Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our Global Kitchen: Food, Culture, Nature

A couple weeks ago The American Museum of Natural History sent me a press preview invitation for their new exhibit, now open to the public, called Our Global Kitchen. With my fingers on the pulse of food in one way or another these days (i.e. all over the place, which I just l-o-v-e), I knew this should not be missed. It did not disappoint.

Our Global Kitchen is one of the most information-dense exhibits I have visited, filled with details on historical kitchens both simple and grand; ancient growing and eating practices; meals from around the world (and different époques); various solutions to the very real and worsening issue of food scarcity; alternating food demonstrations, and more. Generally, everything food.

Since we all eat and have a gazillion relationships to food, I thought it relevant to share and encourage you to find out more for yourselves. Go see Our Global Kitchen and bring your friends, your family, so you can chew over the layers, together.

Container gardens on display. Samples of watercress, mustard greens, thyme varieties, and more were available to taste.
This piece really struck me.  Seems criminal that the "hard and flavorless" is what is widely available.

The figures detailing meat production are dismaying, astounding. On right, future-forward ways of growing more to feed more.
Yup, worms. Maguey larvae were a delicacy in the Aztec court, and remain popular today.

The great Aztec marketplace circa 1500 - insects and lizards as popular meat sources, available for trade

These items are really the tip of the iceberg... the exhibit touched briefly on the truth behind these figures.

This towering display shows what an American family of four wastes in one year

I have shared what might seem like a considerable bit, but the exhibit delves into much more. It is a fairly comprehensive look at all our identities through food: where we have been, and where we are headed. Appropriate for all ages, allow at least a few hours to take it all in. When you've finished, go find some great food (and maybe a drink or two) to share as you ponder....

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Braised Lamb Shanks, Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

Have I got your attention? At this point in the year - for my northern hemisphere, non-equatorial friends, at least - you are hunkering down for the bite of winter soon to approach, if it hasn't already. And with that frosty chill in mind, here are some extremely rewarding recipes to dive into and repeat often. You will certainly want to, once you have lifted fork and tasted the juiciness, the melt-in-your mouth flavors that have earned their place at your table....

And for dessert..... Because, why stop without a nibble of something sweet to send you fully on your way, warm and sated after braised and baked delights?

Braised Lamb Shanks - from Canal House Cooking

Serves 6

Good olive oil
6 lamb shanks
1 small bulb of garlic, cloves peeled
9 small onions, halved lengthwise
1 cup red wine
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6-8 cups chicken stock
2 lemons, quartered
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a good glug of olive oil in a dutch oven or large, deep enameled cast iron pot over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks with salt and freshly ground pepper. In batches, brown the shanks on all sides, about 10 minutes or so, and transfer to a platter as browned. Lightly brown the garlic and transfer to the platter with the meat. Add the onions in the pot, cut side down, and sear without turning them, until nicely browned, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer them to the platter as well.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Pour off any fat and get up any of the black bits in the bottom of the pan with a damp paper towel. Bring pot back to the flame on medium-high heat, and add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in tomatoes. Return the shanks, garlic, onions, and any juices on the platter to the pot. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Add bay leaves and stock, then the lemons. Cover pot and transfer to oven. braise the mixture in the pot until shanks are tender, about 2 1/2 hours. 

Uncover the pot and continue to cook in the oven, until shanks are so tender the meat nearly falls off the bone and the braising liquid has reduced a bit, about 45 minutes or so. 

Serve the lamb, garlic, onions, and lemons with polenta or mashed potatoes and a black-berry, round red wine (any of these is great ~ Red Zinfandel, Malbec, Primitivo, Mourvedre).

Buttery Skin-On Mashed Potatoes

Serves 6

4 floury potatoes, like Sebago, diced
4 dense, buttery potatoes, like Yukon Gold, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
A few good knobs of great butter (from grass fed cows is best!)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

In a pressure cooker or in a saucepan with a wire basket, steam potatoes over boiling water until fork tender. Strain potatoes and place into a large bowl. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat cream and butter until butter has melted and cream comes just to a boil. Mash potatoes with a fork or masher, add cream-butter mixture, and season to taste. Mash to the consistency of your preference - chunky or creamy, as you like. Serve warm beside extra pats of butter.

Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

Serves 6

2 eggs
1 2/3 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup full fat milk
1/2 cup Frangelico, Sherry, or Amaretto
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and just over half the sugar until pale and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and beat to combine. Sift flour, baking powder, and two-thirds of the cocoa powder into butter mixture, and stir to combine. Add milk and liqueur and beat until smooth. Add in chocolate pieces and stir to combine. Pour batter into a buttered 8-inch baking dish.

Add together remaining brown sugar, cocoa powder, and liqueur into a bowl and stir. Add 1 1/3 cups boiling water, whisk together, and pour mixture over pudding batter. Bake until cake has risen and a skewer inserted into cake center comes out almost clean (but not quite), about 35-40 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and serve warm. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Comfort and Good Food in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

No one could have guessed just how greatly people would be affected by superstorm-frankenstorm-latest-climate-change-disaster-Hurricane Sandy. I am fortunate in my neck of the woods to have only sustained numerous fallen trees. We are so grateful to have our lives intact.

Photos courtesy of Jim Lafferty

On Tuesday as everyone began to pick up the pieces, we drank with a wonderful woman who had lost pretty much everything. Her home was swallowed in a fire that leveled much of her block. She swam across the street against the strong current to safety - with the help of a rope anchored to a house there - leaving behind a wonderful bean stew she'd been cooking on her stove, along with everything else in her home.

