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Archive for November, 2009

Although there seems to be debate on the internet whether the Romenesco is a broccoli, cauliflower or a hybrid of the two, I have always been told it was a cauliflower.  Regardless of it’s origins, I am thrilled whenever I see them in the market and think that they could possibly be the coolest vegetable in the world – though the fiddlehead would give them come competition in a formal pageant.

The Romenesco is a bit softer in texture than a cauliflower and most North Americans cook it exactly as they cook cauliflower (though be sure not to overcook it as it can become tougher).  It is also ideal for a crudites platter.

Italians have been cooking with these for more than 400 years and I understand they developed a few recipes specific to the Romenesco.  I plan to do some research in coming days and see if we might be able to find a new way to cook this mathematical object!

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We made our second loaf of no-knead bread this weekend – thought it would be a good idea to see if we could repeat our initial success before sharing the technique after all..  Our results?

I added a dusting of flour as the loaf went in the oven, scattered some seasalt on it and cut the surface in a few areas with scissors to get a bit more of a rustic look.  It tastes as good as the last one!

Here’s how you can join the party and make your own bread as well:

4 cupds all purpose flour, 2 cups warm water (70 F), 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (must say instant on it – there are 3 or 4 types of yeast and I bought the wrong one initially).

Mix together.  If it’s dry, add a bit more water  (optional step: cover surface with olive oil).  Wrap in plastic and leave room temperature to rest.  Wait 18 hours, surface should be dotted in holes.

Lightly flour working surface.  Flour outside of your bread.  Fold once or twice.  Cover loose with plastic wrap.  Wait 15 minutes.

Make a dough ball, quickly dust with flour and leave covered with plastic wrap for about 2 hours.  The dough will double or triple in size.

30-45 minutes before you cook turn over to 450.  Heat a pot with a cover on.

After pot is at heat, pour your dough into it.  Let it flop, it will straighten itself out.

Cook for 30 minutes, remove lid.

Cook till brown 20-30 minutes more.

Let it cool on a rack.

Tada!  You too can have artisan bread at home as a novice baker (like me).

If you’re looking for more background on no-knead bread, we shared the story of Bittman’s unveiling of the technique in New York City in 2006 here and shared our first attempt here.

I’d love to hear about any of your experiences or see some photos of your results in the comments!

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Beer Wars

It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a beer post – as winter sets in there will be more evenings at home and we’ll be sampling more than ever and enjoying a collection of cellared beer that we’ve collected over the summer.

In the mean time, there’s Beer Wars – a movie about the US beer scene and the independent breweries who are challenging the giants.  There’s several regular beer heroes in the trailer including Greg Koch from Stone and Sam Calagione from Dogfishhead Brewery.

If you haven’t seen the I am a Craft Brewer video yet, take the 2 minutes to watch the stirring clip for a view into the very real battle for beer that is happening in the US right now.

Do you have any favorite craft/ small beer from around the world?

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The following post is not intended to make light of the very serious problems we had with mad cow disease nor is it intended to disrespect people and families who have had tremendous negative impacts from it – including death of loved ones and losses of entire herds and family farms themselves.  It is intended to look at another impact that caught me by surprise on a recent trip to Scotland and is an attempt to find a potential silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud.  To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that mad cow (something I do not understand nearly enough on to be any source of expert) is or was a good thing.

I was sitting in Glasgow with two colleagues for a late dinner and looking through a menu when I stumbled on the following declaration:

I was very excited to see this type of transparency declared on the menu.  We were not in an expensive restaurant (by Scottish standards).  Prices were equivalent to the local Thai, Pizza and Italian food we had  eaten through the week.

It also took me by surprise that the menu declared provenance for items that were not  on the menu.  It was explained to me that they declared the origins of all ingredients that enter their kitchen – by printing all of their sources on the menu this allowed for daily specials to also be covered by this statement.  Essentially this guaranteed diners that they knew where every dish they ate came from.

I was told that more and more establishments across the continent were adding these descriptions.  Many were sharing the specific farms and farmers that their food was coming from (here’s another example I found with a quick web search for one of the farms in the menu above).  I was fascinated – local farmers being recognized on the menus of places serving their food.

My heart went from light to heavy when it was explained to me that the root cause of this push for provenance stemmed, largely, from the mad cow disease issues that circled the UK (and the press) over the last number of years.  People simply wanted to know where their food was from and who they were trusting with it.

