Archive for July, 2007

Thinking About Where Your Food Comes From

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

I think about where my food comes from, and I try to get it from as local a source as possible: my backyard, my CSA, an orchard that I visit, a farmer whom I’ve met, the local co-op. But even so, it’s not possible to get everything from these places and I wind up buying some of my food from the Giant Eagle (the local Pittsburgh supermarket).

Even so, this video from Local Harvest opened my eyes to some concerns I hadn’t even realized. For instance, a box of breakfast cereal contains, on average, 1100 kilocalories of nutritional value but takes 7000 kilocalories of energy to produce.

Take a three-minute break and watch the video. Learn how much energy (and oil) is being devoted to trucking food from one end of the country to another and turn it into cellophane-wrapped convenience. Learn how opting for locally-produced and minimally-processed foodstuffs can make a big difference to some of the biggest issues facing us today: greenhouse gas emissions, oil dependence, and environmental sustainability.

Thanks to Troy Bogdan of Pure Earth Organic Farm for sending this video my way.

Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad with Hard Boiled Egg Vinaigrette

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

I hope you have perhaps already tried roasting broccoli and cauliflower because it really does produce a better result than boiling or steaming it. And I’m sure you have experience hard boiling eggs. When you take the two dishes and combine them creatively, you wind up with a darned tasty salad.

Roasted Broccoli Cauliflower Salad with HB Egg Vinaigrette

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Cutting Mangos

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Chef -

Now that summer is starting, I’ve been buying a lot more produce, specifically mangos. Each time I cut my mango, I get worried I’m going to cut my fingers off because I have not been able to find a good way to get at it. (That, and, as you know, my knife skills leave something to be desired). Do you have any recommendations on the best / most efficient way to cut a mango?

thanks!

There are a couple of ways I’ve seen to cut a mango, but the way I’ll describe makes the most sense to me. It’s easy, it’s safe (includes precautions against a rolling fruit), and it makes for a very attractive presentation.

Step one, peel the mango, using your vegetable peeler. It’s possible to cut the mango first and then remove it from the skin, but when following that method, you’re likely to get a bit of stringy texture to the fruit.

Step 1: Peel It.

Next, cut a chunk off of the bottom of the fruit so that you have a level surface to rest it on to make your next series of cuts. There may be a bit of resistance, in which case, you’re also cutting off a sliver of the pit, but that’s okay–the main goal with this step is to make sure that all you cut during the rest of the process is the fruit (not your fingers).

Step 2: Cut flat bottom

Now, put the mango on the flat surface you’ve created. This will enable you to cut the bulk of the flesh off without having the mango roll and slide away from you. It’s never easy to cut a moving target, and there’s no reason why you should have to try.

The mango now has, you will notice, two broad sides and two narrow sides to it. The seed is in the middle of the fruit, and most of the meat is on the broad sides. Look at the fruit from the top. You should see that there’s a sharp peak in the center. This is the general outline of where the pit is. Cut down the broad sides where the pit isn’t. The mango should be soft, so if your knife runs into something hard, you’re trying to cut through the pit. Don’t. Back off from it slightly and you should slice through the tender fruit like a warm knife through butter.

Step 3: cut the broad side.

Turn the mango around and repeat the process for the other broad side.

Step 4: cut the other broad side.

At this point, you should notice that the flat bottom you cut is no longer as steady as it used to be. Stop thinking of it as the bottom and plop that mango down onto one of those nice, broad, flat ends you just cut. A stable cutting surface is a safe cutting surface.

The pit comes out closer to the thin sides of the fruit than it does to the broad sides. Cut around it as best you can, remembering that the pit is curved and the ideal line will also be curved, not straight. If you don’t get all the meat off in your first go-round, you can always shave away at the seed until you have everything you can get off of it.

Step 5: use the new flat edge as your stable surface to cut the remaining flesh from the pit

Next, put the pit off to the side and take the pieces you’ve cut from the mango. Use the point of your knife to slice through the fruit as thinly as possible. Try to keep the cut pieces in place as you slice them apart; it’ll be easier to plate the mango that way.

step 6: slice thinly

Slide your knife under the cut pieces and transfer them to a plate for service. I usually serve two people with one mango: First, I plate one broad side, fanning the slices slightly when I transfer them to the plate. Then, I lay one narrow side crosswise over top of that. If I have other fruit around (such as blueberries), I may opt to add a few of them to the plate as a tasty garnish.

Step 7: plate and serve.

CSAs vs. Farmers’ Markets

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Speaking of CSA, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the merits/value of CSAs vs. farmers’ markets. I used to belong to a CSA, but found that the quality, selection, and price were not competitive with just going to the farmer’s market very week.

I’m very happy with the quality of the produce I get from my CSA from the Kretschmann Farm.   It’s always fresh, clean, and delicious.  The variety follows the seasons and the plantings.  When Don Kretschmann doesn’t have a particular crop (such as strawberries or blueberries), he works with other farmers to provide them for us.  Additionally, he makes well-raised chickens available for us, too, though he specifically grows produce.

It’s true that you don’t get to pick what’s in your basket, but on the other hand, you don’t have to shop for it either.  Once a week, I know that I’ll have a delivery of some of the freshest vegetables and fruits available that I only have to travel a mile from my house to get.  I don’t have to worry about getting there early before the variety has been picked over: my crate is earmarked specifically for me.

It’s the best way I can think of to make certain that I’m eating seasonally and locally without having to tax my schedule to make certain I have the produce I need.  I love my CSA.

A Great Guide To Sustainable Seafood

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I’d like to publicly thank my mother-in-law (thanks!) for sending me a link to an outstanding guide to the sustainability issues that surround many types of seafood. Check it out at www.blueocean.org/Seafood.

My previous guide to such issues was woefully inadequate. While it fit in my wallet and was thus convenient, it ranked a relatively small number of seafood species into three categories with no background information as to how those recommendations were made.

The internet being free of space constraints, the Blue Ocean guide ranks a large number of species into five categories and describes the issues surrounding production/capture of each type. I haven’t had time to examine the page in too much depth just yet, but I certainly plan to. I can tell already, though, that it’s a valuable resource, and so I thought I’d publicize its availability immediately.

Movie Review: Ratatouille

Monday, July 9th, 2007

I went to see Ratatouille this weekend with somewhat modest expectations for the film–after all, it’s a culinary movie about an animated rat, written and animated for young children and, by association, their parents.

Hollywood can’t even get the kitchen right when they’re dealing with live actors. Instead, they telegraph that someone is supposed to be a chef by having them prepare grilled jarlsberg sandwiches that look like they spent too long in the pan at far too high a temperature (The Devil Wears Prada), put them in bright, white, absolutely stain-free jackets in a slow-paced environment and show little or no actual food preparation (Spanglish), or exxxagerate all of the gross-out stories anyone has ever told about the culinary workplace (Waiting). How much better could they do with a cartoon rodent?

My expectations were lowered as I sat through preview after preview for movies that are bound to be absolute garbage (Daddy Day Camp; a live-action version of Underdog; and Jerry Seinfeld as a bee in Bee Movie). I leaned over and said to my wife, “What do you say we sneak out of this theater and hop over to Transformers before the movie starts?”

I’m glad she shushed me and told me to wait. Ratatouille wound up being not only an entertaining film, but also the most faithful representation of the rigors of the kitchen environment that I can remember. the story, to recap for anyone who has somehow missed out on Disney’s publicity blitz, involves a garbage boy named Linguini who teams up with a rat named Remy who happens to be a culinary genius. Remy hides under Linguini’s chef’s toque and steers him to culinary acclaim by using locks of Linguini’s hair like horse reins. Far-fetched to say the least, but there’s a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief that accompanies an animated feature. Nonetheless, there were many details that made the film come across true to the kitchen.

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Easy Way to Spruce Up Your Salad

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been making salads with the loads of fresh greens that I get from my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, I’ve gone foraging into my yard for mint leaves to add to my salad mix.  A couple dozen whole mint leaves tossed into the lettuce mix for a salad for two is about right to give you an occasional and enjoyable kick of flavor without the mintiness overpowering your salad.  Plus, it’s cheap and easy to do, because mint grows darned near everywhere!