Yesterday, I spent the day baking cookies for relief victims. Home cooking makes such a difference in times of intensity. With my famous rosemary-sea salt-shortbread cookies and new double chocolate chunk cookies in tow, along with bags of supplies, prepared foods, clothing, and the like, my husband and I borrowed a friend's car and made drop-offs at two relief centers in Brooklyn. I wish I could have made 10 times as many, seeing faces light up at the offer of freshly-baked treats. It was one way in which I could begin to mend the frustration and loss that so many people now face.

(For recipes, scroll to bottom)

To weather the storm, we stocked our pantry well. On-hand was plenty of wine, prosecco, tequila, and the like, and I made toasted hazelnut & dried cranberry granola, easy guacamole, and an all-time-fave, roasted pumpkin fondue. The creamy-cheesy roasted savory-sweet goodness of the squash (and some bubbly to wash it down with) made a great difference through the howling of the storm.

There are many ways each of us can help. You can donate here to help a great woman who ran an animal rescue and lost her business, home, and a number of the animals she cared for. If you are local to NY/NJ, you can visit here to find out where to drop goods off, and to learn what people need most.

As I get caught up, I realize we are approaching the national elections in just a few, short days. There is a very important bill for review in California that I wanted to share with you. Passage of this bill, named Prop 37, will grant Californians the right to truth in food labeling. Big Food does not want this transparency. They want to continue operating under the radar, retaining the ambiguity of what foods are or aren't GMOs. Unlabeled, these foods have an easier chance of ending up in our pantries and onto our plates, but, with an educated public, we all can assert we have the right to know what we are eating and feeding our families. You can learn more about it here, here, here, here, and here. Just as we require that food be labeled if it has sugar or fat in it, we deserve to know if there are genetically modified ingredients as well. Please share this milestone opportunity with your friends everywhere, as what happens in California will undoubtedly pave the way for the nation. Vote YES on proposition 37. We deserve the truth.

And, lastly......

I'd made some wonderful mussel recipes when my friend Jon sent a batch not too long ago, and I am excited to share a new favorite recipe with you. These mussels have ruined me for any other, which I almost always find lacking in adequate plumpness and freshness. The mussels are from Taylor Shellfish Farms. Top-notch, every bit juicy and wonderful.

Freshly harvested, the mussels' beards are still intact

Celery & Pernod Mussels with Saffron Aioli

Celery & Pernod Mussels with Saffron Aioli

Serves 2-4

for aioli -
a good pinch of saffron threads, steeped in a tiny bit of warm water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup good mayonnaise - I use grapeseed oil Veganaise, it tastes great!

for mussels -
good olive oil
4 celery ribs, sliced thinly on a mandoline
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, chopped
2 1/2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup veg or chicken stock
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup Pernod
sea salt and cracked black pepper

 Allow saffron to steep in warm water for at least five minutes. Add saffron mixture and garlic to mayonnaise, stirring thoroughly to combine. Season to taste with s & p, cover and refrigerate. This can be done a day in advance.

In a cast iron skillet, heat a generous glug of olive oil over a medium-high flame. Sautée shallots for a few minutes, stirring as they brown. Add garlic and sautée for another minute. Pour in Pernod, wine, and stock, and once liquid is bubbling, add in the mussels. Using tongs or a spoon, make sure they are in a single layer and cover with a lid, cooking until their shells have opened, about 5 minutes. Turn the flame off. Toss in the celery and parsley and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, and serve in large shallow bowls, accompanied by crusty bread.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies - adapted from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

makes 24 4-inch cookies

3 pastured eggs at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plus 5 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup moist brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups cane sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chunks
1 3/4 cups dark chocolate chunks - I chop a larger bar, using Callebaut, into smaller chunk pieces for both

In a small bowl, combine eggs and vanilla extract, whisking to combine. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda + powder, almond meal, and salt. Combine butter and sugars in a third bowl and, with an electric mixer, cream on medium-high speed until very light and fluffy. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl, incorporating all the bits back together. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add half the egg-vanilla mixture to the fluffy sugar-butter mix and beat to combine. Add the remainder, and beat again to combine. Add the dry mixture and beat on low until evenly distributed. Do not overmix. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until just combined. Portion large tablespoon-sized mounds (about 1/4 cup apiece) evenly apart on parchment paper-lined baking trays, keeping it to 6 mounds per tray (the cookies will spread as they bake). Bake for 8 minutes or until the edges are browned and keeping the centers lighter, for that perfect gooey-done consistency. If you are baking on multiple trays, rotate which is on top/bottom for even baking. Cool on a wire rack and serve while chocolate is still slightly melty, about 15 minutes.

Roasted Pumpkin Fondue

Serves 1-2, depending on the size of your squash

One smallish pumpkin, top cut off and seeds scraped out
Thinly sliced stale bread/well-toasted bread - I used a combination of french baguette, a seeded loaf, and rye - use whatever you have laying around
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup grated gruyère or other melty cheese
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
small pinch of cayenne
sea salt and cracked pepper
Good olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk to combine stock, cream, and spices. Rub a bit of olive oil around the entire exterior of the squash as well as its top, and place on a parchment paper-lined roasting pan. Layer slices of bread, followed by cheese, until you have filled the cavity of the pumpkin. Pour in the stock-cream mixture. Replace the pumpkin top and bake for 45 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is fork tender. Remove the top and allow to cool for a few minutes and eat directly from the squash, or serve into bowls, being sure to scrape the soft pumpkin flesh out to accompany the fondue. Yummm.

We are at a time of reflection - both with the passing of the year, days shortening and more time spent indoors, and also because this life-changing disaster has struck. Find what makes you feel most fulfilled, and do more of it. Be hungry for that search. Help your neighbors and your friends in the midst of it all. That is what being alive is about. xxxoo