I now find the provenance eerie.  There is substantial support for eating local that’s come at a brutal price.

I have tried to write my closing statement for this post for 15 minutes and continue to stare blankly at the screen – I have more questions than answers.  Is this a good thing?  Would provenance help made food safer and animals healthier?  Does this promote local food?  Would it have made a difference in the first place?  Can we get there without the average person in society feeling an impending threat on their safety?  Is there something we can learn from this?

I don’t have these answers – would love to hear and share your thoughts in the comments…

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Sous-vide… at home?

Sous-vide may be a term that is unfamiliar to some – it’s a relatively new style of cooking (developed in the 1970’s and popularized recently by Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Joel Robuchon and other world-famous chefs) which cooks food at a snails pace under a vaccum.  “Sous-Vide” is French for “under vacuum.”

Chefs seal ingredients in a plastic with he intent of removing all air from the package.  This package is then placed in water which is typically heated to around 60°C or 140°F).  Food is left to cook at these temperatures for up to, and sometimes longer, than 24 hours.

Proponents of this method rave about it.  Their argument is poignant though largely scientific.  This low temperature keeps the integrity of the original product – fat does not render off, water content does not evaporate, cell structure remains in tact, texture of the original ingredients remain in tact and hte original appearance often remains in tact.  There is no liquid loss and cannot be overcooked – the two-minute video below shows how UC Davis uses slow-cooking in their cafeteria to reduce food waste and incrase overall quality of what they produce:

Sous-vide is possible at home though not common.  Chefs use expensive water-bath machines to maintain the integrity of temperature and acknowledge that even the smallest change of temperature can change the results – including the possibility of botulism (just like preserving in jars) as the food is in an air-tight environment.  I can’t imagine trying to keep a pot of water consistently at 60°C for 24 hours on my relic of a stove.

Along comes the SousVide Supreme – a new product that has yet to ship (it promises to start in the next few weeks).  It’s a home water bath that (for $400) will allow you to consistently create sous-vide at home (vacuum sealer not included).  It’s essentially a slow slow-cooker (that’s even slower than a normal slow cooker).  It offers the potential of gourmet-level meals with very little work.

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Terra Madre Day

Terra Madre is a community that “brings together those players in the food chain who together support sustainable agriculture, fishing, and breeding with the goal of preserving taste and biodiversity.”  It’s an awful big mouthful and a lot to chew on.

Slow Food is organizing a global event on December 10 called Terra Madre day (it is also the 20th anniversary of the Slow Food movement).  To participate is simple – attend or host an event that recognizes and celebrates sustainable food.  They have defined “7 Pillars of food wisdom” to help understand their definition of this better:

  • Access to good, clean and fair food
  • Agricultural and biodiversity
  • small-scale food production
  • food sovereignty
  • Language, cultural, and traditional knowledge
  • Environmentally responsible food production
  • Fair and sustainable trade

There is an interactive map of global events here and a list of ideas for your own event (such as a communal dinner) here.  You can register your event through their site and, together, we can make a difference.

We haven’t made plans yet and are thinking of some ideas…  What are you up to?

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Surely this post will turn some stomachs and it will excite others.  Let’s start by chewing the fat:

I brought two small jars of this back from my recent trip to Scotland.

I adore going to grocery stores when I travel.  Prepared foods are always interesting as are any local specialties.  A trip to the pickle and jam aisles are a prerequisite and produce can reveal some wonderful discoveries.

I found the jar above at Marks & Spencer – a beloved mass retailer in the UK and some of North America.  It’s essentially a mini WallMart which occasionally has a major food section.  The store I visit in Glasgow features an entire supermarket worth of options (or lack thereof depending on your take on the great food debates!)

I was rather surprised by two things.  The first is that duck fat was a common ingredient (it was offered at 2 for 5 pounds; approx $10).  The second surprise was about the utility of the packaging – simple, pretty and functional.  I remember picking it up and thinking, `What would I do with a small jar of duck fat?`  Ask and ye shall receive – the package answered my silent query.

We recently posted an article on Buttercup Squash which was local and included instructions on cooking it simply (here).

What food (or ingredients) should have recipes or ideas plainly added to them?  I`m thinking clear ideas on the 17 different types of apples appearing in local super markets would be a start!  🙂  Which ones are good for pie, which others for sauce and how about one just for eating?

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