed and Starved describes the fights over the food system, beginning with the choices made in the fields and ending with the experience of the consumer in the supermarket. The book is fantastic and covers a wide range of issues in an interesting and insightful manner. He successfully portrays many of the dichotomies within the food system, often boiling down to the haves and the have-nots. He raises the question, if access to food is considered a basic human right, why is price an obstacle to eating organically and locally? Why is the schism in eating habits (and subsequent rates of diet related diseases, such as diabetes) between rich and poor so tremendous, and growing every day?

I agree with many food advocates that good (sustainable) food must cost more than the prices we are used to under the current industrial food system. It is the exploitation of natural resources, as well as government subsidies for crops such as soy and corn, that keep our food prices artificially low. Food prices at the supermarket do not reflect the taxes and environmental devastation "paid" to maintain low food cost (not to mention ethical compromises made regarding basic human and workers' rights). It costs more to raise a cow or pig outside of a CAFO like the Salatin's do on Polyface Farm. But it is worth it.

That said, we are still challenged by the fact that many people (or most people) cannot afford to eat along the tenets of Michael Pollan (while I certainly try to) or the Slow Food Movement. Regarding the Slow Food Movement, Patel write, "The most pressing problem for most of us as consumers is, of course, that to be able to go on a culinary odyssey in the first place and, even more, to be truly at liberty to savour food, to have the time to quaff and roll, the majority of people need that passport to all other freedoms- money."

The obstacles for us to reach true global accessibility to sustainable, healthy food can seem insurmountable. But we each have a responsibility to do our part. Because, as Patel writes: "Unless you're a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you. Around the world, farmers and farmworkers are dying, with the connivance of elected officials, and at the whim of the market. Through processed food, consumers are engorged and intoxicated. The agribusiness's food and marketing have contributed to record levels of diet-related disease, harming us today and planting a time-bomb in the bodies of children around the world."

Liz of The Jew and The Carrot wrote a great post yesterday as well about this same issue and has some suggestions about how to do your part to make good food accessible to more people. We must each do what we can to support local agriculture and take time to know more about the food we eat. We can each do our part. Including the Obamas, who are navigating the same critical issues as each of us. We each struggle with the question of how to actively support the organic/sustainable food movement while also promoting accessibility to healthy food for all.

While the dialogue is opening up regarding these issues, and I think we are making strides in the right direction, there is much more work to do.

That said, I was able to successfully make my second batch of yogurt last night! It turned out even better than the first.

Posted this to Fight Back Fridays, so make sure to check out the Food Renegade's great blog!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Urban Gardening, Highlighted in NY Times

Take a look: here! The article includes details on some incentive programs and roof-top gardening going on in different cities throughout the country. I think this may inspire me to petition the board at my building to allow me to expand our container garden onto the roof of my apartment building.

More Cheese Making Pictures

It was too much fun not to include some extra pictures of the adventure: